I’m being serious. Why hasn’t the world ended? We as a species are phenomenally good at creating technology that can end life as we know it. And I’m not just talking about nuclear armaments or weapons of mass destruction. There are so many technologies that we accept as part of daily life that can easily be used to destruction. The events of September 11th spring to mind as a prime example. And I think on some level, we’re very aware of this. Permeating our entertainment media is this morbid fascination with the apocalypse. Clearly this is something we like to think about in great detail.
Although it’s not always the case, a lot of these fictional stories are based on some technology that either already exists or is very close to existing. And even when we aren’t dealing with speculative fiction, we have clips like this one from The Newsroom where some government employee talks about the dangers a thirteen-year-old who knows their way around a computer poses to national security. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s vitally important that we explore the moral implications of the things we bring into existence, as well as the worse case scenarios that may come about as a result of our innovations.
I find myself wondering, if it’s so easy to bring life as we know it to an end, to bring the human race to its knees, why hasn’t that happened already? Doesn’t that wrinkle the brain just a little bit? Some might say that just means that law enforcement must being doing their job and are stopping the bad guys before they can act. I don’t really believe that’s the case though, given that law enforcement is leaning more and more towards mass surveillance, a method of preventing terrorist attacks that still hasn’t been proven to be effective. I think it’s more likely to be the case that individuals who possess both the skills and the inclination to end the world are few and far between, and often never given the opportunity to act.
It’s fair to say that the vast majority of the population doesn’t want to see the world end – no matter how awful things get. It’s programmed into our DNA or something. Not one that, it’s also how we’re socialized. There are checks and balances put in place to try and keep society running with some sense of order and justice. Laws are the most obvious form of that, but on a deeper level, you have traditions. There are some things that we consider to be wrong whether it’s illegal or not, and what those things are will generally be informed by tradition. (And often laws are informed by tradition as well.)
Let’s look at it from a slightly different perspective. While it’s impossible not to disagree with at least some of the policies your government makes and enforces, it is pretty damn hard to work yourself up into enough of a stink to end it all for everyone. That has a lot to do with our relationship to authority. We obey the laws laid down by our governments for two fundamental reasons: 1) we have come to the conclusion that we agree with the laws or 2) the cost of breaking the law far outweighs the benefits to ourselves and our loved ones. It’s probably the second reason far more often than we’d like to admit.
All I’m trying to say is that while we’ll never exhaust our arsenal of world ending technology, we aren’t likely to actually work up the guts to do it. Just look at how the Cold War ended. Would you really want to be the one to press the big red button?