The ‘Apocalypse’ We Had to Have?

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.



Published by

Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

7 thoughts on “The ‘Apocalypse’ We Had to Have?”

  1. Josh,
    For once I disagree with you! (if your concern is mainly ecological, or is it?)
    1) An apocalypse won’t make any of us wiser, it will just reshuffle the political cards and usher a new world order.

    2) The apocalypse to come is not environmental, though ultimately we may get there but I think the human species is too smart to come up with alternative energies … in due course (i.e., when half of us will have already died!).
    The apocalypse will be financial, then economic, then political and social.
    It is about to happen.
    A massive financial meltdown is just around the corner, the question is not if but when and where it will start. Japan? The US? Europe?
    If, to be on the positive side, we avert a massive stock market meltdown and sovereign debt default, we might… we might just cop out a massive (MASSIVE!) depression (some experts are already talking about a 40% devaluation of the USD as a possible option).
    So as much as I love the penguins of Antarctica, I’d rather take care of myself first.
    Get rid of personal debts, downsize and sell your investment properties, reduce unnecessary spending, have all your superannuation in cash, buy physical gold (in Switzerland out of the banking system), and learn how to grow your own vegetables.

    1. Hey JO,

      I don’t actually think that any sort of economic crisis is going to be the catalyst for massive change. We’ve seen, over the past 5 years, economic disaster of epic proportions, and almost nothing has changed. We seem hell-bent on pursuing precisely the same practices and policies that got us there in the first place, and our economic systems are still very heavily dependant upon the fossil fuel industry.

      To my mind, the only thing that will bring about substantial and sustained transformation of our economic systems and day to day way of life is some sort of massive physical change in our planet.

      As such, serious climate change or nuclear fallout might offer that ‘opportunity’.

      Changes in economic systems will, naturally, follow.

      1. Well, that’s my point!
        We’re back in the 1920s.
        Something like 2008 will happen again, except this time will be much more worse since debt and liquidities have increased.
        But, it wont change a bloody thing!
        But do you think Chernobyl, Fukushima and other catastrophes have had any substantial impact?

        1. Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc., have been terrible, but localised, events.

          Climate change is ubiquitous. Furthermore, it will most significantly effect the poorest of the poor, meaning that people movements will sharply increase. If people think it’s bad now, just wait.

          It’s the total disruption that these vents represent that I think will matter most. Even amidst the financial chaos of the past 5 years, people have still been making obscene amounts of money. They always will, until the game completely changes and people just aren’t interested in those things any more because they’ve got bigger things to occupy their attention.

          It’s a very pessimistic idea I am outlining here, I realise, but perhaps it will only be once the fundamental situation changes so dramatically that there can be no ‘going back to normal’ that we will see the change that needed to happen along.

          1. I see, I see…
            I dont know which is worse, the current eco. crisis or the future climate change disruption, or a combination of both…
            But look at what’s already going on in the US, Europe and now Brazil: 50% youth unemployment in Spain, 30% salary cuts in Greece, single mums living with their kids in their car in the US, etc.
            There is enough misery on the rise already, the lower middle classes now progressively slipping into poverty. And it is only the beginning, I agree with you.
            I totally share your pessimism!

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