13 December 2011

Flickering hope thumbs its nose at the specter of the end of time

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —Human society is drowning, choking on its own wastes, having fouled the skies, all the waters, and the air, while the world’s leading polluters flee from the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, after having done nothing.

The stench of end times is in the air.

O fears about the end of time have loomed before: the war to end all wars, a nuclear winter, a runaway Ebola-type virus, the shift into new millenniums, and its Judeo-Christian manifestations, the Rapture and the Second Coming.

Animals and plant species are dying, many into extinction, as forests and jungle are cleared, fields of ice thousands of years old suddenly melt, oceans rise, and the climate wretches and reels, as if in conscious revolt. Some projections about the extent of climate change that seemed dire at the time have already been exceeded. The planet will survive, though it may not be recognizable, or capable of sustaining human life as we know it.

The global economy is collapsing, at least for the people who produce the good and services of the world, while the owners and investors wallow in wealth beyond the wildest imaginations of the kings of queens of yesterday.

Murderous wars have become normative foreign policy. Enemies are increasingly manufactured to serve as cover for mega corporations and nation-states scouring the planet in pursuit of energy and other natural resources that they can privatize and sell. The U.S. military requires oceans of oil—a single gallon of fuel can cost between $200 and $400 by the time it reaches the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq—to fight wars that are justified as necessary to ensure access to natural resources like oil.

Here in the belly of the empire, the politicians, war junkies, and oligarchs thumb their noses at democracy and science, stoke hatred against the poor and the unfamiliar, and rattle sabers in support of new theaters of wars, starting in Iran and maybe Pakistan. If only our leaders were just corrupt, but they are so mean and stupid too.

Anxiety at the specter of the end of time has erupted into popular culture: the terminal storm that only Curtis LaForche, the young father, sees coming in the film Take Shelter, or the planet rushing toward collision with Earth and the well-to-do family psychologically disintegrating at their secluded estate in Melancholia.

Angst, despair has been simmering for years, across the globe. It has morphed into rage against the bullies and the indifferent who profit from the misery of others, who fleece the commons, and against the political mercenaries who rewrite the rules to favor the pillagers and are handsomely rewarded in return. The rage exploded earlier this year in Tunisia, then Egypt, throughout North Africa and the Middle East, in southern Europe, with the indignado, the movement of the indignant in Spain, and in Greece, in the insurrections of students in the U.K. and Chile, in the Occupy movement roiling in America, and it is rising now in Russia.

Buried within the rage, oddly enough, is hope—a palpable, flickering hope that the tide might yet be turned. It is a mature hope, not the childish variety that gets invested in a man, a person, a leader who will fix things for us, but a deeply felt hope that says only we, working together in ways that we maybe can’t even imagine now, can end this nightmare and create a world that is better, much better.

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