I do like reading Aeon magazine.  In his essay Jeremy Adelman describes some of the competing historical narratives.  I like that his arguments intersect with another venerated historian, Ronald Wright conclusions’ about civilizations and their paths toward modernity.  Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress dovetails nicely with the thesis of Adelman’s essay.

“The real failure then of that financial mayhem was that its makers couldn’t see how their heroic story of decontrolled Homo pecuniaria was responsible for the crisis – and instead compelled bystanders and taxpayers to pay the price.

The beneficiaries of the doomsday narratives have been snarling nativists and populists, propped up by Fox News sages such as Jonah Goldberg and Yuval Levin who champion the old decline story: a dirge for ‘Western’ civilisation. The New YorkTimes’ David Brooks weeps about America’s inescapable demise. For Donald Trump in the US, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, there is only one, stark, self-serving choice: cosmopolitan catastrophe or rescue, with themselves as uniquely mandated to liberate us from an apocalypse designed by global plutocrats. Meanwhile, liberals and cosmopolitans feud over whom to blame – thereby further fuelling the crisis consensus.

It’s important to recognise one of the catastrophist’s rhetorical moves. Stories of doom thrive on turning a tension into an incompatibility. A tension implies two forces at odds – like hot and cold, like price stability and jobs, like helping strangers and assisting neighbours; while they pull in different directions, they can be mixed. Earlier big narratives used to explain choices in terms of tension and unstable compromise. In the 1950s and ’60s, debates focused on how much the developing world could advance while being part of a wider global economy. A decade later, the tension was how to co-manage a troubled global commons.

Nowadays, the chorus of catastrophe presents differences as intractable and incompatible, the choice between them zero-sum. It’s globalism or ‘nation first’, jobs or climate, friend or foe. The model is simple: earlier leaders muddled, dithered, compromised and mixed. In their efforts to avoid hard decisions, they led the nation to the edge of disaster.

Pessimism helped exorcise post-1989 triumphalism; Piketty and Tooze are right about structural features of inequality and how the makers of catastrophe became its beneficiaries. But we also need to see how the consensus of catastrophe that straddles the ideological spectrum – but grows more dire and menacing as one approaches the extremes – favours the politics of the strong man glaring down the nation-doubters.

The alternative is not to be wistful about flat-world narratives that find solace in technical panaceas and market fundamentalisms; the last thing we need is a return to the comforts of lean-in fairy tales that rely on facile responses to a complicated world. To learn from collapses and extinctions, and prevent more of them, we need to recover our command over complex storytelling, to think of tensions instead of incompatibilities, to allow choices and alternatives, mixtures and ambiguities, instability and learning, to counter the false certainties of the abyss. If we don’t, it really will be too late for many people and species.”

Both Wright and Adelman champion a rational and reasoned approach to altering the self-destructive paths we’ve chosen collectively as civilizations on earth.  It is unfortunate, as Adelman notes, that the current political climate seems very well defended against the nuanced and complex solutions necessary to alter the calamitous course of our civilization.