Alan Posener’s Column: The meaning of “2012”

by Alan Posener
Die Welt / Welt am Sonntag  / HIRAM7 REVIEW

Nobody enjoys a nice apocalypse more than me, as long as I’m in the cinema watching it and not experiencing it firsthand. Germans have a knack for this kind of thing, so it’s probably no accident that Hollywood’s past master of destruction is Roland Emmerich, a German.

Emmerich’s first film was called “The Noah’s Ark Principle”, and after a string of blockbusters including “Independence Day” (Martians destroy civilization as we know it) and “The Day After Tomorrow” (climate change destroys civilization as we know it), he has returned to the Noah’s Ark idea with his new movie, “2012”.

The plot is this: mutated neutrinos from the sun heat up the Earth’s core, so that the crust begins to melt and the continents slide around and bump into one another, causing huge earthquakes and, finally, a giant flood that (you guessed it) destroys civilization as we know it.

Total bullshit scientifically speaking and all very enjoyable and I only wish the whole thing had been filmed in 3-D. Stars like John Cusack, Woody Harrelson and the inimitable Oliver Platt do their thing while skyscrapers tumble and planes crash all around them, and if you need to rest your eyes a bit, Amanda Peet and Thandie Newton are there.

Feminists will carp that all the women have to do is to hang on the lips of the clever men and keep the kids quiet while Daddy tries to save the world, but hey, what else is new? Who cares about gender mainstreaming when the whole goddamn planet is going to bits?

Ah, but not the whole of mankind, and there’s the rub, as Hamlet would have said. The leaders of the G-8 states plus China, after being warned by scientists of the impending doom, get together and decide (a) to keep their knowledge secret, (b) to build giant Arks in the Himalayas to rescue the most valuable bits of mankind – meaning first and foremost themselves of course, and certain billionaires who secretly finance the boats in return for a place on board. Anyone who even attempts to go public is immediately liquidated.

Admittedly, certain details of this plan and its ice-cold logic – the inhuman logic of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, which Oliver Platt as the Mad (Jewish?) Scientist “Dr Anheuser” expounds with visible relish – are occasionally questioned. Was it really necessary to kill the Louvre director just because he was about to blow the secret plan?

Wouldn’t it have been better to have saved the nice Indian scientist who first discovered the  nasty neutrinos, as promised, rather than letting him drown with his family and the rest of India? Did the cabins on the Arks have to be quite so large and luxurious at the cost of a higher capacity? And, oh yes, shouldn’t one tell the rest of the people sometime what is about to befall them, so that “mothers can comfort their children”?

Good questions. As Dr Anheuser’s opposite number, the good scientist Adrian Helmsley (played by Chiwetel Ojiofor) says in the obligatory cathartic scene, where people discover the “angels of their better nature”, as Abraham Lincoln put it: Humanity must not soil its new beginning with inhumanity.

Well, by that time 99.9 percent of humanity are dead already, there being no place of them in the inn – er, in the Ark, and the only question is whether to leave the Tibetan construction workers and Chinese guards behind, as planned (and advocated by bad Dr. Anheuser), together with the passengers of one of the Arks that unfortunately isn’t ready for departure.

What the Good Scientist does not question, however, is the plan itself. A plan that starts from the assumption that an important thing like saving the world can only be correctly managed by governments. (God, you will recall, saw things differently. Noah was not a member of any government. But let it go.)

What would really be a sensible course of action in such an event? Secret government action in order to save the elite – or total openness in order to mobilize all possible means of escape for as many people as possible? Given that – as the film assumes – humanity would have a couple of years in which to brace itself, the second course would obviously be the right one to pursue. Yes, there would be panic, despair, chaos. But at the same time the immense resources of the market could be harnessed in order to meet the demand for a scarce commodity suddenly skyrocketing in value: survival. You’d see people building and selling mini-submarines, renting out Zeppelins, charging for places on space stations and so forth. Humanitarian organizations would call for crash programs in order to build Arks for the poor, disadvantaged and so on.

Whatever the upshot, you can be sure that in the end many more people would be rescued than by a secret government project that – as in Emmerich’s movie – has to rely on the Chinese dictatorship in order to erect its secret Ark-building  factories in Tibet.

As Emmerich’s movie unwittingly shows, the decision for free markets, free enterprise, capitalism and an open society is a moral decision. Those who trust in markets trust in people and their abilities; this is why this option leads to a better, a more humane world: those who put their trust in governments do so because they mistrust people and their creativity. This option always contains the seeds of totalitarianism.

Contrary to popular opinion, times of crisis are precisely the times when one needs to turn to the market rather than the state, to the open society rather than to totalitarianism.

Unfortunately, “2012” suggests the opposite. 

Statements and opinions expressed in articles therein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the publisher.

One Response to Alan Posener’s Column: The meaning of “2012”

  1. Markus says:

    “Contrary to popular opinion, times of crisis are precisely the times when one needs to turn to the market rather than the state”
    Unfortunately, Mr. Posener, this simple insight seems to have eluded you when judging Mr. Sarrazin’s comments on the immigration-situation in Berlin and Germany.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s