On the Brink of Extinction

by Jon Mills (June 2024)

Apokalyptische Landschaft (Apocalyptic Landscape) —Ludwig Meidner, 1912


Are we on the brink of human extinction? Is civilization destined toward self-annihilation? We must not underestimate the risk of the possibility that we may become extinct fairly soon. Let us examine some cold sober facts: We are facing a planetary ecological crisis due to global warming, despoliation of our natural resources, mass scale industrial pollution, desertification, deforestation, widespread collapse of ecosystems, and extreme climate change. World overpopulation is nearing a record tipping point, where food and water scarcity will bring about more famine, drought, pestilence, and death. Human violence and aggression in concentrated pockets are on the rise worldwide, with every inhabitable continent in turmoil, civil uprising, military conflict, or war. Unbridled capitalistic exploitation of consumer masses by corporate conglomerates, financial institutions, Big Pharma, and insurance sectors are unprecedented, with obscene disparities in wealth and poverty to the point of social implosion. Global catastrophic hazards have escalated due to the environmental crisis, encroachment by man, destabilized markets, hegemonic national politics, collective ideologies, corrupt governmental policies, deranged despots, nuclear threats, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, internet espionage, cyber hijacking, space wars, threats to public health, bioterror, pandemic infectious diseases, and psychological self-interest driving everything from vain desire to the local economy and international relations, not to mention the anathema of evil, abuse, trauma, criminality, greed, and the psychopathology of everyday life. Regardless of the degree of threat we assign to these calculated risks, we cannot ignore the ominous dread hovering over a wishing humanity.

All these issues leave us in a profound and compounded predicament of future survival. And with the projected statistical prediction of adding another billion people to the world population every decade, our lot in life hangs by a hair. As our world economies are in flux and tumult, hence threatening the availability, price, and affordability of basic human requirements for sustenance, such as water, food, shelter, and medicine, as well as education and valued commodities that nourish the physical, emotional, and spiritual lives of the masses, we are likely headed for calamity. But we dissociate these realities, because they are not happening to everyone at the same time and in the same place. We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand.

As if the despoilment of our globe is not enough to worry about, we must continuously face the prevalence of human aggression. All occupied continents are engaged in military battle, with no foreseeable end in sight. World superpowers, rogue nations, dictators, tyrants, revolutionists, insurgents, and international politics fuel existing warfare, hence leading to repetitive cycles of death, despair, transgenerational trauma, and systemic ruin. Global economies have been shattered, social infrastructures effaced, and daily ways of life destroyed, where entire communities have perished. Whole societies have been displaced, historical traditions broken, established customs nullified, and cultural identities lost. Diasporas, mass-scale refugees, asylum seekers, and the walking wounded scurry to neighboring territories, often herded at their borders. Chaos, uprisings, and revolt over impoverishment, maltreatment, and retaliatory aggression lead to further warfare, civil disorder, violence, and crime.

In today’s world where every form of transgression enjoys a psychological motive, rational justification, legal defense, and/or pastoral forgiveness, the limits of evil seem to be standing on a crumbling precipice. Once deemed the unequivocal antithesis to moral absolutes, evil has acquired a new form of acceptability. From commonplace cheating on university entrance exams, income tax evasion, fraud, and economic bleeding of consumer society, to partisan lobby manipulation, bribery, corruption, breach of trust, political illegalities, and military campaigns that couldn’t care less about collateral damage, we have entered into a techno age of anonymity, facelessness, digital zombification, and disposable objects where dehumanized alterity becomes the projection, displacement, and denial of our own interiority: in other words, the evil within.

When people feel abused and experience no sense of justice, it violates a universal ethical principle, one that is shattered with the realization that there are no universal ethics, that is, no metaphysical dispensary of the “good and right” watching over them. From anarchy and ochlocracy to nihilism, the human animal becomes a machine of violence. Aggression begets aggression, a simple iteration as repetition compulsion. Tempestuous human relations lead to further social discord, animosity, and bellicosity with no hope in sight of reversing this discernible pattern.

Developmental traumas and attachment pathology besiege the plight of the human being, hence hampering the ability to have healthy relationships, to feel genuine love and intimacy, and to have empathy and compassion for others, where normativity is colored by pathos. Child abuse in all its odious forms is a primordial scab on humanity: it becomes the bedrock of suffering in every society where children are held hostage in emotional concentration camps by their parents or culture, victims who themselves have been abused, oppressed, subjugated, and demoralized. Here the enemy lies within our families and community cryptically threatening our sense of refuge, well-being, and safety at home.

Disease, migrant prejudice, refugee influx, child slavery, ground ghetto fighting, mass execution—barbarian style—and the drop or rise in black gold sustain our attention every night while watching the daily news. The world has become a very dangerous place. Whether we admit it or not, we all live in fear of being assaulted, mugged, or raped. Road rage, purse snatching, abduction, and home invasion are common occurrences. Anyone could be targeted or murdered for the change in their pockets, where safety is sought in gated communities, rural isolation, or in owning firearms for self-protection. From random crime to gangs, the mafia, drug cartels, the sex trade industry, child soldiers, and human trafficking, no one is immune from danger even if they own a Glock.

The internet has become a prominent global weapon: cyber spies and computer hacking can derail technical operations anywhere, which can endanger the safety of nations and kill people at whim. With the manipulation of a computer mouse, one can readily steal, obstruct, and infect information programs with viruses that cripple corporations, banking systems, communication networks, and world economies, not to mention dupe the ignorant masses with false information. Rapid advances in technology, persistent distortion of facts by news outlets and through social media, and generative artificial intelligence (GAI) compound our existential risks.

Deregulation of industry and the push for privatization of business under the auspices of free democracy, open markets, neoliberalism, and global capitalism only leads to systemic corruption, for without regulation, checks and balances, and central oversight, every modality of dishonesty, venality, exploitation, and vice will enjoy its swindling moment or else pay a parasitic lawyer to find a legal loophole. Banksters and the mega-financial sectors have become too big to jail.

Human nature is replete with psychopathology. We are not warm, loving, gentle creatures by disposition; rather, those qualities are developmental achievements due to domestic socialization practices inherent to a civilization process. We can easily regress to animality when hard times hit, the underside of evolution. The way we aggress, abuse, oppress, and use others as throwaway objects speaks to the dark shadow side of the psyche: family cruelty, sexual molestation, physical abuse and intimidation, crime, sadism, murder, human trafficking, sex trade, baby buying, children sold into slavery, and so on, become the new abnormal. Although I claim no call to Armageddon, unlike the cult crazies, conspiracy theorists, doomsayers, and religious fanatics, we may be hard-pressed to ignore an obvious question: Are we living in the end times?

Before jumping to conclusions, we would do better to study the situation soberly. If we get caught up in reactionary polemics or emotional hyperbole, it becomes way too easy to lose rational perspective. It is not incumbent upon a philosopher or psychoanalyst to solve the world’s problems, yet perhaps it is sufficient to point them out. Although I do not profess to resolve this planetary crisis, I would consider myself modestly lucky to be able to reframe the issues in such a way as to offer a foreboding warning to humanity. What sets my analysis apart from others is simply this: our unconscious remains the primal threat to our collective existence. Until we become aware and reverse our trajectory toward self-annihilation, humanity will teeter on the edge of extinction.


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Jon Mills is a Canadian philosopher, psychoanalyst, and psychologist. He is an honorary professor in the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex and is the author of over 35 books in philosophy, psychoanalysis, psychology, and cultural studies. This article is adapted from End of the World: Civilization and its Fate (Rowman and Littlefield, June 2024). Follow him on X @ProfJonMills

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


7 Responses

  1. Your evaluation is anything but sober, or factual. C02-driven climate change is a hoax, all too apparent except to the true believer. Your hysteria takes huge leaps from there. Calm down. There are real problems which need addressing: institutional corruption and weaponization, fraudulent elections, illegal immigration… it goes on and on…

    1. Totally agree with your assessment, Carl. This author is way off. Calling ff more regulation and opposing deregulation? Right…as if any thinking person trusts the regulatory decisions that have come out or would come out of the Trudeau or Biden administrations. What sane person thinks this? The author’s previous articles are spot on, but this one is way off the mark.

  2. This author is conflicted. He dislikes regulatory demands on psychologists, as mentioned in his last article and blog post, but likes other regulation handed down from similar agencies?

    As a psychologist, he wants free agency, but doesn’t seem to want the rest of us to have it.

    This article is all over the place.

  3. A cosmologist might say we, and mother earth, are all toast in the end. So it seem to me that the meaning of any life is to make as much of the the journey as we can. Yes, Carl we need to do as much as we can, as long as we can – then move on graciously.

  4. Well, I will elect only to react to this bit:

    “Human violence and aggression in concentrated pockets are on the rise worldwide, with every inhabitable continent in turmoil, civil uprising, military conflict, or war. ”

    I am open to the idea that these things are ‘on the rise’, but only from what may have been a dropoff in or circa the 90s. If even that, since the 90s saw the end of the military standoff in central Europe but also the Balkan Wars and many wars in Africa, including the start of the First and Second Congo Wars.

    But even with that arguable exception, they are not otherwise on the rise. Rather they are perennial phenomena.

    The period of the Cold War saw a world replete with the kinds of conflicts you cite, on all continents but North America and Europe [on which there was a suspended one between west and east], only conflict among the great powers was restrained by the fear of nuclear war. One could argue the CW was the modern peak of threat, since that nuclear annihilation first became possible, remained always a perpetual fear, and then ebbed quite a bit. It still has not returned to its 1960s or 1980s levels, so we are still off-peak for that.

    In terms of actual fighting, we might still be off-peak by CW standards. People forget just how many wars there were in the world in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s- it was hardly just America in Vietnam.

    And of course before that were World Wars, unfettered by nuclear threat, and basically the level of war and peace expected throughout history. All of which was typically as widespread and as numerous as today.

    As to every inhabited continent well, I guess, but then when was it not? Even North America was replete with such wars as are possible among neolithic cultures all its history, and replete with such wars as happen when they mean early modern pre-industrial settlers after that, and even at that quickly became a safer continent than any other, arguably for over 200 years now save for the American Civil War’s 4 years. Frontier violence did not rank with the wars of the Old World. North America today may be experiencing political turmoil, with some violence, not more than the 1960s, and certainly not more than the 19th century. As continents go, it remains more peaceful than others. South America is doing fairly well by its own standards, more so than at most times since independence. Europe has managed to avoid major war among any of its great powers, once normal, for almost 80 years, with just two small-medium wars in marginal regions in the 90s and now. These are by historical standards positive, even epic achievements.

    The Middle East is the Middle East. Arab v Jew is relatively recent, the rest is par for the course and has taken similar forms for many centuries.

    Africa’s wars ebb and flow and move around, but seem no more numerous or intense now than in the 80s, to take a recent example.

    In Asia, there is rightly focus on potential tensions in the seas around China, possibly of catastrophic consequence, or in Korea, but these are not exactly new either. Nor are they they equal of what war has looked like in Asia within living memory. Or just a sliver beyond it. India and Pakistan fought three major wars, but the last such was over 50 years ago. The tension and possibility remains, but they have done quite well to manage themselves.

    That does not mean I counsel an optimistic take on the future, only that when we speak on the aspect of wars and rumours of wars, that we do so with a realistic appraisal of the present and a realistic remembrance of the past.

  5. Yes, rigour depends on math and the IT companies have virtually destroyed the reputation of math: so rigour is melting away and chaos will follow unless we replace it as a genuine illuminative agency which is nowadays implemented on computers.. A huge new discovery is anti-math which is a discipline built on the same principles as math, but using strings of random tallies as the building block. This is as big an unexpected shock as seeing extra-terrestrials walking down the road. It will bring along BI —- potentially boundless insights into the secrets of life, consciousness and the universe.

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