I was asked to write an article about the threat of 'small terror' for a publication that is upbeat, positive, and runs contrary to the wave of negativity currently inundating the world. So this is it, scribed in February, 2016.
Life is wonderful, people are great, and the world, to quote Churchill, “is moving into broad, sunlit uplands...”.
A week ago today I was flying back from a security job in Italy. Rome was still pretty much Rome, save for the heavily armed Paratroops at nearly every street corner and an overwhelming presence of Carabinieiri (their para-military Federal Police).
We were delayed in Paris, a city I know well and, once upon a time, several decades ago, called home for nearly a year. Different time, different era, for however wayward my youth, I never considered the odds of being gunned down at a café or inside a music venue like the Bataclan.
It’s hard to focus because the DOW is down another 400 points today, erasing God knows how many billions of hard earned dollars from the ever shrinking middle class. New York, the next stop, is still missing two buildings on its amazing skyline, thanks to the machinations of a lunatic Saudi called Bin Laden. But that’s acceptable as the Saudis, however barbaric the autocracy, are our friends; they have cheap oil.
Europe in turmoil
The Europe that I knew is gone and the Europe I know now is in deep trouble.
How many millions of immigrants? How many more sexual assaults at railway stations in Cologne and how many more public swimming pools to shut in Germany because Arab men can’t keep their hands off Aryan women? Immigration is normally a net positive, especially for aging societies, but this time the chasm to cross may be beyond reach of Angela Merkel’s “thrifty Bavarian housewives”.
So the hard truth is that Europe is facing economic and social disaster on multiple fronts. From immigrants to fiscal imbalances to pending recessions, apparently there is little room for optimism.
Hope depends upon all countries of the EU actually working together towards a common goal, which seems unlikely. The dream that was Schengen may soon be a mirage in passing, as terrorism becomes a constant threat from the pervasive minority following the call of ISIS. The European lifeboat is on the verge of foundering.
For all the European readers who rail against the writing of a North American and argue that the house of America is not all that it could be, I concur. We are having a raging agreement.
Canada, where I was born, has a catastrophically overvalued housing market, an oil sands Province in economic free fall, and a debt to disposable income ratio of approximately 1.00: 1.65. The US imploded at 1.68. Tread carefully.
My current home in the USA is characterized by the ultra rich getting richer faster, while the rest of us stagnate. Add in two disastrous wars, an economic recession and a political infrastructure that has so gerrymandered the system that gridlock is all but guaranteed.
This landscape finds ultimate expression in candidates on the right like Donald Trump, walking in the shadow of former great names such as Lincoln and Reagan. Meanwhile Bernie Sanders on the left may show up in the same ballot as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I leave it to you to connect the dots.
And let’s not forget that the stock market is off to its worst start in HISTORY.
Add in global warming, Russia under Putin, ISIS, Polar bear extinction, crazy weather patterns and a world economy in flames, and you have all the makings of Armageddon.
But I saved the best for last; the part that nobody ever discusses in public, unless they are middle aged and drunk, or elderly, wise and no longer care.
It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room, invisible to the plodding masses, but terrifying to the 20% of the world’s population who resist the propaganda and really question the “trust us, all will be well in the end” routinely emanating from the capitals of the Western World.
It doesn’t matter whether you are European, North American, or Chinese because, for once, we are all in the same proverbial boat and we are not going to make it. We are sinking, albeit slowly, and those amongst us who have accrued even a bit of wisdom, know the outcome is inevitable.
National debt will only go in one direction: Up. Global temperatures will do the same. Democracy in its truest form is more a beleaguered island than a fortuitous sea. Food stocks, in terms of fish populations, will go down. So will the opportunities afforded to the world’s newest and youngest citizens. Religious and economic fratricide will continue and the world will become ever more competitive over ever more finite resources.
Sooner or later, somebody, somewhere, with evil in their heart, is going to get hold of a nuclear weapon and push the button. Or a pandemic akin to Ebola will break loose. Without a vaccine. Then all bets are off.
Hope in humanity
Armageddon upon life as we know it is not in doubt. The question is when? What we will be left with, and what comes next?
Many will disagree and say there’s still hope if we work together now. But Homo Sapiens have a dismal track record of working together before a crisis hits, however well we rally after the event. Today the idea of “hope” is best represented by Pandora’s Box, redundant after all evils have been unleashed.
Yet despite everything, I want to believe the future is what we make it. That dark clouds are gathering is beyond dispute, but how we choose to handle the storm is completely up to us.
I have hope in the belief that adversity is a springboard to greatness. Some of my most formative memories of the human condition occurred in combat with the infantry, and the bonds and love established there will last a lifetime.
We cannot control who wins the White House, or who opens up with a gun on a street corner in Paris. But we CAN control how we choose to live our lives on the quarterdeck.
I barely follow the news. It holds no candle to the positive interaction with my wife each morning, in the sunny uplands of a world going dark quickly.
Likewise the wise will look inwards, to family, friends and community, to find the camaraderie that hard times foster. When we strengthen social bonds and look out for each other, we find the best of mankind. As Oscar Schindler can attest, “He who saves one saves the world in time.”
Imagine our grandparents in 1938, when the end of the world seemed nigh. Somehow they ignored the negativity, swapping pitchforks for bayonets, standing shoulder to shoulder to change the course of history.
Sometimes adversity is not a bad thing. It breeds resilience and the fortitude to dig us out of the mess we are all in. We’ve been here before and we’re up to the challenge.