The Malcontent

Apocalypse Now

If you believe Nostradamus and/or the Mayans, the world will end this year. (Just ask any Spanish conquistador who set out in search of the mythical city of gold how reliable a source those Mayans …

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If you believe Nostradamus and/or the Mayans, the world will end this year. (Just ask any Spanish conquistador who set out in search of the mythical city of gold how reliable a source those Mayans are.) I neither believe such an Old Testament-style cataclysm is upon us, nor see the point in debating the supposed “evidence” to support such fire-and-brimstone predictions. The Apocalypse is unlikely to happen in 2012 – however, it may still prove to be defined by apocalypses.

As you may have learned by reading a newspaper, watching the news, perusing the internet or simply having ears, 2012 is an election year – a presidential election year – and that is sure to bring with it many apocalypses. As this went to press, the field of Republican candidates is rapidly narrowing, and the eventual nominee is all but official. This is sure to cause much gnashing of teeth and wailing to the heavens in many circles, as conservative Christians and hardcore Tea Partiers are left to choose between the Anti-Christ (Obama) and Christ, the Sequel (Romney), and liberals cower in terror at the prospect of a Romney presidency that will turn the country into a repressive, ultra-orthodox Mormon theocracy in which Democrats are outlawed, just like what happened to Massachusetts when he was governor (right?).

The point is that in the past decade-plus, we have lost the ability as a country to have a rational, civilized discourse about the pertinent issues of the day without it resulting in name-calling, finger-pointing, hysterical shrieking and Chicken Little-esque doomsday prophecies. Each talking point that doesn’t reinforce our particular world-view is regarded as heresy, and each turn of events that doesn’t further our agenda is heralded as the apocalypse.

We seemingly forget that the entire history and development of this country has been based on the constant negotiation of disagreements and compromises. Some are major, some minor, some result in blood spilled and others egos bruised, but none has yet resulted in The End of All Things.

In the domain of politics we have two parties that are no longer even pretending to serve the greater public interest, and are simply locked in a zero-sum game in which the Future of America – which is, in actuality, simply a more polite name for the agenda of whichever side happens to be doing the talking, an an easy, effective way to whip “the base” into a lather – is constantly in peril and decided anew with each election cycle or session of congress. The media, for its part, barely has time to objectively report the news or contextualize the issues, so busy are the networks with attempting to fill the gaping, ravenous maw of the 24-hour news cycle – and anyway, reportage is barely even the point any more, having been eclipsed by the relentless pursuit (or defense) of market share.

Our political discourse has been reduced to a hopelessly, frenetically reactive maelstrom of talking points, sound bites, fear, umbrage and myopia. When one is incapable (or unwilling) of seeing beyond the hysteria of the moment, it’s easy to imagine that what lies beyond it is disaster or The End. The venerable Daily Show captured this phenomenon (particularly as it applies to the media) in a 2010 segment in which a series of correspondents in various locales mistook the day’s weather for a permanent reality: a warm, sunny day was taken as evidence that global warming was in fact real, while cold, snowy weather debunked climate change in favor of a new ice age, and nighttime portended perpetual darkness. While the truth behind that joke may not be a sign of Armageddon, it is certainly indicative of how this election cycle is likely to play out, and 2012 may just be remembered as the Year of a Million Little Apocalypses.