The Post Carbon Institute published a thought provoking piece by Kurt Cobb on “apocalypse narratives.” We hear these narratives every day in the news and popular culture. Cobb points out they’ve done a great job to “improve ratings and book sales” and then goes one to say “Peak oil, climate change, an impending food crisis, a water crisis, none of these truly captures the imagination of the broader public and rouses it to action.”
True. Knowledge of these horrible forthcoming disasters rarely is what moves people to action. What does? Of course, Duncombe and I would argue culture. And Cobb closes with an interesting point about the purpose of these narratives, why we love them…
What apocalyptic narratives do is elevate the importance of the trajectory of every person’s life regardless of his or her station in society. If we’re all in this together, then we can share in a great destiny no matter who we are. But destiny sounds like fate. What can one do if one is headed toward a great apocalypse? Pray, perhaps. Repent, maybe. But responding to such a gargantuan event calls more for attaining the right relationship with one’s god than engaging in constructive social and political action.
While apocalyptic stories may seem as if they are about our collective path, for the individual they are really about an inward journey. That is why they are quite good at filling movie theaters, bookstores, and churches. And, that is why any appeal to the apocalyptic strain in culture is a wrongheaded strategy when attempting to move people toward actual concrete steps that can improve our collective prospects amid the unfolding calamities of the 21st century.
How can we leverage this to move people to action? How can we “elevate the importance of the trajectory of every person’s life” by having them work to save the real world, instead of relating to it on the screen?