Of eschatological concern

This column appeared in the Gauntlet on Jan. 11, 2012

On New Year’s eve, drink in hand — as the clock geared itself towards 2011’s terminal moment — I found myself on the deck of the tallest penthouse in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, peering out on the sprawling beach city down below. Having grown weary from the inane smalltalk around me, I escaped my fellow bourgeoisie party-goers for the open air. As I watched the beach party below a fragment of conversation drifted out from the party behind me: “Well, the Mayan calendar ends this year . . .” A mere gust of words, but my mind took sail.

Many of us are familiar with the 2012 end-of-the-world scenario, wherein various astronomical, astrological, numerological, mythic and archaic phenomena have been interpreted  to strongly suggest that the end of this year is the end of all years, whether through utter catastrophe or deeply transformative events. And while scientists and scholars the world over have heavily invested themselves in attacking and deconstructing the 2012 mythos that your hippy aunt rants about every family get-together, I suggest that we ought to give it some serious consideration. After all, the world is at stake.

Eschatology, the ‘study of the end,’ ought to cause concern in every one of us. While the Mayan calendar predictions are most likely pseudo-intellectual garbage in the vein of Nostradamus or Ayn Rand, there should be no doubt in each of our minds that something deeply worrying is unfolding across the globe. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek has warned us that the domination of global capitalism that we embarrassingly tolerate has brought the world right to the edge of total catastrophe. The four horsemen of Žižek’s apocalyptic vision are ecology (impending ecological catastrophes), economy (the global financial meltdown), biology (the biogenetic revolution and its impact on human identity) and society (social divisions leading to the explosion of protest and revolutions worldwide.)

But we don’t need to face this fatalistic alignment with resignation, as the Second World War propaganda maxim “keep calm and carry on” would tell us. These end of days are an opportunity to transform the world. We can treat Žižek’s prescription of global catastrophe as a call to arms, not an admittance of defeat. The late Terrence McKenna — psychedelic-scientist extraordinaire — informed us in his 1975 book, The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching, that certain patterns of ‘novelty’ underlay historic events, reaching a ‘zero point’ [extreme point] of novelty sometime by the end of this year. McKenna wasn’t interested in treating the 2012 phenomenon with a pessimistic/apocalyptic bent, but as a point of radical evolution or transformation of global consciousness — a sort of planetary awakening that would have the potential to give birth to the sort of world we presently only dream of.

You don’t need to believe that an ancient Mesoamerican society presciently predicted that the planet Nibiru will collide with Earth come Dec. 21, 2012, but you ought to realize the severity and seriousness of the situation. This end of times need not be a zero-point of devastation, but a chance to make things right, and give birth to a new society, a new consciousness, a new world.

But for such a vision to be realized we need to remember Paul Goodman: “The solution of this issue is easy, easy in theory, easy in practice . . . direct action.” No more keeping calm. No more carrying on. It’s time to act.

I left the party just before midnight. Slightly intoxicated, I wandered to the beach. There in the sand, surrounded by euphoric strangers, I listened to the countdown, then watched as fireworks erupted all across the city, beach and sea — the light flooded the skies from every conceivably corner of the city. I felt the cool of the surf wash up over my feet.

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