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.