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The Extinction of the 21st Century Optimist

For a good many years now, I’ve seen myself as someone nurturing hope personally and optimism generally.  Pessimism, to me, just seemed to be a dog that wouldn’t hunt, an inaccurate reflection of all reality, and not a prescription for a satisfying life.  When things went awry, one could always—like Annie’s classic song “Tomorrow” expresses—look forward to a brighter new day.  Nevertheless, the confluence of dark events taking place as the new century unfolds has begun to take its toll on the shimmer of that outlook.  And I’m not speaking of the personal ravages of age—the hearing aid deficiencies, prostate biopsies, financial concerns, worries over an ailing mate.  No, I’m referring here to the whole human “global” picture, and what might be termed an increasing macrocosmic aggregate of negativity.

The latest example, of course, is the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Resort massacre, at last count 59 innocents dead and over 500 injured, all at the hands of one inscrutable man with an efficient killing tool.  Just prior to that, nature’s forces of wind, flood and quaking ground had extracted a pitiless vengeance on the peoples of Texas, Mexico, Florida and Puerto Rico, and another storm is brewing in the Gulf of Mexico as I write this.  The backdrop to these catastrophes, ironically enough, was the showing of the 18-hour PBS television series on the Vietnam War—night after night of reliving the blood, the gore, the terrified and grieving faces and noise of battle for those of us who served there.  All for naught.  And that’s not to mention the years of ongoing slaughter in the Middle East and Afghanistan and the sporadic deadly terrorist acts all over Europe.  It makes the NFL’s disrespect for our national anthem and the fatuous removal of statues around the nation (all done actually as a destabilizing “resistance” to the Trump administration) seem like child’s play, which it is.

The next budding world threat in the near term, however, is the obsessive North Korean missile and nuclear weapons program.  Kim Jong-un seems hell bent on developing a hydrogen bomb which can be fit into a nose cone with a delivery system that can reach the continental U.S.  Now, should he succeed, the consequential possibilities might be threefold.  The first, quite naturally, is the conventional risk of losing a major U.S. west-coast metropolis if Kim becomes trigger happy.  The second would be the devastating effects of an electromagnetic pulse event (EMP) created by the detonation of a nuclear device high over the North American continent, obliterating nearly all electronic devices and neutralizing the entire power grid for months thereafter.  The third possibility, however, is almost unthinkable, but quite real.

Roland Emmerich’s 2009 epic disaster film 2012, while being a rip-roaring action/adventure script, did contain some elements based on sound science, one being the destructive potential of a latent supervolcano resting beneath Yellowstone National Park.  (For a graphic depiction of what an eruption there would look like, check it out.)  According to a recent essay in the American Liberty Report, this Yellowstone magma chamber contains at least 70 cubic miles of lava, “enough to fill up the Grand Canyon 11 times.”  A “supereruption” of this Caldera would constitute a magnitude not seen since the massive explosion of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815.  In addition to the horrific death toll then, that occurrence “darkened skies worldwide and caused what’s known as a ‘global climate anomaly.’ Temperatures worldwide decreased and countries in the Earth’s northern hemisphere experienced what historians dubbed ‘The Year Without a Summer.’ Most North American crops were ruined…[and] the worst famine of the entire 19th century was recorded in 1816.”

Now, it’s believed that North Korean volcanologists, rocket scientists and nuclear researchers are combining their efforts to produce a weapon capable of striking Yellowstone and precipitating that supereruption.  Should that occur, as the Liberty Report’s essay elaborates, “up to 90,000 people living in the immediate region would die within hours…crops growing in the Midwest would be covered by up to 12 inches of ash and would fail…The resulting food shortage would impact the entire world.”  Air traffic and wireless communication would be impossible; sulfur dioxide in the air would cause acid rain over the Eastern United States; up to 75 percent of the U.S. could be uninhabitable for a year or longer, forcing massive relocations to areas outside the country.  In fact, the essay concludes that that might be the defining circumstance which brings to an end the U.S. republic.

So, for those among us who might still wish to, as the age-old expression goes, “look for the light at the end of the tunnel,” where might they turn?  Well, one source of positivity could be the 1997 book The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe, in which the authors postulate that a recurring four-stage cycle composed of four successive human generations determine the unfolding of history.  And the pattern repeats over and over.  The first stage (or “turning”) is termed a “high,’ most recently represented by the post-World War II era.  The next is the “awakening,” spanning the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.  Following that comes the “unraveling,” covering the mid-1980s to about 2008.  The last “turning” is the “crisis,” the one in which we now find ourselves and our nation.  It is described on Wikipedia as “an era of destruction, often involving war, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s survival.”  Since each turning lasts about 22 years, it would appear that we might need to endure the present chaos until the mid-2020s before reentering the “high” stage, described as a period when “institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, though those outside the majoritarian center often feel stifled by the conformity.”  Hmmmm.  But, to me, that sounds a lot like the triumph of Communism!  You know, like North Korea.  Do I hear any optimist voices out there?

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Mark Scheel
Mark Scheel grew up in east-Kansas farm country. He attended both Kansas State University and The University of Kansas, majoring in psychology and English. Prior to writing full time he served overseas with the American Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, West Germany and England, taught at Emporia State University and was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Little Balkans Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The Kansas City Star, Heritage of Kansas, Samisdat, and Poet as well as many sites online such as Common Ground News. His literary activities have also involved membership in The Kansas Authors Club, a seat on the board of directors for Potpourri Publications Company and an editorial position with Kansas City Voices magazine. He co-authored the book Of Youth and the River: the Mississippi Adventure of Raymond Kurtz, Sr., and his collection of stories and poems, A Backward View, was awarded the 1998 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His most recent book is titled The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

18 comments to The Extinction of the 21st Century Optimist

  • Richard Cahill

    I don’t know about citing the American Liberty Report, Sr. Scheel. They would seem to have a bit of an agenda. Edited in Moscow, perhaps?
    If the Fat Kid were dumb enough to launch a missile attack on the US mainland, something which many experts believe he isn’t capable of yet, I imagine he would try to hit a major population center, rather than target a national park, since only the ALR seems scientifically certain that a nuclear hit would precipitate the explosion of the supervolcano.

  • Hello Sir Richard,
    Thanks for your input. Well, in keeping with the high standards Don F. has set for me, I multi-sourced the NK volcano attack theory, so it isn’t only the ALR that puts it out there; however, they provided more details and data so I quoted them extensively. (I believe they publish out of Orlando, FL, not Moscow. ) Anyway, the consensus of opinion seemed to be the lava is about five miles down but there are cracks, the NK do seem to be toying with the theory testing around their own old volcano on border with China which ticks off the Chinese, and yes, a precipitated eruption at Yellowstone is “possible” but would have to involve a hydrogen biggie and great precision as to the point of strike and so is generally considered not “probable.” But dang, Richard, you’re right in his crosshairs if he took the first option! Don’t rest too easy now! 😉

  • Richard Cahill

    Well, I Googled the volcano attack theory and found it corroborated by Before It’s News, a site that on the page of the volcano story had stories “proving” that there were three shooters in Vegas and that the Pope will resign February 28th, and the UK Daily Star, the British equivalent of the National Enquirer. Methinks thou art relying on fake news.

  • Hey Richard,

    You didn’t Google deep enough. I saw those and discarded early on. Here you go, The Sydney Morning Herald:
    And there are indeed others above the level of the Enquirer! Just sayin’! 🙂 But, remember, The National Enquirer was right breaking news on Limbaugh! Ha.


  • mistermuse

    Mark, I think the last sentence of your second paragraph is a bit facile. You may call it “child’s play” and “resistance to the Trump Administration,” but there are deeper reasons behind what you decry. I believe greater and more unified respect for the flag can be expected only if most of us accept that the flag must stand for more than the high-minded half of America’s story. I put it this way in a recent letter to the editor published in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

    “In response to James F. Burns’ Sept. 29 op-ed, “I’m your American flag,” I would like to ask Burns where he was when many less-than-noble events he conveniently overlooks took place. The story of America isn’t just the glories he celebrates, but the often brutal displacement of Native Americans (and subsequent broken treaties), slavery, racism, lynching of African-Americans, forced internment of Japanese-Americans during WW II, etc., etc., etc.
    The flag must represent not only the good of Burns’ America but the mixed bag of everyone’s America (past and present) if it is not to continue to face the future with blinders on.”

    Either the flag represents America’s whole story or it represents only what flag-wavers want it to represent.

  • Hi muse,
    Yes, there may be “perceived” reasons behind what I decry, but, in my view, they’re not valid. You have an articulate response to that Burns fellow, but given the real issue I think it irrelevant. Sorry. If Hillary had won the presidency, do you honestly think any of this nonsense would be going on? Of course not. And all great nations in their rise have, shall we say, left a checkered past? That’s how they got on top–Rome, Greece, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, England, Turkey, Spain, on and on. We need to forgive the past and resolve to do better in the future. Mulling over the past won’t change it. As far as the flag goes, many comrades came home in wooden boxes with that flag covering them. That’s reason enough for any mature, respectable citizen to show honor to it. Period. I knew this post contained a number of controversial points and it’s most interesting to see who jumps on what. Thanks for the input! 🙂 Mark

  • mistermuse

    Mark, it’s easy to forgive the past when you haven’t been a victim of it. And even if we forgive the past, that doesn’t mean we should FORGET the past (ALL of it). In my opinion, to remember only the part of the past we want to remember does less than fully honor the sacrifices of those who came home in wooden boxes. Either the flag stands for all of what’s American, or it stands for part. Period.

  • Don Frankel


    Both the Bible and science concur on the End of Days but 1984, 2012 and the Mayan calendar are all in the rear view mirror now. And as that great philosopher Riddick in the Sci-fi movie The Chronicles of Riddick says when told that if the doesn’t take on the bad guys, it’s the end of the universe. “It’s got to end sometime.”

    If optimism depends on the vision of a spotless future well it won’t exist. But the world is what it is and as a history professor told me many years ago. “The world is always going to hell in a hand basket it just never quite gets there. Think of the Civil War here. There are 1 million battlefield casualties and an equal amount of soldiers who die from disease. Then there are the civilian casualties which no one bothered to count up and estimates go from a low amount of fifty thousand to a high of three quarters of a million. There are only 36 million people in the country at the time that means at least 1 in 18 Americans died or maybe as many as 1 in 13 million. I think that would be the equivalent of 18 million Americans dying with today’s population. But then I’m not good at math. But the country not only survived it thrived.

    I think part of what you’re doing here is what most people do, they look at the news as if it was a source document. It’s not. It’s all hype and sensationalism. By their own definition, the news is when a man bites a dog because that’s out of the ordinary. But reality is people don’t bite dogs, dogs bite people. Of course you’re also using history books here or analysis of event books if that’s a proper term. But either way like Mr. Shaw said. “History will tell lies, as usual.”

    Carpe diem my friend.


  • Not possible. Bombs aimed to the volcanic magma would simply melt with the heat. Super volcanoes erupt with 100,000 times the power of nuclear bombs. You will need to look elsewhere to destroy civilization on Earth.

  • Mark seems to have set a conversation in motion here, including the posts that follow this one. As a country we were disillusioned about Vietnam, so many losses. Followed by Bush’s Ego-Centric War, more losses, or wounded so badly they will never lead normal lives, and now a President with an ego even bigger than Bush’s. My fears are not Mark’s fears, although they do include an atomic outburst by a rogue entity, plus fear of massive hordes of refugees across the North American continent, and the safety of the world’s agriculture.

  • mistermuse,

    Indeed, I agree in principle with what you’re saying about the past, but disrespecting the flag at ball games has no logical connection. The overpaid, celebrity, historically undereducated players who knee weren’t “victims” either. And America has given them a great life. Tearing down statues is an example of erasing the past. I would hope you’d oppose that also.
    Really appreciate the give and take, muse. Thanks for taking the time and effort.


  • Hi Don,

    Well, we agree on the news, the major media anyway. But what I researched didn’t come from those “mainstream” sources, but ones I felt merited at least some pondering and discussion. Love the fact it generated that! As for hell, maybe that’s really what the world consists of, and we experience it individually–like the PBS Vietnam series depicted. Hell on Earth. Now, for an articulate writer who writes with a similar vision expressed in this essay, check out Tony Caravan on Scriggler. His catalog of pessimistic considerations puts mine to shame. Ha. 😉 And as for history, remember, yes, it’s always written by the winners.
    Be well, friend,

  • Hey Ken,

    Good to see your comment! Trust you’re well. No, what my essay addresses isn’t what you’re referring to, bombing a volcano by dropping ordnance into the magma. Yes, that’s been tried, and it was done to either divert lava flow or stop an eruption. It doesn’t work. But what NK is playing around with is using great force to open a crack and start an eruption and that’s another animal. As alluded to in the essay, there was a supereruption in 1815 and it was indeed horrific, but it wasn’t caused then by a bomb. So if NK figures it out–of course, a “long shot” (pardon the pun)–Houston, we’ve got a problem!
    Take care,

  • Mark, I don’t think the statues you’re talking about should be destroyed, but neither should they be celebrated as defenders of slavery, which is really what the Civil War was about despite the South’s framing it as a states rights issue. No state has the right to enslave human beings. The statues belong in ‘appropriate’ settings (whatever that may be), not on public squares or college campuses. .

  • Hi Peg,

    And good to see your contribution! Yes, you do raise more questions! I advise you also, like Don, to check out Tony Caravan on Scriggler. He has many of the same concerns you do. Well, after all this back and forth, I’m feeling less pessimistic once more. Mission accomplished, I guess. LOL 😉

    Stay well,


  • Hello again muse,

    Some were destroyed, you know–pulled down by the “righteous-minded.” Speaking as someone whose great grandfathers both fought for the North, the young men of the South deserve to be remembered too. And Lee was the greatest general on the North American continent then, and also deserves recognition. He was once asked to be the commander of the American military forces, but refused because his first allegiance was to Virginia in accordance with the Constitution. States rights again. The whole world is a history of slavery; the U.S. is the nation that abolished it. Those statues should be where they’re seen and taught to the youth, not hidden away where they’ll be forgotten. That’s my take. For whatever it’s worth–a far cry from volcanoes!

  • mistermuse

    Mark, I appreciate your perspective, but I repeat NO STATE HAS THE RIGHT TO ENSLAVE HUMAN BEINGS. I don’t care if the “whole world has a history of slavery” — that doesn’t make it right. Yes, the U.S. abolished it (no thanks to the South, which would’ve continued it if they had won the war)…and if anything is to be celebrated, that’s it. I don’t see that as contradicting the valor, however wrong-headed, of those who fought for the South.

    That’s my take, and I’ll let it go at that. I appreciate the “Civil” discussion.

  • Greetings again, mistermuse,
    I don’t want to be accused of simply trying to get in the last word, but your last comment does beg for some clarification. No need to repeat anything about states not having the right to enslave people; I’ve never advocated such a thing. But at one time the Supreme Court came close with Furgussion VS Plussey. And, as the late writer Don Coldsmith (an acquaintance of mine from Emporia) pointed out, if the Civil War hadn’t been fought, slavery would have soon died on the vine. It was becoming no longer economically viable. Finally, rather than protesting black slavery which ended in 1865 the players should be protesting child sex slavery which is now rampant in U.S. That’s my take and I, like you, will leave it there. Likewise the “Civil” discussion–pun intended in the mistermuse style! Ha. 🙂

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