A Nov. 17 article on Newsmax.com by Marisa Herman titled “High Levels of Solar Activity Could Knock Out Internet for Months” reminds us that solar flares, which are a regular occurrence, are capable of wreaking the same damage on our electrical systems as a dreaded EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack from China or elsewhere.

Back in 1859, at a time when electronic communications had just begun, the Carrington Event, a “coronal mass ejection” or CME, “took out the telegraph system,” electrocuting some telegraphists. And although the solar atmosphere has apparently gone through a quiet period throughout the birth of the internet and satellite communications, this period is now coming to an end. The sun is entering a “more active time,” and heightened activity is expected already in 2024.

The passage that most struck me was the following:

In 2013, the late Peter Pry, who served on the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack from 2001-2008, told Newsmax that the “time for action has long passed.”

“We know how to protect the grid,” Pry said. “We should be doing things to protect the grid and not just playing games. We’ve known for 50 years how to protect against both nuclear EMP and natural EMP from the sun.” [my emphasis]

Pry was raising the same concerns years later, writing for Newsmax in April 2021 that “U.S. electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures, that sustain 330 million Americans, have never been protected from EMP.”

Under [George Mason U. Professor Peter] Becker’s proposed early warning system, he contends satellites could be placed in a “safe mode” and transformers could be taken offline from the grid so they don’t “fry.”

As the world spends vast quantities of energy and money fighting climate change, nothing of note seems to have been done to respond to Pry’s 2013 warning. Assuming that his assertion that we’ve known how to protect the grid for 50 years is correct, the most likely reasons why this far greater and more specific danger has simply been ignored are that (1) unlike climate change, it has no potential for progressive political guilt-mongering and virtue-signaling, and (2) largely for these very reasons, it provides no obvious opportunities for profit-making boondoggles like subsidized windmills and electric cars. With no clear possibility of impact on the consumer market, the possibility of a CME’s having a devastating impact on global humanity could hardly be “monetized” for either vanity or profit; what products could we possibly buy that would replace and/or protect the internet, the power grid, and communications networks such as the GPS system that sustain our daily lives?

Given that whatever is done to the power grid will presumably have little direct effect on either consumer spending or political and personal one-upmanship, this danger seems likely to receive little publicity and even less public attention and funding—until some disaster occurs, after which the CME crisis will dominate the news cycle, assuming one still exists.

This suggests two further reflections.

(1) Does this failure to address such a world-class problem reveal a limitation of the ability of liberal democracies to defend the world’s population, dependent as they are on attracting public and political support by promoting “virtuous” self-sacrifice that at the same time allows the government to pour billions into firms that finance elections?

(2) But given that China, technologically our near-equal, is presumably run by rational bureaucrats relatively insensitive to the interests of consumer society, why has China not been spearheading research in this area? (Assuming it could not do so in such a manner that we would be unaware of it.)

The first question may also be asked a propos of serious if less dramatic problems of Western-style societies, such as keeping the public order in an era of demographic change, particularly striking in now multicultural Europe, but certainly relevant as well to the US, where central cities are full of crime, drug dealing, and homeless encampments, concomitant with the decline of marriage and other manifestations of societal cohesion such as religious congregations.

Some will say that these and other symptoms of the breakdown of the voluntary systems of the liberal social order suggest the necessity, even the inevitability, of the replacement of the liberal democracy that has heretofore dominated Western society by the more authoritarian forms of social order typical of socialist/communist or Islamist dictatorships or “democratures.” But how then explain the neglect in both liberal and authoritarian societies of a will to develop systems to counter possible and eventually probable catastrophic CME damage to the internet and to power grids, and in consequence to advanced societies and their economies around the world?

Does this not seem to demonstrate that in the age of advanced technology, the human tendency to mimetic rivalry is now finally showing itself stronger than the forces of différance, language and the sacred that for tens of thousands of years had been able to temper it? The only sign of US concern mentioned in the article is a grant of $13.6 million to George Mason University and the Naval Research Laboratory. The energy and money (ultimately two measures of the same thing) spent on a threat as vague as “climate change,” which in the worst-case scenario does not risk ending or even deeply damaging human life on Earth, probably dwarfs the grant’s total by a factor of a million—although no doubt not the cost ultimately required for genuine EMP/CME prevention.

As we despair of the cultural nastiness stirred up by the 10/7 Hamas pogrom, highlighting the viciousness of human rivalry after all these centuries of civilization, we might paradoxically find some element of consolation in the realization that, unlike this attack and the hatreds underlying it, the international community’s apparent reluctance to heed Pry’s ten-year-old warning is grounded not in deep and barbaric communal hatreds, but in a combination of self-serving virtue-signaling on the one hand and greed on the other—the same combination that we observe in the alliance between Wokeness and the Western market system (see Chronicle 784) for, to give an example, combating climate change.

Can it be a mere coincidence that the desacralization of human language implicit in the proliferation of AI chatbots has coincided with the revelation of the widespread support in the “civilized” Western world for Hamas’ barbarity? And is it not obvious that what horrifies us, less in the barbarity itself than in its endorsement, is just a more dramatic version of the lack of communal human self-love that lowers our concern for a genuine danger to our species once it affords no immediate hand-holds to either personal vanity or corporate profit margins?