The statistical chronology of the end of this world unravels before us every day. Any attempt to summarize it thoroughly is impossible because every day brings new developments, new cataclysms. However, we can outline the dynamic contours of our times and identify the central axes around which the world system undermines its own conditions of reproduction.
Antonio Gramsci seized on the spirit of our times when he wrote that “the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born.” Today this crisis is global, total, vast and intimate. Will the life as we know it survive to give expression to a new age? Only by looking deeply into today’s nightmares can we find the answers. If this is an age of apocalypse, as every Hollywood movie seems to be telling us, then our four horsemen can be identified:
Ecology: The global climate is officially destabilized. Major tipping points have passed, and while the struggle to remain within others must continue, we have already lost the battle to preserve life on earth as we know it. Rising seas will reshape continents and spreading deserts will drive mass migrations. Climate change will redraw the world map and will literally shake the earth.
Capitalism returns to crisis like a dog to its vomit.
But climate change is only the cumulative expression of a multitude of other ecological crises, each as catastrophic in their own right. We are in the middle of a mass extinction, which all accounts and reports indicate will continue to accelerate. If current rates of extinction continue, by the middle of this century, between one- and two-thirds of all living species on the planet may disappear. While superstorms and melting ice caps may be more dramatic, this accelerating loss of biological diversity in the long run is even more catastrophic. In the early 1980s, biologist E.O. Wilson compared this threat to others facing the world at that time;
Energy depletion, economic collapse, limited nuclear war or conquest by a totalitarian government. . . . As terrible as those catastrophes would be for us, they could be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing in the 1980s that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”
The catastrophe that Wilson identified in the 1980s has reached metastatic proportions in our century, where all the potentates of the world accelerate the destruction of ecosystems in a global “race for what’s left” of the world’s resources. Even the heartlands of empire, from New York to Helsinki, are threatened by new and toxic forms of resource extraction. And around the world the scramble for resources accelerates. Canada alone has over 1,600 open pit mines in Latin America.
If we live in times of prophecy, then ecological catastrophe is the black horseman of the apocalypse, carrying the scales of a radically unbalanced earth system, leaving famine in its wake.
Economy: The world economic system is in a structural crisis from which it will not recover. The morbid symptoms of its demise are increasingly evident. It is now mainstream knowledge that the major banks of the world routinely launder money for the drug and arms trade.
Furthermore, the so-called middle class is at an end, even if the working class has not yet stepped up to replace it. Inequality is at an all-time high, with rates of poverty and affluence, malnutrition and obesity, reaching ever more epidemic proportions.
One-third of all food is wasted. Women own only 1 percent of the world’s property. The absurdities of our economic system are increasingly well known and recognized. An article by Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone had a comprehensive title: “Everything is Rigged:”
Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. . . . Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it’s no secret. . . . The idea that prices in a $379 trillion market could be dependent on a desk of about 20 guys in New Jersey should tell you a lot about the absurdity of our financial infrastructure.
Today the only thing saving face for the global economy is the Federal Reserve Corporation in the United States. Endlessly printing more money (around 85 billion per month) has substituted for any serious restructuring of the economy since the 2008 crash, and profits are again at record levels – while employment and wages stagnate. The same scheme is underway in Europe, too. But this empty bubble has come at irreversible cost: If the economic indicators improve, the central banks will stop printing more money, upon which everyone now depends. So we are now in a twilight zone, where good news about the economy is actually bad for the economy. In economic doublespeak, recovery is countercyclical. But the hypercomplexity and jargon of the world economy cannot hide its fundamental instability. Capitalism returns to crisis like a dog to its vomit.
The economy is the white horseman of the apocalypse, representing both evil and righteousness, wearing a crown and armed for conquest.
War: Former US Vice President Dick Cheney promised the world “a war that will not end in our lifetimes,” and we are now beginning to see the form it will take. Resource wars in the Middle East and North Africa are now joined by wars born of political turmoil. Global military expenditure is currently soaring at $1.6 trillion per year, an increase of 53 percent over 14 years ago.
Today in Egypt and Syria, we witness the seeds of a bloody and tangled future, where mass social movements for national liberation and self-determination are converted into proxy wars between the global potentates. Collapsing ecosystems and economies together fan the flames of war higher. In these geopolitical nightmares, carried to a fevered pitch by the society of the spectacle, nothing is true and everything is permitted.
War rides the red horse of the apocalypse.
Surveillance States: 1984 has arrived, only 30 years after Orwell predicted. The revelations brought to us by Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden show us a world in which everything is under surveillance. Julian Assange has written with great eloquence about the death of civil society overseen by the surveillance state. (1) Today in the United States alone there are more than 5 million people working under security clearances – more than the population of Norway. The mirror image of this army of spies is the enormous number of people in prison, including more African Americans under state control than there were slaves prior to the Civil War.
This is the last stage of the state, the totalitarianism that is the last gasp of every totality. The surveillance state has the capacity for not only genocide, but also extinction: It is capable of repressing and destroying the revolutionary movements that still have hope to fight for life.
The surveillance state rides the pale horse of the apocalypse, representing death.
It is difficult to interpret our times without reference to myths and prophecy. As Elias Capriles has written, the chickens of all the world’s cultures and histories have come home to roost:
Like a scientific sorcerer’s apprentice, we have created technological Golems and Babels who have immersed us in extreme confusion, and confronted us with the infernal punishments of Prometheus, Sisyphus and Tantalus, bringing us to the edge of our own annihilation. (2)
We are witnessing an end times to the capitalist system. As Marx predicted in the most concise way, the enemy of capital is capital. But since this is not comprehensible to the majority of those too invested in the capitalist life-world to understand the contradiction, we are at an impasse of unconsciousness, just when we need to be most awake.
What lies ahead? It is almost impossible to see, and very few are looking. In the realms of elite economic planning, they rarely look more than five years in advance. As Jorge Riechmann has written, “It is an intellectual and moral scandal that in our societies of risk, 10 years for many people is long term.” (3) It is not only a scandal, it is a death sentence. As was known thousands of years ago, when there is no vision, the people perish.
But in the ancient Greek, apocalypse and revelation are the same word. What is the tipping point between the end of the world and the beginning of the world?
You are. We are. It’s time to realize it. Time to seize the day and never let go.