Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lust for Destruction

Every since we crawled out of the savannah and started building megaliths in the wilds of Africa, we seem to have dreamed what it would be like to go back there. Every civilization has had stories of the end, and our modern society is no different. We relish watching ourselves die out, seeing the carefully built mechanisms of our world collapse and fall prey to pure Hobbesian chaos. This can be seen today not only in the obvious places (post-apocalyptic fiction) but also, in part, in many smaller disaster films that don't deal with the fall of all civilization.

We are maniacal, ruthless, and determined to watch in jittery horror as things wreak wanton destruction upon our great cities. We love to see disaster, aliens, superheros, whatever you-name-it plough through financial sectors, residential blocks, and gleaming buildings of glass and steel. We, as a race, are obsessed with our own demise. No sooner do we create some new technological marvel than do we wonder how it can be used to commit mass-suicide. The atom bomb, nuclear plants, bioengineering, geoengineering... you name it and we've turned it on ourselves in our fiction.

What is wrong with us? Why do we crave our own end so much? I like a good disaster flick as much as anyone. Maybe more, because when Sandy hit I was excited about how much destruction it would cause. What is it that drives us to engage with this subject? The post-civilization world would not be better than this one, and we acknowledge that. One of my friends might say, "Well, it would be freer. You could shoot a man that you disagree with." I doubt he'd feel that way for long.

Keep a weather eye open and you'll see what I'm talking about. There is a preoccupation with the end of civilization and I don't know what drives it. Is it to remind us how good we really have it? Is it because we now have a great illusion of freedom but the mechanisms of power are well and safely hidden away in corporate control, so we wonder what it would be like to have agency again? What the hell is it that makes human beings so interested in thinking about, dreaming of, talking over, and experiencing by proxy the demise of not only Western but all civilization?

Maybe it is a sort of guilt complex. I don't know if other non-western civilizations dream of the apocalypse so fervently. I'll have to look. I feel bad that I don't know the answer to that, as I've always thought of myself as a cross-cultural trans-global postmodern critic but I can freely admit that I don't know if Bollywood or the Islamic culture-zone or China are as infatuated with the subject of civilization-as-decay. All I know is that I see it everywhere in American media. We are imagining, over and over again, what the noose that strangles us looks and feels like. It's a morbid fascination... and yet, I get as much enjoyment from it as anyone.


  1. It's an intuitive sense that the order of the world is wrong that you can't quite put a finger on. Once, perhaps, it was the order of the world was right; we did not destroy the natural world around us simply to bits of paper, we didn't turn awesome beauty into concrete monstrosities, nor attempt to dominate every single living thing within our world. Now we do and deep down we all know how utterly morally wrong much of our modern world - and the thinking behind it - is. Yet we are powerless to steer it back on course; we've left the old gods behind and replaced them with pure chance, we've demonised the old world power structures and replaced them with multinational corruption and the greedy, we've abandoned our immortal souls for only what we can see, touch and feel. Yet our souls are immortal and our dreams are boundless and our morality is still there, at the core of us, in our hearts.

    1. There have been apocalyptic stories since there has been civilization, though.