Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Aporkalypse Not

What's the difference between bird flu and swine flu? That's right, pigs don't fly :)

If, like me, you've managed to survived SARS, bird flu, mad cow disease, the Ebola virus, and Legionnaire's disease then you're probably taking this latest crise du jour with a pinch of salt (or a shot of whiskey or an aspirin). After all, just how bad can the future be? Okay, here's one, fifty year long scenario:
In this fifty year period, a massive depression, coupled with the collapse of a key resource, undermines traditional economic models. Even as the global economy recovers, a global war erupts, a horrifying accident triggered by political systems overwhelmed by increasingly rapid communications, a tragedy multiplied by the almost casual use of chemical weapons. The end of this war coincides with the emergence of a pandemic the likes of which the world has never seen, killing millions upon millions -- and, combined with the war, almost eliminating an entire generation in some parts of the globe.

After the pandemic ebbs, a brief, heady economic boom leads many to believe the worst has ended. Unfortunately, what follows is a global depression even more massive than the previous one, causing hyperinflation in some of the most advanced nations, and leading directly to the seizure of power by totalitarian, genocidal regimes.

What follows is perhaps predictable: an even greater world-wide war, nearly wiping out a major culture and culminating in a shocking nuclear attack.

Scary, eh? And it was: because that was the 'future' from the vantage point of 1900 (ht Jamais Cascio). Kind of puts things in perspective, don't you think?

Postscript: maybe the first half of the 20th century wasn't all that bad? Stephen Hume puts the infamous 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in context:

So, even if we had a repeat of the 1918 flu, the chances were seven out of 10 that you wouldn't catch it and if you did, the odds were better than nine out of 10 that you'd survive.


  1. How could they know what a nuclear attack was in 1900 when Einstein didnt figure out the light/mass cracic for another few years.

    Sounds like Marx talking about Ipods.

  2. Wasn't all that great either, couple of the worst wars mankind has ever seen thrown in before 1950.

  3. Hmmmm. I don't understand the comments. Einstein was not one of the main inspirations for the bomb.
    The flu of course is unpleasant and killed many in the 1960's also. Most deaths are as a result of weakness caused by the virus and subsequent infection by bacteria, which we can still deal with by use of antibiotics.
    But Rumsfeld has an interest in one of the anti-flu meds. And an amazing flu has surfaced. Apparently based on swine and bird flu. I don't know enough to comment further, but your analogy is perhaps close to what some may hope will happen.
    The latest idea on the Black Death is that it was Anthrax, due to the widespread use of leather and the cold wet weather of the solar minimum of the time, which brings the spores to life. It is endemic in animal hides.


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