Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right

Summary: Left and Right in America are in many ways mirror images of each other, as many posts here have shown. No surprise, since we’re all Americans. If we recognize this, perhaps we can better communicate with each other, and perhaps even work together better.  {1st of 2 posts today.}Apocalypse


Left and Right share a belief in the coming apocalypse, although they differ in the nature of the end times. Is it Cultural collapse or resource exhaustion? National bankruptcy and currency collapse or climate catastrophe? Mass social disruption or … they both agree on that.

These nightmares seem to be gaining an increasing grip on the American imagination, as fear becomes the major marketing tool in our politics — across our political spectrum. Does this provide a basis for communication, and perhaps working together?

Here are excerpts from two books I recommend that give deep insights into our culture. The first is by one of the top social critics of our generation. The second is deep and complex but brilliant,  well-worth the effort to carefully read it (his description of us is imo dead on target).

The Culture of Narcissism
Available at Amazon.


An excerpt from Christopher Lasch’s
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1991)

The Waning of the Sense of Historical Time

As the twentieth century approaches its end, the conviction grows that many other things are ending too. Storm warnings, portents, hints of catastrophe haunt our times. The “sense of an ending,” which has given shape to so much of twentieth-century literature, now pervades the popular imagination as well. The Nazi holocaust, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the depletion of natural resources, well-founded predictions of ecological disaster have fulfilled poetic prophecy, giving concrete historical substance to the nightmare, or death wish, that avant-garde artists were the first to express. The question of whether the world will end in fire or in ice, with a bang or a whimper, no longer interests artists alone.

Impending disaster has become an everyday concern, so commonplace and familiar that nobody gives much thought to how disaster might be averted. … After the political turmoil of the sixties people have retreated to purely personal preoccupations. … people have convinced themselves that what matter is psychic self-improvement … Harmless in themselves, these pursuits … signify a retreat from politics and a repudiation of the past.

… Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, issued in 1973, accurately caught the mood of the seventies. Appropriately cast in the form of a parody of futuristic science fiction, the film finds a great many ways to convey the message that “political solutions don’t work,” as Allen flatly announces at one point. When asked what he believes in, Allen, having ruled out politics, religion, and science, declares: ‘I believe in sex and death — two experiences that come once in a lifetime.’

… To live for the moment is the prevailing passion — to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing our sense of historical continuity, the sense of belonging to a succession of generations originating in the past and stretching into the future.

————————  End excerpt  ————————

The Sense of Ending
Available at Amazon.

An excerpt from Frank Kermode’s
The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (2000)

And of course we have it now, the sense of an ending.  It has not diminished, and is as endemic to what we call modernism as apocalyptic utopianism is to political revolution. When we live in the mood of end-dominated crisis, certain now-familiar patterns of assumption become evident.

… What is certain is that we are interested in decadence and renovation; the basis of this is perhaps primitive, though its expression can be extremely sophisticated.  For example, the original Marxist ideology, however tenuously it survives in modern Communism, has not only an inherent utopian element but an element of annunciatory violence.  If there is something of this in the modern revolt of the young, as there is also in the revolt of the Negro, we must not expect to limit it to such special groups.

In general, we seem to combine a sense of decadence in society — as evidenced by the concept of alienation, which, supported by a new interest in the early Marx, has never enjoyed more esteem — with a technological utopianism.  In our ways of thinking about the future there are contradictions which, if we were willing to consider them openly, might call for some effort towards complementarity.  But they lie, as a rule, too deep.

… This is important. Apocalypse can be disconfirmed without being discredited. This is part of its extraordinary resilience. It can also absorb changing interests and rival apocalypses.

… We continue to assume, as people always have done, that there is a tolerable degree of conformity between the disconfirmed apocalypse and a respectably modern view of reality and the powers of the mind.  In short, we retain our fictions of epoch, of decadence and renovation, and satisfy in various ways our clerkly scepticism about these and similar fictions.

———————— End excerpt ————————

Girl looks into a mirror.
If only we had a mirror in which to see ourselves.

For More Information

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6 thoughts on “Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right”

  1. Marx as an apocalyptic communist – interesting. I haven’t studied it but I do know there was communism before him too — i.e., without the bit about worldwide revolution (?). I think contemporary revivals of that realize that it stands a better chance of working on a smaller scale an without forcing it on anyone. And that goes for all alternative/utopian systems, all along the sane/crazy spectrum.

    Now about the observation that the left and right share this apocalyptic view, and so forth, or maybe conspiracy theories, or whatever other irrational models of the world they indulge in:

    I think that’s all right.

    Suppose you have in mind some enlightened state that you’d like the “masses” to reach, so that the reforms you’d like to see can gain enough support. There’s going to be a lot of steps along the way to that enlightened state. Step 1, maybe the hardest, is to give up the “standard mainstream view”, and let in the at-first-unpleasant idea that not everything you hear from {media/colleagues/bosses/teachers/well-meaning-friends-and-family/etc} is true. So most of those out there with apocalyptic or conspiracy-theory views have already taken step 1! Great! Well in the absence of the “standard story” they find something else to go for. Most likely the first thing that they latch on to is complete rubbish. Fine. Step 2,3,4,etc is to let got of that one too, and after a process of rejecting all that doesn’t make sense, learn to home in on a more useful set of truths.

    I say the fringe-idea-believers believers out there are the would-be reformer’s most valuable resource, since they’re already primed to look for an alternative view.

    1. Pete,

      The apocalypse is a flexible concept. Originally in Christian theology it is a period of destruction which precedes the dawn of a new era. In common usage it is just a period of destruction. Both Left and Right use the term in both senses. Both have visions of a new and better world following a time of destruction. For Marx the revolution precedes the workers’ utopia.

      “I say the fringe-idea-believers believers out there are the would-be reformer’s most valuable resource, since they’re already primed to look for an alternative view.”

      That’s the most interesting idea I’ve heard in a long time.

    2. I have a bone to pick with that last statement. “Fringe-idea-believers” tend to be fanatics, extremists, radicals, reactionaries, and zealots — and this means they’re very much wild cards, potentially volatile elements that need to be handled with great caution. Such people usually have conviction and passion by the truckload, and this can be an asset — but the difficulty, and it’s not exactly an insignificant or trivial one, is that they’re often sorely or even severely lacking in logic and common sense (and if they’re the kind who believe that the ends always justify the means, sometimes seriously deficient in ethics and humanity as well).

      Mind you…there are exceptions to the rule. There’s no question that the Founding Fathers, for their time, promoted a very radical and extreme idea — the notion that all people deserved the same level of respect regardless of their status and that ordinary people were capable of ruling themselves by common consent without any need for royal or even particularly aristocratic people (who were considered entitled to their power merely by a fortunate accident of birth) to govern them. I imagine that very few people would have considered it logical or rational at the time for a small colony to take on one of the most formidable economic and military powers of the time…and even fewer would have imagined that we would WIN. (That being said, without the assistance of France, we very well might not have won — and especially considering the fact that they had been fighting us only a decade or so previously, the primary reason why they helped us was only because we were fighting against the British this time instead of fighting with them!) There’s certainly little reason for doubt that these were men of great passion and conviction, considering what and who they were taking on — “give me liberty or give me death!” is the statement of men who were literally prepared to sacrifice everything up to and including their own lives for what they believed. However, for the past two hundred-plus years, people not only in this country but all over the world — up to and including some very unexpected people, such as Ho Chi Minh! — have judged the Founding Fathers as profoundly ethical, intelligent, wise, honorable, enlightened, valiant, and heroic men who not only helped move Americans but all of humanity forward. The challenge is to separate the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish the reformers who demonstrate ethics and intelligence as well as conviction (and hence truly have the ability to offer people a chance of seeing some truly meaningful progress) from those whose lack of sound logic and/or ethics mark them as lunatics, charlatans, rabble-rousers, and/or would-be tyrants. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “if passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

    3. @Bluestocking,

      I think that’s true sometimes. Certainly the “challenge is to separate the wheat from the chaff”.

      But I think the type of person, who may be an acquaintance you run into at a health food store, or the firearms section of a sporting goods store, and might strike up a conversation about something they recently read online that they want to share — maybe the type of person who would make you just a little embarrassed to be around in other circumstances — they probably are a lot closer to normal than fanatical. Just with a below-average desire or ability to conform, whatever path got them there. I can see how that could be a negative. Like if their connection to the “mainstream” is hopelessly severed, then they’d just scare everyone they talk to. But I don’t think that’s usually the case. And if not, then asking that person to question whatever belief they came upon in the same way they questioned the previous thing they believed, could be a fruitful thing.

    4. Perhaps…but I would question your apparent assumption that “normal” is synonymous with “rational” or “healthy”. That’s how most people tend to define it, yes — but this definition depends upon a misconception. Just because something is common does not necessarily mean that it’s correct or right or good. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that ‘normal” in this sense is very much a subjective term and in some cases is little better than a mass aberration. To quote Jiddu Krishnamurthi, “it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted in a profoundly sick society” — and there are plenty of indications right here on the Fabius Maximus website to the effect that we are indeed living in a society which is becoming increasingly sick.

      I can only speak for myself, of course…but personally, while most of the people in this culture are “normal” in the sense of being average, I would very much hesitate these days to call them particularly healthy or rational. At the risk of sounding flip, I for one don’t particularly care to be average — and especially not at a time when it often seems as if people who are rational, well-informed, and able to back up their opinion with factual evidence rather than merely hearsay (or worse, vitriol) are becoming increasingly thin on the ground.

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