Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Power of Apocalyptic Thinking

If you pay much attention to what's going on in the world, if you try to stay on top of science and research, your worldview is bound to become a bit apocalyptic.   Things, just about all of 'em, are trending the wrong way.  I wish it wasn't so but it is.

That's why I found it interesting to read Hal Niedzviecki's op-ed in The Guardian exploring the case for thinking apocalyptically.  Here are a few excerpts:

The [upcoming] Uncivilisation festival is put on by Dark Mountain, a publishing venture founded in 2009 with an annual journal and ongoing blog. One of Dark Mountain's primary sustainers is Paul Kingsnorth, a disillusioned former environmental journalist who has come to the conclusion that we are in an inexorable period of "slow collapse". To Kingsnorth and his Dark Mountain followers the problems are intractable. There is no turning back, halting global warming, ending our lifestyle of rampant overconsumption and environmental destruction. The Dark Mountain goal, then, is to give a forum to voices willing to acknowledge that no matter how ardent we are about recycling and voting green, we will still be living in a time of disintegration, a time of ongoing loss.

Kingsnorth's Dark Mountain reminded me of a short tract I had come across written by journalism professor and activist Robert Jensen. Jensen teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and recently self-published a manifesto called We Are All Apocalyptic Now. In it, he argues that "responsible intellectuals need to think apocalyptically". For Jensen, thinkers and environmentalists need to reclaim the apocalypse from survivalists, religious fanatics and pop culture. As he writes: "Thinking apocalyptically can help us confront honestly the crises of our time and strategise constructively about possible responses."

My take is a bit of a hybrid – part Kingsnorth's Dark Mountain spirituality and part Jensen's pragmatic acceptance. Kingsnorth wants to reclaim apocalypse, create a space for people to celebrate what they still have and lament what they have lost. After that, it's up to them to decide how to go forward. Jensen believes we can and should do something to prepare for the coming collapse. For Jensen, how we live now is going to determine how well we'll do when the great factories of Guangdong fall fallow. Jensen says people should "prepare for it on a local level", rebuild communities as much as they can, put in place alternative systems of local governance, think about their food supply.

The reality is most of us would sooner open a vein than dwell on these things.  If you're old enough that's still a safe bet.  If you're young you might find yourself still dancing to the band as those cold Atlantic waters come over the deck.

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