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The End of the World As They Know It


Let’s not freak out just yet. Apocalypticism has ebbed and flowed for thousands of years, and the present uptick is the third during my lifetime. Among my most vivid childhood memories are LBJ’s mushroom-cloud campaign ad, a post-nuclear Twilight Zone episode, and my mother’s (scary) paperback copy of On the Beach.

The next brief spike in apocalyptic shivers and dystopian fevers came twenty years later, coinciding with our last right-wing president: the nuclear-freeze movement, The Day After on TV, the post-apocalypse novel Riddley Walker (written in a prescient text-message-ese), Blade Runner, Mad Max.

And now, another twenty years later, here we are again—but this time, it seems, more widespread and cross-cultural, both more reasonable (climate change, nuclear proliferation) and more insane (religious prophecy), more unnerving.

I don’t think our mood is only a consequence of 9/11 (and the grim Middle East), or climate-change science, or Christians’ displaced fear of science and social change. It’s also a function of the baby-boomers’ becoming elderly. For half a century, they have dominated the culture, and now, as they enter the glide path to death, I think their generational solipsism unconsciously extrapolates approaching personal doom: When I go, everything goes with me, my end will be the end. It’s the pre-apocalyptic converse of the postapocalyptic weariness of the hero in The Road: “Some part of him always wished it to be over.”

Have a nice day.



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