Not only is the climate warming, say environmentalists, but at such a rate that the Great Plains, the Eurasian steppes, the Sahel and swaths of China, India, and Southern Europe will soon become desert. Melting polar ice will add so much water to the world’s oceans that Bombay, New York, Miami, the Philippines, Indonesia and every other coastal nation will be inundated and unlivable.
Not only is there an unprecedented concentration of wealth, power, and influence in the United States, but that concentration is growing. Not only will multinational corporations, their executives and major shareholders control the world’s wealth, but they will share it less and less. The world’s poor, marginalized, and disadvantaged underclass will sink deeper into poverty and despair.
White American males– sexist, abusive, misogynist, and hateful – encouraged by the victory of Donald Trump will reassert their traditional power and influence. If there was ever a need for safe spaces, there is now, for newly-empowered and aggressive white men are already mobilizing and militarizing. Black people will once again become enslaved, Latinos and Asians penned in WWII-style internment camps. Diversity will be replaced by race, gender, and ethnicity gulags worse than ever imagined by Stalin.
Oil and gas pipelines will crisscross the nation like never before; and under the Trump’s far-right administration, oversight and environmental protection will disappear. Oil spills, fracking earthquakes, and the chemical pollution of rivers and streams will increase at an alarming rate. Old-growth forests will be harvested until the West is nothing but one great clear-cut. Endangered species will be eliminated.
Worst of all, these dire disasters will all occur at the same time. Events of The Book of Revelations will be tame compared to what will happen on Earth.
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;
And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters…(Rev.8)
Disaster movies are always box office hits. Films about nuclear winter, collision with a giant asteroid (Independence Day, Deep Impact) , the spread of zombie viruses (28 Days Later), and the end of humanity (Children of Men) are so popular that new ones are produced every year and have been since the first days of talkies.
We love existential terror and always have. The Book of Revelation is simply an early Christian version of a Hollywood B-movie script; and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch are posters for it.
If the early Christians had not invented the idea of a sulfurous eternal Hell, some other religion would have. Something about penitential destruction, wrote one Medieval monk, was part of God’s plan and universally understood.
Yet Americans who lived in earlier days of the Republic were not concerned about such existential threats. Life expectancy fluctuated between 30 and 40 years, death and dying were frequent, visible, common, and normal occurrences in early America. So common in fact, that death was nothing to worry about. Not only was it ordained, the gateway to a better world, but there was little one could do about it. A minor cut from the bread knife could mean systemic sepsis and a quick death.
Soldiers in the Crusades, the Napoleonic Wars, or the Hundred Years War knew that the probability of death on the battlefield was a near certainty. Tolstoy’s description of the Battle of Borodino are terrifying, but apparently only to the readers of War and Peace because he describes the camaraderie, the almost joyful firing of the artillery and the rain of cannonballs. A heroic death on the battlefield at 25 was better than dying from the cut of a bread knife at 30.
We seem afraid of everything these days, despite our longevity, institutions, military, and economy. Safe spaces are needed to protect us from hostile intent and threatening ideas, and from the sexual, gender, and ethnic harassment waiting just outside the gates. We Purell our kitchen counters, wash our hands after touching doorknobs, triple-belt our car seats, spend thousands for airbags, intelligent danger sensors, and Humvees.
In a world with so many immediate dangers, it is not much of a leap to worry about the truly threatening – the existential dangers of asteroids, an incinerated Earth, or the spread of a deadly virus.
Yet this does not explain the collective hysteria. It is one thing to go to bed worried that the world will be ablaze in the morning; another altogether to join movements of the worried.
Environmentalism is the religion of the day complete with liturgy, communion, tithing, and a spiritual belief in progress through good works. As in all religions community and brotherhood are central. Doing good works together adds value to individual enterprise.
Environmentalism, feminism and the movements for social justice, civil rights, and economic equality are religious subsets of the one big church – progressivism. In fact, according to its adherents, all sub-movements are interrelated, and only by joining in collective, collaborative efforts can progress be achieved. Economic injustice is behind social injustice. Financial avarice corrupts civil rights and causes environmental degradation. Acceptance of income inequality leads to acceptance of all inequality.
While most progressives become conservatives since idealism fades quickly when one is faced with the reality of human nature; and while sooner or later most people turn their attention to issues of mortality, immortality, salvation, or divine retribution and leave secular concerns behind, existential angst is still hard to shake.
Biblical terror, B-movies, longevity, leisure, population pressure and the need for individual distinguishing identity have combined in philosophical-political perfect storm. We simply cannot sit back and relax. We should not, and we must not – if progressive advocates are to be heeded.
On the other hand, there are those who are immune to apocalyptic doomsday warnings. Life has never been a bowl of cherries, likely to end unfulfilled and alone. Better to be an epicurean, enjoying life as it comes and to the limit.
The movie Welcome to New York is a fictionalized account of the affair Dominique Strauss-Kahn, an unrepentant hedonist who, despite the pleas of his ambitious wife, did nothing to control his appetites, risking the Presidency of France with glee and defiance.
The penultimate scene – that of Devereaux (the Strauss-Kahn character) propositioning the maid – is the amoral closure of the film. He is virile, irrepressible, contemptuous of the bourgeoisie and its myopic values, and subversive of them. He is reminiscent of Fyodor Karamazov, the father of the brothers of Dostoevsky’s novel, who is as sexually driven, condescending, and irreverent. Both men are attractive in their will, defiance of the meek, timid, and sexually repressed.
It is hard for those on the amoral Right to understand the emotional commitment of those on the moral Left. They do not understand the tears and wrenching distress of Hillary Clinton supporters at her resounding defeat. Nor can they understand how Hillary supporters so easily believe that Donald Trump is Satanic and profoundly evil. If history has shown us anything, it is that it repeats itself according to the predicable dictates of human nature. Not a pretty picture, but fact nonetheless. Morality is a side issue, ethics quite relative, and the pursuit of power, wealth, and influence absolute. The only thing that varies is how they are pursued.
Shakespeare understood the unchanging cycles of history – the rise and inevitable fall of kings, wars, palace intrigues, plots, and murder – but was fascinated by their diversity. An amoral genius.
So most Americans belong to one cause or another and define themselves by such associations. Others, like ‘Devereaux’ live lives of willful excess. Many more take life as it comes, preparing as best they can for the Final Judgment or at least, as the Jews say, figuring out what’s what before it’s too late to be schmart.