… and I feel (de)fine

The Eschaton.  The End of Days.  It seems to be everywhere lately.  There are television shows, movies, books and seemingly constant news articles about various ways in which society as we know it might be brought, abruptly, to a problematic conclusion.

There are viruses, plagues, earthquakes, aliens, and, pretty much everywhere you look, zombies!  Zombies!  ZOMBIES!  From the Walking Dead to World War Z(ed)- they are among us and just waiting to rise and make life even more miserable.

I wrote here about societal anomie and how it leads to expressions of anxiety that include apocalyptic stories.  The apocalyptic tradition has provided some of the best, and most enduring myths.  They endure, in part, because periods of great collective social anxiety tend to be cyclical.  As the stresses return again and again, the idea that there is something better (or at least different) that will redeem us while punishing those responsible for the stress- albeit after a period of complete lousiness- is quite attractive.

Some definition of terms:

Apocalypticism is one of the major literary trends in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, often representative of the uncertainty of the of the sociopolitical environment of the time.  As is the case with other hermeneutical categories found in the historical and literary studies of Judaism and Christianity (gnosticism is another such category- we’ll explore that one later), the designation ‘apocalyptic’ is often too-freely or non-specifically applied.

The myths of all cultures reflect the issues and beliefs of the times specific to each composition.  The apocalyptic tradition developed as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and the reality of the societal situation faced by the Jews of antiquity.

Apocalypticism can be defined as “a type of religious thinking characterized by the notion that through an act of divine intervention, the present evil world is about to be destroyed and replaced with a new and better world in which (a) god’s justice prevails.  Apocalyptic schemes usually involve a moment of judgement, in which persons are called upon to answer for the evil of the world and are either acquitted to salvation in the new world or convicted to suffer divine punishment or destruction” (J.S. Kloppenborg, Q-Thomas Reader, 1990).

Dealing with the such realities as exile and diaspora, apocalypticism as a literary expression and theological speculation developed according to societal and religions necessity.  It was used variably as legitimation for political and religious propaganda, and to fulfill a socially perceived need for justice, transforming from a vision of messianic prosperity to one focusing on expectations not being met.

As a nascent religious movement, Christianity arose during a time of upheaval caused by foreign (Roman) domination of Palestine.  The issue of this dominance was relevant to the people involved in the Jesus movement and the authors of the writings that would eventually form the New Testament (along with the many contemporaneous non-canonical myths and writings).  Problems associated with justice and right order plagued the early Christian inheritors of the apocalyptic tradition as it had inspired their authorial predecessors.

Obviously, the current definition of apocalyptic has expanded to include all manner of potential cataclysms- either originating in this world (in evil laboratories or through nature rebelling against the repeated abuses to which it has been exposed at the hands of humanity) or from somewhere beyond (the myriad alien invasions from outer space or the reappearance of Lovecraftian creatures from the centre of the earth).

Regardless, these stories reflect the continuum of a mythological tradition that arises in response to significant disconnects between social expectations and the reality of the day.  Even when presented with tongue-in-cheek humour- think This is the End– now in theatres, or the upcoming, much anticipated (I really would like Simon Pegg to be my best friend) The World’s End.

In a social reality which, in one week (sigh), sees ever-increasing evidence of political corruption and the mishandling and violation of public trust at ALL levels of government and regardless of particular ideological affiliation, it really is no wonder that we are revisiting the mythological themes behind the apocalyptic vision.  When those we have elected to look out for the best interests of all citizens are not delivering the expected level of justice, frustration levels are made manifest in many ways.

Apocalyptic angst- as it appears in popular culture and literature- is a prevalent contemporary use of mythology that clearly demonstrates the truism ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’  We express our anger and dissatisfaction with the status quo through our various creative outlets.

The ideological forecast for the summer seems to be rife with apocalyptic thinking.  It will be interesting to see if such murmurs of discontent garner results in the larger societal context.  They will certainly provide entertainment and something to think- and blog- about.

13 comments on “… and I feel (de)fine

  1. […] the 21st century Hudson River Valley.  Will have to check it out for a while and see.  Told you apocalypses seem to be everywhere […]

  2. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    The other day I briefly referenced the fact that I’ve been thinking a whole lot about apocalyptic thinking- particularly in the context of the workplace.

    A whole lot of the reading I’ve been doing lately has to do with the development of positive corporate culture- a mixed bag of approaches to the office environment in the midst of changing realities in the wider cultural/societal environment.

    So many of the concepts I’ve been reading about have one thing in common. Whether they use the specific terminology or not, they are advocating the eradication of apocalyptic thinking.

    I’m in the process of trying to pull some of these ideas together- and add my own particular voice and perspective to the discourse. Doing so involves some definition of terms and exploration of apocalypticism- as both a body of mythological literature and a worldview.

    I love the literature. GREAT stories- some memorable and colourful characters that persist in holding our imaginations. As an ideology? Not so much. The nature of apocalyptic worldviews lies at the heart of a boatload of our social, cultural, political and just plain ol’ human problems. That these issues lead to problems in the workplace is, to me, a logical extension of the fact that we inherit and adopt ideologies without necessarily being aware that we have done so.

    I wrote this post over a year ago. It serves as something of an introduction to apocalypticism (as does the previous post that is linked in this one) and begins an approach to getting my thoughts on the connection of end-of-world thinking and general (and, by extension, workplace) dissatisfaction.

  3. I hold a wee bit of power in an international company ( to go unnamed here) and we are bringing the end of life to thousands of our hard working employees. Death by pink slip. Many are told months ahead to prepare for the end, keep the chin up, work hard today, tomorrow your gone. Its gripping from the sense that times have changed so drastically, that this will be the last livable wage many of these people earn in this lifetime. Your post struck a chord with me, for today, one of the fortunate ones. I want to strike a more positive attitude with my peers and people I manage as these dark times roll upon us, after all the black plague was upon us but a wee 700 years ago, someone somewhere had to keep looking for that golden straw in a pile of pony poop. Thank you for a great post and making me think. Shalom, Daniel

    • colemining says:

      Thank you Daniel- for your visit and the comment. It is hard, certainly in these economic times, not to resort to some fatalistic thinking now and again. There is so much uncertainty- and ‘job security’ isn’t what it used to be- if it is extant at all.

      The ‘pink slip’ is a dire realization of apocalyptic anticipation- there’s no doubt about that. The stuff I’ve been thinking about- and trying to get a firm and clear handle on- has to do with the inability to focus on the present as we forecast the future. Hope that you’ll pop in from time to time and let me know what you think about what I come up with.

      Appreciate your input! Have a great weekend!

  4. bethbyrnes says:

    This is anomie, disillusionment with the collective, the group that we cannot escape and to whose norms we willingly subscribe, but then lets us down. I think it is also due to the fact that no matter the society a group will seize power and impose will. In order for the rest of the group not to feel inadequate and inferior, the impulse arises unconsciously that there must be supernatural retribution to administer justice on behalf of the powerless. If ever this were a relevant topic here in the lower 50, it is now as we face an upheaval in November that will have global implications. I need to read this again. Astute and erudite, as usual.

    • colemining says:

      Yes- those in power thrive in an apocalyptic worldview- do ‘this’ now, and you will be rewarded. It’s an insidious way of keeping order, yes, but more than that, it’s about control. There have been clear demonstrations that the carrot/stick method of motivation isn’t effective in an information-based world business world. It shouldn’t be motivating us in the rest of our lives, either.

      Makes me more and more angry the more I think about it. Like too many other things that began as institutionalized doctrine and that have made their way (insidiously) into the larger culture, the concept of ‘suffer now, be rewarded later’ has got. to. go. We are better than that.

      Thanks for the read, and the comment. Have a great weekend, Beth! xo

  5. The new brand of Apocalypticism seems, at least to me, to differ from the old in that it envisions more of a “Nineteen Eighty-Four” or “Mad Max” existence, rather than an environment in which the “present evil world is about to be destroyed and replaced with a new and better world in which (a) god’s justice prevails.” The end result is not a better world, albeit after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but instead a world where wailing and gnashing of teeth is the rule and there is no hope of a savior (or saviors). It really seems quite depressing.

    • colemining says:

      CBC- I agree. In a lot of the popular culture treatments of apocalypses and such there is an extremely pessimistic view of the end- and what comes after the end (at least here, on this world. The Walking Dead and suchlike things don’t go into what is going on for those who have shuffled off this mortal coil). The stuff that I’m thinking about has to do with the whole carrot/stick way of ‘motivating’ people- rewards to come for suffering now. It’s a faulty model in the business world (as is being demonstrated by more and more statistical research done by those who think stuff like that is cool) and it’s a faulty societal model, too.

      In a way, the fact that the pop culture stuff is indicating that things mightn’t, in fact, get better, is indicative of the need we have to engage with the present and stop relying on a hope for justice- from a god or otherwise- as a reward for suffering now. We need, rather, to working to CHANGE our current problems- while supporting those who need support, and instituting and maintaining a system of justice that doesn’t have us looking to an imagined future. Especially not one that was created in response to societal conditions more than 2000 years ago.

      Thanks for reading- and for your insights.

      • Cole – I agree that we should never rely on the hope that justice will come from somewhere else, and that we need to do what we can while we can.

        That said, I also understand the need to believe that there will be an ultimate reckoning. You and I have both seen and heard of awful people who ultimately escaped earthly justice. While it is crucial that we do what we can to make our world a better place, I personally believe that there is a day of judgment for all. I will add that I have absolutely no idea what that “day of judgment” will be like nor would it do me any good to try to figure it out. That’s way above my pay grade.

        But I do believe that among the most important roles in our lives is working to change and better the world we live in now, rather than waiting for God, or whatever supreme being one believes (if one is so inclined) to mete out justice at some point in the future.

        As always, an interesting topic and your comments are thought provoking.

      • colemining says:

        CBC- that belief (in a day/lifetime of restitution for the actions in this life) is part and parcel of our human attempt to find justice in an often-unjust world. I completely understand its creation- and persistence- as part of the make-up of any number of worldviews. While it isn’t one to which I, personally, subscribe, I don’t have any issue with the belief in ultimate justice (call it Karma, call is Judgement Day, call it what you will).

        The issue I have is, as you point out, that such worldviews (as perpetuated by those who seek to maintain a particular status quo- be it social, religious or corporate in identity) all too often encourage us to wait- to bide our time rather than take action NOW- since ‘it will all work out in the end’. If we apply that attitude- consciously or unconsciously- to the whole of our lives it becomes almost impossible to think outside of ourselves and look to the problems of our communities and the wider world. If we are certain of our, individual, salvation since we, individually, follow prescribed rules and behaviours, then it can (and I’m not, of course, suggesting that this is always the case- there are certainly those who can- and do- incorporate both a belief in ultimate judgement and community engagement) lead to a lack of concern about the lot of others. Which is ideologically- and morally- irresponsible, IMHO. Not to mention counterproductive…

        Thanks, as always, for your insightful reflections and comments.

  6. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your work, Cole. It sounds like something quite unusual in the areas you are addressing.
    I wonder whether it may not be time to redefine apocolypse in the present day to reference change. The type of change you speak of would indeed by apocolyptic for all sections of society not least for those who control it as well as those who serve.
    I’m smiling at your French quote. I tried this week to remember this and could only think of the first part. I had myself been thinking of how change never really seems to occur, only I was thinking of education and the workplace.
    Illumination is a difficult concept for many to handle no matter the context and it can be so aggravating. People like their comfort zones even if the zone is one that has ceased to serve a reliable purpose. You’ve got me musing again. All to the good. 🙂

    • colemining says:

      Thanks, Anne-Marie. Hashing it all out, but (as usual) I’m seeing connections between a whole bunch of things- and attitudes in both the working and ‘real’ worlds that can be traced to certain ideologies that majorly impact investment, engagement and happiness.

      I think ‘apocalypse’ has been redefined- especially in light of sci-fi treatments of the subject- alien invasions and zombie apocalypses put a new spin on the concept of ‘the end’- one that doesn’t end in the shinyhappy (for those ‘chosen’, anyway) coming of the Kingdom. Which is, I think, a sign that that aspect of the mythology is losing its hold. Or it’s just representative of our fear of science (viruses run rampant) and the unknown (hostile aliens come to wipe us off the face of the planet). Needs more reflection.

      Change- especially in the workplace- is HARD. It requires a move outside of comfort zones- and away from the ways things have ‘always’ been done- and a whole lot of people are resistant to this sort of change. Especially if it challenges their perceived power and position. I’m not especially concerned with power or position, so I can come at these things from a slightly different perspective.

      Thanks for the visit. Happy musings! xo

  7. […] I’ve noted before, here, historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking- and the literature and policies that […]

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