Collapse and awakening: Thoughts on the American apocalypse
“When we get past the chaos, the horror, and the paradoxical hope of all that’s unfolding, what we’re talking about and living through is apocalyptic collapse as a spiritual path.”
Last Thursday I noted that we were then living through a week of apocalypse here in America. The very next day saw the first-ever police (and military) lockdown of an entire U.S. city in the service of a massive manhunt for a single (so we’re told) suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. This prompted the Associated Press to produce its own article about the sense of collective calamity that had engulfed us:
Moment after nail-biting moment, the events shoved us through a week that felt like an unremitting series of tragedies: Deadly bombs. Poison letters. A town shattered by a colossal explosion. A violent manhunt that paralyzed a major city, emptying streets of people and filling them with heavily armed police and piercing sirens. Amid the chaos came an emotional Senate gun control vote that inflamed American divisions and evoked memories of the Newtown massacre. And through it all, torrential rain pushed the Mississippi River toward flood levels.
. . . America was rocked this week, in rare and frightening ways. We are only beginning to make sense of a series of events that moved so fast, so furiously as to almost defy attempts to figure them out.
. . . In 2001, we could walk away from our televisions. In 2013, bad news follows us everywhere. It’s on our computers at work and home, on our phones when we call our loved ones, on social media when we talk to our friends. “There’s no place to run, no place to hide,” said Dr. Stuart Fischoff, a professor of media psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. “It’s like perpetual shock. There’s no off button. That’s relatively unprecedented. We’re going to have to pay the price for that.”
. . . “Is this week feeling a little apocalyptic to anyone else?” tweeted Jessica Coen, editor in chief of the Jezebel.com blog. “Boston. Poison. Explosions. Floods. Tomorrow, locusts.”
— Jesse Washington, “Across America, a Week of Chaos, Horror — and Hope,” ABC News (AP), April 20, 2013
And so now we’re living with the open — and troubling — question of what the Boston phenomenon in particular may mean for life going forward:
The unprecedented manhunt in Boston that concluded successfully Friday night earned law enforcement authorities the gratitude of the nation. But as relief replaces fear, the debate about what this episode means for the future is already beginning. And one of the most unsettling questions is whether the violence-related lockdown of a major U.S. city — an extraordinary moment in American history — sets a life-altering precedent.
There are already worries that the effort to protect the people of Boston contained an element of overreaction. Local authorities told the city and nearby suburbs to “shelter in place” throughout the day and into the evening. They closed businesses, shuttered government buildings and suspended all public transportation in the metro area. That decision concerned some political leaders and policy experts.
Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said it is “hard to imagine what could justify directing the entire population of the city to ‘shelter in place.’”
— Josh Gernstein and Darren Samuelsohn, “Boston Lockdown: The New Normal?” Politico, April 20, 2013
Senator Bingaman’s implied question is answered, in effect, by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who spoke by phone with Washington Post reporter Jennifer Rubin on April 19:
He said of the Boston bombers: “They were radicalized somewhere, somehow.” Regardless of whether they are international or “homegrown,” he said, “This is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield.” Recalling Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster, Graham noted that he took to the Senate floor specifically to object to Rand’s notion that “America is not the battlefield.” Graham said to me, “It’s a battlefield because the terrorists think it is.”
— Jennifer Rubin, “Sen. Lindsey Graham: Boston bombing ‘is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield,'”, The Washington Post, April 19, 201
If this idea of “the homeland” now being “the battlefield” sounds alarming, not only — or not even — for the sense of imminent danger it invokes but for its flat-out Orwellian implications, then consider that on Monday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for changes to laws, and also to the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, that will allow for increased “security” in response to Boston:
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday the country’s interpretation of the Constitution will “have to change” to allow for greater security to stave off future attacks. “The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry,” Mr. Bloomberg said during a press conference in Midtown. “But we live in a complex word where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”
. . . “Look, we live in a very dangerous world. We know there are people who want to take away our freedoms. New Yorkers probably know that as much if not more than anybody else after the terrible tragedy of 9/11,” he said. “We have to understand that in the world going forward, we’re going to have more cameras and that kind of stuff. That’s good in some sense, but it’s different from what we are used to,” he said.
— Jill Colvin, “Bloomberg Says Interpretation of Constitution Will ‘Have to Change’ After Boston Bombing,” Politicker, April 22, 2013
And speaking of more cameras in a dangerous world full of “people who want to take away our freedoms”:
We’ve been worried about a surveillance state since long before George Orwell’s 1984. But one thing the Boston bombing taught us is that friends and family are watching much more closely than the FBI.
Almost no event in a modern U.S. city, no less a major sports event, goes unrecorded today. But, apart from some security and traffic enforcement cameras, it’s not the government doing the recording. It’s us. We’re constantly taking pictures and movies of ourselves and our friends, sometimes posting them on social media sites and helpfully tagging our locations and the names of our acquaintances. And when the government asks for them as evidence in a case, we eagerly comply. . . . Who knew that people would not only not protest, but would actually eagerly participate?
. . . [I]n the Boston case, it’s not like this was a major imposition — if the authorities want my photos of my friends standing in front of a coffee shop, what’s the harm? And when it leads to the arrest or death of some pretty dangerous people, it’s easy to feel like it was a good trade. Nonetheless, last week’s events showed us a face of Big Brother that wasn’t widely anticipated. The state doesn’t need to spy on us constantly to root out wrongdoers. It doesn’t need to hire thousands of undercover officers to catch criminals. We’ll do the job for free.
— Seth Masket, “Crowd-Sourcing Big Brother,” Pacific Standard, April 22,
I trust my readers will understand that I’m not being at all flippant about what happened in Boston the other day (my own sister lives right outside the city, after all) when I point out the creepy parallels between what’s described in the above paragraphs and what’s portrayed in things like this scene from Truffaut’s take on Fahrenheit 451:
(If the video won’t play, see this excerpt from the screenplay with accompanying illustrations/screencaps.)
And so what’s the upshot? How does this all shake out? What’s the point of even attending to all of these and many other, similar things, besides the sheer fact of their flying in our collective face at such a rapid clip? Is there anything to do beyond merely acknowledging them and letting out a sigh of dystopian resignation?
Perhaps the upshot is, or is hinted at by, something along the following lines, if by “upshot” we mean not only a fundamental insight into what’s going on but an accompanying insight into how we might go about receiving, responding to, and living in the midst all these things with a modicum of something resembling wisdom:
There are many reasons why the entire civilization is reaching a point of collapse. One is that the humans who are still sustaining it can’t carry the burden of their self-created structures any more, the over-complicated world of absurd complexity for the sake of complexity that they have created. They cannot carry the burden of their own creation any more. It is mind-created, just a reflection of their state of consciousness, in which there’s no gap in the stream of one form after another, one thought after another. The voice in the head that never stops speaking becomes a civilization that is obsessed with form, that is obsessed with things, and that therefore knows nothing of that which is the most important dimension of human existence: the sacred, stillness, the formless, the divine. All these have become meaningless in our civilization.
And yet many humans are beginning realize what’s happening, and so there is, in many, a search for something else. That number of humans is growing every day, and that’s the beauty of it. Each one of us here is part of the transformation of consciousness that’s happening on the planet. It’s not going to happen, it is happening.
— Eckhart Tolle, Findhorn Retreat: Stillness amidst the World
If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.
— Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
The ego is destined to dissolve, and all its ossified structures, whether they be religious or other institutions, corporations, or governments, will disintegrate from within, no matter how deeply entrenched they appear to be. The most rigid structures, the most impervious to change, will collapse first. This has already happened in the case of Soviet Communism. How deeply entrenched, how solid and monolithic it appeared, and yet within a few years, it disintegrated from within. No one foresaw this. All were taken by surprise. There are many more such surprises in store for us.
. . . A significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die. A still relatively small but rapidly growing percentage of humanity is already experiencing within themselves the breakup of the old egoic mind patterns and the emergence of a new dimension in consciousness.
— Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Not to mention:
I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
— Revelation 6:12-17
And so therefore:
When I hear that kind of poetry [of prophetic utterance with its awe-ful descriptions of divine wrath and the world being unmade and laid waste,] I get chill bumps, because it seems to me so contemporary. I think that’s how very many people are now experiencing the world. It is as though the ordered world is being taken away from us, and it’s just so powerfully exquisite. . . . The world we have trusted in is vanishing before our eyes and the world that is coming at us feels like a threat to us, and we can’t quite see the shape of it.
. . . I think we think in terms of systems and continuities and predictability and schemes and plans. I think the Bible is to some great extent focused on God’s capacity to break those schemes open and to violate those formulae. When they are positive disruptions, the Bible calls them miracles. We tend not to use that word when they are negative, but what it means is that the reality of our life and the reality of God are not contained in most of our explanatory schemes. And whether one wants to explain that in terms of God or not, it is nonetheless the truth of our life that our lives are arenas for all kinds of disruptions because it doesn’t work out the way we planned. . . . What the Bible pretty consistently does is to refer all of those disruptions to the hidden power of God.
— Walter Brueggeman, “The Prophetic Imagination of Walter Brueggeman,” On Being, NPR, December 22, 2011
When we get past the chaos, the horror, and also, as noted in that AP story, the paradoxical hope of all that’s unfolding, what we’re talking about and living through is apocalyptic collapse as a spiritual path. The foundations are being laid bare, right here and now. This is of course no different from the way things have always been on a deep level, but sometimes the reality of it cycles through to the surface and openly challenges us to embrace it consciously and learn its transformative lesson.
Posted on April 24, 2013, in Government & Politics, Religion & Philosophy, Society & Culture and tagged apocalypse watch, collapse, Dystopia, spirituality, surveillance, terrorism. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.