The Owl has promised to avoid wrangles and obsessions already amply displayed in public. What follows makes reference to some of those, without taking up a position on any of them. We address them as quasi-religious cultural phenomena, tangentially related to our other writings on apocalyptic and eschatology, and the consequences of foreshortening these, referring them back to the present milieu.
Our friend Ken sent a link to a news article entitled “California’s next nightmare,” predicting a big flood in the San Joaquin delta sometime in the next fifty years. I would answer him as follows:
I’m no geologist or meteorologist, so I guess I’ll have to take their word for it: a big flood is possible in the Sacramento and San Joaquin delta: 64% chance in the next 50 years. I needn’t worry much about it because I have zero chance of living 50 years.
Something there is in us that loves catastrophe. There is a certain frisson to entertaining apocalyptic wishes or fears—it’s hard to tell which they are—of events that would change the course of our politics, or force the whole world to address an environmental crisis. Bogies and messiahs are invented to fuel the party—party in a banal sense: noisemakers, funny hats, bands, marches, shouts, brawls, the works. And party in the deadly serious sense, in which people fueled by ideology carry weapons to the streets to injure and kill. News organizations eat this up, manufacturing more clickbait than information.
The end is near. A toxic patriarchy has to be thrown off lest we descend into fascism. Global warming must be arrested lest the disaster spin out of control; the point of no return is only n years away. The authority of “science” is invoked on every side. Behind the authorities, one of our oldest and most insidious cultural tendencies comes out. By that I do not refer to racism, dangerous though it is, but to the way we put adversaries out of bounds, beyond the pale of civil discourse. It is more than a tactical error, it would be giving aid and comfort to the enemy even to credit them with good faith. They are not only irrational or self-interested, but vicious. It is not just mistaken in their thinking, but wicked, deserving condemnation, with all the ancient religious overtones of that word.
In this atmosphere, elections turn into moral crusades. Apocalyptic and messianic thinking take hold of the population as a whole. One president claimed that America was exporting freedom and democracy, which everybody would naturally prefer to life under corrupt or dysfunctional governments. Another announced that upon his election the seas ceased to rise and threaten whole civilizations around the world. Rather than be repelled by such hubris, people adulate the speakers.
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Getting back to the news item Ken sent: Isn’t it odd that these tendencies take hold in “scientists’’” minds? Sure, California is full of wicked people (I raise my hand). If there’s a God in heaven, he’ll git’em. But so far, living here, I’m enjoying a hurricane- flood- tornado- and (for now) earthquake-free existence. God will probably git me for saying that.