Cassandra 2012

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I’m feeling increasingly bleak about the human future going into 2012. I say this without the least pleasure because I have two small children (one is five, the other is eight). I don’t want anything I point to here to come to pass, but four things going forward have me seriously bummed out:

  • The plague. Are you following the story about H5N1 (bird flu)? A bio-researcher in the Netherlands, Ron Fouchier, wants to put on the Internet his “success” in mutating the virus into a virulent airborne mammalian strain (60% death rate in ferrets; as easy to spread as the seasonal flu). Here’s what a Nobel Prize winner in viral immunology, Peter Doherty, told New Scientist about the news: “This shows clearly that H5 can change in a way that allows transmission and still cause severe disease in humans. It’s scary.” And here’s what Dr. Thomas Inglesby of the University of Pittsburgh told NPR: “It’s just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it’s a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it.” Imagine a 2012 in which 60% of the 7 billion people on earth die from plague. It could happen. I’m going to see if I can find in my garage Barbara Tuchman’s book on the Black Death. It may be where we’re collectively headed.
  • Iran. Think Cuban Missile Crisis, circa 1962 here. Because Iran is on the verge of having a nuclear weapon, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu faces an existential decision in 2012: to bomb or not bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. If you think this crisis is readily containable, I’d ask you to locate the following book by Ron Rosenbaum: How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (Simon and Schuster 2011). His chief scenarios for triggering a catastrophic exchange of nuclear weapons in the 21st century have to do with Iran vs. Israel.
  • Europe’s financial crisis. Andrew Sullivan can be a jumpy person like me, so you might take this with a grain of salt, but here’s what he wrote yesterday (for what it’s worth) about what’s going on with the European debt crisis: “[T]his is arguably the most significant turning point in European history since 1989. And it will affect us all. Soon.”
  • The Arab Spring. I started off optimistic about the Arab Spring, thinking it would lead to positive secular transformations in the Muslim world. My view now is that what we’re witnessing is an understandable revolt against authoritarian governance that will, nevertheless, settle into another form of authoritarian governance: reactionary Islamic governance. The 10% of the Egyptian population that is Christian, for example, better start moving to the immigration exits. The Arab Spring is going to make the Islamic world more noxious—if that is even possible—in relation to Israel (and, therefore, to the rest of the West) and so makes nuclear terrorism or a nuclear exchange of some sort (see above) more likely in 2012.

Have a lovely day.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Cassandra 2012

  1. DeadlyGrim says:

    I’m going to disagree with Dr. Thomas Inglesby. While it is important that scientists make sure they don’t release – accidentally or otherwise – any engineered virus, it is also imperative that they continue to do so and that they publish the results. Dr. Inglesby is trafficking in what we in computer security call “security by obscurity”, which is based on the naive hope that what one man can discover no other man can.

    Think of it this way: Fouchier has taken the first steps to stopping such a virus. Moreover, by publishing it, he’s giving other scientists the chance to develop effective countermeasures. True, this also give terrorists a chance to make a bio-weapon, but, despite what fearmongering “experts” in the media will tell you, developing an effective bio-weapon is hard. In a race between the world’s scientists and terrorists, scientists will win because (a) there’s more of them and (b) terrorists lack the essential quality of scientific rationalism and are constitutionally unable to objectively judge their work and their enemies.

    Which isn’t to say that terrorists might not just use an ineffective bio-weapon to spread terror rather than actual destruction, but if that’s their goal they already have many more tools available to them (suicide bombers on American soil, for instance).

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