They were talking about guns – the best handgun for the price, the one least likely to jam, and the weapon that guaranteed it could stop any intruder. Both had concealed carry permits. James went armed on road trips and hiking. Both knew neighbors who had created farms on their properties so that they could be self-sufficient when ‘things’ got worse. They knew people who were stockpiling water, construction materials, dried and canned foods and who had turned portions of their homes into fortresses. James had one neighbor who had bordered his large piece of land with heavy, high industrial fencing and whose four enormous mastiffs patrolled the line regularly.
I cannot turn on the TV, go to a bookstore, look at movie listings, or listen to politicians or environmentalists without seeing multiple warnings that apocalypse is imminent; this zeitgeist is operating at full power. This is a short list of the threats I’ve seen reported — we are going to be overrun by criminals after the electric grid goes down; plagues linked by the ubiquity of air travel will sweep across the globe; climate change will cause epic floods and new deserts to rise and spread. Our government will turn the state’s vast muscle on us – tyranny is coming. Watch the skies for the drones. Or, conversely, our government is an ineffectual joke – they cannot protect us from ‘the other’ — the brown, black, Muslim, white trash meth-head hordes who will spread into the countryside after the ‘collapse’. People of color might instead see a shrinking white population striking out against them in a last ditch attempt to keep the status-quo – a renewed segregation and denial of rights that would look like a more intense replay of Jim Crow. Asteroids slipping past our telescopes may crash into cities, suitcase nuclear bombs might pop up in airports, nerve gas be released on subways, biological agents set loose at professional football games. In the fictional realm, the White House is burning, giant alien robots smash cities, and serial killers, zombies, werewolves and vampires roam desolate streets.
I write none of this ironically. I am making fun of no one. Something is happening that is causing a permanent and heightened state of anxiety. It is as if the culture as a collective consciousness senses a pent-up deluge hurtling towards it. It cannot precisely name it, but its intuitive antenna pick up the general unease, as if a terrible pressure wave were pushing air in front of it, and we were now sensing its implacable approach.
Where does our unease originate?
Our political culture appears controlled by an ocean of corporate money and staffed by hosts of animatronic politicians who have lost all honor, courage and common sense, and who really want ordinary Americans to_just_go_away and leave them to their Beltway universe. Media types are engaged in a perpetual scream of denunciation.
On those airwaves and in the peta-bytes pulsing through the web, a slow-acting narcissistic poison has caused our popular culture to become obsessed with shopping, bling, grotesque celebrities and an empty, infantile hedonism. We are beset by vast realms of stupidity, cynicism, and a pervading ironic nihilism in tone that believes in nothing except getting a laugh.
The economy cannot produce enough good jobs. No cadre of legislators from either political party seems interested in trying to solve this problem. How many people do you know who are hanging on, month by month, terrified of the next swell of job cuts, and of another economic crash?
Trans-global corporations no longer owe any allegiance to nation-states. They are entities unto themselves — collective gods, really, whose loyalty is only to profit and whose life-blood is the instantaneous capacity to transfer its influence in the form of wealth to any part of the planet at the click of a mouse.#
The natural world is caught in a death spiral. World-wide, extinction rates are climbing on a steep curve. Wildlife habitat is being devoured at the rate of tens of thousands of acres a year.*
And the noise with which all of this is delivered never stops – our phones buzz us instantly to breaking events, to e-mail and texts, to Facebook postings; 1000 TV channels deliver any image or story we could possibly desire. The infinite web is already always at hand — Google is perfecting eyeglasses that will allow us a continuous connection during all our waking hours. Thus trivia and disasters in battalions roll over us, the next wave of fearful events or empty shock only one click away. We are being buried alive in artificial sensations.
Driving up one road to my home, I’ve caught myself wondering how it might be made self-sufficient and fortified – drop trees at this curve, place snipers at these high points, blockade the other feeder roads, pickets can man the ridge lines, plan for access to water, begin laying out large gardens, make lists of all the practical skills that this community’s members might share – this is a paranoid’s vision, but contemporary life seems intent on creating paranoia. Maniacs attack schools, genetically modified foods are infiltrating the food supply chain, fracking might be poisoning our water, bombs in back packs are planted in the happy crowd at the Boston Marathon. No wonder so many seem as if they are seeking some niche where they can be safe from the chaos.
What is one person or a family to do?