A Knife-edge

And here it is.

We take it for granted, you know, the comfortable safe manageable world we live in – those of us who do live in a world like that. That seems (to us) like the natural way of things, the normal state of affairs. In many parts of the world, normal life is more like the inside of the New Orleans Superdome, but we think normal life is less hot and crowded and smelly and unsafe and miserable than that. We think it’s normal to be able to get drinkable water and eatable food whenever we want them, to be able to take a shower and use a toilet whenever we need to, to have clean clothes, lights, a place to live. We forget how fragile, how precarious all that really is. It can be gone in a second. We’re used to that thought for China, Bangladesh, Niger – but we’re not used to it for ourselves. Or we haven’t been. But it wouldn’t take much. A global drought, for example, that ruined the wheat harvest in the US as well as everywhere else. Food shortages – higher prices – a war of all against all. Hobbes, meet Malthus.

It’s pretty unsettling to see how badly things are going in New Orleans. They (the officials) can’t even distribute drinking water, apparently – even though people die after three days without water, and it’s been more than three days now. Civilization is a very, very fragile thing. As is life.

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