The End of the World–Ten Years On

It has been a decade since the publication of my second book, The Myth of the Great Ending (2011, Hampton Roads). Noting this fact has prompted some reflections, on both personal and planetary endings. A great deal has changed since 2011. However, my concerns over the use and misuse of apocalyptic thinking, and the power of those archetypes (the main prompts behind the writing of that book), have only increased since that time.

One of my arguments in that book was that the metaphor of the metaphysical End of the World is a kind of sublimated, often inflated and dangerous way of dealing with less global, more prosaic, yet no less significant endings: the end of a way of thinking; a way of life; a way of consciousness; a way of experience. All these are in the world and of it. In other words, we are ending, not the World.

Apocalyptic displacement is thus a kind of unconscious threat assessment. This explains why such tropes inevitably carry such powerful emotional charges of anxiety and trepidation, fear and loathing, but also wish-fulfillment. All the trials of life will end at last–well for Us, of course, and badly for Them. The binary Us/Them divisions are what channel the emotional charges into action (sometimes violent), and also provide the psychological comfort that is unconsciously sought through the embrace of the metaphor.

While I have not changed my basic argument, ten years out it is now far clearer what may actually be in the process of ending: democracy, civilization, and the bio-cultural dominance of the human species on the planet. No small potatoes! I do not say these things lightly. As my life and teaching career wind down, I am taking stock. There are indeed large forces at work in all this. I have begun to appreciate why the archetypal psychologist James Hillman (1926-2011) was so fond of quoting that line from W. H. Auden’s poem: “We are lived by powers we pretend to understand.” Indeed.

I will share more in the coming weeks and months.

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