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The Second Coming

Victor J. Blue/New York Times

Victor J. Blue/New York Times

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“…The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

On October 7, 2018, The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report  stating that intensifying food shortages, droughts, extinctions, and floods caused by the warming climate would reach the point of major crisis in about 20 years. The panel’s solution to avoiding this is no more than a major reconstruction of not only the energy sector but practically all capitalist industry–by 2030. Ten years. And, bear in mind, this is to avoid the threshold of 2.7℃ warming, but even the most generous reports identify 1.5℃ as the point where the ecosystem will, for lack of a better term, go to hell. It appears unlikely that the United States will make much of an effort in the near future to combat this, which would be key given its position as the planet’s top polluter (many American companies are the ones responsible for other countries’ contributions as well). Even the Paris Climate Agreement, a hallmark policy of President Obama’s term, doesn’t go as far as the radical restructuring needed to truly avert this looming disaster.

On May 14, 2018, Palestinians protesting prison-like conditions in the Gaza Strip were killed and wounded by Israeli soldiers along the high-security fence which separates Israel proper from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. When the sniper fire subsided, over 2,000 Gazans were severely wounded. The IDF justified the bloodshed as part of an effort to protect the nation from potential terrorist threats, but dozens of those wounded included international journalists and medics.

On July 26, 2018, hundreds of African migrants made an attempt to cross from Morocco to Ceuta, a Spanish African enclave held over from its colonial days and one of the world’s most tightly secured borders. Over 100 were injured by border guards, knowing the severity of Ceuta’s security measures but nevertheless making the journey to avoid ongoing conflict over political and resource control in North Africa.

On October 25, 2018, United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered 800 troops to report to the U.S.-Mexico border, in response to a caravan of refugees making their way from Honduras, which has faced consistent violence since its government was overthrown in a 2009 coup d’etat (one which the U.S. provided support for). While applying for asylum in another country is legal under both international and American law, the event has inflamed anti-immigration rhetoric and provides a concise demonstration of the Trump administration’s commitment to hardline policy against immigration.

“…The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity…”

Anti-immigrant sentiment in politics is not new, but what’s been the source of well-documented alarm has been the united wave of new nationalists that have touched almost every developed country in the world, all of whom making demonization of ‘the other’ a campaign focus in some way or the other. Donald Trump and UKIP (U.K. Independence Party, the party behind Brexit) have gotten the lion’s share of the headlines, but they are far from alone. France, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Italy, Turkey, and Brazil have all either put aggressive and explicit nativists in charge or put them mere inches away from power.

Suddenly, institutions like the United Nations and European Union, ones that seemed to be the secure cornerstones of a new internationalism, are under new challenges. A nation’s decaying trust follows a pretty handy pattern: the opposition to the rising tide of nationalism occupies a moderate stance, banking on the fact that many people dislike the extremist politics of these insurgent movements. But, as material conditions worsen, a lot of people find the status quo less appetizing, and either drop out of political action or even join the opposition they were supposed to be a reliable vote against. Thus, their advantage is sapped away, until anti-immigration sentiment manifests in real political power. Apply this to the United States (Democratic Party), Germany (CDU), France (Republique en Marche), or any other country of your choosing.

It’s becoming incredibly clear that, as we careen closer towards climate oblivion, the natural resources essential to our survival will be not just strained but jeopardized. As much as we talk about climate change in the context of rising sea levels, one of the biggest conflicts rapidly approaching will be over a lack of water, over droughts that ravage the earth indiscriminately, often in places already lacking in drinkable water.

This ‘indiscriminate’ label is a bit misleading, however. Mother Nature may not care about personal wealth, but it’s no secret that those with the money to pay for water will be able to get it, even if their house is in the middle of the Sahara. After all, it’s largely what we do now: even in the uncharacteristic heat, we all tend to take water for granted. What would we do without it?

It may not be us who has to find out. America, the ultimate first world country that it is, may be able to buy itself an exemption. But people still need water–it is the life and death resource. And so we, along with our other relatively comfortable partners, will soon be the only place the people of the world can go for survival. After all, the increased environmental stress will leave entire nations underwater, entire cultures without the ecology they need for food, for air, for all that makes life possible.

Where will people, left with no other option for survival, go in desperation? Increasingly, towards walls and fences and fortresses, towards guns drawn in their face, drones, bombs, and whatever else is deemed necessary for a nation to “protect its borders.”

“…And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?…”

In the 19th century, Ireland suffered its infamous potato famine, where crop failures compounded with the British colonizing force’s refusal to send aid and their enthusiasm in shipping what little crops still grew successfully out of the country. A similar phenomenon happened in the Bengal Famine a century later, where India (also a British subject) faced their own food shortage and were met with the same response. In the end, up to 3,000,000 people had died in one of history’s most infamous acts of genocide. While it was not as much of a “hands on” effort as other more famous mass killings, the nuance mattered little; in the end, responsibility for the deaths still lies squarely at the feet of Churchill’s government and the U.K. at-large.

Bangladesh’s population alone sits at over 100,000,000, and it lies almost entirely near sea level. The rapidly desertifying Middle East may become too hot to live when the 2040 deadline comes, and it possesses a population even larger.

Totally coincidentally, the United States has only accepted 11 refugees from Syria this year. 11. And that number, small as it was, was the source of endless politicized debate, of continued back-and-forth discussion of whether we were inadvertently creating terrorist sleeper cells or jeopardizing the security of the nation. To put it in perspective, to even shelter one-tenth of Bangladeshis from a crisis like this would be an increase of over 1000000% from this year’s refugee committal.

A common response to people shoving off inhumanity carried out in the interest of border control is to deride them as nearsighted, close-minded, just plain crude and stupid. And while that may be true in some cases, there’s an even scarier possibility: with every act of cruelty, every hateful piece of rhetoric, the narrative is shifted, slowly, to the point where we can simply just accept the maiming of those who even dare attempt, with their last bit of strength, to find survival across our border–accept all the brutal, brutal force required to maintain it.

Maybe we’ve reached that point already. After all, when dealing with much immigration policy, even the prominent opposition to potent nationalism equivocates. It accepts certain premises, and compromises on humanity. The aesthetics associated with fascism went “out of style,” so to speak, long ago. But there’s nothing to say the fascism of the future can’t be more banal. When you decide that some lives are worth preserving on the inside and some are worth letting die on the outside, it doesn’t matter if you goose-step or not.

A wall, especially in the 21st century, does not do the work of physically defending, but instead ideologically defending. To turn entire ethnicities and nationalities into frothing hordes ready to invade the nation may be a difficult act to justify, but a wall removes the need for eloquence. It’s an exercise in raw political power: its keepers will continue to act as they wish until they are compelled to otherwise. And when other parts of the world no longer become viable places to live comfortably, it will take a potent opposition to tear away what gives the opportunity for the revival of fascism in our time. Yes, it’s utopian to think that we can provide a new insurgent internationalism that provides for total freedom of movement (the ultimate utopian song, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” says as much) but it seems increasingly likely that we will either have it or the ultimate dystopia. There doesn’t appear to be much room for a middle ground–we will either tear down the walls which seek to segregate us from the rest of the world, or we will incubate a new fascism inside of them. The center cannot hold.

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The Second Coming