The uptick of extreme weather events – Sandy was the northeast’s second hurricane in two years running – presents us with a “new normal” for which we’re not quite prepared. It is neither unreasonable, nor a side effect from too many apocalyptic-themed cable TV documentaries, for people to question whether industrialized civilization is like an inverted pyramid, balancing on a tip, with too many of our priorities and resources loaded at the wrong end. Some observers claim that we sublimate and vent these fears through our diet of zombie TV shows, apocalyptic video games, and day-after novels and movies. But look again. The screen entertainment that best captures our current mood consists of movies like The Truman Show, The Matrix, Vanilla Sky, and Groundhog Day. Each of these films suggests that we not living the lives we think we are: that we are not making independent, thoughtful choices, but rather are following a conformist pattern of consumption and unawareness.Mitch Horowitz: Once More Awaiting “The End” (BoingBoing)
And that aspect of human nature exposes the real impetus behind our childlike fascination with end times. People everywhere yearn for inner change – for a way to detach from the cycle of routine daily existence, with its conflicts, habits, addictions, worries, and boredoms. We’re surrounded by therapeutic and religious ideas – yet the wish for change and personal fulfillment is almost always unfulfilled. So, in our frustration, we look without. We hope that some kind of seismic shift will rescue us from the inability to alter ourselves. Scary as it may be, the end of what we know promises to rupture old patterns and push us toward something new.
Consider the much-hyped Y2K, when the calendar turnover to the new millennium was supposed to wreak havoc on our computer systems. A highly accomplished parenting author told me at the time that his wife insisted on their purchasing a gas-powered generator. As he related the story I detected no fear at all in him; rather he sounded like a guy planning for a vacation. The same attitude appeared in other adults: they sounded like kids who were hoping for a “snow day” to get out of school. The routine of work, the obligations to family, the anxieties of day-in-day-out existence – all of it can seem to grow lighter for people when they think, as some do every few years, that the end is near. Many people indulge in a semi-believable image of a future that, if nothing else, represents a radical departure from the present.
But neither fantasy nor denial will work anymore. We need to better understand what it is in ourselves that is so bored or disaffected with the present that we enjoy musing over imagined disasters – even while we as a society fail to sensibly prepare for altogether real and predictable ones. In the coming year – and there will be one – we must trade “The End Is Near” for an older and more productive principle: “Know Thyself.”
Friday, December 21, 2012
Posted by escapefromwisconsin at 10:01 PM