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Rationally Speaking, We Are All Apocalyptic Now

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We are all apocalyptic now, or at least we should be, if we are rational.

Because "apocalyptic" is typically associated with religious fanaticism and death cults - things that rational people tend not to take literally or seriously - this claim requires some explanation.

First, a definition: The term is most commonly used in reference to the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse of John, the final book of the Christian New Testament. The two terms are synonymous in their original meaning - "revelation" from Latin and "apocalypse" from Greek, both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something that had been hidden.

Second, the formulation "we are all (fill in the blank) now" has long been a way to assert that certain ideas have become the norm: "We are all Keynesians now," said Milton Friedman in 1965, for instance, or to express solidarity: "We are all New Yorkers now," said many non-New Yorkers after 9/11.

Rather than claiming divine inspiration, we can come to greater clarity about the desperate state of the ecosphere and its human inhabitants through evidence and reason. It is time for a calm, measured apocalypticism that recognizes that the ecosphere sets norms, which we have ignored for too long, and that we need to develop a new sense of solidarity among humans and with the larger living world.

So, speaking apocalyptically need not leave us stuck in a corner with the folks predicting lakes of fire, rivers of blood or bodies lifted up to the heavens. Instead, it can focus our attention on ecological realities and on the unjust and unsustainable human systems that have brought us to this point.

This "revelation" is simple: We've built a world based on the assumption that we will have endless energy to subsidize endless economic expansion, which was supposed to magically produce justice. That world is over, both in reality and in dreams. Either we begin to build a different world, or there will be no world capable of sustaining a large-scale human presence.


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