Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The end of the world as we know it?

"Talking in terms of "apocalypse" gets in the way of thinking clearly about the situation we're in. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. What we're facing is, very likely, the breakdown of many of the systems and ways of doing things that we (in countries like the UK or the USA) grew up taking for granted. But this is not going to play out with the speed of a Hollywood disaster movie or the finality of the Christian Day of Judgement."

- Dougald Hine, co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project.

My research interest is in the perception of the likely end of the world as we know it. This is a somewhat vague term, and ranges from Star Trek to Mad Max (or perhaps even The Road). The reality is likely to be somewhere in the middle of course. This whole discussion on the Dark Mountain website is a good example of a group of people reflecting upon this perception, though the range of expectations is quite diverse (some are considerably darker than others), as is the range of emotional responses to this perception.

Social discontinuities are nothing new. There have always been revolutions, wars and game-changing social transformations. My interest is whether there might not be something novel in our present situation and the kinds of perceptions and fears it generates. Articulating that novelty is something that I've been working on for some time and I will post more about this over the coming months.


Mike W said...

The problem (or predicament) does suffer from the same problem as other apocalyptic pronouncements, what happens when the end doesn't come.
I wonder if the popular apathy about climate etc is because of the urgency and failure of Copenhagen, and nothing seems to have changed in the world.
Doug mentioned the quick demise in hollywood blockbusters, what stories do we have of slow demise?

Plessey Mathews said...

Some in Dark Mountain quietly mention the creation, articulation and living out of fresh narratives as a vision for the post penultimate apocalypse restoration. The Christian narrative seems too "played out". Any thoughts?

Christopher said...

Moral panic is perhaps not apocalyptic enough, but there is this conference coming in the UK that may interest you.

byron smith said...

Mike - Yes, this is indeed part of the very predicament: that there can be a significant temporal lag between the damage being inflicted and the results appearing in the system. You are right that stories of slow demise are less sexy and so less common in popular culture. I guess some examples might be old age. Seeing someone age and their health deteriorate is a gradual process and the early signs might not be obvious or dramatic. There may be particular falls, visits to the hospital and so on, but these small dramas can for a while be seen as isolated incidents.

Plessey - Can you say a little more? When you speak of those in DMP who "quietly mention the creation", to whom are you referring? As for whether people are sick and tired of the Christian narrative, I wonder whether some of that tiredness is due to a failure to narrate it well, so that people feeling overfamiliar with a bland caricature.

Christopher - Thanks for the link. I'm not particularly familiar with the literature on moral panic, but it certainly looks interesting. I wonder whether bankers and BP have each recently become the objects of some of this.

byron smith said...

Paul Kingsnorth: "The ironic thing, for me, is that both ‘doomers’ and anti-doomers seem to want certainty. Doomers apparently long for the apocalypse. They want revenge on the world, or they want poor people to die, or they want to lead a revolution to erase the memory of their teenage acne (the tenor of the cod psychology at this point will depend upon the imagination and personal background of the name-caller.) Their critics, conversely, long to be told that everything will work out fine: that the life they know will keep on keeping on, that the tech will save us as it always has, that those who think it won’t are motivated by sour motives, or are just idiots.

"The third possibility – that of a decline, painful and in many ways horrible, but far from unprecedented and also presenting opportunities – is the hardest notion of all to consider. It requires hard thinking, and action to negotiate challenges, and it doesn’t offer up any easy answers. It means that there’s no ‘cleansing catastrophe’ and no voyages to the stars. It might not work, and we don’t know how it will pan out. Neither pieties nor rude words can help negotiate it."