He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away. Luke 1:51-53.
The desire to see the world end is strong; the desire to end the world is, perhaps, stronger. We are all apocalyptic fetishists yearning like addicts for a glimpse of the end. Of course, there are the Christians with their apocalyptic preoccupations; the New-Agers with their anciently-foretold cosmic shift; and even, I think, the environmentalists’ focus on the cataclysmic effects of global warming betray a little bit too much of this apocalyptic fetishism at times.
Slavoj Žižek wrote a few years ago that our end-times preoccupation reveals our deep dissatisfaction with the present state of the world. We think, Žižek writes, that the world is so beyond redemption — our government so without redeeming value and our Capitalist society so amoral — that the only way we can psychologically deal with it is by blowing it up in scenes of fantastical metro-demolition. So dissatisfied with the world, we get the addict’s shakes to see it destroyed.
The pseudo-apocalyptic writing of Ayn Rand displays it, too. As you undoubtedly know (probably because some amateur Randian cornered you), Atlas Shrugged deals with the implications of a world left without the providers. After years of being used by “the Moochers” (her word), the captains of industry who have tirelessly served humanity decide to ditch us and start their own Utopian society led by John Galt. Presumably, this leaves the rest of us to starve — I still haven’t forced myself to read it (yet).
In this month’s Harper’s, Thomas Frank writes about our “Appetite for Destruction” calling apocalypses, “fun”. He writes about how American apocalyptic ingenuity shows itself best in the survivalists who stock up on canned goods, bullets and guns. Most disturbingly, this stockpile is generally not for sharing, but is there so you can laugh at the moochers (my word). Plus, you can gleefully pick off the woefully unprepared one-by-one as they scramble up the hill to your stockpiled shelter.
If Žižek right, then this deep dissatisfaction with the world has, perhaps, given way to a deep bitterness. The downtrodden, the backwoodsian and the hard-working providers will rise up and bring retribution on those whom the system favored. When the system crashes in the apocalypse, who will they turn to for protection but the gun-toting? Apocalyptic fantasies are like a self-driven Magnificat where the proud will be cast down and the poor meek exalted. It’s just a bloodier vision than Mary’s.
Why do we sit here and are fascinated — obsessed, really — with tales of zombies and bloody scenes of orgiastic destruction? What is it in us that causes us to stockpile our goods so we can laugh at our unprepared neighbors? What is it in a man or woman that drives us to this kind of fantasizing?
I’ve been what psychologists call, “codependent”, for most of my life. I’m sure this has many roots, but I like to think it’s because my type is the Dostoeveskian Half-Saint/Half-Whore and I had an annoyingly innate desire to believe the best of people, even when they did not. I always had hope that the saint-half would win out over the whore-half, so every sign of emotional abuse would be sluffed off with a shrug. “Well, no, of course they’re interested in me! Really! They’re just going on a date/having casual sex/etc. with other people because they don’t know I’m what’s best for them,” I’d say to myself after naming a litany of niggling details that let me form a story that, well, never really existed. And I’d continually get strung along like some puppy dog fool.
Then, at some point, I’d realize what was happening and I’d get pissed off about it. I’d get so mad that I let go of Reality in favor of some dream, and that I, priding myself on my so-called intelligence, was so easily duped. So, my madness, like always, would want to express itself. Fortunately, though, I was never given the chance to make a true living literary moment where all my powers of elocution and high sentence would be commanded for some great scene of confrontation. No, icy fate denied me that. All of them and me, we’ve gone our separate ways without so much as a eulogy.
So, I found myself, sometimes, daydreaming about revenge and destroying their world. Usually it involved me inviting them back in under the pretense of reconciliation, whereupon after many convincing words (or few simple acts), I could have that moment — that one delicious moment! — when I get to humiliate them. It’s never violent, but still deeply wounding, I’d imagine. It would be a crafted sentence or simple pithy phrase meticulously planned. Then — and only then — would I kick them out of my life forever as they stand at the door, singed and knocking. They’d spend the rest of their life wondering, “what happened?” This is, of course, assuming my words are as powerful as I’d fantasized they’d be.
After a few minutes (perhaps even hours) of this madness, I’d suddenly realize what I was fantasizing about and start feeling terribly guilty. Good Christians — especially aspiring pacifists — shouldn’t fantasize about ruining someone else’s life. Nobody deserves to be humiliated, even the manipulators. Plus, none of this would teach anybody a lesson, I know. But I still have this desire to ruin a manipulator’s worldview. I have this desire . . . this desire to end the false-world that was created by duplicity and manipulation . . . to stand on a hill and watch all of them wash away in a flood . . . this desire for a bloody Magnificat.
It is quite easy, of course, for liberals to grasp for their hankies and confess that they do not understand this. What could possess a man to do such a thing, believe such a thing? (After all, you are the ones who got those cursing Psalms cut from the Lectionary, since you thought it was just infinitely inconceivable that anybody would ever want to “dash babies against the rocks”!) Why would anybody ever feel this way? I don’t know. But, if the Psalms and good Literature are descriptive of life (and not prescriptive), then the raving for destruction is a part of what it means to be human. Not a good part, necessarily, but a part.
Yes, it is true: most days, I do not understand it myself, let alone everyone else. But when we who have come to the end of the world, our snapping tethers and the date foretold by the Mayans, and we’ve stockpiled our bullets and canned goods and the boiling hate within, do we not want to see the world end? Do we not want to end it? And do we not feel fine?