Reflections on our age of misrule
Donald Trump’s unceasing media travesty brings to mind studies of societal collapse from Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History [he looked at 26 civilizations] through to Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress, which Quebec filmmaker Mathieu Roy and I adapted into the theatrical documentary Surviving Progress. Each of them identify as a primary cause of collapse – Wright calls them “progress traps” - the disastrous leadership of elites. They are shown to misgovern through ignorance, self–serving belief systems, and their growing insulation from the interests of the larger society.
It is not hard to imagine a future historian of our collapse [scratching out his tale of our tragic demise by the light of a pine pitch torch] noting how the Trump administration’s dispatch of coal industry advocates to the Berlin climate summit coincided with a warning signed by 15,364 scientists in 180 nations. The Bioscience article comes on the 25th anniversary of a 1992 manifesto signed by 1,700 scientists – including the majority of living Nobel Prize science winners. Declaring that our species is pushing beyond Earth’s ecosystems’ capacity “to support the web of life”, they had cautioned world leaders that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”
Now come 15,364 new signatories putting our better angels on notice. The fact that the 1% is largely deaf to the needs of the web of life can hardly be dignified as being news. Other than successfully meeting the ozone layer emergency, the 15,364 give our species failing grades. The challenges of other alarming threats, including overconsumption of planetary resources by the well off – any school child among the 99% can identify most if not all by now - are largely unmet.
To the Bioscience list of unmet challenges, I contribute another. The Rupert Murdoch-ization of the media. His stateside Fox news and tabloid cutpurses in the UK have enfeebled public discourse, setting the stage for nativism’s rise in the English-speaking world, and driving it into the toxic embrace of Brexit-ers and Trumpism. All of which brings to mind the great English TV dramatist Dennis Potter [Pennies from Heaven, The Singing Detective]. As he sipped pain-killing morphine during a 1994 interview, Potter - who had nothing to learn from self-styled populists about working class life - equated Murdoch with the cancer soon to kill him. Let’s leave the last word to the estimable Mr. Potter.