Apocalypse (not right) now

Harold Camping, an 89 year old televangelist, has spent the last 8 years preaching that the end of the world will occur on 21st May 2011. He spread his message through the Family Radio network in the USA. His followers sold all their positions to raise more than $100m in assets to fund a media campaign. On that day of judgement, true believers would ascend to heaven in “The Rapture” with everyone else dying in a cataclysmic wave of earthquakes. Of course, on the day nothing happened. Shamefaced proselytisers returned to their place work the next day. The world carried on as normal, beset by the evils of globalisation and the rising threat of terrorism which can be taken as a sign of God’s displeasure.

Globalisation and the rising threat of terrorism? We have all been here before. Cast your mind back to 1900. The world’s economy is truly global with little hindrance to the flow of goods and people. Western investors are pouring money into emerging markets: Brazilian rubber plantations, Chinese railways and African mines. Passports do not exist and emigrating just means catching the next ship to anywhere in the world to seek your fortune, whether you are an Irish farmer, an Indian shopkeeper or a Chinese labourer. This globalisation exists because most of the world is under the control of European empires.

At the same time, many heads of State are being killed by anarchists or, as we call them today, terrorists. In a few short years around the turn of the century the Austro-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth, King Umberto I of Italy, the King of Serbia and the US President McKinley are all assassinated. A decade later, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria triggers World War 1, a nationalistic war between empires.

Recognising the dangers of nationalism, the first supranational organisation, the League of Nations is set up in 1919. Sadly, this is too weak to prevent the even more destructive nationalistic conflict of World War 2. The second attempt in the form of the United Nations has a longer shelf life. It still exists today, as do other supranational organisations such as the EU, the IMF and the International Court of Justice. But consider this. If it took the horrendous, destructive conflict of World War 2 to create these dysfunctional, toothless, supranational paper tigers, just how bad must things get before sovereignty is passed up to an entity that can really fix today’s problems.

Take global warming or the depletion of the world’s fish resources. Although international organisations exist that theoretically address these issues they have no power. Sovereign states rarely wish to pass up their sovereignty to a higher entity. It is possible to coerce them. The last time this was attempted was the US Civil War. The northern states forced the southern states to join the club and submit to a higher federal government. Higher level entities are forged in the furnace of conflict. The carnage of the US Civil war was hot enough to fuse the United States together. Unfortunately, World War 2 was not ferocious enough to make a powerful United Nations, despite the death of 60 million people. It created something, but it was something too weak to properly address global issues.

In the late 1940s, most of the world was impoverished and happy to follow orders after years of war. Today we have TV, the internet, sexual liberation and the consumer society. There is far less chance of citizens doing what they are told voluntarily. Just think how hot the fire would have to be to sinter those disparate citizens together into a common purpose.

So there might be one good thing that could arise from a forthcoming apocalypse. It could give birth to a global institution capable of solving our environmental problems. As the Vietnam general said “ It may become necessary to destroy the village in order to save it”