The so-called “prisoner’s dilemma” is a classic example of game theory. It supposes a situation where two criminals are arrested at the same time for a crime that they committed jointly and interrogated separately without any means of communicating with one another. If both remain silent then both will be convicted of a lesser crime and each will serve a one year sentence. If one criminal betrays the other and agrees to testify against them while the second criminal remains silent then the first will go free and the second will serve a three year sentence. If the two criminals mutually betray one another than each will serve a two year sentence. In this scenario, therefore, it is always rational for one criminal to betray the other one since doing so offers the only chance of gaining the best and avoiding the worst-possible outcome. I often think of this when the subject of anthropomorphic climate change is raised.
I don’t want to debate the science. I’m not a climate scientist and I have only a layman’s understanding of the subject. I am fully cognizant of the potential for political and economic biases to influence the conclusions drawn from scientific evidence and, also, of the simple reality that alarmism is more likely to gain the attention of the public than measured reporting. Further, I am also aware that many of the people at the forefront of the movement for action on climate change have a record of making hysterical pronouncements that have been demonstrated by the passage of time and the physical facts on the ground to be wholly detached from reality. That being said, I do not particularly believe that debate on that front is valuable at this juncture insofar as there is, at an absolute minimum, clearly enough scientific evidence at this point to suggest that carbon emissions have some effect upon the atmosphere and that those effects may very well be harmful over the long-term. Furthermore, I believe that debating the science misses the point. If we restrict our debate to the science it is as if we are suggesting that the plan for action advanced by the environmentalist movement would be absolutely right provided that the science were correct. Instead, I would argue, the science is only marginally relevant to the debate because it is the agenda being advanced based upon the science, rather than the science itself, that is most clearly wrong because it is based upon an incorrect (to the point of being delusional) understanding of the nature of history, politics, and diplomacy.
Let us concede, simply for the sake of argument, that the environmental movement is correct on every point and detail of the science: that human-produced carbon emissions are causing a steady warming of the Earth (and general disruption of the global climate) that will, over a long-but-imaginable timescale, result in a rise in ocean levels, changes in weather patterns, and all sorts of other maladies. Their preferred solution to this problem is for an international effort to reduce the level of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere by some sort of international arrangement. What this proposed solution fails to consider in any meaningful way is the nature of how global politics have shifted in the last half-century. The principal emitters of carbon are no longer Western powers, but instead the emergent powers of Asia (and to a lesser extent South America). Today China emits nearly 50% more CO2 than the United States does. India is the world’s third-leading producer of CO2 and on the upswing. There can be no realistic thought of changing this if the leaders and peoples of those nations hope to continue their economic development – which they surely do. Indeed, given the fragile nature of the political order in both India and China, I doubt if it would be possible for the leaders of those nations to force through the sort of radical measures that would be required to reduce the emissions (the actual emissions, not merely to arrest the increase) of each of those nations and, without their cooperation, any measures that we take here in the West will be futile.
Given this reality, there are a few alternatives that may be adopted by the advocates of state or internationally-organized reduction in CO2 emissions. The first is to attempt to demand the developing world acquiesce in such a reduction by the exercise of some sort of force, either economic or military. Given what would be involved in that option, I believe that it is fair to simply deem it to be unimaginable and move on. The second is to attempt to reduce CO2 emissions to such a degree as would, according to climate models, actually make a difference by effecting a reduction within the West alone. That option, however, would require such a radical reconstruction of the economies of Western nations as would be utterly incompatible with democracy and, even if temporary democratic majorities could be mustered behind them, would certainly result in civil conflict. I am confident that a sizeable percentage of the citizens of the West would take up arms rather than accept a state-enforced sacrifice of their standards of living upon the altars of the climate gods. Given these conditions – that there is no practical way of requiring the developing world to seriously reduce its CO2 emissions and that the West cannot possibly hope to achieve an overall reduction on its own – the default option (and that which we are actually seeing being adopted today) is for the West to engage in practices – such as carbon taxes, limits on energy production, and other forms of environmental action in this area – that are both economically destructive and have no hope of changing the ultimate outcome. This is crazy. It is the equivalent of someone playing out the prisoner’s dilemma choosing to blindly remain silent in the face of all of the known parameters of the game. Especially because there is an alternative.
If we make the assumption – as we ought to – that our friends in the developing world will always make the decision to betray, then it is likewise rational for us to do the same and live with the consequences. To describe what this looks like as a matter of practical policy, I will have to use another metaphor. In 1974 the ecologist Garrett Hardin proposed the concept of “Lifeboat economics”, which might be summed up as follows: if you’re in a lifeboat with a capacity to hold fifty people surrounded by one hundred people swimming in the water around you, then trying to take those one hundred people onto the boat is, in effect, immoral since it inevitably means that the boat will be swamped and everyone will drown. Those who wish for us to blithely agree to economically and geopolitically destructive measures in the name of the global environment – to cooperate in spite of the fact that the rational thing to do is to betray – are like the kind-hearted people on the lifeboat in the sea of swimmers tempted to take on just one more in defiance of reality: good-intentioned but also likely to get all of the rest of us killed.
The decision to betray within this scenario is one based upon a simple moral calculation: if we can’t save everyone, then we had better get on with saving ourselves.
What does that mean on a practical level?
First, it means recognizing – and preparing far in advance – for the reality that we may need to practice adaptation to climate change, possibly on a very large scale. What that means to me is that, rather than spending money (and hampering the growth of our economy) now on projects that are of dubious value (beyond as penitent sacrifices upon the altar of Gaia) that our best course of action, from an economic point of view, is to focus on reducing out long-term debt and maximizing our economic growth so that, when the time comes that we may have to adapt, we can – as a society – finance the cost of doing so. If we do this and we find, a generation or two hence, that some people have to be relocated from coastal areas that are no longer tenable or that other areas have become uninhabitable, or that the housing stock of a region is going to have to be almost wholly re-fitted to remain viable, then we will have the capital on hand to finance such projects. If small outlays right now could insure us against these possible future costs, then it would – of course – make sense to agree to these as a form of insurance. However, that isn’t what’s presently on offer: instead we are asked to spend large amounts of money now on projects that have no serious hope of success which, in turn, will leave us worse-prepared for future contingencies.
Second, in recognition of the fact that climate change is likely to lead to global instability, we should be focusing now on using our resources to build defenses of unassailable strength. In particular it means that we should, in recognition of the aversion of the Western public to long-term engagements of our soldiers upon the ground – be working frantically to develop next-generation weapons that will allow us to engage our enemies at stand-off distances without risking the lives of our own people. Drones, robots, electronic weapons, and cyber warfare are the future in this regard and we should be going full-speed-ahead on every front in order to avoid future wars that take the same shape as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Third, we should be working to simplify global supply chains as much as possible in order to minimize the possibility of disruption caused by climate change. Much of this will happen naturally, as advanced technologies such as 3D printing and robotics allow us to return manufacturing to North America and Europe. However, we need to have contingency plans and forces in place to utilize direct action in such cases where local instability could have economic effects at home or where it is desirable to maintain order for reasons of politics, diplomacy, or sentiment.
Accepting the notion of anthropomorphic climate change does not mean automatically embracing a left-wing agenda on steroids, far from it. In fact, if we accept climate change as a settled fact and instead begin debating how we should rationally respond to it, it becomes clear that, if this becomes a matter of the survival of our people and our way of life, measures of a very different nature will be required.
Adam Yoshida is Vancouver-based author and political commentator. His most recent book is “The Fiery Trial.”
Based upon their recent pronouncements as to the future of an independent Quebec we can safely conclude that Premier Pauline Marois and her allies are delusional, liars, or some mix of the two. The notion that the Canadian government would permit an independent Quebec to hold a seat on the Board of Governors of the Bank of Canada or permit Quebec citizens to travel using Canadian passports is absurd. The Canadian passport that I have sitting in my drawer requests protection and assistance for all travellers, “in the name of Her Majesty the Queen”: why on Earth would we (or, Her Majesty, for that matter) provide for the protection of people who are, quite emphatically, not her subjects? That being said, I am far from angry as a result of the foolishness of the separatists, for they presented Mr. Harper with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Here’s an interesting fact: in the last election the Conservatives won 69.1% of the seats outside of Quebec. in 2008 they won 57%. In 2006 they won 49%. You would have to be a genuine amateur to look at those numbers and not think about possibilities for the future. These are the numbers that likely will make Quebec separatism a cause forever forlorn.
Let’s think a step into the future. Suppose that Quebec were to vote to separate from the rest of Canada. In that single moment a quarter of the Parliament of Canada would, in essence, cease to exist. It’s hard to say the means by which this would happen, but this ought to be obvious to all. What would the character of a post-Quebec Canadian government be?
Well, if you subtract Quebec from the equation, you would see the following shifts in historic election results:
- 2011: (Much) larger Conservative majority.
- 2008: Conservative minority becomes a Conservative majority.
- 2006: Tiny Conservative minority becomes a near-majority (three seats short)
- 1980: Liberal majority becomes Conservative minority.
- 1979: Conservative minority becomes Conservative majority.
- 1974: Liberal majority becomes Conservative minority
- 1972: Liberal minority becomes Conservative majority
- 1965: Liberal minority becomes Conservative minority
- 1963: Liberal minority becomes Conservative minority
- 1962: Conservative minority becomes Conservative majority
- 1957: Conservative minority becomes Conservative majority
In fact, if you remove Quebec from the equation, the Liberals would only have governed Canada for seventeen of the last fifty-seven years (and, frankly, even that is doubtful as the divisions of the right from 1993-2004 were, in large part, driven by the Quebec issue).
Without Quebec, Lester Pearson would never have been Prime Minister and Pierre Trudeau would have been ejected from office after his first miserable term as Prime Minister.
Given this, what do you think that the results of an election held for just the 233 seats in the House of Commons outside of Quebec would be, especially in the atmosphere of hostility and acrimony likely to follow a vote for Quebec’s independence? I would be surprised if the Tories, under any half-competent leader, were to win less than 55% of the vote and fewer than 75% of the seats under such conditions.
What does this mean in practice? I would argue that it means that, in the event of a vote by Quebec to separate, whomever is Prime Minister will have a mandate to do more or less whatever the Hell they want to Quebec and that the leaders of that province ought to consider that fact well. Amid the atmosphere of a national divorce, which is likely to be a better sell to the Canadian people: benevolence or a firm line?
That brings me to my second point, the opportunity that the present situation affords the Prime Minister. Mr. Harper should seize upon the Quebec election and the geographical and demographic realities faced by his Liberal and New Democratic opponents. M. Trudeau and M. Mulcair both happen to be Quebeckers and they both have to worry about the Quebec vote. Mr. Harper emphatically does not. He would still have an (admittedly very narrow) majority even without the Quebec members of his caucus. He has already proven that it is possible for a government of the right to win a majority without votes in Quebec and, quite frankly, there are more votes for the Conservatives in fighting for the interests of English Canada than there are to be had in pandering to Quebec. In politics, I believe, it is a prudent strategy to never bet when you are facing an opponent with more chips and a better hand.
Given this, I believe that the Prime Minister should announce that, in response to the fact that the Premier of Quebec is exploiting the ambiguity of Quebec’s possible future to advance the cause of separatism in her campaign, he is introducing a “Second Clarity Act” in order to, “make clear to the people of Quebec the terms by which Quebec would be allowed to separate from the rest of Canada.”
In particular, I believe that the following provisions should be included in such an act:
- All residents of Quebec who are citizens of Canada will, in the aftermath of Quebec’s independence, be required to choose between Canadian Citizenship and Quebec Citizenship. Any resident of Quebec electing to assume Canadian citizenship will be required to relocate to Canadian soil and remain a permanent resident there for at least five years. Further, any future acceptance of Quebec citizenship by a citizen of Canada will be considered a renunciation of Canadian citizenship.
- All property of the Federal Government remains the property of the same and will be relocated to Canadian soil. The government of Quebec will be required to pay the Government of Canada the fair market value of any property that cannot be physically relocated.
- All passports issued to those who do not elect to remain Canadian citizens under the provisions of the first item will be revoked.
- The government of Quebec will be required to assume 25% of the Canadian Federal Debt as of the date of Quebec’s independence. This percentage is based upon the percentage of the Canadian Parliament that Quebec has controlled throughout the period during which that debt has been acquired. In the event that the government of Quebec refuses to accept this and negotiate a treaty to this effect or later suspends or delays payment in any way, shape, or form the Government of Canada reserves the right to collect the equivalent to this sum by the imposition of tariffs on Quebec’s trade with Canada. In the event that Quebec responds to the imposition of such tariffs with reciprocal tariffs on Canadian goods being exported to Quebec, the Government of Canada reserves the right to impose a blockade against the independent nation of Quebec pursuant to international law and to seize goods equal to the value of both the sum demanded for repayment of the above-mentioned debt as well as the economic costs of such a blockade.
- Any distinct region of Quebec – defined as any community that possesses a defined legal status including both any municipality, legally defined portion of a municipality, or Indian tribe – may counter-secede and declare its intention of remaining a part of Canada following a vote of its own that legally meets the requirements of the First Clarity Act.
Of course, such an act would – if imposed – make clear the impossibility of Quebec’s independence. Which, of course, is the fundamental point – Quebec doesn’t really want “independence” in any meaningful sense of the word. What is the point of making a “nation” where one travels upon the passports and uses the money (and national bank) of your supposed “oppressor”? Quebec doesn’t want to be a “nation” in any meaningful sense of the word, it wants to have both the pride of nationhood and the ease of the welfare dependant.
Such an act would, of course, infuriate separatists. Some of them would probably even go so far as to argue that such an act, if enforced, might very well lead to something like a civil war. They are certainly free to argue that, but I would respond by pointing out that the provisions of the act – making clear that one cannot be both a citizen of an “independent” Quebec and a Canadian, that this new nation must pay what it fairly owes, and that no community ought to be ripped from a nation against its will – are only provocative in the sense that they might antagonize children who harbour fantasies of unlimited freedom without responsibility. I believe that the rest of Canada would see them for what they are: a sober response to a ridiculous and childish “threat” that has been permitted to drag on and distort the life of the nation for far too long.
I laugh to imagine how the opposition would react to such a move. One imagines that a sputtering M. Mulcair would reject it outright, forced into such a position by his largely Quebec-based caucus, while M. Trudeau would probably try to have it both ways, opposing the act while also trying to look like a strong Federalist without alienating Quebec. It seems likely to me that the required contortions would be quite beyond Trudeau the Younger, an empty-headed and almost totally unaccomplished man who probably reached his level of maximum competence as a substitute high school teacher and who, but for his last name, would be justly anonymous.
This is a direct and bold move that would be worthy of the sort of strong leader that Mr. Harper has become as Prime Minister. In finally directly engaging the Quebec separatists, he could help ensure his legacy as one of the most important Prime Ministers in Canada’s history while, at the same time, working to win himself and his party another term in office.
Adam Yoshida is a Vancouver-based author. His books are available through Amazon.com.
The increasing lassitude of the United States under the present Administration requires that Canada consider just what its position would be in a “post-American” world where the protection and resolution of American leaders cannot be relied upon. This is especially true because the end of the era of the Pax Americana would coincide with a period of intense resource scarcity and other forms of global change that would have a profound impact upon the future prospects of Canada. In light of these considerations, I believe that the Federal Government must urgently begin the process of creating an independent foreign policy backed by credible armed forces to ensure that Canada and Canadian interests will be defended in any contingency.
Let us imagine a possible world of 2040 for a moment. Perhaps that sounds like an impossibly distant future, but the truth is that it’s barely over a quarter of a century away. Today we are as close to 2040 as we are to the free trade election of 1988. We must remember that some of the things that we will require to defend this nation in the absence of an effective American deterrent are expensive and have very long lead times. What is the world of 2040 likely to look like?
The present medium-variant prediction made by the United Nations is that there will be roughly nine billion people on this planet by that time. Those people will be disproportionately concentrated in the Developing World – parts of which will be much more-developed by 2040. The demand for resources on the part of these billions will be insatiable, making Canada richer than ever. Furthermore, if we accept it as likely that some form of climate change is taking place, it is also likely that such changes will have caused significant political and economic disruption in some parts of the world by this period of time. Additionally, I believe that it is highly likely that emerging technologies such as robotics and 3D printing will cause significant disruption in global labor markets by this time by, in essence, making hundreds of millions of people at the low end of the marketable skills spectrum permanently unemployable.
What does the Canada of 2040 look like?
The odds are, unless this nation takes a drastically wrong turn, that the Canada of 2040 will be doing fairly well. Canada is a resource-rich nation in relatively good fiscal shape with a proven ability to integrate and assimilate immigrants from all over the world. Moreover, for the most part, we are in a safe neighbourhood. You would have a hard time thinking of a nation better-situated in terms of protection from the effects of climate change. Indeed, arguably, climate change might actually be an improvement for much of the country. The Canada of 2040 will be a global trading nation with interests and citizens scattered all over the globe. Furthermore, if we assume – as we within this scenario – a decline in American power than Canada will be in as good a position as anyone to assume a leadership role among the Western nations. We’ll still be a small nation – population projections suggest that by the 2040 we’ll have roughly forty million people – but I think we’ll actually beat the projections and that there’s a good chance that by the middle of the century Canada will have become the second-largest of the English-speaking nations, overtaking a declining United Kingdom.
What military challenges will the Canada of 2040 face? I see three broad challenges that will face Canada at mid-century.
First, the maintenance of world order will continue to require Canadian participation in international stability missions. We have already done this in recent years, making a major contribution to the war in Afghanistan and also supporting NATO operations in Libya but, as time goes on, the weight of our contributions will have to increase, especially if those of the United States decrease.
Second, as Canada’s economic interests expand, especially in the developing world, we will require the capacity to act independently in protection of our citizens and interests.
Third, as resource scarcity intensifies and technological advances unlock presently inaccessible areas, Canada’s northern resources will massively increase in value and these will have to be defended. There is no point in beating around the bush here: the potential enemy that we have to be prepared to confront, on our own if necessary, is Russia. Russia, despite the reforms of President Putin, remains a nation in demographic and economic decline and it is frighteningly plausible that some future Russian regime might be tempted by a mix of desperation and American weakness to attempt some sort of power play vis a vis our claims in the North, particularly our undersea and island claims.
What sort of forces and organizational capabilities will we require to meet these challenges?
First, Canada will require an expeditionary ground force. Insofar as there is, quite literally, no scenario in which Canadian forces are likely to be engaged in major independent ground operations against a major power, it makes sense that our land forces should be largely set up in the form of smaller and relatively light units that can be deployed using our own resources. I have no firm preferences in this area, but I would suggest that a structure of nine active-force battalions, perhaps organized as self-contained units along the lines of present-day U.S. Marine Expeditionary Units would be enough for any plausible operation that we might be called upon to participate in. Furthermore, by 2040, these units will likely contain a significant robotic contingent. The total force contemplated would not, really be any larger than the ground forces that we have today, but the organization would be quite different.
Second, the Air Force will need to be built up enough to ensure both the protection of our airspace in the North and that of any forces deployed overseas. This makes the purchase of the F-35, the only Fifth-Generation fighter available on the international market, particularly vital. It also would make a great deal of sense for the RCAF to acquire a substantial force of surveillance and combat drones.
Finally, and most vitally, we need to robustly increase the capabilities of the (thankfully-restored) Royal Canadian Navy. The security challenges faced by this nation in the coming years make the Navy the nation’s first-line of defense and, I believe, will require a large-scale build-up of Canada’s naval power.
In particular, in order to support expeditionary operations, it will be necessary that the Navy acquire a number of amphibious assault ships along with other support vessels. Given the rule that three ships are required to maintain one at sea, a force size of roughly six seems appropriate. As well, the Navy could then acquire the naval variant of the F-35 in order to create a basic Carrier force.
However, in order to defend the North, other resources will be required. Specifically, the single most urgent material requirement for the Canadian defense establishment is, in my opinion, the acquisition of a large force of nuclear-powered submarines. This force does not, by any means, need to be as large as the present Russian one, but it needs to be sufficient to serve as a deterrent to Russian adventurism in the North and, failing that, strong enough to defeat any Russian attempt to assert control in Canada’s claimed areas in that region. Quite frankly, the RCN’s acquisition of such vessels is many decades overdue.
I believe that sustaining this strategy for national defense requires one final – and controversial – element. If we assume that the greatest single national security threat to Canada is a declining and yet aggressive and acquisitive Russia, then we must face the possibility that some future Prime Minister will, in a grave crisis, be subjected to nuclear blackmail and that, furthermore, a weak and irresolute American President, such as the present occupant of the Oval Office, might counsel that Prime Minister to submit to such threats and even assist them by finding some pretext for refusing to honour American security commitments to Canada. In the face of such threats, a Canadian leader would likely be forced to back down unless Canada was in possession of an independent deterrent of its own. Given this, it is a matter of some urgency that the Federal Government begin the process of creating an independent Canadian nuclear deterrent. This would, of course, require that Canada withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but this nevertheless strikes me as a prudent course given the present shape of world events.
However, the defense of Canada in a post-American world requires more than the simple acquisition of military hardware. We have to consider other elements of national security as well.
First, it is long past time that an independent Canadian foreign intelligence agency be created. Such an agency need a charter that permits it to engage in both the collection of foreign intelligence as well as covert actions in the service of the national interest overseas.
Second, to complement the new foreign intelligence service, it makes sense that a separate agency should be created dedicated both to domestic cyber-security as well as to engaging in acts of cyber-warfare abroad.
Finally, as an alternative instrument of national power, part of the revenues from the exploration of Northern resources ought to be set aside and used to fund the creation of a sovereign wealth fund that should be charged with the objective of using the money created through the extraction of Canadian resources to securing supplies of other vital resources abroad.
There are fewer greater admirers of the United States living today than myself. But even someone with as great an affection for that nation must recognize the capacity of the American people to make poor decisions. Given the recent track record of a majority of the American people, it is only prudent that everyone – whatever their nationality – begin to prepare for the worst even as we hope for the best.
“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
– “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
-Walter Hartwell White Sr., “Face-Off”
Of all of the possible endings for Breaking Bad, this was probably the one I expected the least. Yet, in a sense, it was the one that I wanted the most.
I was quite certain that we would cycle back to Walt’s history with Grey Matter technologies. Indeed, for a moment a week ago I thought that perhaps I had predicted at least a part of the ending months ago – that Walt would seek revenge upon Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz for whatever passed between them long ago before he was gone. Where I was wrong – and where I was very pleasantly surprised by the final episode – was in the nature of that revenge. I had supposed that it would come in the form of direct action. Instead, Walt surprised me one final time: his final revenge against Elliot and Gretchen is cruel, brilliant, and delightful. Instead of merely killing them he bends them to his will. He makes them the tool by which he achieves his original objective of getting his money to his family while also making them accomplices to his many crimes and also ensuring that they will likely live in fear for the rest of their lives. Instead of simply ending their lives in a single spasm of violence, as he does to most of his enemies, Walt devises for his greatest foes a lingering form of torture that will endure for decades. How many times, in the days to come, will Elliot and Gretchen stop and feel themselves filled with dread under otherwise quite ordinary circumstances? How many sleepless nights will they have? I must say that, for all of the cleverness of his many schemes, I don’t think I ever quite admired Walter White as much as I did in that particular moment. Is admire the right word for someone who committed as many crimes and betrayed as many people as Walter Hartwell White Sr. did? I think that it is. The cruelty and thoroughness of it was sublime, far more than a mere murder could possibly have been.
The other night I had the pleasure of seeing series creator Vince Gilligan on stage and listening to him speak about the conception of the series and the character. In particular, he spoke of his view on the character of Walter and how Walter was someone who found himself in this particular place in life – stuck in Albuquerque, New Mexico with two awful jobs and a domineering wife, nowhere near where he thought he would be in life and suddenly found his time cut short. He spoke of how Walter did the things he did because Walter always blamed other people, instead of himself, for all of the things that were wrong in his life. Given these words, I did not expect things to end up the way that they did in the finale. In essence: Walt won.
Sure, Walt died in the end. But death is an inevitable thing and it was coming soon for Walt from the first moment that we met him. To be sure, in many ways Walt fell short of his original and official objective – taking care of his family. The $10 Million destined for Walter Jr. will help, but his selfish actions certainly did permanent damage to his wife, children, and his other relatives. But if we take Walt’s final admission to Skyler at face value, “I did it for me,” then in the end Walter emerged triumphant. If Walt had simply allowed fate to take its course two years earlier, then he would have anonymously passed on just a few years later. He would have left behind a wife who would almost certainly re-marry, a daughter whose memories of him would fade, and a son who, by all accounts, is destined for mediocrity at best. A two inch obituary would have graced the pages of the Albuquerque Journal, a few people would have cried at the funeral, and Walter White would have soon been forgotten by almost everyone on Earth.
Instead, Walter managed to achieve a kind of immortality. As the moment of his death, he had vanquished all of his enemies. Indeed, everyone who dared to oppose Walter White once he transformed himself into the criminal Heisenberg ended up dead and, as I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the worst punishment of all was leveled against the only known pre-existing enemies of Walter White.
One of the previews for this half-season released by AMC was a reading by Bryan Cranston of the Shelley poem Ozymandias, which also served as the title of the antepenultimate episode. On one level the poem describes how even the greatest accomplishments will eventually sink into ruin and decay. But allow me to offer an alternative interpretation, one which ties in with the ubiquitous “Remember My Name” advertising that accompanied this final half-season. Though Ozymandias’ works have long ago been turned into dust, even millennia later we remember his name and we remember those who served him not at all. In the end Walter is a king of sorts. A king of ruins, of course, but a king nonetheless.
By his death, Walter White achieves his greatest victory. If he were an actual person, he would doubtless become a great American legend and most of his sins would be extirpated by time and the fading of memory, as is the case for most of the great outlaws of history in general and those of the American West in particular. The whole nation would be thrilled by the story of the high school chemistry teacher who killed one drug kingpin with a homemade bomb and went out while slaughtering a whole gang of Nazis with a machine gun.
Indeed, I would argue that the great tragedy of Breaking Bad and Walter White is that Walter was a man born to be, to borrow Mr. White’s words, in the “empire business.” Yes, pace Vince Gilligan, Walter’s problem in a sense is that he blames everyone else instead of himself for his problems, but I would argue that Walter’s real problem is that he lives in a world that, tragically and terribly, doesn’t have a real place for someone in the “empire business.” Walter was someone who ought to have been in command of ship, exploring the world, conquering and subduing new lands, or leading great works of industry and commerce. A society that doesn’t have a proper place for someone with the intelligence and skills of a Walter White has at least as much of a problem as Mr. White himself.
Adam Yoshida is a Vancouver-based author. His most recent book is “Robot General.”