I was once told by a boss that I excelled at recognizing what could go wrong. “You’d make a great hedge fund manager,” he said. He might have meant it as an insult, but I took it as a compliment. I do tend to see where things might derail; then I can take the steps necessary to prevent it from happening. Or, in simpler terms, and as my wife reminds me, I’m a pessimist.
Podcast Episode 48: Top 5 Threats to Civilization
Sometimes I take finding problems to a global scale. For example, what do I think are biggest threats to modern civilization?
A few things to note before I give my list. Earth has always faced certain highly-unlikely events that would destroy life on the planet. For example, there might be a rogue asteroid on a collision course with earth and only Bruce Willis can stop it. Or Al Gore could take so many trips on his private plane that he destroys the ozone layer. I’m not referring to those types of threats. Nor am I thinking of the means by which civilization would end, such as the use of nuclear weapons. Sure, a large-scale nuclear war would radically devolve civilization, but someone must shoot first. The more interesting question (and the one that matters) is who would do that and why?
Also, I’m talking about the end of civilization, not mankind itself. Note that when I refer to civilization, I mean Western Civilization. It is, without question, the most advanced civilization that’s ever existed. Its worldwide impact is incalculable. Although few realistic scenarios exist in which every man, woman, and child is killed off, many situations could cause the modern world as we know it—which was primarily built upon Western Civilization—to cease to exist with little or no loss of life.
So, what could cause the end of civilization? Here are what I think are the top threats:
5) Collapse of the Catholic Church
For 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has been the premier civilizing force in the world. Even those who today scoff at the Church depend on the values it pushed into society. Respect for women and rejection of slavery were both possible due to the rise of Christianity. The whole-scale rejection of casual violence is thanks to Biblical values that were codified and promoted by the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, since the Protestant Reformation the Catholic Church has been in decline, a decline that has accelerated in recent years and shows no signs of abating. What would happen if the Church were to collapse, becoming an insignificant player on the world stage? It would likely create a void the world would desperately want to fill. What would replace it? The next three entries on this list could each be attractive alternatives for those desperate for structure in the world.
4) Nationalistic Right
This threat might be counterintuitive. After all, isn’t the Nationalistic Right (or alt-right) trying to preserve western civilization? That might be the facade, but the Nationalistic Right is ultimately a pagan and anti-Christian movement. And anything anti-Christian is anti-Western culture. This movement isn’t based on culture, but on race. Its racial views are ultimately contrary to the foundations of Western Civilization. If the Nationalistic Right were to gain enough power in the western world, civilization would devolve, as the Judeo-Christian moral code would take a back seat to nationalistic demands.
3) Totalitarian Left
I’ve written about the Totalitarian Left before. This movement seeks to impose—by force if necessary—a specific groupthink upon the population. You must accept gay marriage. You must refer to people by their imagined, not biological, gender. If you do not comply, you will be vilified, harassed, and perhaps eventually even arrested. The Totalitarian Left unapologetically and openly seeks to destroy Western Civilization. If given enough power, it will do so without compunction.
2) Militant Islam
Another prime candidate to fill the void of a collapsing Catholicism is Militant Islam. Militant Islam explicitly seeks the destruction of Western Civilization, to be replaced by an Islamic caliphate. Militant Islam’s rise over the last 30 years has been stunning. Unfortunately, the West’s refusal to confront this threat only increases its chance of success.
For centuries the goal of Islam has been to overtake Europe, specifically Rome. But what military tactics couldn’t accomplish in the Middle Ages is in the process of occurring through unrestricted immigration today. Contrary to the rosy view of the secular Left, you can be sure if Militant Islam is successful, Western Civilization as we know it will cease to exist. In its place will be a society that would make the 10th century look enlightened.
1) Runaway Artificial Intelligence
Unlike the previous threats mentioned, which are primarily political, social, or religious, the top threat is technological. But this one is also the most probable, because it’s the most difficult to control and resist. In fact, the rise of runaway artificial intelligence (AI) is in the hands of a small number of people. Scientists around the world are working feverishly to advance AI, leading to possible outcomes far worse than even the most horrifying Hollywood movie.
The human brain is the most complex system in the universe, yet it’s guided by an interior code known as natural law. Sure, the human race has produced Hitlers and Stalins over the years. However, on a whole mankind has escaped the worst possible outcomes because we have a system of right and wrong that transcends cultures and resides in the human heart. But AI would have no such limits, unless it was always and in every case programmed to do so. Even if we assumed every single AI programmer would include such code (an unlikely scenario), actually doing so would be incredibly difficult. Humans know instinctively that certain things are wrong, and often don’t even realize it. Though some persons ignore that knowledge, most do not. It’s unlikely that such an instinct could be programmed, even if desired.
Path to Survival
Mankind has survived for millennia, despite efforts at times to destroy ourselves. More importantly, mankind hasn’t just survived, it’s become more civilized over the centuries. That advance is in danger today, and those who cherish our civilization will need to do everything we can to resist these threats. In my view, the best resistance would come in the form of a strong and robust Catholic Church. Such a Church would provide an alternative to various anti-civilization social, religious, and political movements. It would also promote a moral framework for scientists developing artificial intelligence. This makes the Catholic Church the best bet to prevent the end of civilization as we know it.