267. WHERE DOES APOCALYPTIC THINKING COME FROM?
I'll be getting back to the usual POD analysis in the next post, but today I want to get a little philosophical and address an interesting side issue. It takes a bit of a tangent to fully explain, so please bear with me for a moment.
Lou Grinzo was the one who got me thinking, when he wrote this:
I am sick to death of the people like Kunstler and the other Apocalypticons telling us how humanity has never faced anything this serious, and then predicting in minute detail how freakin' awful things will be. How do they know? Why are they so intent on making these moralistic arguments about the downfall of modern civilization, etc.?My friend Bart from peakoil.com was wondering about the same thing:
Where do fatalistic and Doomer ideas come from?Now, let me take that tangent.
I grew up in the U.S., but have lived much of my adult life in an extremely non-Christian society (Japan). This makes the deep, ingrained Christianity of the U.S. stand out in high relief to me. It is one of the most prominent features of the reverse culture shock I experience when I return to the U.S.
Note that by "deep Christianity" I don't mean Pat Robertson, or people going to mega-churches, or the Bible Belt; that's "surface Christianity". Deep Christianity is the Christianity which is embedded into the very fabric of secular America. Generally, Americans never notice this because it's like the air they breath; I never did when I grew up there. But if you live for a while in a culture which doesn't have that Christian substrate, it's very obvious when you go back home.
Here's an example, to help you see vividly what I mean. This is a photo from the world famous penis festival at Tagata Jinja in Aichi, Japan:
This is not a joke. It is a solemn and ancient fertility rite of a pagan religion.
Due to their resourcefulness, the Japanese were one of the few peoples on the earth to resist the onslaught of Christian missionaries, and preserve these old rites. But in ancient times, they were practiced by all peoples. Herodotus speaks of a rite he witnessed in Egypt where a woman publicly copulated with a goat -- the goat being ritually regarded as the incarnation of a god. Public buildings and shrines in Rome were adorned with massive phallic sculptures and motifs. People wore phalluses around their neck, much like people wear crosses today.
Now, the U.S. is ostensibly a country of religious freedom, but what would happen if (say) some neo-paganists marched a giant pink penis down the streets of Chicago as part of their religious observations?
Well...the American public can't even handle 0.5 seconds of Janet Jackson's nipple in the form of a TV microdot, so it's clear that the "perps" would be arrested and, in all likelihood, convicted as sex offenders. But what would be the reason? It couldn't be Christianity because that would be tantamount to enforcing a state religion. So America invents secular euphemisms to cover this Christianity. They say the penis is "inappropriate" or "indecent" or "obscene".
This is what I mean by "deep Christianity" -- blatantly Christian behavior, morals and thought processes by people who claim to be uninfluenced by, or even antagonistic toward, Christianity.
There are lots of other examples of this phenomenon, but let's return to the topic of peak oil.
My claim is that peak oil doomers are subconsciously influenced by the apocalyptic doctrines of Christianity. It's part of their "deep Christianity". Of course, they will vehemently deny this -- just like all the American atheists and agnostics who would frantically dial the police to report an "obscene" penis parade their child saw out the window in Chicago. Deep, subconscious Christianity is passed off as "common sense", or even as normality itself.
But the connections are there if you have the eye for them. Consider this:
I don't know if this is a boost for PO but last night I heard Pat Robertson of all people, telling his TV audience that he recently read the book "Twilight in the Desert" by Matthew Simmons. He went on to tell about the how the Saudi's are doing everything to keep their production numbers up but once the oil fields peak, we are all in trouble. SourceWhat an amazing coincidence! We're on the same wavelength about the "End Times", Brother Simmons! To the untrained eye, this appears to be some roundabout, accidental connection between geology and theology, but in fact the connection is very short and direct. Simmons and Robertson are simply preaching different versions of the "Apocalypse" -- a meme which has been burned indelibly into their subconscious minds by the ambient culture of America.
Similarly, consider Professor Deffeyes' comments in a recent interview:
Q: Where is the economic impact of peak oil going to be felt acutely and when?Where did he get that analogy come from? Yup, you guessed it: THE BIBLE (Revelation 6:1-8).
Geologists like to look back in time, and I'm not that good at futurology. I borrow the analogy of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: war, famine, pestilence and death.Source
Contrast this with the thinking of the Japanese. They don't even have the concept of the "End Times" or the "Apocalypse" (a biblically derived term) or "Armageddon" (another biblically derived term), except as an exotic foreign import. They're not coming to the playing field with the psychological baggage -- inculcated into them from birth by the ambient religious culture -- that the wicked will be punished for their sins when the world comes to an end on Judgment Day.
In the West, the collapse of Rome casts a very long shadow. Westerners look back on the Roman ruins, and worry "That could be us. It happened once before, and it could happen again. We're decadent like they were." This too harks back to the Bible. America is the new Rome, the decadent harlot of revelation:
18:2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.Tell me that isn't Kunstler in a nutshell, right there.
18:3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
18:4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
18:5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.
18:6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.
18:7 How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.
18:8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.
18:9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
18:10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
18:11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
18:12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
18:13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
18:14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.
18:15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
18:16 And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
18:17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
18:18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!(Rev. 18:2-18)
In the East, there was no Rome, and nobody pays attention to the Bible, so this whole strain of thought doesn't have any impact. It sounds weird and foreign. Japan never collapsed (and neither did China). The Japanese don't look back on their history and see ominous ruins, from which they are supposed to draw moral lessons about the wages of sin and excess. Instead, they look back and see Horyuji, the oldest wooden structure in the world:
When you've got a wooden building which has been standing continuously for 1300 years, the idea that "everything must eventually collapse" doesn't seem so convincing.-- by JD