I am currently reading a book called New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle (Verso 2018).
Despite all our modern luxuries and conveniences, I am not sure that we ever moved very far out of the previous ‘dark age.’ What made us think that we had? Yes, flush toilets, penicillin, air travel and international art biennales have all contributed to our glowing self-satisfaction with the new world order. But how far do you have to poke beneath the surface to find that things are just as basic—and venal—as before? We are probably as close to nuclear war as we have been for some time, though of course that will be up to governments that we look down upon. We face the return of diseases we temporarily got a grip on, but are now facing a time without the benefit of suitable drugs to control them. The threat multiplier of climate change throws all happy descriptions of our blossoming, civilised future into doubt. That’s already happening, and as somebody pointed out the models were wrong—they were too conservative. Has greed diminished in the last millennium? War? Poverty? Inequality? Torture?
Thinking of the people who live below the dam—a metaphor for our age—it seems to be a case of just waiting to see whether a crisis can be avoided. What would you think if you were threatened with arrest if you didn’t leave your flood threatened home for an unspecified period? Whatever happens to the population living in the shadow of the Toddbrook reservoir near Whaley Bridge, which may or may not collapse tonight, they will notice their properties becoming uninsurable, or if they can insure, they may have to pay a hefty premium. In this age, what happens to insurance is, as it were the canary in the mine. Insurance is a collective (almost socialist) expression of faith in the future, i.e. that whatever happens we will be able jointly to cover our risks in some benign point in the future. This belief is going to be sorely tested as time goes by, and with it the idea that we can collectively take a shared responsibility for our individual wellbeing.
I am not, of course saying that all is bleak about human nature—the adversities that will befall our species as a result of its current profligacy will certainly lead to astonishing feats of human compassion. But the opposite is also true, and I suspect as the saying goes, the devil has all the best tunes.
I don’t see a huge amount of political effort going into the development of a sustainable, human future. And where that does exist in an embryonic stage, e.g. in the approach of Jeremy Corbyn, it is antithetical to the current design of our society. Some people think that technology alone will save us, almost like Hitler believed a war-winning wonder weapon was just around the corner. And look what happened to him.