Coming Soon to Us All: The Choice Worse Than Sophie’s

Sophie had to choose which child would live and which would die. Now multiply that problem by a couple orders of magnitude. (Photo by Bill Strain/Flickr)

Sophie had to choose which child would live and which would die. Now multiply that problem by a couple orders of magnitude. (Photo by Bill Strain/Flickr)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, desperate citizens of New Orleans seeking water, food and shelter began streaming by the thousands out of the city on foot over the US Route 90 bridge across the Mississippi River and into to the city of Gretna, Louisiana. The city had no electricity, no water, no medical services and little in the way of a functioning government. It had been this way for three days when the refugees began streaming in, and unless conditions improved almost immediately, the people of Gretna were looking at severe privation. So they closed the city. Put a line of armed police across the Interstate Bridge and turned the refugees back. Sorry. Can’t help you.

The story has haunted me for nearly ten years. Not just because it is one of the gnarliest ethical problems I have ever come across. But also because in the aftermath of the crash of the Industrial Age — perhaps well before the crash, during the current preliminary stresses — every one of us is going to face the kind of decision Gretna had to make. We will be asked to give help to distressed neighbors when giving that help will endanger our own survival. How will we answer?

Right now, Greece is trying to answer. With its people struggling to survive under a government that is broke and threatening to fly apart, its shores and islands are besieged by a tidal wave of refugees from North Africa. Italy and Spain are similarly afflicted. In many cases they have to rescue the refugees from disable, swamped and/or capsized boats just to get them to dry land, after which no one has any idea what to do with them, at whose expense.

How long will it be, do we think, before the scant armed forces of these Euro-strapped countries will be used not to rescue, but to form a line, like they did across the Interstate at Gretna? Very sorry. Can’t help you. And before we condemn the very idea as a crime against humanity, is it not incumbent upon us to define a workable alternative?

The problem is spreading like a California wildfire. As The Atlantic reported just yesterday (look at the pictures, you will not forget them) the world may never have seen so many refugees as are in flight right now:

“The United Nations announced last year that forced displacement had topped 50 million globally, and early tracking indicates that number may increase yet again this year. Multiple crises worldwide are driving the record migrations, which include Africans and Middle Easterners entering Europe, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma, Central Americans traveling to the U.S., civilians escaping violence in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Somalia, Iraq, and more—all undertaking risky journeys to find better lives.”

The under-appreciated fact is that most of these movements have as their root cause, climate change: chronic drought leading to hunger and thirst, leading to revolution and civil war and chaos.

All of which, hideous as it is, seems comfortably far away. It is, surely, their end of the boat that is sinking. This is America.

Where the states of California, Nevada and Arizona. among others, are toast in the summer sun, their snow packs long gone, their lakes and streams withering away, their crops crisping in the merciless heat. How long will it be before lines of desperate people begin trudging along Interstate 5 into Oregon (nobody in their right mind is going to trudge south, or straight east). And how long before Oregon says, out of the direst of necessities, “Sorry, can’t help you.”

And how long do we suppose it will be before one day, with the power out and the water off and the phones down and the food running out, our neighbor comes to our gate and says, “I’m hungry and I’m thirsty and I need your help.” Okay, that’s one question and it’s fairly easy to handle. Now the next question: what if, in a line behind him, there are a couple dozen more neighbors?

What do we decide, and how do we make the decision?

By comparison, Sophie’s Choice was pretty straightforward.

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29 Responses to Coming Soon to Us All: The Choice Worse Than Sophie’s

  1. Roy says:

    The successful parasite will always kill the host. Your choice is try and save yourself or be a dead martyr.

  2. Tom says:

    Either choice leads to the same end – somebody dies (first), then somebody else dies. That’s it.

    There is no “help” or “prepping” with regard to extinction. You can elect to kill yourself before you have to starve, die of thirst or be swept away by the marauding crowds of armed zombies (among an amazing array of possibilities these examples suggest).

    Cooperation and pooling resources may work in some instances but there’s that “limit” (finite resources) any group will reach when the last of the food and water has to be divvied up. Then what?

    Once that economic collapse we’ve been exploring here finally happens (this fall?)
    i’m sure we’ll be visiting this question daily. In this peculiar instance, there’s virtually no choice, only the possible delay of the event for whatever moments. To survive only means to live in fear, pain, and deprivation of almost every (formerly) positive human emotion until the time arrives when there is no escape.

    That’s a fine koan you have there Mr. Lewis.

    • Michele says:

      Bull! there are governments with enough money and enough resources do not only help the refugees but to also find a solution at the source. the United States of America can airdrop food and water to anyone anywhere in the world but they couldn’t do it to their own citizens in their own country probably because of the ethnicity of the victims. if these refugees we’re of another color it would be a solvable crisis everyone would want to help

  3. Joe Clarkson says:

    My solution is to avoid the “zombie hordes” by living in a sparsely populated sub-tropical area with more food production than people. Not every family in my neighborhood is totally food independent, but if the grocery stores close they won’t be totally desperate either.

    I figure that our little farmlet can provide enough calories for about ten people. I hope that most of them can be family, but if not, we will take in a few more refugees. The important thing to remember is that if one has created a ‘lifeboat’ against economic collapse, it doesn’t really matter who the occupants are. Somebody will use it to stay alive even if it isn’t me; I’ve had a great life already.

    • D says:

      Hope you don’t mind Joe I “borrowed” and posted this beautiful “solution” in one my private group <3 I have had a great life too! I hope the children have had a great life as well…peace!

  4. Jose says:

    Actually no, parasites evolve into more benign forms because a living host will transmit it more. The most successful ones become symbionts. Your mitochondria were originally bacteria infecting your ancestor’s cells.

    • D says:

      ” parasites evolve into more benign forms because a living host will transmit it more” what is it Jose?

  5. Kathleen Quinn says:

    Every mouth comes with a pair of hands. If economic collapse means the collapse of our long distance food supply lines and industrial ag, which it surely does, then we’ll need all the hands we can get.

  6. America, the land that misanthropy built.

    • SomeoneInAsia says:

      I think the Great Mother Britannia fits the bill more. They started the whole Industrial Revolution thing. They victimised well nigh everyone else on earth, including their European neighbors and even America itself for a time, and they still pride themselves on it. And the ‘great’ modern economic theorists — Smith, Keynes, Ricardo — all wrote in English. America is merely their progeny.

  7. Hamlet Jones says:

    It’s gonna be hell on earth, then
    it gets worse from there.

  8. Matt Staples says:

    Of course, the choice isn’t “coming soon to us all” – some of us will be making the choice of whether or not to migrate.

    I think it puts a different slant on the matter if you consider that possibility, too.

  9. Matt Staples says:

    My first comment was perhaps a little hasty – I accept Tom’s point from the original post: that we are all going to face situations where we make a choice between protecting those closest to us and helping greater numbers of people.

    But I get a bit tired of so much of the commentary that assumes “we” (the commenter) will be the ones suffering “parasites” or being swamped by “zombies”.

  10. Pat O'Dea says:

    These are hard decisions, we need to break it down. We need to accept that we all survive or nobody survives. If this is indeed our end we need to face up to it with courage. To begin with we need to collectively start admitting to the reality and size of the problem. Then we need to start making the necessary sacrifices that will allow us to help those in most imediate need. Stop the self indulgent interference and warfare being waged by us in the Mid East and other distant places. Open the borders of all countries. Scale back fossil fuel emissions. Rationalise food production and distribution, (hopefully deploying the millions of new hands to more sustainable agriculture, to provide meaningful work for most). Free up all health provision, especially reproductive health care and education. Greatly expand the education sector. We cannot achieve the impossible but we could achieve miracles.

    Love is the way we live, Fear is the way we die.

    • Pat O'Dea says:

      ….We can make the mountains ring, or make the angels cry.

    • Joe Clarkson says:

      We need to accept that we all survive or nobody survives.

      While this might be a good rallying cry for political action, it’s not really true. World population levels can go down rapidly or slowly without going to zero. In fact, I have a hard time imagining anything that could happen on this planet that would eradicate all humans.

      I don’t have any objection to any of your proposed ‘solutions’, but I doubt that any of them will happen. And even if by some miracle all of them did happen, I doubt that it would affect the end result all that much. We are so far into overshoot that it is now physically impossible to revamp the structure of our civilization in time to prevent disaster.

      • Ken says:

        I agree with you Joe. Patrick says the politically expedient thing to say at this juncture, because everyone wants to hear such hope and idealism. The notion that we all survive or none of us survive is really not how nature works. Populations increase and decrease, way before an extinction event. If you’ve seen the show “Revolution”, it is highly likely that scenario like that could occur, where the modern systems get destroyed, and a much smaller population is sent back to the 1800’s and early 1900’s, with horses, primitive weapons, and a whole lot of power struggle. I would change Patrick’s first comment to be “We need to accept that only the strongest, most resilient, bravest, luckiest souls will survive, and mostly everyone will perish from one cause or another…mostly rooted in fear.”

      • daniel reich says:

        O agree with you Joe. It is too late. We needed to start the ball rolling way back before Ronnie boy took over But I don’t agree with you on the matter of extinction We are going to lose habitat No way to grow food.

    • Michele says:

      this would be great but you left out one thing population control we simply cannot continue to increase the human population and think the earth will be able to provide there is a limit

  11. robdelaet says:

    If you know the flood of refugees will increase and increase, you better slam the door now if you are in a safe neighbourhood otherwise the ones that get in before will act like a fifth column. Mind you, it will have a degrading effect on the society that holds out too. human life will become dirt cheap. Human rights will go straight out of the window. Slavery and other forms of misery will reappear wholesale. Surviving is not for the meek and everybody has to ask the question if that is a world they want to live in.

  12. Interstate 10, not Interstate 90.

  13. SomeoneInAsia says:

    I don’t wish to appear frivolous by talking here about classical music, but the first three-and-a-half minutes from the third movement (largo) of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony express something of the extreme depression I felt upon reading the blog here (and the comments).

  14. JR says:

    “The under-appreciated fact is that most of these movements have as their root cause, climate change: chronic drought leading to hunger and thirst, leading to revolution and civil war and chaos.”

    The REAL root cause is overpopulation. While I totally support climate change (not an idiotic denier) as very real, climate change was caused by too many people demanding too many resources (primarily within developed countries obviously).

    The bottom line is population reduction – and it won’t be pretty. It will be the “have’s” (developed countries) continuing to deny from the “have not’s” (undeveloped / impoverished and exploited regions of the world). Of course these areas are wracked by crimes, terrorism, religious fundamentalism and exploitation.

    The Earth will no longer support human excess (greed, pollution, destruction, deforestation and overpopulation) like it once did. Our numbers are FAR too vast.

    Billions will die. That’s the bottom line. The “have’s” will continue their pattern of destruction and exploitation from the “have not’s”. Nothing is going to change this. It’s what humans do.

    The species is evil. Any honest examination of history will reveal characteristics and practices that aptly describe this, again and again and again. An evil species will not learn from it’s mistakes, nor “democratically” decide to “do better” after all these thousands of years of trying. It all comes down to resources and who has what.

    Since resources are now being swiftly depleted worldwide, enjoined with a massive overpopulation problem, it’s a foregone conclusion what this will mean. Doesn’t make any difference if you disagree – widespread death and destruction will now follow.

    We have reached “peak” (everything). What lies beyond a peak? Decline. Watch and see.

    Besides being evil, the species doesn’t learn from it’s mistakes. There will be no solutions to solve our multitude of problems because all solutions offered always refuse to address core / root problems. Almost no solutions will even mention overpopulation for example. Or human greed. Or human destruction. Or the wasting of the Earth and it’s essential (critical) resources.

    Humans still believe that the Earth “belongs” to them. Very few realize that this has never been true and never will be. Humans see the Earth as “owned” and “bought” and “sold” and exploited as they see fit, with no regard for the welfare of other species that have inhabited this planet (many are now extinct from human exploitation). All of mankind’s evils extend from this false notion of ‘ownership’.

    It is our turn now – death by our own hand and appetites. Religions have exploited and extended human stupidity and greed, deceiving billions into false worldviews and expectations. We will now die by the billions as the Earth collapses from the weight of the human monstrosity that now covers it’s surface.

    What we are witnessing (again) with the ‘refugee crisis’ is an old story of resource collapse, exploitation, ignorance and greed. This is just the beginning now of what will be a massive depopulation of the planet. But even this won’t prevent further collapse. It is too late for that, there is too much damage and destruction and changes wrought to ever hope for ‘recovery’.

    • Michele says:

      WRONG! well yes there are two sides to the coin the evil one and also the one that reaches a helping hand out to a total stranger the one that creates beauty and love in the world. Human beings are capable of great things and we will be the solution.

    • Comatoys says:

      You refer to humanity as evil. Or infiltrated, or influenced by evil. You aren’t wrong, evil resides in our hearts and makes us do acts of intense wickedness all the time.

      I don’t understand how you can criticize religion, and true Christianity specifically, as having a false world view in the same breath with which you condemn the species as evil. It saddens me that the enemy of our souls, the evil that whispers to us all, has so successfully used this final human culture to present a shambling corpse of a church in the mass media, a church of deep pockets and empty spitits that has long lost its way and will leado its flock to damnation, and has hardened so many hearts against the truth and the love of Christ and his redemption for us.

      This website is dedicated to chronicling the endtimes; they are upon us. Please, turn away from the abomination that wears the mask of faith on 24 hour cable news to be used as a political tool and a locus of deception, and instead turn to the love of Jesus Christ. Everything else in the scripture is secondary to that.

      Peace and love to you all as our world collapses around us. I don’t care how old you believe the world is or how the doomed life here emerged from the muck, and neither does He.