Quote note (#110)
Dig beneath the facile moralism, and Tom Engelhardt offers sentences (even the embryo of an analysis) to delect in:
Since World War II, we’ve generally been focused on the Great Concentration, while another story was developing in the shadows. Its focus: the de-concentration of power in what the Bush administration used to call the Greater Middle East, as well as in Africa, and even Europe. Just how exactly this developed will have to await a better historian than I and perhaps the passage of time. But for the sake of discussion, let’s call it the Great Fragmentation.
The Great Fragmentation has accelerated in seemingly disastrous ways in our own time under perhaps some further disintegrative pressure. One possibility: yet another development in the shadows that, in some bizarre fashion, combines both the concentration of power and its fragmentation in devastating ways. I’m thinking here of the story of how the apocalypse became human property — the discovery, that is, of how to fully exploit two energy sources, the splitting of the atom and the extraction of fossil fuels for burning from ever more difficult places, that could leave human life on this planet in ruins.
Think of them as, quite literally, the two greatest concentrations of power in history. One is now embedded in the globe’s nuclear arsenals, capable of destroying numerous Earth-sized planets. The other is to be found in a vast array of oil and natural gas wells and coal mines, as well as in a relatively small number of Big Energy companies and energy states like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and increasingly these days, the United States. It, we now know, is capable of essentially burning civilization off the planet.
From this dual concentration of power comes the potential for the kinds of apocalyptic fragmentation it was once thought only the gods or God might be capable of. We’re talking about potential exit ramps from history. The pressure of this story — which has been in play in our world since at least August 6, 1945, and now in its dual forms suffuses all our lives in hard to define ways — on the other two and on the increasing fragmentation of human affairs, while impossible to calibrate, is undoubtedly all too real.
This is why, now in my eighth decade, I can’t help but wonder just what planet I’m really on and what its story will really turn out to be.