May You Die in Interesting Times

We’ve all heard the expression “may you live in interesting times.” I never knew this until I started to work on this post, but the expression is meant not as a blessing. Rather, it originally was intended as a curse. “Interesting times” in this context is a euphemism for times of upheaval.

So, I wonder, are I and my fellow mid to late boomers destined to “die in interesting times”?

Some of you who are “Ready for Hillary” are already writing this one off to me being the eternal pessimist. That’s your privilege. This one is for those who aren’t afraid of the dark.

Tammy and I have a running joke that if the title of a book begins “The end of”, it’s a safe bet I’ll read it and recommend it to others. The “end of” doesn’t necessarily signify pessimism about the future. Jeffery Sachs’ The End of Poverty is mostly, about optimism, as the title suggests. The “end of” lead in is really about profound change and the attempt to foresee that change. So it is with The End of Faith, The End of Oil, The End of Growth, The End of Food, The End of Normal, and, the one in which I’m currently immersed, The End of Plenty.

In The End of Plenty, the author, Joel Bourne, takes on a question I’ve often pondered: whether Robert Malthus, the 18th/19th century philosopher who fathered Malthusian economics, ultimately will be vindicated. Malthus theorized that ultimately mankind’s population growth would outstrip the growth in its ability to produce food. I’m about halfway through, and Bourne has made the case that we’re very clearly headed in that direction. The ultimate question, which hopefully Bourne will explore, is whether there is time left to avoid the iceberg, so to speak, and what the likelihood of success is on that front. I personally think the iceberg is avoidable, but that the hurdles we need to clear to achieve that outcome may prove too high.

As Bourne sees it, we’re already starting to see the smelly stuff hitting the fan, citing food shortages that propelled the Arab Spring to support his view. According to Bourne, the trend lines largely have us headed towards far worse conditions within the next few decades. The knowledge base Bourne brings to bear is awesome and his analysis is compelling.

The End of Plenty for me comes right on the heels of Wages of Rebellion, by Chris Hedges, and The Extreme Centre, by Tariq Ali. Ali describes how what we’ve come to consider centrist is in reality an extreme form of society in which misery for the many is accepted in order for the few to live in increasingly obscene wealth. Hedges makes the case that the conditions for mass revolt already are in place. It’s only a question of when and what event will ignite it. The timing, according to Hedges, is entirely unpredictable, but Ali argues the revolt is not imminent, that the ability of those in power to keep control still is largely intact.

When you combine the analysis of Bourne, Hedges and Ali, the upshot is that within the next few decades, perhaps sooner, the world will see incredibly interesting times.

Which means that my fellow mid to late boomers and I will be, as I said at the outset, dying in interesting times.

That by itself is really not that terrible. After all, I already have nearly six full decades of peaceful affluence under my belt. By historical standards, and even by the contemporary American standards, I’m already playing on the house’s money.

But it means our kids and grandkids will be living in interesting times. And that’s heartbreaking.

4 responses to “May You Die in Interesting Times

  1. I didn’t realize you were such a pessimist, Bob. For some reason that surprises me. Given the enormous inroads that liberalism has made in or day to day culture, you would think I would be the one who would be pessimistic. Every generation, late in it’s cycle, seems to believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and yet things keep chugging along. The world’s human population makes it through crisis after crisis and seems to emerge a little better. I have always said that there is nothing more dangerous in the animal world than a man with a sharp stick. I also think there is nothing more clever than two men working in unison. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But the the point is that we do well and I, therefore, am more optimistic than you about the future. I wish I could convey some of that optimism to you because I think that mankind has ALWAYS lived in interesting times. In fact, I think that if mankind doesn’t have interesting times and challenges, he gets himself into REAL trouble. You know, the other Irish saying, “Idle hands are the devils playground.”

  2. captain*arizona

    The grave yards are full of indispensable people. The world will get along just fine after we are gone. Even us baby boomers! Worry about children dying they are important not us.

  3. Thanks for such an eloquent piece. You are absolutely correct, there are interesting times looking forward.

    Bob

  4. I’m starting to embrace the campaign centered around the concept of 2,ooo watts per person on a global basis. Here’s a link to the website:

    http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/2000-watt-society

    As an aging baby boomer myself, my own personal goal is to live simply and try to still contribute to our society.