This is It
For as long as I can remember, I've been terrified of the apocalypse.
This could be because I spent my early years in Buffalo, New York. I remember watching from the backseat of my grandpa's car as we passed block after city block of decommissioned factory and industrial space; the buildings rusty and decrepit, the window panes shattered and clouded white, rectangular yellow Fallout Shelter signs left over from the Cold War a la Watchmen. There were things in the skyline that looked to me, at that age, like impossible machines, inert and dead, fallen into permanent disrepair since the city's post-war depression. And my grandfather told me stories about the rats the size of cats that swarmed in the interiors of those buildings, where dreary public servants would have to go in sometimes and root out the bodies, the over-doses, the murders, from the places where the city's working class once had jobs, pouring steel and operating the machines. And in among these were the tall Gothic spires and church towers that reached up into the skyline, spiraling in surreal ridges and spindly appendages.
In the center of town are tall obelisks, statues of lions bowing to them at either side, in front of a gigantic rust-colored Art Deco building that is city hall, from the 20s or 30s, which looks like it hasn't been modified or renovated since it's initial construction. And there's the cemetery, where my great grandmother is buried, alongside tombs and headstones that date back to the American Revolution, with strange Egyptian sphinx sculptures laying across the slabs of tombs and obelisks stamped with Free Mason symbols. Vestiges of the city fathers, who built Buffalo into what it was during it's glory period around the turn of the century, before it fell into an almost perfect, statuesque ruin for years and years. An unchanging figure of urban decay, preserved in the amber of its own economic destitution.
It's ironic in a lot of ways that such fates would befall a city named Buffalo, pumped for all of it's resources and potential economic gain, before being abandoned by the the industrialists who founded it. Left like the carcass of the great animal that littered the long, rolling landscapes of the American frontier during the westward expansion, hides stripped and meat and bones and eyes left for the insects and the rot. Once majestic and rare, left as heaps of disease for the scattered and bewildered Natives. How could this happen? By what force, what energy? Where is home now?
If it's not the apocalypse, you can certainly see it from there, where I imagine it will ripple outwards in waves, spreading like a degenerative psychic epidemic, from Buffalo and places like it, like Detroit, and further away in the slums of the Philippines and Rio, as currencies fail and politicians make increasingly irrational decisions. I didn't spend my childhood there, I was outside in the suburbs, where it was just grey and dreary all the time from Lake Erie's humidity and six feet of snow in the Winter. But I was always aware of the nerve center, I hated even getting near it in the car. As if some wrong turn on the wrong road would put you on a direct one-way circuit towards it, pulling you in.
I wish I were exaggerating.
I also had religion hanging over me when I was little, that was a big part of it. Because it presented a vocabulary for this impending sense of doom, the day when the Lord's judgement comes down, the hammer of all hammers, the great Beast unleashed upon the Earth. I remember a pretty remarkably steep incline in general anxiety after I started attending Sunday school regularly. Hearing every weekend about what I should and shouldn't do, about the destruction of cities and tribes that displeased the Lord on high. How do I avoid that? It was always the scared who displeased God, and I was scared all the time. I was sure if wrath fell upon me I would be judged as lacking. I was pretty confident I was going to go to Hell, not because I was a bad kid by any stretch, but because I could never be good enough to reach the unreachable. It was because I struggled with it, the universe as they presented it, the whole cosmos aligned against me as wrath and judgement, and I thought that was abnormal. I thought everyone else must be firm and confident, brave at all times. I felt very alone, developed sleeping problems, would have random fits of panic in school and at home.
Then Jesus showed up in the second half, I felt instantaneous relief. There was finally justice, understanding, someone looking out for the weak. And then they nailed him to a tree. And sometime later Paul had a sudden conversion on the road to Damascus and continued the narrative, his hand apparently moved by the Holy Spirit, writing more of lakes of fire and moons turned red as blood and seven-headed beasts unleashed upon the Earth.
I took a special pleasure in mythology, in films and books, fairy tales, that presented a different universe, in which He couldn't find me. I got lost in stories where the Day of Judgement was no longer an abject certainty. Which is kind of funny when you consider I was totally at peace with the fact that I, like everyone else, would die one day. That never bothered me, the notion of God didn't either until it became institutionalized. It was the idea of the rug being pulled out from underneath me that I took issue with, this prophecy written in stone, preordained. Another goddamned rule in a book of rules meant to strangle and codify my once free existence.
But, like anything else that scares us, I was also kind of obsessed with the idea. I think a fear of the Devil is what led me into reading Paradise Lost by Milton, or trying, when I was about 12. It was also this fear of damnation and Hell that led me to more successfully pull Dante from the shelf of the same local library, I think in my way I was trying to go there and face it. Look it, whatever it is, my anxiety personified I suppose, in the eyes.
As I got older, and my ideas about the world loosened up and changed, the fear of apocalypse evolved into different things, from religious to more practical fears. Particularly in the years of the Bush administration, when we were supposed to be afraid of terrorists and people talked about the environment collapsing on itself. I worried about the Yellowstone Super Volcano, planet killing asteroids, running out of resources, overpopulation, worsening super-storm cells in the wake of climate shift.
Actually come to think of it, I was the least concerned with terrorists. And these other things somehow seemed less imposing than the overall cosmic order baring down directly, and by design, on the entire world; these were more like cosmic whimsies, random chance occurrences, the way it goes.
I suppose the real fear has always been mankind, the things that we do to make our situation on this planet worse. When I was a child, I think the part of the whole ordeal that always scared me the most was the human element of the apocalypse; the false prophets, the Anti-Christ, the devils in human form making a mess of things. All the ridiculous lead up, like watching a car crash in an extreme apocalyptic slow motion. Human stupidity playing itself out arduously in an obvious downward spiral towards some disastrous conclusion. Why wouldn't we just stop it? Reverse course?
Well, turns out it's not that simple. Or it is, and people are just incredibly good at complicating things. Because this is that moment, isn't it? So many things we've been afraid of for some many years are here, happening now.
The environment is quite clearly crumbling down around our ears, the wildfires seem to burn endlessly, the rapid succession of massive, record shattering hurricanes being pelted from the coasts of Africa, through the Caribbean islands, and landing on the shores of America. Mass shootings have become almost normalized, I've been able to track the desensitization by my Facebook feed in fact. It used to be that these things would elicit widespread outrage and mourning, my feed would be full of those expressing some level of shock or sadness. With the most recent ones its been a post here and there, most word of them comes through updates by official news and media outlets. People just want to accept that they happen, ignore the pain, and get on with whatever it is they would usually be doing. Eventually you do reach a point where you feel powerless against the pure volumetric levels of insanity, so much so that you just tune out.
This is to say nothing of the political situation, speaking of exhaustion, of numbness. I can't remember a time when the people in positions of power have so clearly had so little interest in the welfare of their constituents, on any level. And then the response and the back and forth, the seeming social and political futility of any conversation that anyone is having anywhere. The utter gridlock, the polarization, us vs. them, with us/against us, it makes the Bush years look like playful competition. And this is only America, there's a streak of retrograde politics taking root all across the planet, it's like civilization is getting ready to go into a terminal free-fall. Germany, England, France, China, Russia. There's the threat of nuclear war even, being bandied about almost casually. The entire world sits on an eerie precipice of known and unknown precedents; it's like the period just before World War 1, and yet we have nuclear weapons, more advanced than anything used in any war in human history, and complex cyber-weapons that could literally disentangle the technological fabric of modern civilization.
This is to say nothing of the unstoppable revolutions in technology, that are totally incompatible with the brand of 20th century civilization which we've attempted to drag, further and further into the 21st. Automaton, Artificial Intelligence, and Genetic Engineering to name a few.
So what do we do? This is it. The apocalypse, derived from a Greek root indicating change, an uncovering. It's very typical of the western mind to see that as an utter and absolute end. But nature is a process of change, good and bad. Without change, sometimes aggressive, cataclysmic, there can be no transformation, no renewal. How do we take this new world? How do we build it? On the other hand, the rise of our new president has caused a level of outrage that's brought new attention to the issues of racism and sexism, that have lain dormant and unacknowledged in our society for years. It hasn't all just arrived from out of a vacuum, it's always been here, hidden somewhere, waiting to be uncovered. Corruption after all like disease needs to reveal itself, to be diagnosed, before it can be corrected.
One can only hope that this will somehow make way for a new world. That the bubble of yesterday's problems will burst, and there will be a ripe new territory for us to explore. No cultural revolution takes place painlessly, no species evolves without the presence of adversity. It is the struggle itself that we build from, creativity in itself is almost entirely a response to life's obstacles. An attempt to reach beyond what we see into a different plane of reality, where we can fashion something that transcends the noise.
It can get much worse than this. But at the same time a situation this frenetic, this chaotic, cannot last forever. Eventually it reaches a climax, and there is a collapse, a fading away. And something is left in it's place, after the storm. What will that be? I have no idea. The point is the moment is now, this is a shift, an apocalypse. And the future which follows it is entirely in our hands.