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There’s plenty of evidence out there, if you can be bothered to Google, say, “world becoming safer”, that – just so – the world is becoming safer. Lower chances of dying a violent death, better healthcare, fewer basket-case states, the list goes on. Time to stop worrying and learn – in a manner of speaking – to love the bomb, then, you might think. Well, not if you’re Bill Gates, it seems. The billionaire philanthropist last month warned of the need to be prepared for a “war” against any future Ebolas or Sarses, and endorsed the view that artificial intelligence poses a potentially demonic threat. In that spirit, I bring you a selection of my own favourite existential panics de nos jours – and in listicle form, too, for added relevance.
1. Nasty video games. To believe some people – including a certain kind of censorious, self-styled radical feminist – the fantasy realm of the video game nerd is not only a bit sexist but liable to breed dissolute, misogynistic sociopaths intent on robbing banks, killing cops and visiting sexual violence on real women. This rather ignores the fact that in the western societies whence these games originate, crime – including violent assaults on women – has been falling since the 1990s.
2. Evil Cults. According to the People’s Daily: “Underground churches and evil cults are spreading like mushrooms … The problem is very urgent.” And who, in all honesty, can gainsay the People’s Daily?
3. Morgellons disease. It may have vanished off the radar in the last year or two but, well, the medical establishment has been wrong about stuff before so one supposes it’s technically possible Morgellons isn’t simply a new manifestation of “delusional parasitosis” cooked up by attention-seeking American mentalists. In other words, either sinister government activities or extra-terrestrials really have unleashed a plague that causes people to feel things writhing beneath their skin.
4. Overpopulation. Currently fashionable cri de coeur of the eternally misanthropic. “The single biggest thing you can do for the planet is to stop re-producing” is how neo-Malthusians frame it, grimly hostile to the reality that we are living in a golden age of prosperity and poverty reduction and that such factors as trade and women’s liberation are destined to make the current boom in the world’s population temporary. Humans are the answer, not the problem. But don’t just take it from me – in their Foundation’s “annual letter”, the Gateses said all this last year.
5. The Internet. Just, you know, in general. Good for blaming stuff on. Not least: evil cults, misogynistic sociopaths, censorious feminists, whingeing Malthusians, the spread of people who think they have Morgellons disease, and global jihad.
6. Global jihad. Okay, there’ve been zettabytes of memory, jeroboams of ink and a fair amount of blood squandered on this one and I have nothing remotely new to add. But fear not, because the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, last week kinda did. Not only, he said, are jihadists badly adjusted types who feel the world is against them, but “if you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are literally wankers. Severe onanists.” Any cartoonists care to… ah, let’s not go there.
7. Toxic food. If it’s not China with its gutter oil, its skagged-out fish, its pesticidal ravishment of Mother Earth and its soy sauce brewed from human hair and bits of old carpet, then it’s the fizzy pop and artery-clogging slime inflicting slow death on human porkers in decadent western nations. In reality, though, even the worst food scandals of recent years have taken vanishingly few lives compared to the devastation actual famine has wrought throughout history.
8. Revolution. No slop tofu or bovine plasma sandwiches for the wealthy – no, they have their expensive farm shops and their delectable independent grocers where everything is organic and hand-fed and bijou. That might not tip the scales, sure, but whatever – the whole class war thing is back on the agenda. Why, they were even talking about it at Davos – hedge fund managers are snapping up boltholes in New Zealand in case things blow up, apparently; and those guys know how to look out for themselves. Plus, the Guardian says that Greece electing a bunch of Trots has got everyone all fired up. Incidentally, most readings of Marx will tell you China wasn’t ready for the Revolutionary Liberation of Humanity in 1949. Ticks a few more of his boxes now, though.