Cases in point

Almost as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on the last post, I had an opportunity to add two new permutations to my watch list, both related to the upcoming “fiscal cliff” (itself arguably a misnomer): debtpocalypse and taxpocalypse.

And of course, the word for Thursday will have to be turkeypocalypse, which immediately put me in mind of the Frost poem, “Fire and Ice” and of the two possible turkey day disasters: a bird which stubbornly refuses to thaw or one burned to a crisp…

On war reporting

One corollary of my interest in the apocalyptic is an interest in war and War, both war as a mundane, eternal practice and War as a central force in the human experience.  In my efforts to follow both of these streams, sometimes I come across things which are important, powerful and moving both for their subject matter and also for their style.  Like this.  I don’t know Gelhorn that well, I think at best I’ve read maybe half a dozen of her pieces, primarily on World War II, and I didn’t know of Susie Linfield at all until now.  I definitely need to follow her work from now on.


Okay, maybe this one is unfair, because the bill in question has since been defeated. And I am late to this particular party; I’ve had my eye on other things recently and really have not had time for the more absurd ways in which some people try to respond to the idea that collapse is right around the corner.

But it seems that the legislature of the great state of Wyoming recently introduced legislation to create a task force for exploring what the state might need to do in order to protect itself from the rest of the world, not to mention ornery citizens from Montana with Minuteman missiles no longer in the firm control of the federal government. Apparently, as the above link points out, some legislators even considered the need for active defense forces, and added amendments to consider measures from the sorta-practical (instituting a draft and raising an army) to the quite frankly absurd (buying an aircraft carrier). I suppose an aircraft carrier is at least more practical than insisting they get their hands on the current USS Wyoming, though I suspect that her two dozen Trident II’s would be more useful in maintaining a balance of power that could keep those Montanans on their side of the border.

But I digress.

At least the distinguished gentleman who proposed the carrier amendment seems to have a sense of humor about the whole thing, as a follow-up post suggests, inspiring him to produce an amendment which could use absurdity to highlight the absurd in a way that was actually funny.

This seems to me yet another one of those moments when people seem at first glance to be acting rationally, after all, what could be more practical than taking steps to be prepared for an emergency? However, when you look more closely at this, it starts to become more clear that this is the result of fevered fantasy than practical reality, and seems to boil down to the utopian/apocalyptophiliac desire for the system to come crashing down so that we can build a new, better, but most importantly much smaller social contract in a newly simplified world.

The legislation in question here is not about bridging a catastrophe and ensuring a return to normal operations, but is instead intent on developing a plan for Wyoming to ‘go it alone’ after federal collapse, highlighting a fundamental change in disaster preparedness planning in the context we find ourselves currently in. In the Cold War, disaster preparedness, for the most part, revolved around maintaining the federal structures of government, and finding a way to swiftly and smoothly reestablish a semblance of federal control in the event that the Capitol was bombed into a radioactive lake. If state governors and legislators were considering this possibility as a no muss-no fuss opportunity to secede from the union, they certainly weren’t discussing it so openly. In the face of a potential Soviet missile strike, we were all Americans first, ready to emerge from our shelters and rebuild the nation after the fallout settled.

What seems so significant about the current context is the shift in attitude about the significance of threats to the United States. From the admittedly naive utopianism of much of the Cold War, when planners and politicians faced the challenge of enabling continuity and maintaining connection between the local and the federal, we now have an apocalyptophiliac glee at the potential for dissolution of the bonds which tenuously unite us so that we can retreat into the comfort of the purely local and tribal. Where ‘disaster planning’ used to focus on ways to allow for the citizens of the United States to go back, as quickly as possible, to believing and behaving as Americans, such planning now centers on enabling (and encouraging) Americans to think of themselves primarily as Wyomingites (and Montanans, and…) without need for or responsibility to the rest of America.