Apocalypse, the Future, Capitalism

Apocalyptic Paradoxes

Leaving the movie I was struck by the fact that most of the stories people in our culture tell about organized resistance against oppression are set in dystopias created in the wake of a cataclysm. And indeed, apocalyptic events seem to be the only thing most people believe can bring an end to capitalism. From people praying and organizing to bring about the collapse of civilization, to people stocking bunkers with food, guns, and gold, to rumors of the wealthy fearing retaliation, the sense that we are on the verge of apocalyptic change seems to have a powerful grip on the imaginations of many.–Sean Donahue on Gods and Radicals

Donahue goes to Žižek and Benjamin, so I approve of that conceptual territory.

Although millenarism has been around forever, I think much of the longing for apocalypse comes out of a sense of hopelessness about changing bad circumstances. I know many X’ers would wake up to an apocalypse and say, Finally! Now I don’t have to go to work and can do something else. That’s how much many of us dislike the reality our parents fashioned for us, that capitalist world where we are forced to sacrifice our time and energy to feed capital and production and commodity.

That said, the roots of millenarism often go back to that longing for some end to present circumstances against some authoritarian, inequal, oppressive structure–despotism, aristocracy, feudalism, slavery, etc. Capitalism and the various modes of discontent it generates are merely (one of?)[1] the most recent. In many ways, that longing reflects a broader and more intense version of the belief found within many faiths that runs something like this: Things will be better in the next life–heaven, oblivion, reincarnation–if I can put up with this one life right now. Both views can end up becoming paths of subjection and submission to what’s causing that longing in the first place. Don’t upset the present order. It’s been ordained by divinity. Be nice and obey. Things will be better when you’re dead. This belief is what undergirded, say, the Tudor’s view against rebellion in the Church of England’s Homily against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion, which premises disobedience and rebellion as essentially diabolic and Luciferian acts and thus as also rebellion against divinity. Royal apologists made many similar divine righty arguments on the inherency of kingship. Even if you had a tyrannical sovereign who was a moral monster, God ordained that sovereign to be your monarch as punishment to you, the people. To act against the tyrant would be to act against God. Not everyone accepted or bought into this view–Michel de Montaigne, Niccolo Machiavelli, and others in the Renaissance in Western Europe advocated resistance and action (or tyrannicide) of various kinds, modes, and degrees. The classical tradition became one intellectual territory to draw upon for imagining other ways of living and for imagining how the world might be. Ultimately, capitalism became one of the forces that helped upset and upend monarchy and aristocracy in its old forms.

All that said, let me also say that other expressions of these faiths can also point to emancipatory possibilities and paths towards freedom and empowerment. Any faith with a moral and ethical core (all of them, I think?) can inspire persons to act in the interests of power, love, and freedom. Any person willing to act with compassion and a willingness to empathize with others can do so.

I wrote about the Future and Apocalypse previously, but not in a particularly coherent, rhetorical manner. Mind you, that’s not this blog’s primary purpose, so.

[1] Patriarchy/misogyny! Racism/nationalism. That’s right. Let’s not forget those.

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