Six Minutes to Midnight

Scientists today have pushed back the hands on the Doomsday Clock by one minute, bringing us back to the six-minute mark; this marks the nineteenth time since the clock’s inception in 1947 that the hands have been moved. For those not in the know, the Doomsday Clock is a device maintained by a group of scientists and other such bigwigs, meant to indicate how close they feel we are to complete self-annihilation of the human race (represented by midnight). During the course of its existence, the clock has ranged from 17 minutes out (on the signing of the START I between the US and USSR) to a narrow 2 minutes (when the same two countries tested nuclear devices within months of one another in 1953). This is a pretty noteworthy occasion, since the clock has moved so few times in its 63-year history — the hands are only adjusted when the global political climate changes significantly — it was pushed back four minutes when the Berlin Wall fell, for instance; this move comes on the heels of recent global talks about reducing both nuclear stockpiles and self-harming gaseous emissions around the world.

Since I first heard of it, I’ve thought the clock was a very interesting thing. It’s a somewhat arbitrary measure, sure, but there are some serious brains behind the ups and downs, the ins and outs of it, so it’s certainly not entirely random or baseless, but at the same time, I can’t help but ponder what it truly represents. To be clear, it’s not meant to measure when the world might end or when things are going to be so bad that the planet starts to melt away — it’s a measuring stick of how likely humanity is to wipe itself out; nothing more. It makes me think of a sweeping, Hollywood-style pan over a barren, wind-swept landscape, the empty remains of what was human civilization still smoldering in the white-hot breeze, showcasing the near-complete destruction of everything we’ve built, slowly focusing in on a lone bunker amongst the rubble, where deep underground a solitary nuclear physicist (in full laboratory regalia, of course) adjusts his glasses with grimy, dirt-caked fingers and wistfully pushes the minute hand of a large wall clock to the 12:01 position. Heh.

But, what does this really mean? A group of people who devote their studies to such things believes that we’re now further from erasing our existence from the memory of the universe than we were the last time the clock was adjusted (2007, largely due to North Korean nuclear testing and continued strife in the Middle East) — that is, that we’re making progress towards a more peaceful unification of mankind on our shared planet. It’s a move of optimism, of hope for a future made brighter by something other than nuclear fire. It’s an affirmation of the global community’s confidence in our current leaders to think before pulling the trigger, and to weigh the outcome of their actions rather than to push their own agenda violently. It’s a measure of hope, much like I espoused in my latest post, that somehow, some way, we might just make it through our differences as nations, and survive into new days as humans.

In short, it’s everything that I hope for in the world, wrapped up in a symbolic gesture from a scientific community that too often otherwise demands hard data and results rather than affording themselves the luxury of having hope.

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