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War for Our World
On October 30, 1938, listeners across the nation gathered around their radio sets to tune into a special Halloween broadcast of CBS. For those joining late, mentions of “explosions on Mars” and increasingly graphic descriptions of alien invaders struck them into panic. Thousands of frantic calls to local stations and emergency services interrupted the program, and, at the behest of government officials, CBS went to great lengths to calm the public’s fears—that it was just a dramatic rendition of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. Of course, in hindsight, we comfort ourselves with the notion that such an event is the stuff of science fiction, and that we’d never be so gullible as to actually believe it was real.
Though, like all good fiction, “War of the Worlds” is rooted in truth. Wells’ inspiration for the novel came from the British colonization of the island of Tasmania off the coast of southern Australia. It was there that Aboriginal Tasmanians encountered what must’ve seemed to them like “aliens”. Thousands of years of isolation constructed a cultural time capsule lacking basic agriculture, metallurgy, pottery, and the bow and arrow. The fight was over before it began—there was simply nothing aborigines could do to match the technological prowess of their invaders. And unlike the book’s rendition, no pathogenic savior came forth, in fact, as is often the unfortunate case, the majority died of European diseases. The existential fear that gripped America on that night in 1938 was not twisted horror spawned from the realm of fiction, but rather an allegory for the brutal nature of reality that we’ve grown to ignore.
The fire of Civilization, our human spirit, flares brightly, but it wasn’t always this way. For much of our history, simply keeping the flame alight took everything we had. All around us, a storm raged, and out there, in the darkness, monsters lurked. For us to thrive, nature demanded something more. Brick by brick, we built shelter around our precious light—technology that allowed us to go forth to conquer the wilds, craft wonders, and stoke the flames ever higher. Though, while the fire is mesmerizing, and the warmth it brings makes life worth living, without the shelter shielding us from the elements and beasts, we’d be left with nothing but coals and darkness.
It’s this dilemma that forces us to make a choice; to stoke the fire or to protect it? Good times are measured by the height of the flames; bad times are measured by the strength of the walls.
The past couple of decades have certainly been good times, and many now mistake the fire as the sole source of security, ignoring the crumbling walls around them that make the facade possible to begin with. As I write this, Russia has amassed 100,000+ troops on the Ukrainian border, China continues to match its brazen domestic genocide with training exercises threatening the sovereignty of Taiwan, and we are still in a Global Pandemic after nearly two years, with no clear line of sight back to normalcy, if even achievable at all. Frantic, we shift critical production back to our shores, yet face looming obstacles in the form of demographic collapse and environmental externalities, not to mention our eroding domestic infrastructure. In spite of this, our asset markets surge as the Fed prints, while our institutional efficacy collapses under political detritus.
Today, I fear our most talented stand dazed and staring deep into the fire, warped by its allure. Increasingly abstract innovations define our modern world, but are no less supported by tangible achievements beneath the surface. The internet, social apps, media, art—the misplaced measuring stick of modernity, merely the delicate tip of the iceberg. To stoke the fire is the most human choice, and we are strongly incentivized to fan its flames. I don’t blame those who pursue it, yet by taking this beaten-down path, you must understand that you are putting civilization’s fate into someone else’s hands.
The storm continues to rage, as it always will, and there are still monsters to be slain: energy, industrial production, and biology. Perhaps, one day, we might even touch down and conquer the god of war. You don’t have to be the hero, but will you make the quest more achievable? Will you, by sheer effort, help bring forth new efficiencies, easing the toil endured by those strengthening the wall? Software and education are multipliers; where do you want to apply that force?
Feel free to return to optimizing ad algorithms and minting NFT collections, but take with you the conscious recognition that, when the roof collapses and we feel that frigid, uncaring cold once again, it wasn’t simply fate, but that the most talented of us chose to ignore what nature demands, hypnotized by the raging fire. It doesn’t take an alien invasion, just something unforeseen at our shores. Our brutal reality dictates a standing casus belli, for it’s in the moment that we forget this that there’s a knock at our door—a war for our world.