Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

The Scrubbers Are Failing

In the film Apollo 13, a loss of oxygen causes the crew to start inadvertently poisoning themselves with their exhalations.

The engineers back on earth race to devise a way to ensure the buildup of carbon dioxide doesn’t choke them, and then communicate it to the dying astronauts before they become too weak and disorientated to cobble together the designed solution.

It’s a good film, and a true story.

And it’s mildly instructive for us today as we consider modern political discourse.

There are about 200 countries on Earth, and apart from the outright tyrannies and dictatorships, there at any given time a ruler and organised opponent in each of them. So maybe 400 major political parties at least (some countries have three or more major parties) all arguing at the same time about the best way to run their countries, economies and society.

And that’s starting to become a problem.

You see, in the past, political discourse was mostly civil, characterised by polite but firm disagreement between men and women willing to acknowledge that their opponents were at least well-meaning. There was very little presumption of malice.

Today, things are quite different. In almost all countries now, political discourse has grown toxic. The Left in particular now believe that if anyone disagrees with their solutions, it indicates that they also disagree with their goals.

And as the problems they claim to be trying to solve include racism, poverty, climate change etc, they therefore conclude that by opposing these goals, their opponents are callously trying to destroy humanity and the world.

Presuming nothing but malice, they now believe they are facing demons, not morons.

And of course when you think your opponent is pure evil and hell-bent on destroying humanity and the planet, almost any activity, no matter how morally questionable, becomes justifiable.

Indeed it might be argued that no action is sufficiently immoral to not be pursued in such an endeavour. Herding your opponents into a labour camp and gassing them all to death becomes merely a distasteful necessity, when all of humanity and the planet itself is what stands to be lost if you don’t.

Now back to the Apollo 13 space capsule.

Imagine our planet was a space station comprising 200 modules, all with their national flags stencilled on their flanks, but linked together breathing the same air.

A heated argument in one module starts to deplete the oxygen for us all, and the shouting and screaming causes the heavier breathing to pump more and more carbon dioxide into the space station for the scrubbers to deal with.

Back when everyone was not presuming malice and was trying to stay calm, perhaps only a handful of such screaming matches erupted at any one time, so the scrubbers could keep up. But as the goals of humanity became more ambitious, and the problems were perceived as more complex, and as some of us started to see our opponents not as well-meaning morons but malevolent demons determined to destroy humanity, so the screaming matches became lengthier and more distressing, causing the participants to gulp down ever more of the precious oxygen, and breathe out ever more of the toxic carbon dioxide.

Today, our little space station is echoing to screaming matches in almost all the 200 interlocking chambers, and the filters long ago ceased being able to cope with it. Our combined simultaneous hollering at each other has toxified our atmosphere irretrievably, and the scrubbers have stopped working completely.

We are now on a one-way trip – it is only a matter of time before the air runs out and we begin to choke. Some of us are already feeling quite faint.

There are those who think that the solution is to decouple the space capsules so that arguments in one cannot contaminate the whole. And others who are arguing that the space station must stay together “for the good of mankind”.

Essentially, some who claim that the solution to our national problems are global governance, and some who believe in localism. No agreement has yet been reached as to which is the correct solution, let alone how to implement it.

But what cannot be denied is that the toxicity of modern political discourse is now so serious that it is polluting us all – friends and families who once loved each other and paid little attention to the political wranglings of the day are now being fractious with one another, as they are convinced the causes they believe in are too serious to be ignored and any opponent too irresponsible to be tolerated.

A question we might ask is “Has this happened by accident, or is there an architect behind this? Are we being divided so we can be conquered, and if so, by whom?

I feel we need this answer quickly, because if we don’t calm down soon we will be too groggy to implement the solutions.

Possibly even to comprehend the problem.