A Calm and Measured Apocalypticism

While catching up with University of Texas Professor Bob Jensen last week (to talk about an upcoming writing workhop, which I’ll post about soon), we discussed how hard it is to communicate with people who are still invested in the “system,” i.e. the abstract multinational economy, the global empire that scaffolds it, or the unsustainable and ultimately delusional domestic result: the “American Dream”—and likewise, how “out there” most people assume one to be with any mention whatsoever of the insanity of infinite growth on a finite planet.

Who, when suggesting that ecological collapse trumps economic growth, hasn’t been told to “get real” or to “live in the real world”? Even among leftist circles, it’s generally frowned upon to disparage our electoral system, for example, as if its track record warrants some kind of reverence, so deeply held that scoffing at it (or simply not giving a shit about it) outs one as a fringe “radical,” a political pariah. And conversations about elections seem downright innocuous compared to questioning humankind’s salvation through oil-based technology (deus ex machina?).

While I generally consider “radical” to be a compliment, I agree that one should not use the term “apocalypse” lightly. But as several writers, scientists, and activists have already pointed out, we have a Texas-sized plastic island in the Pacific, dolphins being born without eyes in the Gulf of Mexico, dioxin in breast milk, drying of the Mississippi River (enough so that for a brief time late last year, the river didn’t technically flow continuously from source to mouth), factory-farmed and hormone-injected pigs in boxes eating each others’ tails, an acceleratingly intensifying climate, and… on and on, you get the idea. Seems pretty apocalyptic to me.

At any rate, to mention any of said evidence, or the mountain of other evidence that continuously builds on the side of impending ecological collapse (“peak everything,” as it should rightly be called), makes one a “doomer,” which brings a cascade of pejorative stereotypes: a crazy, babbling vagrant holding a cardboard sign with a quote from Revelation, an unhinged maniac, a “survivalist”—armed, dangerous, and manically depressed.

But as a self-proclaimed doomer, I myself subscribe instead to a “calm and measured apocaylpticism,” as Bob has coined it, a worldview that seems not just appropriate but the only viable option at this point. There’s no need to get hysterical—not just to deflect the labels listed above, but also to prepare for a series of upcoming situations in which keeping your wits about you will be crucial for success and possibly for survival.

“The problem is not how to carry men away;” Camus once wrote in Combat, “it is essential, on the contrary, that they not be carried away but rather that they be made to understand clearly what they are doing.”

Here’s a video of Bob explaining more at the “Voices of Resistance: Communication and Social Justice” conference at Penn State last weekend. Here’s a video of a similar talk at the First Unitarian Universalist here in Austin, called “We Are All Apocalyptic Now.”

Here’s Bob’s website.

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