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George Soros in Brussels, Belgium on 6/1/2017 © Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

How to Confront a Global Crisis: Sleepwalk It

As the world awaits AI, sleepwalking has become the preferred method of decision-makers. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary explains.

Scott Ritter, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer and nuclear arms inspector, assessing the state of the world in the wake of the US withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia, warns us that “Humanity is sleepwalking toward global annihilation.” In the same week, billionaire George Soros writes in The Guardian that “Europe is sleepwalking into oblivion and its people need to wake up before it is too late.”

And the World Economic Forum’s (Davos) assessment of global risk published in January “warns of the danger of sleepwalking into crises.” More specifically it states: “Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe.” To which celebrated activist Naomi Klein has responded in a tweet: “Sleepwalking? Nah. The policies of global deregulation, privatization, unending consumption and growth-worship that you advanced so aggressively in order to construct the Davos Class marched us here. Pretty sure your eyes were wide open.

Here is today’s 3D definition: 

Sleepwalking:

The expected behavior of politicians across the globe as soon as any problem arises that is too complex for a simple solution. It typically rules out any consideration of new evidence and multiple points of view and resolves to move in a single predetermined direction according to principles established in a previous set of circumstances.

Contextual note 

Ritter speaks metaphorically of a “collective amnesia about the threat posed by nuclear weapons, especially in an environment void of meaningful arms control.” Aware of the fact that, in politics, the artificial construct of hyperreality has superseded reality, which suffers from excessive complexity, making fake news easier to digest than any expression of the truth, Ritter offers this explanation: “The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction.”

Soros is more conventionally political in his analysis, as he worries about the power of existing institutions — in particular, the European Union — to resist populist pressure. At worst, institutional failure will cause disruption, confusion and dismay, in contrast with Ritter’s analysis which foresees the possible physical destruction of civilization through political action and Klein’s awareness of the risk to destroying the planet itself, simply by neglect.

Historical note

The articles by Ritter and Soros both contained reminders of the history that has brought us to where we are today. Soros regrets that we are still confined in a “party system of individual states” that “prevents the popular will from finding proper expression” and “reflects the divisions that mattered in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the conflict between capital and labour.”

Ritter reviews the bad faith on both the Russian and US side of the INF treaty, but what he notices and finds particularly “alarming” is the “casual reaction on the part of Congress and America’s NATO allies to what is, in effect, the end of arms control.” Politicians appear to be too pleased to live in their hyperreal world based on defending “interests,” which all too often may be defined as the interests of lobbyists — whether it’s the oil industry, big pharma or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — and the special interest politicians have in being re-elected thanks to the money provided by their corporate donors.

This may help to explain Ritter’s observation: “The difference this time is that neither side has a stable of seasoned arms control experts working on the sidelines to avoid catastrophe.” Experts are concerned with facts on the ground, not the interests of, for example, the arms industry. Experts don’t finance political campaigns; private industry does.

The outlook on the nuclear front is grim. “The United States is in the process of creating the conditions for a nuclear war with Russia, and the Russian president is calmly talking about global annihilation if such an event transpires,” Ritter says.

On the fate of the planet itself, with or without nuclear war, the outlook continues to be grim, as even the World Economic Forum admits. But the participants in Davos — who, with the clout and finances they control, could presumably come together to build a concerted plan to save the planet — have shown an even more “casual reaction” than the one Ritter notices with regard to arms control.

The one fundamental truth about the trend toward hyperreality is that it allows decision-makers to be let things slide, to be casual (i.e., neglectful of reality) rather than focused on addressing the visible issues. Whether it’s building a border wall, invading a country or simply showing up at Davos for a week, such decisions can not only be carried out with no serious deliberation and little criticism or blowback, but they keep everyone distracted from the ticking clock of our collective doomsday.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.] 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.