Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Plus ça fin du monde, plus la même chose
Don't tell me the world is ending; I've known all about it since 1965.
At Yokota Air Force Base, where my father was stationed then, I developed a strange, age-inappropriate relationship with a private who worked under my father. I was (let's see) twelve, and he was about twenty. If you're worried about sex, forget about it. Whatever abuse he dealt me, he kept it clear of my genitals. I can't even remember the guy's looks enough to tell you whether I wish we had fucked.
This guy--who's name is lost to me now--something rather colorless like Glenn or Bruce--(yeah, I'm a Joe, so who am I to talk about colorless, right?)--anyway, this guy told me about Nostradamus. And he told me that, according to Nostradamus, the world would end in 1969. (This date was later confirmed for me by a "scholar"--"spokesman"?--on biblical prophecy who assured the congregation of the church I belonged to then that indeed nineteen-hundred-and-sixty-nine was when the Books of Revelation and Daniel foretold it was all coming down.) More particularly, the GI told me, that Nostradamus, properly translated, said that in 1969 the earth would experience fireworks visible from the planet Mars.
Even earlier, of course, I had seen Twilight Zone episodes that depicted the planet's demise--along with the movies (on TV) The Day the Earth Stood Still, The War of the Worlds, and On the Beach. I grew up during the peak of the cold war years--on SACS air bases, where, beginning in the third grade, we watched Civil Defense films showing bunnies and human (GI) volunteers subjected to nuclear radiation and had monthly Civil Defense drills in which we not only "ducked and covered" (in case of an atomic blast) but also ran to imaginary school buses which the government would provide in order to haul our innocent prepubescent asses out of harm's way--with the catch that we would "probably" never see our parents again (a prospect most of us accepted with less emotion than the agonizing death of the bunny in the film we had watched).
In the Christian high school I attended in Miami, the one I was enrolled in when the fateful year of 1969 came and went, we took a state-required course in Americanism vs Communism. One of our assignments was to create a "Signs of the Times" notebook, in which we collected newspaper evidence that the Rapture and the prophesied seven years of Tribulation were "nigh." I may even have that document someplace or other, though, now that I think of it, I'm not sure it's the sort of thing I would have saved. I seem to recall that I counted the Off-Broadway success of Oh! Calcutta! as one of the clear signs of Jesus's imminent return.
Subsequently, I have survived other deadlines--1984 and Y2K, most notably, with hardly a scratch. No doubt the Martians are still awaiting their fireworks show.
Just twenty years ago I would have guessed that we wouldn't be around in 2010. After Vietnam and Watergate, history has struck me as unpoetically anticlimactic. The Age of Aquarius gave way to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. In the 1980s, we got AIDS, the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, the Tienanmen Square massacre, Ted Bundy, the fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie, the Time-Warner merger, the Exxon Valdez oil spill off Prince William Sound, and the savings and loan crisis that cost taxpayers over $200 billion in bailouts (not counting the losses in personal savings)--we Americans are still under the delusion that it was only communism that collapsed in the late 1980s. Apocalypse is, of course, not over yet--just more expensive. Nuclear holocaust of the sort we imagined in Doctor Strangelove and Fail-Safe is bargain-basement stuff compared to the shit we're having to live with year after year. For what it will cost to clean up the Gulf of Mexico we could have blown up the world ten times in 1970 dollars.
Almost every culture known to man has believed that the world would end in its own time--a myth I suspect that Jung would have interpreted as embodying the human consciousness's conviction that nothing can survive it. Even Jesus and the apostle Paul advised their followers not to marry and procreate because ... what's the point? It's all going to end before the cake is paid for and the kids are out of braces.
However, my point is not that the world is not ending. It is, most definitely, it is. But I suspect it's a much different process than the movies and the bible would have us to believe. I suspect 2012 is a lot more exciting than the actual end of the world will be. Just like a Hollywood death is so much more dramatic--and fast--than the real deal is. Bang bang you're dead? Try visiting an ER sometime.
But the world is ending, all right. No doubt in my mind about that.
I sense that we face a scenario closer to the frog slowly boiling in the pot on the stove. The fates know that if the end came too precipitously, we humans would finagle a way out of it--build arks, bury ourselves in Disneyland-sized bunkers, cryopreserve ourselves like Di Giorno pizzas, shoot ourselves into outer space to colonize new planets, or at least shoot Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck into space to vaporize any invading meteors.
Instead, we lose a few species of jellyfish, and we're cool with that. The prospect that oil supplies are slowly dwindling doesn't stop us from destroying the rest of the planet to get to whatever little bit of it is left. We experience disasters like those in Tienanmen Square, in Iran, after the crackdown on the post-election protests, and in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, like they are Movies of the Week--mined for their emotional tingles, then quickly forgotten. Americans were ready to impeach a President 40 years ago for criminal and anti-constitutional behavior--nowadays, anything short of a blowjob--say, torturous interrogations, "preventive" wars, suppression of free speech, denial of human rights, etc., etc., etc.--gets barely a nod from the American public. As long as climate change occurs slowly, in glacial increments, nobody's going to do anything real to stop it--not unless we can determine that the solution will somehow be "good for business."
The way the world is really ending is pretty boring. It's sort of the way youth fades with old age, so that when death finally comes, inevitably, it doesn't appear quite so tragic as, say, the death of Tutankhamun or John Keats or James Dean or Kurt Cobain or Heath Ledger. The earth doesn't appear to be dying young and "leaving a good-looking corpse" at all. It's crumbling through slow erosion, cynicism, indifference, a cessation in the evolution of new and exciting ideas.
The world is hooked up to a life support machine called Hope. We believe Progress is inevitable--what we get for just being the special beings that we are. We've got facelifts and Viagra to take our minds off Health. Elections and 24-hour news to take our minds off History. Bumper stickers and Twitter to take our minds off Philosophy. Vocoders and drum machines to take our minds off Music. Shopping malls and the Internet to take our minds off Community. Blogs, like even this one, to take our minds off the clear logical lines of Reason and Ethical Argument.
The more the world promises to end, the more it just stays the same. But make no mistake about it--it is ending.
Posted by Joe at 3:54 PM