Where was I? Oh, that’s right…

I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been in deep cover, embedded with a doomsday cult so that I can fathom their motives, ideas and motivations.  I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been taking time to ‘harden’ my defenses and prepare my own personal “secure, undisclosed location” for potential fire, flood, plague and general mayhem.  Heck, I’d like to say that I was just sitting back in a hammock sipping mojitos and reading the Left Behind series of books.  Alas, the truth is far less glamorous.

I’ve got a lot to catch up on, as we’re more obsessed than ever before, and the (perpetually) impending end of the world as we know it has been in the news quite a bit lately.  We’ve narrowly missed having yet another asteroid smack into us, and somehow we’ve endured despite the terror of blood moons, and strange cloud formations, eerie lights in the sky, and the onslaught of a dizzying array of “weird tricks” to cure everything from bad breath to some folks dissatisfaction with fiat currency.

Meanwhile, there have been more mundane and prosaic apocalyptic obsessions lately, including a resurgence of the Sovereign Citizen/Posse Comitatus movement, and a doubling down on the “all against all” tactics of the culture war we had good reason to think was long over.  Alas, Tumblr sits in for Babylon these days and proliferates so many ways of seeing and theorizing about the world that we might as well be speaking different languages.  Only the most obtuse could think that we would find it easy to come to some kind of consensus over the question of race relations or economic inequality, but lately it seems we can’t even manage to have a civil conversation over the question of fiction, with everything from movies, to video games, to my own beloved science fiction being shredded by partisans in a bitter, endless, and nihilistic attempt to destroy everything held dear by those who view the world in a different way.

It’s definitely time for me to stop musing on this by myself, so I’m making a resolution, a May Day resolution, to freshen up the bunker a bit by getting all of this out of my head.  In the coming days and weeks, I want to think a bit about the return of widespread social unrest to the streets of American cities (as opposed to merely simmering and festering in the shadows) and I’d like to take note of what I think is a corresponding return of the figure of the apocalypse ‘prepper’ (such individuals always become an object of curiosity when unrest moves from the fringe to the center of discourse).   I have in fact been consuming as much popular apocalypse culture as I can make time for, from the sublime to the execrable, and taking copious notes for discussion at a later date.

(A May Day resolution that’s coming over a week late.  There’s always something, it seems!)

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I think I’m just grumpy today

I began reading this and my initial thought was “Only 2%?  That’s still 2% too many!”

According to the U.S. census clock, the current population of the United States stands at about 315 million people.  Two percent of that number is still about 6.3 million people, and since the study methodology explicitly excluded all those whose age made them statistically more likely to believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, that number is pretty jaw dropping.  We need comprehensive education reform, like YESTERDAY, and it has to begin by banning from the science classroom any conclusion which relies on someone’s invisible friend for “evidence” about science matters.

But I digress, sorta.

Perhaps I should be rather comforted by the fact that we are getting ever closer to consensus over the fact that climate change will produce more, and more severe, weather events in the future.  The topline takeaway here does seem to be that roughly 35% of the people surveyed are living in denial, thinking that the weather is not and has not been a problem, with 6% of that thinking that weather has actually gotten less severe over time.  Another 36% (one imagines that these don’t overlap with the above cited percentages) admit that the world is seeing more severe weather but that it’s wholly attributable to the approach of the End Times (and, by extension that we cannot and therefore should not bother trying to do anything about it).

For the remaining 63% of Americans surveyed, clearly the weather is getting more extreme.  Some of those people will be in the 67% of those who responded who believe that we ought to do something to address climate change and especially the use of fossil fuels which drive the rate of change.  I’ve looked closely at the survey and there doesn’t seem to be anything there about whether or not that range of “doing something” includes anything more than importing Chinese and Japanese flood pods, though.

Another one

Courtesy of The New Republic.

Of course, I would argue that the contemporary Republican party has been mainlining apocalypse for a while now, at least since 2008 and the election of Barack Obama.  Ever since, we’ve had death panels and FEMA concentration camps (or internment camps or reeducation camps or whatever), class warfare and a whole range of stormpocalypses up to and including Sandy, as well as the penultimate threat of impending End Times if Obama managed to be reelected.

OMG, Australia!!

Here in the United States, citizens are stumbling around in a zombie-like daze wondering when, if ever, our politicians are going to get their hands on some brains (and perhaps a spine as well) and get down to business solving the completely, totally, 100% self inflicted catastrophe we seem to be headed toward with the ‘fiscal cliff’ (here, I’ll admit I find the term ‘austerity bomb’ both more compelling as a phrase as well as more accurate as a description) debacle.  Many of our national political leaders have acted in ways that were (one imagines unintentionally) hilarious, but even our president, with his characteristic dry wit, doesn’t have anything which quite compares to this.

Apparently the Australians are known for a dry, irreverent wit, which Prime Minster Julia Gillard put on display in a mock statement to the nation promoting a morning show program focused on the impending end of all things, predicted for the morning of 7 December.  The big news is that apparently we missed it, here in the United States, because we woke up this morning and went about our days.

I will admit to being ever so slightly conflicted about humor like this.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the satire and am always reduced to giggles of joy whenever someone ups the ante on apocalyptic humor, as PM Gillard has managed to do here.  And I think it must say something about the health of a political system when a national politician is able to step out from behind the screen of Very Serous National Leadership to have a bit of light-hearted fun.  But I do worry about all the people who can’t, for any number of different reasons, tell the difference between reality and the fantasy.  I would never argue that the topic ought to be verboten, my feeling about censorship is that more speech is better, and for every person running around with their hair on fire claiming that the earth is about to come to a violent end because of some swiftly approaching calamity, I think we ought to have a few others explaining that the 21st will come and go just like any other day, and in fact like every other predicted doomsday.

But I remain concerned nonetheless.  It’s normal for us to be concerned about the future and fascinated by the idea of apocalypse.  What I continue to be completely mystified by is the tenaciousness of irrational fears and a clinging to belief, especially so fundamentally pessimistic a belief, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Science can give us so much more information about how the world works, and the triumph of education is that more people have access to an unprecedented amount of that information, and yet we seem to be more, rather than less, susceptible to the lure of our worst fears.  Clearly, we need more information, more discussion, and even more humor to draw attention to the fact that some people have, with a great deal of certainty and copious ‘evidence,’ always predicted the end of things for one reason or another.  Those people have always been wrong.  There is no reason to believe, and many, many, MANY reasons to be skeptical that this time is going to be any different.

In a side note, I now have Prime Minister Gillard to thank for introducing me to Tom and Alex and, in a roundabout way, to Ig Nobel prize winning scientist Karl Kruszelnicki, whose ground breaking and tireless research deserves to be celebrated!

And, in a related note, Tom and Alex reminded me of this, which is one of my favorite movie clips.  As someone who has lived in Los Angeles, nothing makes me happier than watching it be burned, bombed, blown up and generally wrecked.

Conflicting accounts

I have several friends who moved to Texas a few years ago.  One set of them settled near by Rice University and are quite happy with their lives, while another set stayed less than a year before moving back, and ever since they’ve regaled all of us with hilarious stories of their interactions with what seemed like stereotypical ‘crazy locals’ of the religious variety.  I always assumed that they were using poetic license to make the behavior more extreme and, therefore, to make the stories more funny.

Of course, there is the outlier.  Admittedly, he’s a friend of a friend, and we weren’t close before he moved, but since then it often seems as if he has become one of those stereotypical crazy locals (and likes it that way).

So I pay more attention than I really should to news from Texas.  I say “more than I should” because I often end up with a less than flattering impression of what’s going on there in the Lone Star State.  On the one hand, there is always someone willing to opine at length about which new threat currently spells the downfall of western civilization, or is hastening the arrival of the End Times (always a favorite subject of mine).  Other friends assure me that Texas has no more than the usual share of those with, ahem, ‘fringe’ ideas, just that in Texas everything starts to seem bigger.  On the other hand, the bizarre seems to percolate much farther up the scale.

But I really don’t know what to make of the sudden momentum behind the secession petition craze, in which Texas seems to be leading the nation, though now that so many people seem to have thrown in for the idea, Governor Perry seems to be taking a much more pro-union stance and arguing that the U.S. needs Texan leadership.

It reminded me that the question of Texas succession has been a perennial fascination for some.  Like obsession with the idea of apocalypse, it just suits some people to think about (and in many cases to wish for) an end to things as they are.  Practical or not, many people find pleasure in the idea, and let’s be honest that imagining such a massive undertaking could be engaging, even if only as an intellectual exercise.

Oh, and it’s been eight days now, and so far no fire, brimstone or odd stars in the sky!  More and more people are taking note…

We made it…

or did we?

While some people went to bed a week ago noting that, despite the reelection of the President, their guns did not magically disappear (nor did concentration camps magically spring into life), others (lots and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of others) seem, shall we say, less than sanguine?

As the election drew closer I found myself drawn into a vortex of political news, fascinated and unable to look away from any of it; the polls, the overheated coverage of “Mittmentum”, the endless rounds of fact-checking and counter fact-checking, the last-minute ads saturated with flop sweat, and above all the rancid slime of unhinged rage that floated over everything thanks to unmediated comment sections and the proliferation of conspiracy-obsessed fringe websites.  Through it all I held to a moratorium I established for myself: since I could not guarantee that I would not hop into my waders and take to the swamp, I wouldn’t post anything for a week before or a week after the election.

Though many are still angry or at least agitated, I find myself energized but blessedly calm and ready to get back to (finally get to?) regular posting on more topical issues.  I can’t promise that this space will remain clear of explicitly political material, I think I’ll find it easier to keep my eyes on the target and keep myself from making too many snarky asides.  Maybe.  Hopefully.