In the last couple of years, I have come, in increasing measure, to the rather pessimistic conclusion that it will most probably take some sort of ‘apocalyptic’ event to finally make us humans realise that our current trajectory is unsustainable.
Obviously, this is somewhat at odds with my usually fairly optimistic, hope-filled outlook on possibilities for social change, however I am more and more (reluctantly) convinced by the argument that only an upheaval (or series of upheavals) of epic proportions will cause us to see with the required clarity that we can’t go on the way we are currently living.
This is a great cause of sadness for me.
Now, I need to say here that the kind of epic upheaval that I’m talking about here has absolutely nothing to do with the Judeo-Christian idea of ‘apocalypse’, even though that is the word that is most often (wrongly) associated with what I am talking about. Biblical (and the extra-canonical) ‘apocalypses’ are not predictions of ecological disaster or nuclear war-and-fallout in the 21st century. They are contextual to their own time and situation and speak to the desired overturning of socio-political domination using the evocative language of metaphor.
What I’m saying is that I most certainly don’t see these things predicted in the book of Revelation or Daniel or anything else. That is just not what those texts are doing.
Rather, I see the trajectory for such events in the newspapers and on the television. I see those in power almost completely ignoring the ramifications of their actions, knowing that short election cycles are ‘what really matters’—at least in regards to keeping them employed. They also know, I suspect, that they will most probably not be in power when the sorts of things I’m talking about happen. They won’t be blamed, at least directly, for the natural (or otherwise) outcomes of their actions in the present, or won’t have to face up to it in any event. Those who are in power at the time will, likewise, be able to palm off responsibility, vaguely directing blame at inaction in the past and framing themselves as the heroes of the story for trying to act, even though it will by then be too late to effect meaningful change.
The way I (am coming to) see it, it may actually take the sort of massive environmental disaster that our top scientists are so consistently warning us of to help us see that current trends of consumption—and the economic systems that support and encourage them—simply cannot continue. It may take massive destruction and loss of life through nuclear war and subsequent nuclear fallout to realise that the sorts of political games those in power are playing have real-life consequences (as if WWII wasn’t evidence enough).
Whatever the case, it may be that we will only be shaken out of our drunken stupor when such an ‘apocalyptic’ scenario unfolds and we are forced to make the changes we should be making now. It may be that it is only from the ‘post-apocalyptic’ perspective that hindsight will make it all so clear.
To channel former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, perhaps it will be ‘the apocalypse we had to have’.
The cycles of consumption and environmental destruction and of geo-political aggression and war cannot continue if we wish to evade such a future. Current trends, however, lead us directly along that path.
Perhaps, though—and this is where the optimist in me just won’t lay down and accept it—we will heed the wake-up call before it’s too late.