Friday, October 14, 2016

apocalypse 2016

This is the apocalypse.

Not the actual date, not a specific event, but this experience we are living through in 2016 America.

Rather, I should say this is an apocalypse, because this is not the first one and it won't be the last.

"Apocalypse" is almost always misunderstood. It means a pulling back of the curtain, a revealing. It's a metaphor for seeing things as they truly are. It's not an asteroid-related disaster or trippy, judgmental poetry. It's not even the end of the world as most people understand it. It is scary. Seeing the world as it is rather than as we want it to be is terrifying. Which, now I think about it, is kind of like the end of the world. The end of the world we thought was real.

Before the curtain was pulled back, we had thought, perhaps, that things were getting better. Or, at any rate, they weren't getting worse. But that "we" was the people it wasn't happening to. "We" felt comfortable and unthreatened, but now we can see what our brothers and sisters knew all along.

It's not getting worse, it's already really bad. There are news stories all the time about yet another mass shooting, yet another unarmed black man being shot by police, yet another execrable statement by Mr. Trump, yet another scandal in the life of someone we thought we could trust. But I'm not convinced that things are getting worse. We've always had people doing shitty things to each other. In the post-internet world, what's scary is not our propensity for evil but our ability to see it happening.

Mr. Trump's anti-everyone-but-rich-white-guys screeds aren't just about him, they reveal the same thoughts in our fellow Americans that have been there all along. They reveal a deep hurt and insecurity that folks attribute to immigrants or PC culture, but the hurt is there nonetheless. A few police officers shooting unarmed black men aren't themselves horrible racists, they reveal a culture that has not valued black bodies. They reveal a world in which we have only made surface attempts at reconciliation. Mass shootings aren't just about the mental state of the shooter and his political leanings, they reveal our inability as a culture to deal with difference.

The most famous apocalypse--the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible--isn't about a literal beast or a literal whore of Babylon, it's a long metaphor for hope. It says this misery we see won't last forever. But the New Jerusalem and the wiping away of our tears doesn't happen until the world sees itself for what it is: violently self-interested. We have to experience the death of the world we thought was real--literally or spiritually--before new life can come. Maybe that death is as simple as relaxing our grip on the ideologies we hold dear, maybe it's as extreme as confessing our individual and corporate sins and looking for ways to atone.

Maybe 2016 is heralding that death before new life. Will we allow ourselves to experience it? Will we open ourselves up to hearing other peoples' stories and pain, knowing that doing so will change us? Or will we pretend that everything's fine and we've done all we can and push the revealing back another year?

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