Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Apocalypse Now?

by Libby Hellmann

This is a grim post. So take it accordingly.

A cougar runs through Chicago
s Uptown... and is gunned down.

An earthquake rumbles up from downstate.

Gas is over four dollars a gallon… and climbing. In Chicago 36 people are shot during the first warm weekend of the year, while natural disasters in Asia kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Americans face unprecedented debt, soaring commodity and food prices and sliding home prices.

Something’s happening, and it’s not good. I’m a simple, superstitious soul at heart (I figure I was a sturdy peasant girl in a previous incarnation) and I can’t ignore the signs. Are we on the precipice of the Apocalypse? I’ve always subscribed to the “other shoe theory of life” and I keep wondering when and where it’s going to drop and how bad it will be. Are these apocryphal events a harbinger of disastrous times ahead? The fall of Rome… the coming of the barbarians… you fill in the blanks.

What’s worse, I have the sense that it’s all accelerating. Alvin Toffler warned us about this. I’m almost afraid to check the news these days – a cataclysmic event seems occur every day.

Of course, I could be just a tad paranoid. A real chicken-little. In fact, my sister-in-law asked me not to write about this. Her opinion – very Buddhist, I think – was that giving words to my fears might hasten or lend them credibility. (Now who’s the real paranoid, you ask?)

Kevin Phillips writes that even though more than 80 percent of Americans now say that we are on the wrong track, most of us still believe that the United States is unique, chosen by God.” He goes on to say that “So did all the previous world economic powers: Rome, Spain, the Netherlands (in the maritime glory days of the 17th century, when New York was New Amsterdam) and 19th-century Britain. Their early strength was also their later weakness, not unlike the United States since the 1980s.”

Is that so?

I’m willing to acknowledge that I’m overreacting. And that I’m wrong. In fact, this may be the only blog where I really do want you to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

So, what do you think? Talk me out of this.



JD Rhoades said...

100 years ago, you never would have heard about any of this except, maybe, the cougar.

Horrible shit is always happening, and has always been happening, everywhere.

We just hear about it more.

Sara Paretsky said...

As we know, the pessimist thinks the glass is half empty, the optimist half full. I come from a family that cries, "we never even got a glass!" which is to say, I am totally on the page with Libby,

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

The gas prices aren't a part of this.
The US has wanted the world to be capitalists along side us. So when oil is sold it goes to who ever offers the most money, China is willing to pay it, so if we want oil we need to pay those prices. The rest of the world has had high gas prices for over a decade. We need to wise up and dump the hummers and gas guzzlers and drive more sensibly.

The rest of this? Who knows.
I'm kind of with Dusty, terrible things have always happened, we just have easier access to all of it now.

Ron said...

Hi Libby,

Have to agree with JD, we now have access to the world's ills and it's not just in the daily paper but on the 24 hour news cycle and that makes a difference in perception. If you look back through history, our present condition could be considered calm in comparison to certain times. Nonetheless, as far as our country is concerned, catch Tom Friedman's column in the TIMES today. I suspect it will give you as much pause as it did me in reflecting on where we stand at the moment.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

JD is on to something here. It's the instantanous communication of news. After the mid-west earthquakes, being in St. Louis, we got quite a jolt, I had similar feelings as you.

Also, I have many close friends in China, and thank God they are all safe. Global warming, typhoons, drought in the south, floods in the mid-west. Protesting human rights in China (politics in the Olympic Games again).

Thanks, Libby, now I'm in a sour mood. :)

Dana King said...

Another agreement with JD. We are inundated with news now, and the more spectacular, the more play it gets. I read an article several years ago that said the New Madrid fault was overdue, so that one didn't even surprise me that much. (Of course, I live in Maryland, so it wasn't my shorts in a bunch.)

I look on the cougar story as good news. (Not so much for that particular cougar, but still.) Having a stray wander into town implies they're not in danger of extinction and have been living in relatively close quarters with humans with no ill effects to either, since he must have been fairly close by for some time before heading for Rush Street and a cold one.

I read Phillips' article yesterday, and found it compelling. I think we are quite likely about to begin life as no longer the pre-eminent world power. I don't know if that's such a bad thing. We'll always be important, if only because of our size and location. It could do us good to have to learn to get along with other countries. Life in England and Holland doesn't seem too bad, even though they're in "eclipse."

guyot said...

I, like others, tend to think JD is right.

However, it doesn't keep me from feeling like we're all doing exactly what the folks in Pompeii did... partying our asses off, looking up at Vesuvius, and going, "Naaahh..."

(I think technology will be our apocalypse)

Libby said...

Guyot... you brought a smile to myself. Ok... even a giggle. Thanks. And thanks, everyone else, for your comments. They do help put things in perspective. Keep 'em coming.

Alison said...

Uh-oh. I was born in 1980. Is this somehow my fault?

125records said...

Libby, I was reading something the other day about infant mortality: only 100 years ago, 1 out of 10 babies died before reaching their first birthdays. 10%! Can you imagine? In some poor urban areas it was 30%. I think about all of my friends who have children -- every single one of them healthy -- and my heart aches for those women of the early 1900s. Obviously there are still women today who suffer this horrible loss, but it's the exception and not the rule. Anyway, my point is that while life today sucks in a lot of ways, in other ways, we're awfully lucky to live in the time that we are in.

Matt said...

I understand where you are coming from, but there's just not much to this sort of paranoia.

Pick any period of time over the past 10,000 years and you'll find humanity beset by merciless tyrants, religious fanatics, natural calamities, brutal warfare, economic hardships, civil unrest, and on and on. Don't trust me; read your history. I'll spoil the ending to each of these stories: Humanity keeps trucking along; sometimes, we even learn a lesson or two.

Think about what you are saying: A dead cougar is a sign of "The End," but the Black Death of the 1300s is just, what, a bit of history?

Fifty million are slaughtered in World War II, but a case of the seismic shakies in Lombard means the end is nigh?

Every generation thinks they have it worse than all the others. Every one thinks theirs is the last. In that way, we are all still very much little children.

All I know is that I would rather be living today than just about any other time in history. (As far as my chances of survival are concerned; the ability to see history in the flesh, well that's another story...)

This is why I can't help but smirk when the Jerry Falwells of the world groan that the end is nigh because of wars and earthquakes.

Funny thing, they neglect to mention that there have always been wars (because we are tribal and territorial) and there have always been earthquakes (because there has always been a thing called plate tetonics).

Look, your post mentions very real problems in need of very real solutions. Those solutions are, in some cases, complex and difficult.
So I am not going to say that you are "wrong." But I will say that you are wrong to imply that these problems are signs of some supernatural payback.

Maryann Mercer said...

I'm going with JD here, but I also think we are to some extent the masters of our own fates...if we don't at least try to solve the problems, we're giving them room to profliferate. That said, I always believed my generation had the answers...now I think we didn't know we had them or looked for them in all the wrong places. Can we save ourselves? Yep. But it sure as hell won't be easy.
Did that help at all, Libby?

Onehealthpro said...

Hi Libby,
I don't think you're wrong, and I don't know if you're right. I do know all the challenges you mention are serious. Sadly, too many issues have been ignored too long and now those issues are interacting with each other to produce even larger challenges. I suspect we're in for some tough times that will last longer than most Americans anticipate. And much of the pain could have been avoided with top notch leadership.

Michael Dymmoch said...

JD's got it right. The world has always been a dangerous place and disasters have always occurred--just ask the Neanderthals. (No, wait. You can't. someone exterminated them 50,000 years ago.) Things seem apocalyptic now because now we have global, 24/7 coverage of everything.

Turn off your TV, computer and cell phone. Go outside and look around. The sun still comes up every morning. Gravity still behaves predictably. People are still born, grow up and fall in love, reproduce, and die, replaced by new people. And "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." *

*Desiderata by Max Ehrmann