Updating the Age of Apocalypse trend in 2012 seems fitting considering this is the year that believers in Nostradamus or the Mayan calendar doomsday scenario think will be our last. Of course, 2011 was also supposed to be our last, according to fringe Christian fundamentalist Harold Camping, whose creative Biblical tinkering yielded May 21, 2011 as the definitive date of the Rapture.In our original post, we delineated four types of contemporary apocalyptic thinking:
Malthusian catastrophes envision the collapse of human civilization or the environment as the result of the pressure of human population and consumption on the planet…Faustian technology scenarios involve the destruction of human civilization by the fruits of our heedless technological advance…Cultural catastrophes involve the destruction of everything that makes life meaningful and worth living by a souless and/or godless cosmopolitan culture…Finally, the old fashioned religious apocalypse is still with us, energized both by the development of ‘hot religion’ and a global situation which is broadly supportive of apocalyptic ideas.
The past year brought a plethora of real world stimuli for such dark premonitions, from the specter of loose nukes in an increasingly destabilizing Pakistan to the continuing Iranian drive for nuclear weapons.While most Camping-style doomsday predictions are harmless entertainment except for the gullible few who believe them, the prospect of religio-political apocalypse is no laughing matter. Today, mainstream columnists are imagining how a nuclear war might break out in the Middle East along these lines. When it comes to the combustible combination of Iranian leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Shi’a Islam’s apocalyptic scenarios, one can be forgiven for thinking the unthinkable, even if the mullahs are unlikely to allow their unpopular and illegitimate president to carry out his threats against the Jewish state.Meanwhile, over the past year, technological Faustian visions of the end times have found expression not just in heightened fears of nuclear war, but of global pandemics, as exemplified in recent popular films like Contagion. At the same time, visions of cultural cataclysm have penetrated our politics, with many conservatives obsessing over what they perceive as President Obama’s Kenyan socialist agenda, and their liberal counterparts ruminating about the ever-forthcoming advent of American theocracy.Malthusian apocalyptic scenarios have seen some reevaluation over the past two years, with a shift of focus from overpopulation to demographic winter, as population growth is projected to plateau and decline as fertility rates fall in developing countries like Brazil. Nonetheless, some Malthusians insist that populations outstripping their capacity to produce, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, pose an urgent problem. And of course, the more hysterical greens continue to trumpet sweeping predictions for the destruction of our civilization as they chase utterly impractical means for mitigating them.The frightening thing about apocalyptic thinking is that it tends to feed off itself and breed the conditions for its own fulfillment. Paranoia, ill-advised overreaction to perceived threats, and a general climate of fear all contribute to a more unstable world. This is a reality; the world is on a wild and unsettling ride in our times, and even sober and level headed people can have a hard time distinguishing between rational concern and hysterical fear. The Age of Apocalypse isn’t going away anytime soon; the prospect of some kind of ultimate catastrophe will remain an element in our politics and culture.