Welcome Mathew Barrett Gross (The Atlantic) (The Last Myth) and Host Jerome Armstrong (HuffingtonPost)

The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us about America

“As the dream of infinite progress collides with the limits of the real world, an apocalyptic trance of global proportions is emerging, a trance in which we turn to the Last Myth– the myth that a coming cataclysm, whatever it is, will inevitably reveal our new place in the world.” (p. 198)

How is the world going to end? The Last Myth starts out by examining the American fascination with the end of the world, and ends by explaining the consequences for maintaining this worldview. From the website The Last Myth:

…it’s not just the Christian Right that is obsessed with the end of the world; secular readers hungry for catastrophe have propelled fiction and nonfiction books about peak oil, global warming, and the end of civilization into best-sellers, while Doomsday Preppers has become one of the most talked-about new reality TV shows on television.  How did we come to live in a culture obsessed by the belief that the end is nearly here?

The Last Myth is quite an interesting foray into showing how apocalyptic thinking got going, and there’s not a lot of sacred cows in the book, so secular near-term doomsday opinions found in environmentalism, or New Age crop circle messages about 12/21/12, are given the same scrutiny as religious notions that the end of the world and rapture are near. From the present, we move to the past to uncover the roots of the apocalyptic worldview, and this results in a deep look at the occasion in Judaic history when Christianity arose, and the aftermath in the following centuries as it became the dominant religion of western culture.

The crux of apocalyptic worldview criticism though, is that it leads to a shallow life:

“…apocalyptic rhetoric assures us that our place in history is not just significant but that we are at the most significant point in history. This historical narcissism allows us to look back on the Mayans and believe that they were obsessed with our time and to look forward and imagine that future generations will consider our time to have been pivotal in the history of the world.”(p. 199)

“The rhetoric of the apocalypse gets it backward: this is not the most important time to be alive–being alive is the most important time.” (p. 206)

The book posits that we are living in a time, from Y2K to 12/21/12, that is going to be reflected on as ‘the Apocalyptic Era or Decade.” But the real thrust of the book is to look beneath this cultural worldview, to focus the reader on a deeper takeaway. A reviewer on Amazon laid out a succinct reading of the turn to the underlying concept of The Last Myth:

The Last Myth (what’s new):

The Last Myth enriches and expands our understanding of the times we live in. It goes far beyond what we might expect of a book about the end of times. Through a fascinating historical narrative buoyed by strong empirical evidence, this exemplary work of nonfiction sets forth a case for transforming America’s hegemonic and flawed concept of ‘infinite progress’ as we hurtle toward an unsustainable and collectively ugly resource-depleted future… far beyond driven into the red, the authors point to chunks of the American Dream as they crumble off, and warn us of the next pieces to fracture, only this time perhaps more violently. All the while, a pragmatic optimism persists, and the authors are strictly professional when it comes to the presentation of the facts.

You’d have to be living under a rock to not see the changes taking place, and yet this is the very argument put forward. Our rock is our cultural identity, which we cling desperately to during the onset of what feels like the end to us…. Gross and Gilles smack the existentialism out of the reader’s head to get to the facts: the time to do something is now. Not because the whole world is going to end, but because the illusion of infinite prosperity via technology is giving way to the reality of a finite natural world.

I want to put down a few more quotes from the chapter ‘Beyond the Last Myth’ before we discuss the book in the comments:

“If our idea of progress is on the verge of collapse, then our apocalyptic anxiety is easily accounted for– for the worldview to which we turn for meaning is growing increasingly meaningless. Yet the further we retreat into that apocalyptic fantasy, the more likely we are to bring about the very apocalypse that we fear. Just as each of us must accept, at some point, our own personal mortality, letting go of the apocalyptic storyline will require us to accept a level of cultural mortality and to let the dream of runs die… The “new mode of being” that we must create is not going to be based on avoidance, or denial or despair, or longing for a future cataclysm to sort us all out and prove our beliefs correct. It’s going to be based on coming to terms with the physical world and it’s restrictions…
are fundamentally different… than the world in which most of us grew up. That world was made magical by an abundance of cheap energy… a historical rise in material wealth for america… the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency… the American Dream… American exceptionalism… and… for nearly three centuries, the belief that continued and uninterrupted progress was our birthright.” (p. 203)

“It is, of course, much simpler to imagine the Last Myth as merely the obsession of evangelical Christians or cultish freaks and to therefore dismiss apocalyptic thinking as a fringe idea, unworthy of serious empirical examination. It takes a bit more time in the mirror to recognize that the Last Myth is the place where the secular idea of progress has found itself as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first decade. And yet here we are.” (p. 198).

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

76 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Mathew Barrett Gross, The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America”

BevW December 1st, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Matt, Welcome to the Lake.

Jerome, Welcome back to the Lake.

For our new readers/commenters:

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Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Thanks Bev, glad to be here.

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hi Matt, thanks for coming on here, I just want to let the folks know that we go a ways back…. about 10 years on the internet. He joined me as the first co-blogger on MyDD back in 2002, with a focus on the emerging Howard Dean campaign. Soon after, Matt was the guy who was famously hired on the spot, driving across from his home in Utah to the campaign HQ’s in Vermont, and telling Joe Trippi, “I blog on MyDD” in early 2003.
Good times!

BevW December 1st, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Matt, do you find the apocalyptic / myth mindset world wide or mostly in the US?

Kit OConnell December 1st, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Fiction writer Greg Bear has compared apocalyptic myths & fantasies with human mortality, that our own personal world’s ending become extrapolated into the larger world. Do you think this is a source of our fascination with apocalypse?

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I had no idea what to expect when reading this book. It didn’t sound very political at all. Yet, I was really engaged with the reading of it, as it’s very well presented, moving from reflections on current societal issues, to their historical roots, and then a worldview analysis. All about why it is that so many people think the world is going to end anytime soon prior to when the sun extinguishes in 4 or 5 billion years.

Let me break this down into a question. How dod you and Mel come to focus on writing a book about apocalyptic thinking? What sort of original impetus got you two going on the idea back in 2005?

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Thanks Jerome. Glad to be here.

Elliott December 1st, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Welcome to the Lake

I think the talk about the end of the world come 12/21/12 to be lots of fun, but I guess some people really do think it’s going to happen. Are these people descendants of the Millerites form the 1800s?

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:13 pm
In response to BevW @ 4

Bev, You’ll find the apocalyptic mindset in any country with a Judeo-Christian heritage. But as we write in the book, America has had a unique relationship to apocalyptic thinking ever since its founding. Think of John Wintrop’s famous sermon written on the Arbella before the Puritans landed in America, envisioning America as a “a city upon a hill”. Or consider the wave of Millennial anticipation in America during the 19th century, or Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s. You can find apocalyptic thinking across the world, but where you find it it was usually imported either by Christianity or American popular culture.

Peterr December 1st, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I love that first quote about historical narcissism: “apocalyptic rhetoric assures us that our place in history is not just significant but that we are at the most significant point in history.”

I have not read the book, so apologies if this is in there, but do you get into the parallel rhetoric around “American Exceptionalism”?

If you add that to apocalyptic rhetoric, things gets even worse. Not only are we at the most significant point in history, but we are the most significant actors ever who are standing at that most significant point in history.

That’s historical narcissism on steroids.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 5

Kit, I think this contributes to it, but the mistake many people make with this analogy is to extrapolate it and think that therefore apocalyptic thinking is a universal human trait. It’s not. People don’t intrinsically imagine the end of the world in response to fears of mortality. However, people who live in apocalyptic cultures (like ours) may turn to apocalyptic myths as a way of assuaging their fear of death. I haven’t Greg Bear on this, so I’m not sure if he makes that distinction, but I think it’s an important one to understand if we are to get to the root of apocalyptic thinking.

bluedot12 December 1st, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I recall Y2k. My boss at the time was brilliant PHd engineer, who was also our GM. He was convinced all the computers in the world would sort of blow up on Jan 1. He was sort of interesting to watch as he organized a staff to look into our vulnerabilites. Actually he made himself look a little foolish, but he convinced others to join him.

Phoenix Woman December 1st, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Welcome to the Lake, gentlemen!

I suggest that part of the reason for the fears is because they are the result of the suppression of the discussion of why the American Dream no longer exists (and hasn’t since the 1970s) — and what killed it. Suppressing a taboo subject doesn’t make it go away — the anxiety it generates just latches onto something else. We know something is wrong, it’s just that most of us aren’t allowed to know why.

For instance: Our mass media moguls are very happy to push the nonsense spewed by the billionaire deficit scaremongers, but aren’t quite so interested in mentioning that a key reason for this deficit is that corporate taxes are not only at historic lows, but that the share of the American tax burden paid by corporations, which during the first half of the 1940s used to be greater than that paid by individual Americans via the income tax, has shrunk dramatically: http://rdwolff.com/content/corporations-government-give-us-more-tax-us-less

Margaret December 1st, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Personally, I’ll be ecstatic when December 22, 2012 arrives, which should put an end to at least one line of apocalyptic doom crying, (the Mesoamerican calender type), and I’m grateful that I’m certain not to live another 407 years until the next long count ends. I’m glad somebody is addressing this absurd and counterproductive need to predict and prepare for the end of the world. I look forward to reading the book. Thank you for being here.

Personally, I’m hoping for a zombie apocalypse.
/s

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Regarding 12/21/12, that was part of the original reason I wanted to have Matt do a book salon here. I’d been reading about crop circles that when deciphered, point to 12/21/12, and thought it’d be good if we talked about the end of the world ahead of it happening. And here’s a good quote from The Last Myth about it:

“Terrence McKenna has written, “It was our time that fascinated the Maya. It was toward our time that they cast their esoteric gaze.” … the Mayan doomsday industry has revealed more about our own historical narcissism (that great cultural contribution of the Boomer generation) than it has about the believes of the ancient Mayans. It must be point out –must it be pointed out?– that the Mayans weren’t, in fact, obsessed with us. Nor is there any evidence that the end of the thirteenth baktun in the Mayan Long Count calendar– the day that many have correlated (though perhaps incorrectly) with December 21, 2012– held any more significance to the ancient Mayans than the beginning of the first baktun.”

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Elliott @ 8

Elliott, I think they are more appropriately descendants of Teence McKenna and the New Age movements of the 1970s and 80s. Harold Camping’s followers would be more like the Millerites, if we were to categorize them.

Margaret December 1st, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 12

I was in the gasoline delivery business at that time and though I wasn’t driving a truck or anything, we all worked very hard to keep up with demand. But after “Y2K” came and went with barely a hiccup, we could have slept in for the next two weeks and nobody would have noticed.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to Peterr @ 10

Peterr, that’s exactly correct. Apocalyptic thinking and American exceptionalism are a dangerous combination.

Peterr December 1st, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 12

Part of the reason computers didn’t melt down with Y2K is because enough bosses put together enough committees to look into and fix whatever vulnerabilities were build into their systems. I’m old enough to remember computer programs coded with dates that had only a two-digit field for year, and I’d hate to have seen one of those old legacy programs throw much larger and up-to-date systems out of commission.

But the legitimate concerns of the programmers fed the fears/paranoia/fevered dreams of other apocalypticly minded folks . . .

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 12

The interesting thing about Y2K is the wide disagreement about whether it was a crisis imagined or a crisis averted. Unfortunately, not many people can tell the difference.

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 13

Hi PW, nice to see you again. Yes, “doomsday” and “the end of the world” like “fiscal cliff” and whatever other apocalyptic filler that’s hat to sell at the moment fits the bill to distract the attention to something that’s going “to change it all” hypothetically, at least. And it really just is filler, Fox News will have “the End of the World 12/21/12″ as a 1 minute story right between the latest on Lindsay Lohan and the Fiscal Cliff, before going to commercial break.

Margaret December 1st, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I think it was a little bit of both. The problem needed to be addressed if for no other reason than accuracy and that was recognized long before the millennium approached. When electronic record keeping began, there were still a great many people who were born in the 19th century that were still alive. Motor vehicle record keeping in particular had a lot of headaches due to the practice of using just the last two digits of the year of birth in order to save memory space. On the other hand, I have no doubt some more serious interruptions were averted by timely action.

Peterr December 1st, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I’ve been reading and re-reading that last quote in the post, and my mind keeps going to the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics, where a thousand years of British history was rolled out. Some episodes were brought out in more-or-less the standard manner, but others had more of a reinterpretation.

I’m thinking in particular of the presentation of the Industrial Revolution. Instead of presenting it as the inevitable and unambiguously positive March of Progress, the artist conceived it with all its environmental consequences (smoke, noise) and social ills (see Dickens, Charles).

Is this the sort of “coming to terms with the physical world and it’s restrictions” and the resulting re-crafting of our national mythologies that your book is talking about?

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Peterr, we discuss in the book how that apocalyptic media response to Y2K became a template for reporting on numerous issues that followed, from the so-called war on terror to climate change to the “threat” of a global pandemic. If the apocalypse could find its way into binary code, then it could (and would) find its way into our interpretation of almost any issue or challenge before us.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to Margaret @ 22

Margaret, I agree re: a bit of both.

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Matt, so the point addressed with “The Last Myth” is the reality of coming up against the limits of progress, and that’s both personally and as a society.

As a society, that this notion we have, especially in America, or unlimited growth and potential, is not really sustainable. And that people get this intuitively, and trying to imagine how this ends results in being pulled toward an apocalyptic worldview. In contrast, getting beyond the last myth, means realizing that the end is going to be slow in coming and long in duration. Maybe, in fact, “a catching up” by the rest of the world is another perspective.

And personally, that we are all mortal, and “the end” is really our death, whenever it comes.

What would you add, if anything, to that take?

I want to follow this up with a question/contrast about those who suggest that progress is not ending.

bluedot12 December 1st, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I sat on an oversight committee during the Y2k time. I recall our IT people found a few issues but it turned out to be mostly nonsense, at least where I worked. In fact, they never finished looking at everything but we came back and everything was still working. So I don’t know how real it was either. I do know some people were very afraid of it.

stewartm December 1st, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Interesting thesis.

I offer this: even reading lefty blogs, I see some “apocalyptic” thinking going on in them. I mean by that the supposition that our institutions cannot provide any sort of meaningful change in the midst of crises such as global warming and mounting economic distress and any transition to a post-oil future, that we’re on a Titanic doomed to go down and all they can do is keep re-arranging the chairs. That our future is a coming Dark Age.

Comments?

-stewartm

bluedot12 December 1st, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 13

I think the plutocratic takeover of our society is the problem of our time and prolly the overriding one.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to Peterr @ 23

Peterr,

“Is this the sort of “coming to terms with the physical world and it’s restrictions” and the resulting re-crafting of our national mythologies that your book is talking about?”

Yes, it is. One of the central arguments to the book is the idea that that “March of Progress” must be reinterpreted in the 21st century, and that much of our apocalyptic anxiety comes from our inability to “re-craft our national mythologies. I think we are beginning to see a reinterpretation of what we mean by progress, but that reinterpretation is uneven and just beginning. It’s one thing to acknowledge the deleterious side-effects of economic progress, for example — and another thing altogether to reconsider what progress should mean.

tjbs December 1st, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I think there will be an end . I think it’s close to the end of those that count time.

Fukishima, The Gulf blow out , over fishing , global warming , droughts and all the other signs point to an end point of human existence.

When people talk of an average rise in sea levels they talk in incremental movements while in fact Sandy’s showed a 10 ‘ wall of water hitting NY though in a hundred year average it was less than a 1″ rise in the sea level.

People looking for a drop dead Mayan end date should look to the point in time where we have destroyed our sustaining planet, for profit for sure, past the point of being beyond repair with no hope of ever sustaining our life anymore.

dancewater December 1st, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Does the book cover the apocalyptic thinking that went on during the American Civil War? Lots of folks back then thought the world was going to end, but I guess being in the middle of a civil war would inspire that kind of thinking.

“My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…..”

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Jerome, I think that sums it up pretty well. I’d like to hear your thoughts or question in contrast…

oldgold December 1st, 2012 at 2:43 pm

This book reminds me of Richard Hofstadter’s seminal 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

In this essay Hofstadter decribed the leaders of this paranoid style as follows:

The paranoid spokesman, sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms— he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization…

(bold mine)

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I picked up a copy of Ray Kurzweil’s book, Transcend, after watching a Netflix introspective documentary on his life and the object of his passion– living forever. He points to 2034 as the time when science is going to change the equation of bodies dying, and then a few decades later, being able to reverse aging. It’s a remarkable utopian hope. And I wonder if we are seeing an alternate mythology emerge that counters the apocalyptic era.

The youth are primed to believe it. Under the question of “what makes your generation unique?’ the Millennials respond with 24% saying Technology: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1501/millennials-new-survey-generational-personality-upbeat-open-new-ideas-technology-bound

So, might we be just as the very beginning, societal and personal, of this belief that technology is going to save us forever?

hpschd December 1st, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Margaret @ 14

I am curious that there are soooo many zombie films and books. Clearly apocalyptic.

Is there something to this?

What sort of metaphor is a zombie?

seaglass December 1st, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to hpschd @ 36

Zombies are everywhere in our lives, our families and streets are full of alcohol, drug, gambling, hatred and greed zombies.

stewartm December 1st, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 13

I suggest that part of the reason for the fears is because they are the result of the suppression of the discussion of why the American Dream no longer exists (and hasn’t since the 1970s) — and what killed it. Suppressing a taboo subject doesn’t make it go away — the anxiety it generates just latches onto something else. We know something is wrong, it’s just that most of us aren’t allowed to know why.

PW, are you familiar with Marvin Harris’s America Now? (Formerly titled, Why Nothing Works?) It looks at the overriding socio-economic trends and how that has led to things such as women’s liberation and gays coming out of the closet and the rise of Christian fundamentalism.

-stewartm

bluedot12 December 1st, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to oldgold @ 34

Probaly not the same thing but I think our political and media class are involved in a collective paranoia centered on the country’s deficits and debt. It is accepted that the debt is “unsustainable” yet no one can say what it means. Does it mean the Chinese are going to foreclose on us as one of those Romney ads foretold? Will we turn into pumpkins tommorrow? When does it happen, day after tommorow or on 12/21?

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to stewartm @ 28

Stewart, I think I know which blog you are speaking of! In many respects I agree with the prognosis, if not the cynicism or apocalyptic despair that accompanies it. One of our chief arguments in the book is that we need to find a way past that thinking, not to keep things running as they are or to be able to go back to some halcyon days of progress, but in order to find our purpose in a re-ordered world.

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to oldgold @ 34

And the flip side to this, that every election is “defining of a generation” or “the tipping point” and “the moment where the future is decided” and on and on. Hofstadter is right on with this quote, and it reminds me of a quote from the book:

The rise of apocalyptic expectation in America suggests that the true question we face may come disguised as arguments over conservation versus technological innovation, as military conflicts over foreign oil versus promises of domestic energy independence, as debates over immigration versus humanitarian goodwill, or between the creation of jobs and the preservation of the environment.

But the rise of apocalyptic expectation suggests that we face a deeper crisis, a crisis at the core of how we vie the world. Despite the political pickering, Americans on both the Left and the Right share some fundamental beliefs about the world. What if those underlying beliefs no longer correspond with reality?”

gesneri December 1st, 2012 at 2:57 pm

. . . secular near-term doomsday opinions found in environmentalism . . .

Is this quote intended to mean that there is really not an environmental doomsday coming? If so, I’d really beg to differ. Does anyone believe that we are going to get our sh*t together fast enough to prevent what really looks to be happening by the end of the century. Maybe not exactly the end of the world, but a sort of drawn-out extinction event nevertheless.

Peterr December 1st, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Is it inability to recraft our national mythologies, or unwillingness to do so? I think it’s more the latter than the former.

Inability implies that we lack the cultural imagination to think of ourselves and our nation in any other way; unwillingness implies that we don’t want to do so.

Once upon a time, nuclear power was held out as the ultimate almost-free source of energy. According to that line of thinking, once you set up the reactor, the operating costs are very very small and pollution (specifically air and water) is practically non-existent, when compared with oil, natural gas, etc — except of course for the spent fuel rods. Dealing with them was considered something that the March of Progress would be able to handle. “By the time we need to remove the rods from the reactors, other scientists will have come up with a safe way to deal with them.” Or, as it turns out, not.

That is not something that nuclear power advocates want to face up to. To do so requires letting go of the myth of infinite progress. It’s simpler to not even want to go there, as opposed to rethinking the national mythology.

seaglass December 1st, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I think some of this kind of thinking was even driving the Occupy movement.

hpschd December 1st, 2012 at 3:03 pm

In a large number of Sci-Fi future fantasies, there is on many planets a combination of middle-ages looking small towns with a smattering of advanced tech. (e.g. robots tending sheep).

“Tatooine is a desert planet in a binary star system. It once had large oceans full of marine based life and a world-spanning jungle, but this biosphere was destroyed when the myopic Rakata razed the planet, drying up its riverbeds and boiling away its oceans.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatooine

Resource depleted civilizations. Reduced populations, much poverty, class divided societies.

A glimpse of Earth’s future?

gesneri December 1st, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to Peterr @ 43

Is there that much difference between unwillingness and inability?

Margaret December 1st, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to hpschd @ 36

Is there something to this?

I have no idea and I’m not qualified to comment on such sociological trends. I know why I like watching zombie movies but I doubt everybody shared a similar experience as I had.

stewartm December 1st, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Stewart, I think I know which blog you are speaking of!

You do? ;-)

I mean, the blogger is intelligent, and his assessment of many things is spot-on. However, he believes that everything must be torn down for things to be made right, including “the left” whom he feels is corrupted and who constantly sell out each other and even their own constituencies for their own careers.

I have some sympathy for his perspective. But it reminds me for all the world of the German communists of the 1920s who also believed that Hitler had to come to power and things had to go to hell in a handbasket before there could be the glorious revolution to fix things. We all know how that turned out. This blogger has inferred if not outright said that a Tea Partier must/will come to power as president and then after the wreckage “America will have one last chance”.

For a long while, I too thought that we had to have an economic collapse to shock us back into doing the right thing. I suspect more of a few liberals/leftist thought the same thing. Guess what? We had one, and we’re still not doing what most of us think is necessary to fix things.

-stewartm

RevBev December 1st, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Where are the visionaries who can provide a view of the future and words to describe/forecast, etc? A compelling view would be very interesting.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Jerome, certainly the idea that technology will save us has been around for quite some time, but I do think that the millennial generation does possess a viewpoint that is both promising and fundamentally different from an aging Gen Xer like myself. They seem unencumbered by the expectation that the American Dream will come true for them. They seem less concerned about arguing over the way the world should be, and instead seem more accepting of the way the world is. Will their faith in technology prove misplaced? Maybe. But their optimism and pragmatic persistence (to speak in broad generational terms, which is always a bit odd) is a wonderful antidote to the despair we hear from many older folks.

Antipanglossian December 1st, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to stewartm @ 28

I think you have a valid point, stewartm. I believe that despair, over our current circumstances, has led some of us to see drastic upheavals as the most likely context in which meaningful change in a progressive direction can occur. This doesn’t have to be all negative, OWS has inspired many to envision a brighter, post-revolutionary future with their slogan: “another world is possible!”

greenwarrior December 1st, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I’ll take a stab at it. Progress is moving towards a sustainable future. Bonus points for doing it as rapidly as is needed.

gesneri December 1st, 2012 at 3:12 pm

But their optimism and pragmatic persistence (to speak in broad generational terms, which is always a bit odd) is a wonderful antidote to the despair we hear from many older folks.

I think that perhaps their expectations are lower, for reasons I don’t pretend to understand.

bigbrother December 1st, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to RevBev @ 49

Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption” attempts to address the after crisis as opposed to apocalypse. Have a hold at the library not read just review. Maybe Matt or Jerome have a take.

Peterr December 1st, 2012 at 3:14 pm
In response to gesneri @ 46

Yes.

Inability is whether one is capable of doing something; unwillingness is about the desire (or lack thereof) to do it. Both, however, produce the same result.

If you’re trying to encourage a change of behavior, it’s important to know what the stumbling block is – ability or desire.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to stewartm @ 48

Stewart, I agree. I stopped believing in the hell in a handbasket theory of political change when George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004. The idea that if things get bad then people will do the right thing is nonsense.

RevBev December 1st, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 54

Nice. Thanks.

hpschd December 1st, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Thinking about my ‘American Dream’ home and shop.

Solar Panels, Solar water heater, wind generators, back-up generator, Triple-layer window panes, geo-thermal heat, etc.

You know, it’s still conspicuous consumption.
Saved by technology.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Gesneri, good point on lowered expectations, though I would think the reasons for such lowered expectations may have to do with growing up in a decade of war and a half decade of economic recession.

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 3:25 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 54

Yes, “the after crisis” as opposed to apocalypse. That’s a point made over and over again in The Last Myth, with the chapter entitled “The Apocalypse will Take a Little While” being an expose of how environmental issues play into the worldview:

“By allowing the challenges of the twenty-first century to be hijacked by the apocalyptic storyline, we find ourselves awaiting a moment of clarity when the problems we must confront will become apparent to all… Yet the real challenges we must face are not future events that we imagine or dismiss through apocalyptic scenarios of collapse– they are existing trends…. we can wait forever, while the world unravels before our very eyes, for an apocalypse that won’t come.”

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 52

That’s a good stab at it, greenwarrior. The question as hpschd alludes to (comment 58, above) is what does “sustainable” mean in a world in which temperatures and population are rising? Less consumption, more efficient consumption, or some combination of the two?

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 3:37 pm

That take on the Millennial’s pragmatism is probably correct, but it might just be an outlier and not a trend, depending on how the generation that comes next, referred to as Homeland Generation, deals with technology. I believe its going to be much more utopian than the predecessors. Ray Kurzweil is the typical Boomer, and if you get a chance to see the documentary, it’s pretty narcissistic.

bluedot12 December 1st, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I read somewhere recently that bc of the impending doom due to resource constrains we should eliminate the lower classes. You know then we will all be middle class like Lake Wobegon except he’s serious.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I’ll check out the documentary. I agree that the next generation will likely be more utopian. They’ll need to be.

bigbrother December 1st, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thank you for yet another Book Salon BevW. You are great at getting these folks to come and organize these interesting forums. To all a Happy Holidays.
And much appreciation to our guest today.

greenwarrior December 1st, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Yes. Both. It could mean the US government subsidizes, say, solar and wind, instead of big oil. It could mean the setting of CAFE standards. It could mean not allowing oil pipelines to cross the US to export Canadian tar sands. It could mean not allowing offshore drilling.

It could mean encouraging consumption of food grown locally by cooperatives.

It could mean learning to work together in ways that are deeply democratic and participatory.

It could mean giant taxes on giant wealth.

It could mean the notion that some will do with less luxury so most can have a decent standard of living.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 65

Thank you big brother. Happy holidays to you.

Jerome Armstrong December 1st, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Matt, this was great, happy trails to you and Mel.

BevW December 1st, 2012 at 3:51 pm

As we come to the end of this lively Book Salon discussion,

Matt, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the apocalyptic thinking in America.

Jerome, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Matt’s website and book

Jerome’s website

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: BenFreeman / The Foreign Policy Auction: Foreign Lobbying in America; Hosted by Michael Busch

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

cmaukonen December 1st, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Funny thing about doomsday scenarios and things that will “Change it all”, they usually happen when people least expect it. When they are not paying attention.

Mathew Barrett Gross December 1st, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Thank you Jerome, and to everyone who participated. Happy holidays.

hpschd December 1st, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Thanks all.

Very interesting discussion.

The Toronto library does not yet have the book, but I’ll request it.

Jane Hamsher December 1st, 2012 at 3:54 pm

apologies for getting here late, it’s been a busy Manning day.

Matthew thanks so much for being here, and Jerome thanks for hosting.

Sorry we didn’t get to chat more about Doomsday Preppers. I love that show.

pshakkottai December 1st, 2012 at 4:00 pm

The other reason is that balancing the budget means different things for state and USA finances.
A. (State taxes = state spending – state debt) for the states and

B. ( Federal Deficits = Net Private Savings + Net Imports,) for money creating USA.

For B, deficits must exceed net imports (about 500 billion) for there to be ANY growth at all.

Cutting deficits is ENTIRELY in the wrong direction.Taxation is a minor issue and can be rebalanced to be more progressive.

The media always discuss A to fool the people and they have been very obliging because it has become obvious to them by incessant propaganda.

Equation B is TRUE. It is just plain accounting. The treasury and fed and BEA use it. There is no way cutting deficits will grow anything except inequality!

hpschd December 1st, 2012 at 4:02 pm
In response to hpschd @ 58

I know people who can afford all the off-the-grid stuff.

They aren’t interested, not in any of their several homes.

I have a friend who did all of this, went broke, had to give up the house.

A personal apocalypse.

mzchief December 1st, 2012 at 4:12 pm
In response to Kit OConnell @ 5

Oh darn my apologies for getting here late as well.

Kit OConnell @ 5: My 2¢ worth, off-the-cuff, kinda Margaret Meade cultural anthropological analysis is that “Colonialism”/”Corporatism” encourages this “projection” which stems in part from a unexamined, materialistic world view the individual has voluntarily accepted (been acculturated to) and/or has been coerced into swallowing. Also notice which cultures (e.g. Palestinians, Congolese, Tibetans, Naxalites, the list goes on …) have been exterminated or are targeted for sociocide and analyze why (e.g. who benefits and how).

Good convo, good stuff, keep it up! Thanks everyone for coming and warm and toasty winter holidays!!

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