This is about the notion of the "End Times," And whether we apply it in a social or civic sense to the narratives we describe.
Note- I published this yesterday, but I had used the term "secular" to describe the opposite of a religious end times. It seems that I was relying on the reader to have the same internalized understanding of the term that I was using. It goes that way sometimes. I wanted to restate it, but use clearer terms. I didn't have any time to do it after I published, so I just pulled it, and planned to republish it.
Whatever we might call the end of the world, it's a fearsome prophecy that has driven many people to act in ways that might otherwise seem strange. However, in terms of the end of the world, odd behavior is expected.
We might think of the end of the world as the last cycle of time when Vishnu returns. We might think of it as the Armageddon, or the apocalypse. Maybe we say it is the end of the Kalpa, or we might call it Judgment Day. In any event, the tradition of end times prophecies is long.
The reasons are pretty simple, I think.
1. There seems to always be a general feeling that whatever events are taking place at any moment among the most important events to ever take place in modern history.
2. We have always recognized that living things die. We carry the concept of the circle of life very closely.
3. It is one of the strongest stories we can tell in order to be heard. So we can convince people to behave in the way we would like by sharing stories about the end of the world.
What I'm wondering is this: Do we also tell ourselves the same sorts of end times narratives in a more societal or cultural sense? Do we use the same sort of imagery that is used in the religious end times stories to tell ourselves similar end times stories about our culture or civic institutions?
I would say yes.
This is not a judgment on the merits of the stories we see here, and elsewhere. There are very real world consequences to events that take place now. That would be silly to deny. I am also not attempting to use the idea of a cult to impugn anyone's motives. Nor am I attempting to discredit anyone's behavior in anyway whatsoever!
There seem to be a lot of uses of apocalyptic imagery in political, cultural, and economic writing. We can see this at play in the actual, honest to goodness survivalists who truly believe that the shit is going to go down, and they are going to heading north at 120 MPH in full Repo Man style. Yes, in this junker.
We can see this at play in the pseudo religious world when people are conned into believing that someone has connections with alien civilizations, or that they are somehow aware of sinister government plots. We might even see this sort of thinking in small groups of people who do truly believe that we are in a simulated existence. It could blink out at any moment.
I think we could spend plenty of time searching left wing blogs and we would most definitely find a lot of language that is loaded with apocalyptic ideas and imagery. Not necessarily in the religious meaning. The consequences are necessarily different. These end times scenarios would more likely involve a complete loss of individuality, and freedom. If these conditions endure, the end of this civilization is most definitely going to be coming. Our way of life will be destroyed. Those would seem to be some of the lines of reasoning.
What books or tradition to we honor in this secular "end times?" These narratives from the left and the right seem to use some of the same material. They all seem to rely on George Orwell as a source of authoritative statements to verify the end times. The idea seems to be that if you can apply quotes from a totalitarian dystopia to the world we currently live in, then we must indeed be near the end of our free existences. Obviously, the Randians cling to their copies of Atlas Shrugged, dreaming for the day when they themselves will bring about the end times of the culture they live in. Essentially, those people who go Galt will be no different than the select few in religious end times stories who are given the keys to the new civilization.
But what actions should accompany these times? In religious end times stories, the idea can be that there is another place that will be better. What is required of us is that we change our behavior on Earth in order that we get a reward in that other place. That's not to say that all end times stories go that way. Many feature a simple destruction and rebirth cycle. Perhaps some of those will share the notion that your change in behavior will have an impact on your chances the next time.
What does the societal/cultural end times narrative ask from us? First, it posits the destructive consequences of our behavior, then it goes on to specify changes that each of us needs to make, and that we need to ask others to make. The "Good Word" is a religious term, but the idea of spreading the Gospel certainly is contained within any form of participatory persuasion. In addition, the cultural end times narrative often requests that we even force others to adhere to the changes we wish. In religion, there is very little to do with forcing another to accept the religion. You can't force someone to change in a true way. That would seem too nullify the point. The Mormon practice of post mortem baptism is often viewed with anger and disgust.
Interestingly, there is also a strong implication in cultural narrative that includes a necessary destruction and rebirth of the culture that is considered to be in the end times.
It just struck me that we may not be able to develop a new religious end times scenario, given the amount of knowledge we have. We also can't seem to see a complete end to the culture we believe is in the end times. We don't really have another place for that culture to be deposited. Instead, the cultural end times includes the feature of imminent destruction, but also a rebirth for a new culture. Presumably, this narrative would include the idea that the new culture would be done correctly.
Tue Jun 25, 2013 at 6:18 AM PT: To continue with the religious imagery, I'd like to thank whichever non denominational angel who put my diary in the community spotlight.