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Rated: E · Essay · Technology · #2045400
We have no choice about living one day at a time; it's not possible to do otherwise.
Hanging by a Thread

We have no choice about living one day at a time.
It's not possible to live otherwise.

To paraphrase Daniel Mendelsohn (born 1960), an American essayist and scholar of the classics, the Greek king Dionysius (430-367 BC), known as the Tyrant of Syracuse, is said to have been accompanied by a court attendant named Damocles. The professional adulator was among those who made their living by flattering the king, both amusing and entertaining him while dining at sumptuous feasts and other festivities.

As the story goes, Damocles once remarked--in the king's presence--how wonderful it must be to wear the crown and reign as lord and master over all his subjects. Dionysius then responded by offering the arrogant courtier a chance to sit in the king's throne and, for a time, experience all the benefits that Damocles so ardently admired.

Eager to accept the king's generous offer, Damocles was soon seated in the throne and found himself surrounded by the attention and opulence he had envied so. As the attendant relaxed in luxury amid perfumes and scented candles, he occasioned to look above his head and to his immediate shock and horror, noticed that a gleaming sword had been suspended directly over him.

Hung from the handle by a single horse hair, its sharp and deadly point aimed downward, the sword was poised to kill whomever sat in the throne, should the thread holding the weapon ever break.

A moment later, Damocles begged the king to allow him to step away, leave the throne, and return to his humble, subservient role as Dionysius' most loyal supporter.

The king quickly acceded to the other's desperate request, realizing that Damocles had learned the valuable lesson intended by Dionysius: that one who enjoys great wealth, luxury, and power, also lives under the constant threat of losing everything, at any time.

The relevancy of the preceding tale lies in the fact that the people who dwell in so-called first-world, industrialized countries, live under a modern-day version of king Dionysius, and, akin to Damocles, the citizenry of such nations seem oblivious to the fragility of their existence.

The tyranny of this 21st century despot, however, lords over us in the form of electricity, while our inextricable dependence upon it makes us the most servile of slaves to the gifts it bestows. And nowhere in the world is this more true than in present-day America.

Liberal estimates as regards the loss of electricity for six months to one year, suggest a mortality rate of 75% to 90% of the nation's total population. The word, decimation, is defined as meaning one-in-ten. Thus the United States, in losing seven to nine of every ten, faces far more than decimation; the country is virtually annihilated and simply ceases to exist.

The equally cataclysmic impact on the rest of the globe would see few rescuers rushing our shores to help feed the hungry and heal the sick. Like the classic domino theory, technologically dependent societies the world over would quickly collapse as chaos and anarchy soon replaced the peace and order otherwise sustained solely by the availability of electrical energy.

The more agrarian cultures, whose survival via the slaughtering of wild game or domestic animals, growing of crops, and water from wells, rivers, and lakes, would reign as the chief population centers on the planet. Depending on portable generators and how efficiently electrical power plants, both small and large, might be maintained, protected, and rebuilt where necessary, the long road back to recovery would be full of unpredictable twists and turns. Due to preexisting technical knowledge, however, restoration of small cities and industrial centers should proceed much faster than in the past.

No matter what, the world will have taken a major step backwards, and scores of decades would pass before a semblance of earlier times might appear once again.

In the short term, meanwhile, the Damoclean thread snaps and, like the scythe of the Grim Reaper itself, the incandescent sword plunges down, deep into the helpless masses of humanity whose every breath coincides with each alternating pulse of electrical current. And without which, a hundred years of darkness will descend upon the greatest countries on earth, sending them back to precolonial times when deer and prairie dogs outnumbered the regions' human inhabitants.

Perhaps only then, will societies finally guard themselves against a repeat of their near-extinction, tragedies of unprecedented proportions caused by little more than abysmal lacks of preparedness. But at a cost in lives and treasure from which no amount of recovery may ever be possible.

Such a fateful event, or series of events, will likely spawn from more than one cause, some of them natural while others derive from exclusively human origins. Whether the result of one or more solar flares, or acts of terrorism, or a collapsing under its own incompetent weight, the vulnerability of the so-named electrical grid--that sustains the nation as a whole--continues to deteriorate. Similar to the famous San Andreas earthquake fault in California, the matter is solely one of when it will fail, and not if.

Try to imagine waking up one morning and facing the new day without any electricity, with only enough food that already sits on pantry shelves, with as much water as might fill a bathtub before it, too, is depleted. This scenario, if prolonged indefinitely, is unthinkable, unbearable, and utterly terrifying.

A single EMP event (electro-magnetic-pulse) such as that produced by a large solar flare or a man-made, detonated device of some kind, would effectively neutralize all electricity within a specifically affected area. The actual details of how the process works is unimportant, while the net result poses critical, life and death consequences for populations that are woefully ill-equipped to survive without electrical power. In the case of a single solar eruption, the devastating impact could well be global in nature.

As you, your family, maybe kids, struggle to fathom what has happened, your situation is immediately complicated by a noticeable lack of law enforcement officers, or fire department personnel. The need to protect yourself from wandering bands of hungry, thirsty thieves and other criminals takes on a sudden urgency. Even dogs, loose and starving, could pose a potential risk.

Real panic would not set in overnight. In the first days, even weeks, hope of restoration of services such as fire and police would wait silently and patiently for a return of electrical power, which won't avail itself for several more months--if then.

In the meantime, food and water grow more scarce not by the day, but the hour. Everywhere the elderly are suffering and dying for lack of what was once their routine medications. Because homemade fires replace nighttime lightbulbs, the threat of fires burning out-of-control is an omnipresent threat. With no water to extinguish the flames, conflagration of homes and cities alike are commonplace. The need for shelter, by itself, becomes as vital as food and water. In colder climates, tens of thousands will die from exposure alone. And things have barely begun as the worst has yet to strike.

As terrible as any sci-fi horror movie, disease, starvation, lack of water, and with an increased inability to bury the dead, metropolitan areas suffer the most. Those in suburban, more outlying areas, near a river or lake, fare slightly better, but only temporarily as local game and other wildlife are killed for food. Domestic animals such as dogs and cats eventually disappear as roving hunters shoot and eat them.

Without the exploding of a single nuclear weapon and in the absence of any organized warfare, the global economies have collapsed as a single EMP event returns humankind to the Dark Ages, with a death toll in excess of the Black Plague itself. Only farmers survive in third world countries. And do so at the behest of warlords for whom food is more valuable than gold.

When electrical power is slowly restored to first one area, then the next, whether in what's left of America or elsewhere, a different kind of power comes into play: one that Dionysius himself should envy. Those who possess electricity are the new kings and queens of the land.

Similar to the previous rulers who possessed fuel for vehicles and small generators, these nouveau tyrants may well wage bloody wars among themselves and against others, all for the purpose of living in the luxury that only electricity can provide, and which all of us take so much for granted.

The solitary horse hair holding the sword above all our heads has started to unravel. It has, in fact, been growing thinner and weaker for a long period of time, due largely to apathy and a wanton disregard for the importance of contingencies. Yet here we sit, the lump sum of us, reclining in our thrones and looking everywhere but overhead.

Some of us have seen the danger and sounded an alarm in one way or another. The warnings have been clear, as has been the evidence of what could, and likely will, happen quite literally at any moment. While youngsters of all ages stare at television screens, transfixed by their favorite episode of Game of Thrones, the sun is about to throw a minor temper tantrum; a group of terrorists, hunkered deep inside a basement of some large city, have made the final adjustments to their EMP device; still others are set to hack the power grid itself, plus destroy the computers that rely on satellites in order to maintain the status quo.

Much of it is gone in a microsecond. And the rest in a matter of minutes. And not a single shot was fired.

At first.
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