Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I am a prophet of doom

"The glorious feelings, those that most we prized,
That made indeed our very life of life,
In the world's turmoil and ignoble strife
Are sear'd and paralysed."

- from Goethe's Faust

Maybe it's what I've been reading, or maybe it's what I've seen on the news, but I feel like we're all doomed.

Politically, environmentally, socially - maybe there's just a grim undercurrent in the tap water we're all drinking, but there's a confluence of events and happenings that makes me want to buy a house, dig a big hole in the back yard, and hunker down for Armageddon.

Take "The Road," by Cormac McCarthy. It's a beautiful, moving book about a father and his son traveling southbound down a highway to the ocean to escape the cold of winter. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the world has ended, all life has dissolved into ash, and the few people left are scavengers, Mad-Max-style, and prowl the landscape looking for canned food. McCarthy doesn't say exactly what happened, but it's apparent - from the scorched, mummified bodies and the blackened tree stumps - that all people are going to die before things get any better.

Great bedtime reading!

Last week Nine Inch Nail's new album, "Year Zero," came out. And maybe you've heard, but it's one big game. Placed 15 years in the future, Trent Reznor's story places America in a very scary place: a dirty bomb goes off in Los Angeles, freedoms have been curtailed, poison is being leaked into the drinking water by the government, protestors are tortured and killed, the Middle East has become an even bigger mess (with Iran suffering an atomic attack), and people are hallucinating about a giant, ghostly hand coming down out of the sky.

Perfect for cool, quiet rainy days!

I'll give it to Mr. Reznor - at least he's made a game out of the whole thing. But still, his vision has to come from somewhere, and I'm afraid he's seeing a result of the world we currently live in. Reznor's vision reflects Hegel's non-Marxist view of the struggle for freedom, and yin-yang observations about the close relationship between creation and destruction. We're creating so much, but at the same time we seem to tip-toe ever closer along the edge of destruction.

Things could always be worse, right? We could be experiencing the plight of the Mandeans, an ancient tribe who, every day since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, face apocalypse at the hands of Shiite and Sunni extremists. The Mandeans believe that bottled water is "dead," and that we should only drink from free-flowing sources. But what happens when all the rivers run dry?

The rivers of American democracy are surely in need of fresh water, and all one needs to realize this is a newspaper and a history book. It's like we're reading a dystopian novel - some Orwellian yarn brought to life - while the world around us goes to pot.

I remember reading about "global warming" as a simple theory as a kid reading Carl Sagan. Sagan was one of the first to diagnose the effects of a full-on nuclear exchange - a "Nuclear Winter" he called it - and to propose that a runaway greenhouse effect would lead to conditions not all that unlike our sister planet Venus. Been to Venus lately? It's a literal hell. And here Sagan was warning the world about the effects of atmospheric polution in the 1980s.

Jump to 20 years later, and global warming is pretty much confirmed - and most scientists blame human activity. Sagan said back then that it would take decades to undo what humans had done. Are we too late, Carl?

Existential dread is a bitch. It's not something you talk to about at dinner, or bring up during phone conversations, because apocalypse lays bear, as McCarthy writes, ├Čthe frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night.├« Even sitting at the luxurious hotel in Orlando, I thought about the uselessness of all that tropical excess. Is this what matters in life? Would I care if I had to fight and claw my way through the world, as McCarthy's pilgrims do? Are these thoughts even worth having?

But I feel like a lot of my friends are feeling the same as me. Doom. Peril. Ruin. It's in the air.

There are some who would say I have a serious case of Chicken Little, to which I would tell them it's only a theory. More study is needed. The verdict isn't in. The tea leaves are unreadable.

I would also tell them that I wish I lived in their world, where caring is an option and critical thinking is drowned out by Fox News and the way-too-early presidential election politics. We can't even breathe and think anymore because students are shooting their classmates, TV and YouTube are stealing our time, important, earth-affecting celebrities are dying, and the Cult of Too Busy to Care grows in membership.

If the point of good - or at least reflective - art is to highlight the struggles of the human condition, then today's artists have plenty of material to draw upon.

It's enough to make us doomsayers want to move to the Northern Territories of Canada and wait this shit out by reading paperback Huxley novels and listening to "American Idiot."

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