(Article changed on October 16, 2013 at 16:00)
(Article changed on October 16, 2013 at 15:34)
A hermit back from deep forest haunts, perusing the wings of
online punditry, would be staggered by pervasive, oddly-parallel End of Times
bombshells. Throw in frazzled ecosystem scientists for a third homily on
looming Armageddon. While rightwingers with crackers for brains bewail how
Obamacare and ruinous debts are sure to bankrupt American, if not western
civilization, leftwing voices snicker, "what civilization"?
Hail the Age of Apocalypse, a step up from the 20th C.'s Age of Anxiety or the 19th C.'s Great Awakening. While belief systems diverge widely, partisans rounding out the edges sound a similar drumbeat: our world is crashing -- doomed by financial, cultural, religious and/or environmental collapse. The end isn't just near but encircling us, and doomsday criers only wonder that the terminal patient is still breathing. The magnitude of doom is matched only by the certainty of the Jeremiahs.
Grim scenarios are nothing new, and by 2010 evangelicals and scientists were sounding like End of Times cousins. Andy Borowitz' joke fits perfectly: "Senator Ted Cruz raised the ante in the battle over the Affordable Care Act on Sunday, telling CNN's Candy Crowley that "destroying the entire planet is really the best and only way to stop Obamacare.'"
Ingrained apocalyptic visions surfaced long before the week's Great Debt Melodrama, itself prompting this funny advisory from Huffington Post, "A Survival Guide To The Debt Ceiling Default Apocalypse." Predictably, Tea Party "experts" pooh-pooh mere economists who "believe" credit ratings determine national credibility. Armageddon acolytes on Cruz control, like climate and evolution deniers, worship the realm of beliefs and opinions. The more far-fetched and conspiratorial, the better.
No Equivalence Implied
That political outliers sound related alarms doesn't for a moment imply equivalence, moral or intellectual. Only witlings cheer on the militant lunacy of the Rapturous right, bristling with ignorance about language, culture and Biblical history. That folly contrasts dramatically with well-informed pessimists, whether climate scientists, or leftwing progressives like Chris Hedges or Paul Craig Roberts. For me, savvier Jeremiahs follow film critic Pauline Kael's defense of calculated overstatement: promote heavily or breakthroughs get ignored. Nor do I deny extraordinary threats: climate warming, devastation to oceans, nor a destabilizing, American wealth gap time bomb.
But socio-economic instability, and enduring hard times, don't prove broken capitalism is about to collapse, that Wall Street or Washington will soon implode, nor that America is inexorably in decline. Were any of that to happen, by the by, what organized and effective movement would step in to rebuild something better? The high anxiety behind the Age of Apocalypse comes down to "this time is different, the crimes so vast, the status quo must tumble like Humpty-Dumpty." Gloom may reassure the gloomy, but heartfelt assertion is not proof.
That systemic stress is high, and pain enormous, doesn't mean major intact powers are suddenly vulnerable, nor without defenses. Look, Mr. Hedges and allies are right, eventually -- doom comes to empires and extinction to species, especially cultures that mishandle resources. But where's evidence anything big is imminent, nor concession of entrenched resilience. Calculation, money and high-tech armed forces will not roll over. Open conflict aside, does adaptable, human ingenuity not factor at all in facing up to undeniable problems?
We are a self-interested, voracious species, but creative imagination, buttressed by pressing necessity, will address the worst downsides of industrialism, like urban pollution, if only to keep workers healthy and the system functional. Realism, if not history, challenges despair married to desolation.
Timing the Debacle
Hell, it's possible for Palin-Bachmann's Rapture obsessions to come to pass. That must overcome immense convolutions for the patchwork Rapture, sequences beset with improbability and magic thinking. Evangelicals stand fast with Israel not out of love for Jews (who must ultimately convert or perish) but because Holy Land conditions fit snugly in their fantasy script. Lost in the shuffle is vaunted compassion for the non-Christian billions who perish badly when the Elect painlessly rise to heaven. Death has no sting when this brand of triumphant Christianity runs roughshod. Would Jesus weep, or what?
By the way, U.S. Christians are especially infected with Rapture disorders: nearly 48% reckon Jesus will "probably" or "definitely" return to save sinners, once and for all, before 2065 (10% just "don't know"). Why not, instead of Final Judgment, let's envision Jesus mandating spiritual growth, population restraint, comforting the poor, even commanding a truce to the endless wars likely over resources? Why must the Second Coming be such a downer?
Yes, climate change augurs devastation, but does that automatically endstop the human story? That we are unprepared for repeated global winters, emerging after huge volcanic eruptions or crashes with large, wandering rocks, is undeniable. That the most powerful countries will further maul the earth, with conventional belligerence or nukes, is certainly depressing. Yet even if brutal haves with better technology conquer have-nots, does that, per a recent PBS special, spell species extinction? Will greater world starvation wipe out the American empire, or western powers, or impede the Chinese monolith? Global warming will painfully "correct" overpopulation, but is that apocalypse?