The end of the world

Thank god 2018 is over.

Another after year of worsening climate crisis, the on-going and ruthlessly unseasonal Brexit pantomime, and the never ending stream of social issues eroding altruistic gumption like a deepening coastal shelf (thanks Larkin), it’s easy to feel like the world is ending.

Maybe the Mayans were right and the world ended in 2012. Now we’re all in perpetual hell – kinda like a less fro-yo filled version of the Bad Place.

It all feels rather apocalyptic.

But what is our obsession with the end of all things? From the hysteria around being plunged into technobureacratic chaos by the Millennium Bug to the 2018 nuclear Twitter farce, it seems like humans have a perverse fascination with the contemplation of our own demise that has become the modus operandi of 21st century existential paranoia.

Why, when I was only a nipper, roaming the corridors of secondary school and contemplating the meaning of life unaided by continental theory, there was one day a distinct and uneasy feeling among the students that the first run of the Hadron Collider would suck the entire planet into a dimension-bending vortex. If only it had.

The problem is, of course, that while we all settle in for another dose of Black Mirror, we choose to not see that the real question of the 21st century is not red pill or blue pill after all but instead: why is the blue pill constantly posing as a red pill and using that precise cultural imaginary to seduce me even further into blissful nonaction?

Now, perhaps this is all getting a little Adorno and Horkheimer.

It may serve us well to remember that the etymology of apocalypse returns to the significance of a disclosure of knowledge or revelation. Like our fall from Eden, apocalyptic feeling is perhaps characterised by knowing too much. We are confronted daily with the worldly injustices that not only constitute our society but often provide the bedrock of inequality that we benefit from.

I think therefore I am. Except that doesn’t apply to political activism. I think it was Edward Said that commented on political identifications becoming more like consumer choices (but I’ll be damned if I can find the quote.) But is it that outrageous to believe they have? Strap a feminist slogan to your t-shirt and ignore the fact your purchase is supporting the ongoing oppression of women, and particularly women in geopolitical and socio-economic positions of disadvantage – what Chandra Mohanty describes as the ‘two-thirds world’ – through low-paid manual labour work. Especially ignore the recent disclosure that the chairman paid his way out of bullying and sexual harassment claims through an NDA.

But we know too much. The stifling feeling of apocalyptic dread is preceded by the revelation that we live in a structurally flawed system. ‘There is no ethical consumption under capitalism’ is a meme for a reason. Does it also let us off the hook too easily? Surely systemic change overrides individual choices but placing the blame in some overarching and totalising ideology also reduces our agency into despondency. Have we narrativised ourselves into complacency?

Feeling better? Maybe not. But with the productive disclosures that preempt apocalyptic feeling come opportunities for action. New revelations show where we must strive to be better, show who we must hold to account. So, keep trying – it’s not the end of the world yet.

Katie Arthur is a first-year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London. 

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