The date is December 21, 2012. There has been a lot of talk about the world ending today. Most of it is idle chatter, but this obsession with the apocalypse captures the spirit of the times, implying some latent fear—or hope—far beyond pseudo-Mayan numerology. Given the seeming defeat of the revolutionary movements of 2011 and the difficulty of imagining a post-capitalist form of life, it is not surprising that a pessimistic eschatological vision of the end of the world has so much currency today. Yet history shows that fixation on the apocalypse is simply one avatar of a force that also appears as social revolution.
So, to celebrate yet another end of the world, we wish to direct your attention to a new short film, “In the Middle of the Desert,” by Bulgarian anarchist filmmaker Hristina Vardeva, composed as a companion piece to the excellent text “Introduction to the Apocalypse.”
An updated and expanded version of “Introduction to the Apocalypse” is due to be published this year along with “In the Middle of the Desert.” The filmmaker and her friends are accepting donations to this end.
“The slogan “Revolution or Death!” is no longer the lyrical expression of consciousness in revolt: rather, it is the last word of the scientific thought of our century. It applies to the perils facing the species as to the inability of individuals to belong in a society where it is well-known that the suicide rate is on the increase. The experts had to admit, reluctantly, that during May 1968 in France it fell to almost nil. That spring also vouchsafed us a clear sky, and it did so effortlessly, because a few cars were burnt and the shortage of petrol prevented others from polluting the air. When it rains, where there are clouds of smog over Paris, let us never forget that it is the government’s fault. Alienated production makes the smog. Revolution makes the sunshine.”
-Guy Debord, A Sick Planet (1971)
Introduction to the Apocalypse:
All of us secretly desire for this world to end. The future lasts forever. Or at least, it used to.
The grand illusion of Western civilization has always been the myth of progress, namely that the flow of history would beneficently extend into an infinite future. To our parents, civilization offered houses in the suburbs, computers, and automobiles. And civilization delivered. To the children of these workers, civilization offered life on the moon, artificial intelligence, endless peace. All of which have failed to emerge. While our parents cling to the belief that someday the mortgage will be repaid and they can retire in happiness, their lost children know this is a lie. This world offers nothing to us: no meaningful work, no rest, no future—only fear. Over and over again, we find ourselves conditioned like rats by the images of not just our own death, but of total destruction. From the collapse of the World Trade Center to alien invasion, from the specter of nuclear war to the hole in the ozone layer—and now the melting glaciers—these images ingrain themselves in our very being. These images are nothing more than modern projections of the most deep-set fantasy of religion: the apocalypse.
Every era of this particular civilization has a particular image of the end of the world. The image of the heavenly host realizing the Kingdom of God upon earth was the visual manner that medieval world could conceive of the energies released by the transition into late capitalism. Likewise, the apocalyptic image of catastrophic climate change is an image of the apocalypse today, an image unique insofar as it captures the totality of late capitalism, unlike mere images of falling stock prices and mass unemployment. There is within this image of absolute catastrophe a kernel of truth: nothing has escaped the touch of humanity, from the deepest depths of the ocean to the invisible atmosphere itself. Indeed, there is little doubt that carbon emissions caused by human activity may bring about the end of the world as we know it. It’s just a matter of listening to the ticking of the doomsday clock as it counts down to a preordained apocalypse. Never before in recorded history has the question of humanity’s survival been so starkly posed, and never before has such news been greeted with such indifference. Catastrophic climate change is yet one aspect of a generalized crisis: financial collapse, mass unemployment, and the total dissolution of social bonds.
What is to be done in the face of a crisis so large it dwarfs the imagination? We are left with nothing but a sense of impending doom, a strange depression that keeps us oscillating between hysterical hedonism and sad loneliness, for in the end both responses are merely the two faces of the selfsame despair. Those who have appointed themselves to “save” us from this crisis—governments, scientists, activists—seem incapable of anything but sloganeering: jobs, smart cities, carbon markets, sustainable development, innovation, reparations, green capitalism. We know in our heart of hearts that these fantasies give any sensible person as much cold comfort as a stiff drink gives to an alcoholic. Confronted with the real possibility of the apocalypse, the world becomes inverted: to continue as if everything is normal in the present moment is the most refined act of nihilism.
This generalized delirium, formerly confined to only a handful of activists and fringe religious sects, has spread over the past few years to the population at large; today even the state seems to take global crisis for granted. How many summits can be held to “fix” the economy as unemployment grows and vast immaterial forces such as debt hold the future hostage? Observe the reaction of the nation-states who, while in endless summits to solve the crisis, continue to start new wars, cut life-supporting social programs, and give industries the remit to emit ever-more carbon. The nation-states continue to act as if everything is normal, while at the same time lying through their gritted teeth that “we are solving the crisis.” No one believes them, not even children. Their summits and pledges are mere fiddling while Rome burns.
Absurd plots hatched by scientists to avert catastrophic climate change, from putting mirrors into space to pumping water from the bottom of the ocean, have only the virtue of being mildly entertaining. Less could be said about their continual attempts to impose “austerity,” as every remnant of security and dignity that remains from the victories of the once-proud “workers” are destroyed before the eyes of their children. There is a distinct air of madness about our rulers, a madness reminiscent of the monarchs of the ancien regime shortly before their beheading. Yet, what can a single person do? The despair one feels confronting this reality is an honest appraisal of a disaster from which there is no easy escape.
Let us hold this despair close, let it nurture us. Honesty is always the best policy for survival.