The one thing that will eventually kill us all
IT TOOK me less than a fortnight after moving house to realise we are all going to die.
Not my family, nor even the removalists - no matter how I wished - but every last one of us. The entire human race.
Karl Marx once famously observed that capitalism carried within it the seeds of its own destruction but he was wrong. It's not capitalism that's the problem, it's people.
And this isn't some boring hippie rant. It's not climate change that's going to kill us off because it'd be a miracle if we lasted that long. Frankly, we'd be lucky to even make it to a nuclear holocaust.
Unfortunately it's something much more sinister and unavoidable. Indeed, it's the one thing we cannot live without: Ourselves.
People my age like to blame technology for all the world's problems, but in truth that's just shooting the messenger.
All technology has done is give human beings an unlimited capability to do what they have always wanted to. An iPhone merely takes a picture; we're the ones caught with our pants down.
But before we get to Armageddon let's do a quick recap of the Garden of Eden.
The human race ended the 20th century in pretty good shape, at least comparatively speaking. The first half of the 1900s was almost certainly the most bloody and brutal phase of humanity's existence.
Between 1914 and 1918 we perfected warfare on an industrial scale, a level of slaughter so hitherto unimaginable that it was dubbed "The War to End All Wars".
Yet we were so hapless that we fell into an even worse war just two decades later, and in the process perfected genocide on an industrial scale.
But in the second half of the 1900s it appeared that the world had finally learned its lesson.
In the West, fascism and communism were driven to the fringes of mainstream politics while centre-left and centre-right parties vied for government, the yoke of colonialism was lifted from developing countries in Asia and Africa and the wall came down in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile the USSR at least pretended to turn to free elections and China at least pretended to turn to free markets.
By the end of the 20th century there seemed to be a global consensus that moderate liberal democracy was the one universal goal worth aspiring towards, or at least paying lip service to.
It was such a sure thing that Francis Fukuyama spoke of "the end of history" and history seemed to be on our side.
During the 1990s the big three countries of the Anglosphere - the US, UK and Australia (because nobody cared about Canada back then) - all elected so-called "Third Way" leaders: Clinton, Blair and Keating, who were economically liberal but socially compassionate - an unprecedented planetary alignment of commonsense.
And now, just a few years later, look at us. The most advanced Western democracies are flocking to the fringes once again.
We have all the information in the world yet it has made us only more ideological and more ignorant; we have access to limitless opinions yet we seek to criminalise those who don't agree with us. We are so advanced and yet so backward, so cynical and yet so stupid, that we can no longer even agree on what constitutes a fact.
Welcome to the 21st century.
People like to blame fake news on Facebook, and that is true enough. But the far greater truth is far worse than that. Neither fake news nor Facebook emerged like Athena fully-formed from nothing. They were made by us. By us and for us and of us.
In the Brad Pitt blockbuster World War Z, a movie only slightly less apocalyptic than Brad Pitt's actual life, audiences were introduced to the concept of the "tenth man". This was apparently an Israeli notion designed to posit a sort of state-sponsored contrarian against the perils of groupthink.
In other words, if 90 per cent of people thought something was a good idea then there needed to be a tenth man to argue why it was a terrible idea or catastrophe would surely follow. After all, what plan could possibly succeed without somebody thinking of all the negative consequences?
This is what most of us would call playing the Devil's advocate, a fairly universal rule of thumb in day-to-day life, and yet few people outside the realm of sci-fi writers and Silicon Valley metabrains have raised the biggest red flag of all: Is technological progress actually taking us backwards? Are we advancing ourselves to death?
And this is the first problem with technology: It's ironic.
Take, for example, the moon landing. The most remarkable thing about landing on the moon had nothing to do with the moon itself but the astronomical combination of mathematics and engineering and physics and teamwork and politics and popular will that it took to get there and back.
What was actually gained there - a handful of rocks and a game of low-gravity golf - was of virtually no value and yet the act of the journey was invaluable beyond all measure.
The same is true with technology today. The development of it is mind-blowing but its application is almost entirely mindless.
Consider the internet itself, probably the most revolutionary invention in the history of humankind. Its potential to share information thus to accelerate the advancement of science and keep the world running in the event of catastrophic disaster - the purpose for which it was first intended - is all but limitless. And what do we use it for? Porn.
Consider the smartphone, the match to the powder keg of the worldwide web. Almost everyone in every half-developed part of the world, even people living on the streets, has a device more powerful than supercomputers that once took up whole buildings. We can access virtually any image, any idea, any information from anywhere in the world. And what do we overwhelmingly use it for? Taking pictures of ourselves.
And also porn.
Indeed, many industrious users combine the two. Women are scared off dating apps because their mere presence sparks a torrent of dick pics. And just this week it was reported that police would now be going into kindergartens to warn kids as young as four about the dangers of nude images.
Kids as young as four, for God's sake. What on earth have we become?
But of course that's the wrong question. The truth is there have always been creeps and perverts in every human society. We have just given them the perfect tools. Where is the tenth man when you need him?
And it's not just scary paedophiles. Another report this week suggested that social media could be fuelling divorce and relationship breakdown because it is now so easy not just to cheat or flirt but so easy to be caught. What was once a fleeting thought in the night now has a paper trail.
Nor is it just the usual whipping boy of social media. Let's look at medical technology - the smartest minds on the planet developing machines and medicines that keep the average person today alive for longer than was once ever dreamt of. And what is the result?
We are fatter and lazier than ever. Somehow we have managed to live longer and be less healthy at the same time, a combination that would be uproarious were it not resulting in spiralling hospital costs that will send most Western governments broke in a matter of decades. It was once said that the only two certainties in life were death and taxes and yet now we are defying death and there aren't enough taxes to pay for it. We are too dumb to even know when to die.
And now the problem is so severe that it has even infiltrated that once impenetrable fortress of good fortune, the suburban upper-middle class. Which is how it took me less than a fortnight after moving house to realise we were all going to die.
There I was, an overprivileged middle-aged man, desperately trying to hand over my money to anyone who could perform the most basic of tasks, and nobody could do it. Not a solitary soul from here to Bangalore.
That is where I suspect the call centre for my internet service provider might be but I can't Google it because almost a fortnight after moving in we still have no internet.
And the cable TV company told me we couldn't get cable so we would have to get satellite. Then the technician told me we couldn't get satellite because there were too many trees in the way. And despite a daily phone call to a friendly team of receptionists my newspapers are still being delivered to a house we left two weeks ago.
And of course the removalists never showed up, but at least that's to be expected.
At any rate, the point is this: Of all the myriad mundane services required for a person to move house from one location to another, and with every possible technology at the fingertips of both us and the service providers, not one was able to be completed on time, as promised or without a problem. Not a single one.
And that's when it hit me. Because you know the downfall of civilisation has really passed the point of no return when even a rich white guy can't get anything done.
So there you have it. We're doomed. The very things we invented to sustain us will destroy us. Indeed, they already are and we're all just too distracted by them to notice. Even our history could be wiped out by an electromagnetic pulse.
The best we can hope for is that one day a more advanced alien race discovers our demise from a long-forgotten newspaper article.
All they'll have to do is swing by my old house.