Test Driving the Apocalypse

On December 21, instead of waking up to fire and brimstone, I woke up and read Mitch Horowitz's “Once More Awaiting 'The End.'” Horowitz looks at our apocalypse fetish and sees a society so jaded with the present it dreams of a break from routine, even if that break is a disaster. He also points out that, as we daydream about crisis, we are doing remarkably little to address real—literally real—issues. I like Horowitz's analysis, but there is more to our fixation on zombies, Mayan calendars, and novels about the Rapture than a desire to escape ourselves.

Behind much of the apocalypse talk and the questionably-ironic zombie preparation classes at REI is a sense that something fundamental is out of balance. It may be impossible to articulate but, on a low level, we feel a sense of disquiet.

I began thinking about disquiet as I was working on two sprawling radio projects. After recording long conversations with nearly four hundred strangers about the past and present, I began to hear a common refrain rise out of the clamor: the future was scary. Nobody could agree on the cause, but they shared a narrative structure.

Trespass. Punishment. Redemption—maybe.

The trespass could be anything from capitalist excess to withering family values, but in both cases, it resulted from hubris. Punishment always came in the form of collapse, whether environmental or economic, abrupt or incremental. If the story continued, redemption could look like a Norman Rockwell painting, Star Trek, or a massively depopulated planet of sustainable farms.

If I had been seeking our common humanity, I found it in a primal sense that we are about to enter the punishment phase.

It was tempting to dismiss the disquiet about the future as a timeless part of human nature. Maybe, as Horowitz suggests, it came from our desire for an external event to unleash personal change. Or as a reaction against living in a world of constant change. We could even chock it up to our myths. From Genesis to Prometheus, Greek legend to Hollywood extravaganza, we have a long, masochistic love affair with the narrative of overreach and punishment. This is, after all, the same narrative that rolls Cassandra out of bed in the morning, generation after generation, and she's usually wrong.


But this nagging doubt made me take the disquiet seriously. The Americans I met were level-headed, not Cassandra-like. For them, anxiety stemmed less from feeling personally stifled than from a belief that the biggest systems supporting us were cracking at the foundations. There was a consensus that the economy was rigged, money had eroded the democratic process, and, for a large minority, environmental problems were escalating. Optimism about personal lives was mirrored by pessimism about broader change.

It is easy to say that every historical moment is unique and people always feel they inhabit pivotal moments. This is true in many ways, but attributing the disquiet to biology or psychology drags our moment outside of history and prevents us from seeing fundamentally new issues when they arise. We are more interconnected than at any point in the past and our tower of seven billion is propped up by a frail scaffolding of man-made and natural systems. As individuals, we are dwarfed less by God and Nature than by the immense scale and inertia of our own civilization. The stakes are high, the responsibility is ours alone and, perhaps for the first time, we're starting to feel it.

The Mayan calendar did not resonate because most people expected an irate Mesoamerican god to knock on the front door with a jaguar hat and a flamethrower. Instead, collapse fantasies are an excuse to confront a visceral fear that, back in reality, we have created a civilization too complex to pilot and with limited time before it strikes the rocks.

Gloomy fatalism is useless, but our apocalypse fetish could be like the strange behavior of an animal sensing the first shivers of an earthquake. If we only seek explanations within and frame our behavior as timeless, we risk overlooking problems in the world we have created outside.

(Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Occluded_mesocyclone_tornado5_-_NOAA.jpg, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 50279388@N03's photostream)


    1. The historical forces driving other apocalypse moods might not have been the same as the one driving this one. We apply universals at our peril, I think.

        1. Well, if you call the apocalypse every day for the next five to ten billion years, some day you’re bound to be right.

      1. The article:

        There was a consensus that the economy was rigged, money had eroded the democratic process, and, for a large minority, environmental problems were escalating. Optimism about personal lives was mirrored by pessimism about broader change.

        You think a medieval serf, or an 18th century coal miner, or a 19th century mill worker felt any different than this?

        Nope. This is he human condition.

        1. I think “Americans” have not seen themselves in the same category as any of the groups you mention. The dream has been to “come up”. That it’s possible for anyone. People are suddenly feeling that dream may be a hoax sold to them to keep the cogs running the machine, content with the struggle, chasing the dream.

        2. I think it’s hard to understand the past and the people who populate that past (was it LP Hartley who said “the past is a foreign country”)…  I don’t really believe in the rise and falls of civilizations, in terms of creating cycles that we can chart and understand (not that empires or whatever are not subject to declines, but that we can’t chart them in any sort of scientifically historical way, and then use that to understand a “pattern” of history – so, this is kind of my own ideas about how to understand history).  All we can really is understand them within their context as best we can reconstruct that. Think about trying to piece back together the world of an illiterate peasant from the 17th century or so. Most likely, the image we have in our heads of said individual is an amalgamation of cultural baggage pretty thick, thanks in part to hollywood but more from nationalized fiction written probably in the 19th century to create help nation-states. We have to hack through all that to recreate his world, which is an immensely difficult task. And the peasant (perhaps to take the best known example) as far as the literature goes, is a French Peasant. Except he doesn’t think of himself as being “French”, according to Eugene Weber. He has to be made into a Frenchman (you can see a similar process most easily in the post World War Two Yugoslavia, where there is a project to create a Yugoslav citizen along socialist lines). But our peasant, he identifies by his religion, his family, his home village (again, look to pre-WW1 Balkans, especially as written about by Isa Blumi, especially his work on Albanian Nationalism, Reinstating the Ottomans).  He works outdoors, he likely does not read, and does not think about sending his children to school, as he needs them for the farm. He doesn’t even speak “proper” french. It’s some dialect that you would likely not understand, even if you spoke French quite well. Do you really imagine that from your own position, as a modern or maybe a “postmodern” human being, that likely doesn’t farm for sustenance, is disconnected from the means of production, that is surrounded by gadgets on a constant basis, that most likely lives in a city (these are of course all generalizations, but then again, I’m sure I’ve made broad generalizations about our fictional peasant, no?) you can really understand the life of this man, and what he desires out of life, and what he is all about?  What it’s like for him, how he understands himself? 

          For a good discussion on studying people in the distant past, check out David Nirenberg’s book Communities of Violence. An excellent study of violence against the Jewish and Muslim Communities in South Western Europe during the middle ages.

          But again, I submit to you that we generalize and universalize our own views of the world at our peril. We have a serious problem doing this with people who live in other coutries/regions of the world, and that is something we probably shouldn’t do. Maybe we really should not do that with people in the past.

    2. The human brain has evolved over time to be heavily inclined to see everything as a story, since we used stories to pass down history, including microhistory, like the story about your uncle that ate that plant and died. Stories made it possible for you to survive. Because of this. it’s very, very tempting to see everything as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. Often, we wrap everything up with a nice bow in the form of a lesson. When some people look at our lives today, they apply the beginning-middle-end framework to current events. There _must_ be an end coming, because the beginning and middle have been going on for so damn long, at least in human terms.

      1. We have been irresolutely sold on The End since the end of WW2 when the media started the drumbeat of Communism and the End of the World, Better Dead than Red, Hide Under Your Desk, that was all contrived to expand peacetime military and elevate one class of citizens into power over the others. Then if anything, when Communism fell, the American Soviet didn’t drop a beat, immediately gynning up Islamic Jihad, and we are off to the races again. Hysteria and doomsaying sells. 
        It is NOT the human condition.

        1. That wasn’t really the point I was making. But, as for your point, I would only refer you back to the link at the top of this thread that angstrom posted.

      2. The evolution of language, tool making and story telling (religion and art) to give a context to tool making are inextricably bound together as the ability to construct tools and construct sentences use the same areas of the brain. I am thinking that if the beginnings and endings of our stories were not all out of sync there could be no scientific progress. Progress is the result of different individual visions not one global vision even where we use the same terms to describe that vision creating the necessary illusion that our individual and collective stories may actually come together at some point and become real.

    3. On the contrary, I think the unspoken contention is that this is the human condition: to be frightened of something beyond your control, then make up stuff to make it go away. From cavemen to modern man.

  1. Lack of agency.  We live in a world where the things we do as individuals don’t matter.  Our world is made of massive and powerful institutions and systems, but we aren’t part of them in any meaningful way.  We don’t identify with them.  Our lives and livelihoods created and directed by forces far beyond our control, and we feel powerless to change that.

    Apocalypse promises two things.  First, that some external force will sweep in and do what we never could: destroy the institutions which control our daily lives.  Work, school, government, capitalism…all defeated by the only thing which we can imagine defeating them: total disaster.

    Second, the post-Apocalypse is a world where a person has agency.  It may be terrible, difficult, and grim.  But it is a world where people like you and I have control over our lives, where we create our own destinies.  Sort of a frontiersman vibe, I guess.

    These two desires are deep and important.  Total disaster will not actually satisfy them, though.  We need to realize that together we can transform our world, destroy oppressive institutions, and restore our personal agency.  We are the apocalypse we’ve been waiting for.

    1. Taxi driving the apocalypse: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

    2.  I’d argue that the Apocalypse is already here and we are just not quite noticing that except in violent Apocalyptic fantasies, sort of a dream-like tapping on the shoulder to get us to pay more attention. What I mean by it already being here now is that change in the world has ratcheted up to future shock levels if not beyond. The Apocalypse is actually occurring much more slowly than we had anticipated. But change is occurring at an alarming rate. I mean, I can remember thinking in college about how neat it would be to somehow take your music with you when you walked around, you know, like you could do with radio. But records were always records and they would always be vinyl so that wasn’t gonna happen. We had years, ages, to get used to a basic phone, radio, TV, stuff like that. Now, look at how long the wonder of CD’s lasted. That is already over.

  2. You should not underestimate the number of people that subscribe to the nature fallacy of moral thought (most religions and forms of spirituality). The present unease is a slow realization of the injustice of the universe itself, hence the obsession with survival-horror games, and this is a very healthy and positive thing. To the extent that the social order draws its authority from this, especially to explain inequalities and injustices, it is also questioned, and this also is a very healthy and positive thing.

  3. I think it’s a way of sublimating our personal anxiety as a larger peril that somehow reaffirms our bond with the larger group.  Fantasizing about zombies is probably just as useful as developing irritable bowel syndrome over whatever FUBAR is unfolding at the office this week.

  4. Patience, grasshoppers. Collapse of anything so big takes time.
    You know, the way a test tube of hydrogen emits a sharp snap when you ignite it, a toy balloon makes a louder but somewhat longer bang, and the Hindenburg actually took a minute or so to burn up altogether? Well, all those unustainable things being done in the name of “modern civilization” will result in collapse.
    But it’ll take a decade or two. 

    1. “a decade or two” Really? Is that all? You really think civilization will have collapsed within 20 years???

      1. If you consider all the interdependence, that seems optimistic IMO. What happens when there’s not enough oil? There won’t be enough food. And what happens then?

        I can see the shit hitting the fan as rapidly as a matter of months from the onset, given our blinkered disconnection from the systems actually supporting us.

        1. I guess that what sustains the apocalyptic mood is people simply never getting tired of being wrong.

      2. I’m with Jim.  Two decades seems about right given the slowly building crises of climate change, resource depletion and overpopulation coupled with an utterly paralyzed political system.  If it isn’t all over by then, it will almost certainly be in an advanced state of decay.

      3.  I think John Michael Greer’s theory is just about right. The collapse is already underway, and has been for a while now. ‘A decade or two’ was a vast oversimplification.
        Going forward, it will stumble from crisis to crisis. A few recognizable shreds of ‘civilization’ may linger for centuries.

        1. Clarifying, Greer writes The Arhdruids Report.  I highly recommend this blog, he’s got it all covered.  Start anywhere, but better to go back (perhaps a year?) to where he starts the discussion/history of the American Empire.

      1.  Exactly.  Dates given for the fall of Rome range from about 200 AD to about 500 AD.  There were probably people saying everything is fine and people saying everything was falling apart during that same time. 

        That’s the thing about history: you have to do it after the fact.

  5. Given that end of the world worries have been around as long as humans have been able to express their thoughts, is it really worth this much over analysis? Why is “gloomy fatalism useless”..? If it happens, it happens. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet despite countless predictions tells me that no one can predict the end of civilization, so why worry about it? I think we’re a lot more likely to be wiped out by an asteroid (like the one that passed between the earth & moon that astronomers didn’t see coming until 3 before it missed us) than by the collapse of a financial system.

    I’m sure there are people of a certain disposition in any age who feel like humanity is on the edge of the punishment phase. This point in time, and those people who feel that way now are not unique or special.

    Go to bed. Wake up. The world as we know it will still be here tomorrow.

    1. Yeah, the world will still be here tomorrow…but in the meantime we’ll have added about 200,000 people, consumed that many more of our finite resources resources, and dumped that much more carbon into the atmosphere.  Tomorrow isn’t the issue, but rather the long term trends that are screaming approaching catastrophe.

  6. Our entire storytelling culture remains fundamentally based upon the same genre of narrative which we began telling when people started passing stories down, from the age of archetypes and mythology.  The disquiet is a subconscious realization that although our current cosmology has convinced us that the universe is a fundamentally serene, peaceful, disconnected and isolated place, the truth is that we routinely observe catastrophe happening elsewhere in the universe, and those ancient stories of mythology are indeed stories of catastrophe and a long-lost, largely forgotten era of plenty, now derogatorily termed “paganism”.  If you intentionally wipe out the origins of our culture with a cosmology which is essentially mathematical and lacks any personal meaning which people can actually grasp onto, you bet that people will begin to feel an uncomfortable lack of ease with what is happening.  Our worldviews are fragmented.  We have completely lost touch with where we came from, and are imposing a modern mythology in its place which in truth services our own desire to imagine that the sun will rise tomorrow just as it did yesterday and the day before that.  Look at the theory of global warming: It is premised almost entirely upon the notion that the Earth’s temperature *should* remain stable.  Um … Why should it?!

    Science has fashioned itself as the conqueror of religion, but before either of them, there were the pagans, mythology and the archetypes.  We can all pretend that these things had absolutely no influence upon our current culture, but the fact is that we are fooling ourselves.  We’re talking about 5,000 years of story-telling here.  And they were, of course, the first stories.  Of course they are incredibly important, and the more we try to marginalize the violence of those stories into the corners of our imagination, as if we now know better than those silly predecessors, the more we will feel this uncomfortable feeling and continue to pretend that we don’t feel it.

    1. I’m not sure I fully understand – are you saying that science, whatever it’s flaws, should be ignore because it has thrown the baby out with the bathwater?

       I’m not sure if modern secularism you are talking about it is actually anti-religious, in the way most people think. It’s all about power relations, with power moving from empires sanctioned by the two major strains of Christanity (Catholicism and Orthodox – both top down) to state centered Christianity.  The Western, European centered world did indeed create a mythology on order and science, and often created nasty ideas, based in science, in order to justify itself.

      1.  WTF? please cite a source for you claim that climate change science is based on the premise that the Earth’s temperature should remain “stable”.

        1. No, climate change science (sic) is based on the premise that you should remain IN the stable, …where the Stable Masters can control your energy and food, force you to work, and tithe-tax your retirement fund.

        2.  Uuuummmmmmm….. Not sure where you are getting that from, as I did not say it. So… Okay.  I’m just saying that because some science has historically been bunk doesn’t mean it all is.  I never said that I think “the earth’s temperature should be stable”.  Did you just miss “WHATEVER IT’S FLAWS”? 

    2. The “conqueror[s] of religion” are historical study and cosmopolitanism.  If you think our beliefs are fragmented now, take some time to read about the clusterfuck that followed Alexander the Great’s conquests, when the Greek world tried to reconcile its religious beliefs with the great diversity of religious traditions in the East.  It’s a good subject for the Hanukkah season.  Christianity seems to have been an apocalyptic tradition from very early on, with institutionalized beliefs about Armageddon and bodily resurrection similar to the Zoroastrians.

    3. Look at the theory of global warming: It is premised almost entirely upon the notion that the Earth’s temperature *should* remain stable.  Um … Why should it?!

      No, it’s premised on the fact that CO2 is opaque to infrared radiation but transparent to visible radiation.

      The desire to do something about global warming is premised upon the notion that the Earth’s temperature should remain stable.  This premise is the result of a simple observation: human civilization has only ever existed during a period of apparently unprecedented climactic stability.  This probably has to do with the fact that high-yield agriculture requires knowledge of local climate which in turn requires local climate to be roughly the same from year to year.

      That is, it’s not for the Earth’s sake that we might want to do something about global warming but our own.  George Carlin said it best: the planet ain’t going anywhere — we’re the ones who are going to get screwed.

  7. I have a personal theory that humans are wired for a set amount of anxiety: your actual level of anxiousness may go up and down a bit with events, but it will tend to return to that “normal” level over time.

    So, if you have to worry every day about hunting to find food for your family, you won’t care if your son is running around and climbing trees. If food is just a short drive away, then suddenly all that anxiety is freed up and your son’s fun and games starts feeling like a major danger.

    Likewise, if you’re worrying about an upcoming barbarian attack on the city gates, you won’t have time and energy left to care about “what if” scenarios.

    Our lives have become too safe, so we direct our anxiety toward threats that are benign (kids riding a bike without a helmet), very unlikely to affect us (terrorism) or entirely imaginary (zombie attacks).

    1. I believe you are on to something here.

      The 24-7 news cycle serves an almost perfectly engineered function of keeping the anxiety level at a steady simmer.

      And I think you should add “nutcases shooting up schools” to your list under the unlikely to affect us category.

  8.  Exactly. Our so-called “frail” social institutions are actually robust, flexible, and extremely stable when they are allowed to properly develop. They’ve shrugged off massive natural disasters that might have put previous civilizations under, like the tsunami in 2004, and they continue to put the doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich in their place. Compared to the rest of history, as a race we’re rich, warm, and fed – a billion more people rose out of poverty in the last twenty years alone.

    Since humans are evolutionarily wired to be good at pattern recognition and threat detection, in the absence of real, immediate threats we tend to see threats that aren’t there. We overreact emotionally to extremely rare things that could not possibly be systemic threats, like terrorism. We also struggle to understand and deal with threats that are outside of our immediate perception, like pollution. Like tyrannical governments, we seem to need threats to define us – and we’ll invent them if need be.

      1.  I don’t see people who are cocksure the apocalypse isn’t going to happen as especially more rational than those who insist it’s going to happen.  There were probably a few doomsayers feeling pretty vindicated in Pompeii when Etna erupted.

          1. Actually, no, there is no meaningful sense of the word “us” that makes that sentence true.

            If you want to talk about “human beings as a species” we have 300,000 years behind us.  If you want to talk about “us as a civilization” we have about 10,000 years behind us.  That’s being generous considering the number of human civilizations that have already peaked and subsequently declined.

            We know failure is possible.  We do not know whether it is inevitable.  Concluding the apocalypse won’t occur because it hasn’t yet occurred is not a logically valid inference.

            Edit: Alternatively, if you want to use the 4.6 billion years of earth’s existence as evidence against apocalypse, certainly it’s fair for me to cite exinction events as direct evidence for apocalypse. There approximately one every 100 million years on average and the last one was 75 million years ago. The fact that humans have been around for 300,000 years without major incident is not particularly impressive.

          2. Actually, it’s more about the fact that predicting the apocalypse is so lazy it borders on taking the piss: “I put my money on entropy winning”. Well, woopty-fucking-do, Nostradamus. “You’ll die some day”; no shit, Sherlock. “This series of positive outcomes must end at some point”; YOU DON’T SAY?

            And still, in spite of having the goddamn Laws of Thermodynamics in their favour, the doom-peddlers still manage to be wrong every. single. time. And if some day, years, kiloyears or megayears down the line they turn out to finally get it right? Well, they will be as fucked as the rest of us, so it’s not like they are going to have the last laugh.

  9. The article fails to note that he was talking to Americans. People outside the USA don’t share this, they don’t have to wait for a world of pain, they are living it every day, in the slums, under unstable governments, next to hazardous dumps, near starving, etc. They are not troubled by a apocalyptical future, it probably can’t get any worse for them.


    1. I had no idea the Eurozone Crisis had reached such levels

      Those poor benighted Hollanders and Lichtensteinians

      Ah; The Bavarians!  I’ll pray for you all…

      1. I was in Spain last week, in Andalusia to be more precise. I’ve seen people drag food from trash cans, including young children and teens. That was unseen ten years ago. Friends from Greece tell me the same thing happens over there. 

        So, while it is true that the Dutch, Germans, Swedish, etc are not seeing apocalyptic levels of poverty, that is not the case in many places around Europe. Yes, the Eurocrisis is actually killing some people (including elderly who can no longer afford to buy medicine, in countries forced by the EU to cut healthcare budgets and introducing copays in already decimated households).

        1. I’ve seen people drag food from trash cans, including young children and teens.

          I see this daily in the USA, recession or no.

  10. Apocalyptic mentality ticks a lot of narcissism boxes:  “I am one of the privileged to witness the end of the world.  The world ends with me.  I am at the end (which is to say the center) of time”.
    Of course, in one way or another, many who espouse this belief are also usually “one of the chosen”, privy to insider information.

    1. Then there’s irrefutable facts like the unprecedented amount of poison in the biosphere, or an economy based on endless growth is blatantly unsustainable, or that there isn’t infinite oil.

      1. Plenty of people have gone through devastation that was little different from an apocalypse and bounced back. Look at the Vietnamese. America dumped on them as much poison and liquid fire and as many bombs and bullets as the world’s biggest economy could manufacture. Many of them spent years living in tunnels, eating rat meat and rice. Today they have a thriving economy.

        1.  Reminds me of the comeback to the idea of bombing the Vietnamese into the stone age was that for many of them, their lives weren’t that far from it in the first place. Not meant to be a put down, mind you.

  11. I don’t think the whole phenomenon can be appreciated if we only look at those who view a potential catastrophic event with resignation and dread.

    There are also those who fantasize about an apocalypse without any fear, but rather with giddiness, glee, and greed. Their alienation and resentment just makes them want to watch the world burn, and when they discuss it, it’s never long before their craving for fire starts to sound like lust.

    1.  Is it our fault we’re alienated and resentful?  Maybe ours is the truly moral position.  Maybe the world actually deserves to burn. 

      1. Here’s a handy benchmark:

        If your fantasy requires a billion children to die in terror and agony, then no, yours would not be the truly moral position.

  12. Loved the article… and (remarkably) loved the comments, even the humor was good. Exercises that broaden perspective and provoke thought, like this one, give me renewed hope. Now to decide on appropriate “direct action.”

  13. I started life with a U.S. population of 131 million and a global population of 2 billion. The population increases since have closed off a lot of possibilities. We’re at a point where everything has to go right just to maintain the status quo. 
    In the classic population experiment, usually done with fruit flies, where all the basics are there except more space, the population peaks and then nose dives. The population never recovers after that. No zombies needed.

  14. ” began to hear a common refrain rise out of the clamor: the future was scary. Nobody could agree on the cause, but they shared a narrative structure.”
    Cause = unrelenting fear mongering by the military, corporate, main stream media cabal. 

    They have visited disquiet upon the masses for decades to a rising crescendo since 9/11.

  15. I think about this a lot. Daily. I greatly enjoy dystopian fiction…(The Stand!  The Road! The Babylon Abiding Legend Something with the precious canned goods, the single bullets worth ten thousand ounces of gold…the looting of cadaverous Piggly-Wigglys for sustenance whilst heaving sharpened boomerangs at the throats of wicked mutants….that right there is living.)

    I live in San Francisco.  (Come on Earthquake, shake up and Wake Up the sleeping citizenry!  Cleansing, Retribution, Fire…Excitement…bring it on!)

    I’m also a firefighter: So….I often see people at their worst (which is fine: always willing to help), but frankly it’s been rather slow re: major cataclysms and I could use the work…

    Why do I enjoy the thought of Utter Ruin and The End Of All Things?  Because Fuck This Place…that’s why.

    Why…because all this is a fantasy land…a blip of wealth and power in a milion year history of dirt, struggle, early death and sleeping on the ground in the rain covered by a buffalo skin.Because all of this is untenable, unsustainable and someday..the Era of Decline will begin the plummet towards the end of civilization as we know it: and yet you and I will never see it.  That is the part that cracks me up the most: as much as we try and fuck it up…we continue to surf the crest of the wave of human Progress that benefits us all.  We now live at the very pinnacle of human evolution, far more astounding than could ever be imagined by the previous thousand thousand generations and all too often most folks bitch and moan how things aren’t the way they think they should be…

    There is so much that is good and beautiful here.  A newfound appreciation for this Earth and the people and creatures that live here…a chance to erase the blight and crimes committed by blind, entrenched previous generations…wonderful medicines and surgeries to prevent pain and help humanity, air travel: that a person can fly across the Pacific Ocean in less than half a day…it’s a blinkin’ miracle!  Increased crop yields; new, viable energy sources, the arts, the sciences…!  Window Dressing. When we finally reap what we planted: we’ll be choking on it.

    This place is going DOWN.  When?  Who knows…beats the hell out of me.  I get the feeling that 6-10 generations from now will see that which our darkest fears hint at…but I will be safely dead, and will miss Everything.

    Humans will live on, for millenia: we are adaptable as all get out.  But this ‘Civilization’…as it grows, it crumbles and shows the cracks in its foundation

    The Fall will be Tragic…and Magnificent.

    1.  Isn’t being a firefighter a somewhat ironic choice for someone whose worldview essentially champions pointless destruction?

        1.  You sort of shifted the parameters of the discussion with your phrasing. I’m criticizing pointless destruction (which is not the same as all destruction) and I think that the worldview that Gwailo_Joe expressed is a celebration of pointless destruction, not purposeful destruction (which of course, would not be inherently good either).

  16. Waiting for the Apocalypse isn’t about being bored with the present it’s about being able to put down the concerns and worries that drive us to our graves. It about freedom from obligations.

  17. I appreciate this article.  It is saying something important that I have been saying for years, and that is that aside from the hoopla and nay-saying about a full array of prophecies and new-age hoo-doo, we are experiencing serious developments, and face very real threats to our security and civilization, which are precariously out of balance, and could very easily result in all manner of collapse from which there can be no recovery of the former things.

    The end of the world, in other words, is also a very real scientific, and military possibility, and we should all be alert and adeptly concerned, and help those striving to deal with the most dangerous of problems, which are very real, but also very easy to ignore for our own comfort.

  18. Say electricity gets five times more expensive a century from now, the cost of iron ore increases tenfold, and the world population gets halved and keeps decreasing. Will it be a catastrophe? Probably. Will it be the end of civilization? No.

    1. You seem to be defining “civilization” as “whatever society happens to be like at a given time”.  Which makes your point a tautology.

  19. The future will be different.  I predict that in the next 50 years one of these will happen:
    1. Humanity will go extinct
    2. Humanity will abandon certain technologies including powerful computers
    3. Artificial Intelligence will be more intelligent than unaided humans
    4. Philosophical materialism will be disproved (which I think is highly unlikely)
    As a thought exercise, I recommend trying to imagine a world where things are in some sense normal in 50 years.
    See also my sermon: http://jjc.freeshell.org/sermons/there_is_no_map.html

  20. Aren’t most religions dooms day cults?  Generally there is a detailed eschatology that maps out the end times.  Many people have been raised with these stories.  Are they also more likely to believe a secular apocalypse?  it dovetails rather nicely with the Tribulations of the “Left Behind” fans.

  21. The world isn’t ending. Societal structures build and erode away with the passage of time, but the people persist. So far, all of our major societal changes have brought about improvements. If civilizations didn’t occasionally crumble and be rebuilt, we’d still be sitting around in Mead Halls, writing poetry about the monsters in the woods.

    1. I fully agree that every previous time people have thought it the end times, it hasn’t happened.  But remember three things: 1. It only has to happen once.  2. There is a selection bias in that only civilizations that have survived discuss the end times, and 3. every single non-natural method of causing human extinction that I can think of has only become possible in the last hundred years.  For example, only because of airplanes has it become possible for a pandemic to wipe out every human on earth.  Atomic bombs are about 60 years old.

  22. I believe much of the apocalypse talks extends from escapism and creates a “who cares” mentality which makes it easier for people to excuse their lackadaisical attitude towards the real problems we face. It is used to push the solutions onto the next generation and each subsequent generation follows suit.

      1.  Is this a trick question? :) Look at the homeless, the destitute, the malnourished, escalating violence, a changing climate, global economic upheaval, ad infinitum…Society has put ALL of the pressure to fix these things upon ineffective government agencies, then absolve themselves of personal responsibility and proceed to the couch for the latest episode of The Walking Dead. They numb themselves to the cruel realities of this world and put a false face upon it by drawing up fictitious zombies, then laugh at the silliness they themselves have helped to create.

        There are so many problems to solve that the totality of them becomes overwhelming. Unfortunately, rather than trying to be a positive point of change in even one of those things, the totality is disregarded for the sake of personal comfort and entertainment. (Not ALL are this way, but I am speaking in a societal context).

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