The Clock on the Wall

A funny thing happened on the way to Armageddon. We never got there. We were supposed to be dead by now. Extinct. No one mourning us. No one to mourn. We’re still here, whether by miracle, mere chance or some unforeseen delay. For seven decades, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has maintained a running calculus of mankind’s odds of survival and called it the Doomsday Clock. When the clock strikes Twelve, we’re all goners. But this clock is not bound by the relative decay of the universe — we are not dealing with Time as the measure of our progression. This clock reflects circumstance and attitudes, its inner works motivated by our actions, its hands guided by our device. The Doomsday Clock is a measure of our relative sanity or (for the glass-half-empty crowd) foolishness.

In 1953, the clock was set at two minutes to midnight by the scientists at the Bulletin. The prior year, the United States had conducted its first test of a thermonuclear weapon, ushering in the Age of the Hydrogen Bomb. In 1963, it was twelve minutes to midnight, owing to the signing of a test-ban treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1984, it was back down to three minutes, reflecting the deterioration of the US-Soviet diplomatic relationship. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the clock for 1991 was set back to seventeen minutes to midnight. The clock timeline varies between 5 and 9 throughout the first dozen or so years of this century. In 2015, the clock was moved to three minutes to midnight. It stayed put for 2016. For 2017, we are at two-and-a-half minutes. It doesn’t look good, but it still looks better than 1953.

Here in the United States, we’re in the opening phase of a civil war. Fortunately, we all have guns. What? You don’t? I suggest that you run down to the store and get one. It’s easy. In fact it’s so easy, you can sign your name with an “X” and get a gun. You can beat your ex with a shovel and get a gun. And that’s a good thing, because if you don’t get that gun, you’re going to need that shovel. So, grab your gun and pick your side. I get the impression that one side is going to opt for hoisting the Confederate battle flag. That may bother some of you, but others might appreciate the big target. We know how it ends. The way it always does. The Constitution wins. Everybody else loses. And the Doomsday clock will stay where it is or move back a click, because when we’re fighting each other, the rest of the world is safer.

The most powerful force in the universe is irony. It is ironic that the creators of the Doomsday Clock were the ones responsible for developing nuclear weapons. It is ironic that the Russian subcontinent is the yin to our yang at every juncture since the end of the Second World War. When the Tsars ruled, things were terrible for everyone at home outside of court. Things weren’t so great here either. We had a revolution, remember? And a civil war. And a bunch of uncivil wars. We were dying in coalmines. We were dying of the flu. We were dying of old age at forty. We have never been heathier, or wealthier, than we are now. Yet, the clock on the wall stands at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. Ironic.