Apocalyptic thinking

Our contributors contemplate the end of the world

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July 16, 2021

It was on July 4, 2025, that Kamala Harris received her first true “3 a.m. phone call” as President. The time was 3:26, in fact, and on the line was the Director of National Intelligence (and Harris’s fellow Californian) Adam Schiff. “Madam President,” Schiff began, his tone instantly telegraphing the direness of the situation, “we have some urgent intelligence from Russia.” Given the circumstances, “urgent” was an understatement.

Minutes earlier, the US Intelligence Community had received word from the Kremlin that a group of radical climate activists calling itself Extinction Now had infiltrated the central-control station at Russia’s newest nuclear plant, in Kaliningrad. The group’s demand was as simple as it was psychotic: Russia, along with all other developed nations, had to cease the production and consumption of fossil fuels and nuclear energy within 24 hours

Failing this, they would shut down the reactor coolant and “set off a nuclear explosion that will make Chernobyl look like child’s play”. Yes, a blast of such magnitude would do “some environmental harm” but “if it means helping eradicate the pandemic of human life that has plagued our little, blue gem of a planet, so be it.” 

This was not merely a European headache; the White House soon received word of similar infiltrations at nuclear facilities in France, Canada, China — and the US. Ditching the old green mantra, Extinction Now thought (and acted) globally.

Harris’s political life flashed before her. She wouldn’t be in the White House had it not been for Trump’s third-party challenge to the GOP nominee, Ron DeSantis, which had divided the Right. Moreover, a polarised public hadn’t indulged her with the honeymoon period new presidents expect. And her legitimacy was under a permanent cloud, owing to dramatic changes to US electoral laws, including votes for illegal immigrants, imposed by executive order by her predecessor and ex-boss, Joe Biden.

But why should she be sorry for that decision? Media, academe, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, corporate America and the nation’s professional class as a whole all adored her. What did it matter to her that a smattering of malcontents — whose conspiracy-laden views were increasingly invisible to the non-deplorables, thanks to the efforts of Messrs. Dorsey and Zuckerberg — objected to the new regime?


Meanwhile, there were other burning questions blazing that night at the White House residence: how had America’s top-flight spy agencies missed the threat from Extinction Now? Why hadn’t the Russians, let alone allies such as Britain and France, warned Washington? Was there some scientific or technical solution? If not, was there a military option? If the West were forced to meet the Extinction Now demand, how should she level with the public?  

No one among the Cabinet members and other high officials assembled in the White House Situation Room could give the President a straight answer. It fell to a nerdy-looking National Security Council staffer, standing in the pews surrounding the principals’ table, to voice the grim truth. This staffer seemed to have sensed that something truly apocalyptic was afoot, and so felt bold enough to unburden himself of opinions that under normal circumstances would have almost certainly ended his career.

He began to read from hastily jotted notes on a pad. “Madam President,” he said, as a hush fell over the room, “the reason America’s Intelligence Community missed the militarisation of Extinction Now and other extreme green groups isn’t complicated: the vast majority of our spooks spend their days analysing their identities along intersectional lines of race, gender and sexuality.

 “As you know, the CIA now specifically recruits for people with gender-identity and anxiety disorders. Madam President, the last time our office requested a CIA report on jihadist groups operating in the Sahel, they protested that the Council was racist, xenophobic, fascist and triggering. Six employees requested indefinite compassionate leave as a result of our request.

“As for Russia and our allies,” the staffer went on, “the other great powers have been trying to warn you about the rise of hard-line greens. The trouble is, they can’t get through. You’ve put Karen Attiah in charge of European policy, remember? Before joining your administration, she had a knack for enraging the French by knocking out ill-informed jeremiads applying the parochial obsessions of US wokesters to global problems. She cast Macron almost as a fascist! The French — and not just the French — now see critical race theory as a tool of American imperialism designed to undermine their national cohesion; trust is low.

“And it was you, Madam President, who as Vice President oversaw the reorganisation of the Intelligence Community, installing a directorate for diversity, inclusion and equity at each agency. And the DIE directors at the various agencies have been working overtime to filter any intelligence from Russia, France, Britain and the like out of your daily briefings — on the grounds that these powers cling to the ‘dark vestiges of the past’, as you yourself put it in your Inaugural Address.”


The staffer explained that a scientific-technical solution was out of reach: “Given the direction of grant money these days, our top physicists now devote most of their energies to exploring the connection between the cosmos and the idea of racial blackness and to interrogating the use of terms such as ‘black holes’ among mostly white, heterosexist scientists. And our scientists are increasingly — how should I put this delicately? — inadequate, their departments flooded with race-and-gender theorists since the elimination of selective testing.

“And Madam President, you might as well forget about a military solution. Many in the top brass, as you can probably guess, have been busy naming and renaming bases — Guantanamo Bay has been renamed Naval Base Mumia Abu Jamal, though its, er, mission has hardly changed — and redesigning flags and insignia to remove any trace of the stars and stripes. The generals love CRT. As for the specific infiltration units we’d need for this particular job, those guys have been working remotely since the rolling Covid lockdowns became the norm. They haven’t trained for years and are frankly hideously overweight. 

“Madam President,” the staffer was winding up, “your best bet is to level with the public and tell the people you’re going along with Extinction Now. We can hope a pre-emptive US surrender will dissuade them from blowing up our reactors, at least. Turn the Russians into the villains here and insist democracy itself is at stake.”

Within hours, more than half of American residential homes and small businesses would lose power. Gas queues would stretch for miles. Shoppers fighting over basic supplies in grocery stores would resort to armed struggle. Riots would break out in red states and blue, though the federal government and media would strictly refer to the latter as “social-justice gatherings”.

Americans, and the West as a whole, would be foolish to underestimate the security risks posed by woke ideology to our societies — even setting aside the important question of its origin: whether it represents the working out of liberal principles or some foreign ideological invasion, from a source extrinsic to liberal order itself (I believe it’s mostly the former).

Wokeness serves two functions for today’s ruling elites. The first is a kind of ideological control directed against Western working classes: wokeness covers over concrete class and economic injustices — massive wealth inequality, health precarity, stagnant wages and so on — with a thick fog of mystification. It creates an impression of furious change and even revolutionary activity. Yet what is in fact taking place is mostly intra-elite competition and redistribution: a disabled trans woman may be on the board, but workers still have to relieve themselves in bottles for lack of sufficient breaks. Wokeness, moreover, is a powerful regulatory mechanism for the HR department, replacing the old factory discipline with a far more invasive psychological apparatus having to do with workers’ use of language and, in essence, their manners.

But there is a second function, and it’s this one that threatens to upset the whole applecart. As Oliver Bateman has astutely argued, woke censorship also serves to insulate elites themselves from reality. The owners of capital and the dull-witted “meritocrats” who service them would prefer not to be exposed to the discontents of workers — but also to other realities that call their rule into question, whether diplomatic or environmental or military. The system must go on. Wokeness creates a filter for uncomfortable facts.

To take a real-world example: US elites spent decades courting China and inviting the Beijing regime into the international economic order, often at the expense of workers in the American heartland. Then it turned out that the Chinese may have been responsible for unleashing a novel virus that cost millions of lives and untold economic damage (much of it borne by the Western poor).

But rather than face this reality and all it implied head-on, elites deployed wokeness as an insulating mechanism. Linking the virus to its origins was xenophobic in the early days of the pandemic (witness the World Health Organisation’s virus-naming agonies), and suggesting the possibility of a lab leak was likewise racist and “unscientific” to boot. Facebook aggressively censored any lab-leak claims, including a column in the New York Post, where I work. Economic interdependence with China is paramount, and wokeness helps block elites’ own view of its downsides.

You can see how easily this principle, taken to its logical conclusion, could usher in the next cataclysm, one far more serious than Covid-19.