On My Mind: The Apocalypse Is That There Will Be No Apocalypse

by Rachael on March 21, 2011

Mondays at The Variegated Life: links.

Years ago, I read a lot more speculative fiction than I do now. Many of the stories I read in those days were set in some future after some Terrible Event That Changed Everything. I particularly remember White Queen by Gwyneth Jones, in which one main character has been traumatized by the loss of her native country, Japan, which, due to cataclysmic earthquakes (as I remember it), has sunk into the Pacific Ocean. I thought about that novel a lot last summer, while oil was inexorably spilling spilling spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. From the distance at which I observed that event, it seemed to me that it should have been the Terrible Event That Changed Everything — for example, by getting us to think more keenly about how much energy we are using, where it is coming from, at what cost it is coming to us, and who is paying. But it didn’t. It was just a Terrible Event, and very little changed. And that was when it struck me: It may be there there will be no apocalypse, no grand revelation. It may be that Terrible Events will happen and happen and happen, and nothing will change — that is, we won’t change. Or — because such a constant unfolding of tragedy is unsustainable — or, rather, because we cannot be sustained within such a world of poisonous tragedy after poisonous tragedy — things will change, but only gradually. Too slowly.

Initially, it troubled me that news of the tragedy in Japan did not trouble me more. I read posts such as this one by Leslie at Lights and Letters and felt guilty that I was not so moved. Was it because the suffering was happening on the other side of the world from me? Or was it because I get my news almost exclusively from the radio, which brings no images to shock, to sadden, to horrify?

All it took, though, was time. And a nuclear crisis. Dread seeping into my mind from the radio. In Japan, radiation seeping into the air as last year oil seeped into the Gulf. More inexorable, invisible poison. Are we going to learn anything this time? (Possibly not.) What are we going to learn? (Yes, I want the world to continue, but do I really want to bring another child into this world?)

But I should say that another reason the news from Japan may not have upset me so much — initially, at least — was because it was caused by a natural disaster. Nature is indifferent, immoral; it just does what it does with no reference to human needs or desires. (The tragedy of Katrina, for example, was not so much the hurricane itself as our bungled response in its wake.) Whereas human malice at its worst and indifference to the suffering of an 11-year-old girl are beyond my comprehension. (In case you are confused, read this post by Blue Milk.) I don’t like knowing that humanity is capable of such cruelty. But there it is.

Via Blue Milk: the New York Times Public Editor has written a follow-up to the paper’s initial report.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Seonaid March 21, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Your title made me gasp, and I knew exactly what you were getting at before I even opened the post. Boy, I wish I had something positive to contribute, but I’m feeling pretty much the same right now. Someday we’ll get together. We’ll have coffee and figure out all the solutions… We might need a bottle of wine, too.
Seonaid recently posted… Weekly Photo Challenge- Spring Cleaning


Rachael March 22, 2011 at 10:17 PM

Wine, probably. Unless I actually get pregnant or something. Though right now I’m feeling at a loss for solutions for my own problems, let alone the world’s. But that is just my woe-is-me-with-these-awful-deadlines blues speaking.


Leslie March 22, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Thanks for your link Rachael. I’ve been thinking a lot about this too, we can’t all react the same way every single time. Some things bother us more than others, and we each deal with what life brings us in different ways. It’s difficult for people to rally together I think and there is need everywhere, all over the world. All we can hope for is that we each do a little bit when we can for whatever it is that moves us and that the good in the world somehow outweighs the bad.
Leslie recently posted… Painting 101


Michelle @ The Parent Vortex March 23, 2011 at 2:16 AM

It seems like there is one apocalyptic event happening after another right now, and it’s easy to get desensitized. I think I felt the Japanese tragedy more keenly myself because we are currently living on a fault line and it could easily be our house shaken to bits next time. But it’s hard for me to shift that feeling into actually making changes – securing the bookshelves to the wall, for instance.
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mumsyjr March 24, 2011 at 5:09 PM

It’s funny I was really slow to feel anything very strongly about Japan, too. But then I read this on Good: http://www.good.is/post/heroes-hear-the-voice-of-the-young-heroic-woman-who-saved-thousands-of-lives/
yeah that got the waterworks going. I think there are so many major catastrophes going down- or we’re aware of more?- that it’s kind of desensitizing. I think change happens, on the societal and global scale, so slowly that no one event is ever REALLY the turning point, except in retrospect. It feels to me sometimes like the end of that Beatle’s song “A Day In The Life” where the orchestra keeps building and building and building and then finally just crashes to a halt, but on a way longer time line, with more at stake, and if you’re in the middle of it, it looks like it will never end and it’s just an unbearable crescendo.
But then, I’m an optimist by nature. So maybe not.
mumsyjr recently posted… The Final Final


Rachael March 24, 2011 at 11:12 PM

Oh, that story. Who are we humans that we do such awful awful things and also give everything up for others?

“A Day in the Life” is my favorite Beatles song. I hear Lennon’s voice, “I read the news today, oh boy …,” and I get the chills. So mysterious and so sad.


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