We have a non-trivial history of building up potential threats, while downplaying others, in the service of multiple agendas that deem to profit, in one sense or another, in remaining hyped, unseen, or partially obscured from view, as the case may be. The entire specter of the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet menace, for example, leavened with a more sensible appraisal of the threat plus the opportunity costs inherent in our responses to it, might have rendered a less-militaristic national posture while at the same time producing basically the same result. That’s painful, in many ways, but nonetheless a product of what we know now. Kubrick tried to burst it open with ridicule near the beginning; but we laughed even as we were having none of it.
To stay with that example, as it is handy, living with this threat of annihilation did wonders for introducing us to a kind of Somatic malaise that would have been otherwise unimaginable. It didn’t make us leaner, stronger and more resilient. The spirited, forty-year advocacy of capitalism as though it was on the verge of being overtaken did make us fatter, more depressed and more willing not only to poison mind, body and soul but also to defend the need to do so in the name of progress and the power of the market. You see where this is going; we need look no further than to the current public advocacy on behalf of private insurance companies to witness the absurd whirlpool of self-perpetuating conviction that urges action where none is necessary and punishes any intention in the face of great urgency. Kubrick would have had a field day.
But this brings into question: what are actual existential threats? Little seen, hardly heard. Have we so discredited the notion that such things exist so as to permanently disarm the concept of its primary potency? Measures to address climate change slip back over the horizon until we can afford them. What a mindless pity. But if it is one born of a particular kind of savv, a mere advocacy on behalf of interests and as such imminently shiftable and correctable, can’t we just brand ourselves into a transition?