Category Archives: end times

“Why so glum, chum?” Excitedly Whispering Our Most Pessimistic Fantasies: PART 1

The end of the world is not the most seductive cocktail party conversation but I find myself, in Paris, and especially with Americans (in spite of their recent “hope-mongering,”) talking and reading about End Times. I suppose I really started paying attention when the upbeat, eternal Times published and article on “The New Survivalism” claiming that it was no longer the exclusive domain of grizzled mystics, fed up with the commies in the Republican party. Thoughtful, smug, Sauternes-sipping young folks just like my own well-heeled self were getting into the groove, (or the bunker, mutatis, mutandis). I live in central Paris, ten minutes walking from the Louvre. I wouldn’t have the space to store a can of dried beans even if I’d already noted the date and hour of the apocalypse in my leather agenda. I suppose I’d be eating poached rare bird eggs or elephant steaks…

Everywhere I look (except, of course, the Obamians) I see signs of a deep and unshakable cynicism and pessimism. These are very different animals. Cynicism is described as: “An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.Pessimism, on the other hand, is “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc.”

A combination of the two has brought us a bumper crop of bloody, lugubrious fantasies inter-spaced with the occasional measured, if deeply pessimistic prediction.

The “turbulence” (is that a sugary enough euphemism?) in the American economy has left few expecting coming blue skies and another century of sunny prosperity and outsourced slave labour.

How do we deal with such black prognoses?

Here in Paris, we’re still waking from the opulent farniente of the eternal-feeling grandes vacances. People are heading back to their offices, their (burgled?) houses, their civil service dead ends, their closet dramas, etc… Curiously, nobody here seems to be talking about the crisis and, when they do, they call it “la crise américaine”.

I haven’t been drowsing, however. What could be more entertaining than front row seats to such an extravagant collapse? Of course, my view is cluttered by optimistic goodnewsniks waxing rosy from the University Archipelago. My friends in New England Academia, for example. Has the New England Liberal Arts College not become, essentially, a billion-dollar investment fund with academic side effects? Anyway, according to them the end is not near.

“What end,” you must be asking yourself? “Why so serious?” as the Anti-Anti-Hero asked in a film that could have been titled “Nietzchean Aristocratic Nihilism for Dummies.” What are these gangrenous fantasies we’ve decided to cuddle and are they all fantasies?

Justement, there is a quite a menu to choose from. Let’s rifle through the cahiers secrets of the Patent Leather Pussycat and see if we can’t find a list of charming killers…

1. PETROCOLLAPSE

The Peak Oil Movement has somehow stolen all of the disdain rightfully deserved by the evangelistic end-timers and the grotesque, arrogant, antisemitic meth-dream they call The Rapture (see below).

Peak Oil is the moment where demand for oil exceeds supply. This drives the price up to unthinkable levels, causing havoc in the markets as values are rapidly readjusted to the realities of an energy depleted world. The Long Emergency, the energy depletion nightmare prediction penned by Peak Oil Cassandra James Kunstler, one of the more interesting voices of the Peak Oil movement, is described on its Wikipedia site:

Kunstler’s premise is that “cheap, plentiful” oil is the foundation of industrial society and the pervasiveness of its effects is not widely appreciated. Through the 21st century, oil and natural gas will become increasingly difficult to obtain, becoming increasingly expensive and ultimately unavailable. Scarcity of petroleum will cause significant problems for transportation and generation of electrical power. In addition, shipping of food and manufactured items will become increasingly expensive, ultimately prohibitively so. Also, natural gas is vitally important to food production as it is the raw material for much of commercial crop fertilizers. In the industrialized West, most food production and manufacturing is performed far from, and generally abstracted away from, the end consumer.

The author further argues that alternative sources of energy will be insufficient. As petroleum sources become scarce, environmentally harmful or risky technologies such as coal and nuclear will become necessary but not sufficient for our energy needs. Hydroelectric, solar, and wind power, even in combination with coal and nuclear, will also be far from sufficient. Kunstler does not consider hydrogen to be a true energy source since you cannot drill into the earth and obtain hydrogen. Hydrogen must be extracted from other energy sources, such as natural gas or using electricity at a total net loss of energy.

He states that as energy becomes scarce, transportation will become difficult or impossible, causing food and other necessary commodities to become unavailable in many communities. It will be necessary for local communities to become self-sufficient for food production, but many communities will be unable to do so, particularly large cities. The result will be mass starvation, disease, and civil unrest. Kunstler suggests that governments will be incapable of managing these problems. This period of scarcity and collapse will possibly last for hundreds of years, hence the “long” emergency of the book’s title.”

The author has a blog on which he gives his own take on today’s Saturnalia:

“America is on vacation from its financial, fiscal, and economic problems, having left the centers of power in Wall Street and Washington for a Nantucket-of-the-mind, where, in a haze of artisanal vodka and bong smoke, it’s out in the cool dune grass watching imaginary whalefishes blow, leaving only the TV Bubbleheads behind back home.”

and,

“This sort of euphoria is actually an alarming pre-crash symptom, in this case of a patient (the US) entering the terminal phase of sclerosis. Our society {…} just can’t fathom the reality of the threats we face, which are 1.) the loss of primary energy resources, 2.) the loss of technological potency, and 3.) the loss of a comfortable standard of living.”

Mr. Kunstler predicts a smeary and garish chaos of American collapse due to “misallocation of resources” and ransacked, exsanguinated institutions. For him, the second half of the oil-age parentheses will soon seal away a whole century of unknown luxury, privilege, and massive fossil-fuel prostheses, most notably automobiles.

But Mr. Kunstler is quick to point out that he’s not one of those picturesque loonies stocking dried goods and living in an underground cave with an access portal disguised as a burnt out Volkswagen. He describes intense and possibly violent instability followed by painful readjustment to life without the comforts afforded by cheap, readily accessible fossil fuels. Not necessarily a scorched-gravel apocalypse scenario such as one finds in McCarthy’s The Road.

Among his predictions one find a great number of extinctions. Most notably of suburbia and all of its nefarious tributaries.

Asked by the New York Times to speculate on the future of the suburban project, Kunstler wrote:

The suburbs have three destinies, none of them exclusive: as materials salvage, as slums, and as ruins. In any case, the suburbs will lose value dramatically, both in terms of usefulness and financial investment. Most of the fabric of suburbia will not be “fixed” or retrofitted, in particular the residential subdivisions. They were built badly in the wrong places. We will have to return to traditional modes of inhabiting the landscape — villages, towns, and cities, composed of walkable neighborhoods and business districts — and the successful ones will have to exist in relation to a productive agricultural hinterland, because petro-agriculture (as represented by the infamous 3000-mile Caesar salad) is also now coming to an end

This means that all of the drab shingle and bright enamel of the suburban project are abandoned and left to rot in the sunbelt sunshine. School buses, due to the high cost of maintaining infrastructure (highways, large centralized schools regrouping rural schoolchildren, suburbia in general), mummify in crackling municipal parking lots. All the pretty parks installed along the nation’s waterways are bulldozed as ports reawaken to intensified demand on maritime shipping. Wal*Mart asphyxiates as the circulation of cheap goods between Chinese sweatshops and trundling “consumers” in Missouri becomes increasingly expensive. The interstate highway system, which, according to Kunstler, requires infinite care and lavish resources is only functional when structurally flawless (Imagine hitting a pothole at 70mph). The highway system, Kunstler predicts, will contract as the automobile dwindles in importance to the middle class who will become increasingly reluctant to subsidize the “happy motoring” of an increasingly ghettoized and barricaded leisured class.

2. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (postmillenialism):

Depending on your reading of Revelation, you might find that you’re a Premillenialist, which means that you can watch Zombie movies with a uniquely delicious strain of dread. According to a dark reading of Revelation, Jesus will descend from heaven on a platinum escalator, in the shade of potted shopping mall palms. The saints’ souls will flap back to the graves of their bodies and emerge from them, holy zombies of the first resurrection. All living Christians will be teleported to a perfect irradiated heaven, swarming with angels as austere as chest x-rays. Those “Left Behind” (fags, Jews, Islamofascists, Catholics, Democrats, and basically anyone who can solve the 100 dollar questions on JEOPARDY) will face a time of great “Tribulations” presided over by Satan himself, the drollest of all Emcees.

This has tremendous appeal to all those neurotic heartland dummies with foreclosed futures and hope in escrow. Just as trailer park ladies, who really own nothing more than the title “Mrs.” don’t want to share their shabby prestige with a bunch of uppity coastal dykes and homos, the religious fanatics delect in apocalyptic visions of a future divinely foreclosed upon, like their houses and futures. It also explains why you need so many guns to protect your worthless property where it rusts in some sunblasted corner of Humpityville, New Mexico.

Tim La Haye has stuffed all of this nonsense into a jumbo series of Airport novels that have met with huge success among the Fundamentalist Illiterati. As Melani Mcalister wrote in her excellent September 2003 piece for The Nation:

The series, which will include fourteen novels in all, is one long story. The opening book tells of a group of Americans, either nominal Christians or secularists, who, because they lack sufficient faith, are “left behind” when God takes all true believers into heaven in an event known as the Rapture. These unbelievers soon realize their mistake, and convert to evangelical Christianity. In preparation for the horrific yet enthralling events of the “end times,” they form themselves into an underground “Tribulation Force.” Rayford Steele, a strong-willed pilot in his 40s, is the head of the group. He is joined by his daughter Chloe and her husband, Buck Williams, a tough-minded crack journalist. The team is soon joined by Tsion Ben-Judah, an Israeli rabbi who has come to understand that Jesus was in fact the Jewish Messiah. As the plagues begin, bringing locust-looking demons and terrible natural disasters, from the drying up of seas to the darkening of the sun, Ben-Judah becomes an end-times prophet, teaching millions of new converts on his Internet site about the biblical meaning of the unfolding events.

Meanwhile, the rising Antichrist is Nicolae Carpathia, a handsome, urbane and lethally devious Romanian national who started his ascent to power as Secretary General of the United Nations (a longstanding object of fundamentalist wrath). Before long, Carpathia establishes himself as a global dictator and foists onto a gullible population a totalitarian, one-world government, a single global currency and a syncretic universal religion that combines Catholic-style pomp with New Age rhetoric. Soon the Antichrist builds himself a massive capital city from which to rule the world–in New Babylon, Iraq. (Obviously, this plot element connected impressively with the recent war, though it was already in place in Left Behind novels from the late 1990s.)

As the series progresses, and the final confrontation between good and evil approaches, the Antichrist intensifies his persecution of all who resist his power, particularly Jews and Christians. Opposing him, the Tribulation Force expands rapidly, gathering other committed converts all over the globe. The revolving cast of characters features not only whites, blacks and Native Americans but also Chinese, Greeks, Arabs and countless numbers of Israeli Jews. They are a tough, multinational cohort of guerrilla warriors, including military men, housewives, computer hackers and pilots–many, many pilots. They fly back and forth between their secret hide-outs in the United States and the sites of the real action, in Israel and Iraq. They manage to keep an eye on the goings on at New Babylon via deep-cover operatives and untraceable bugging devices. In short, they are highly competent and modern people, who whip around the world at a moment’s notice in fighter jets or private planes, e-mail one another over highly encrypted computers and rescue those in danger.

In Armageddon, the members of the Tribulation Force join the “Remnant” of Israel, a core group of Jewish converts who have taken sanctuary at Petra, in Jordan, where they are fed manna from heaven each day. This group of Jews is held in special favor by God, thanks to their conversion. When Jesus returns (in the next novel), it is to fight on behalf of Israel against the massed power of the Antichrist. And, as the characters in Left Behind reassure one another repeatedly, biblical prophecy has already made the outcome clear: “We know how it ends. We win.”

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