Monday, October 6, 2008

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Dow Jones Drops Below 10000 Mark

Yeah, not a movie or a song or a TV show but a "current event", as we used to style them in school.

Today I want to talk about a missing link in most apocalyptic scenarios, and that's economics. Why does the world end? In modern movies, it's usually a disease. I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, and so on--if you allow for mysterious zombie-creating radiation being a disease. In the '80s, it was usually war, preferably nuclear (though were there nukes in Red Dawn?). In the '70s, it was almost always an ecological disaster, usually a poorly defined one, though with the occasional astronomoical phenomenon like a meteor strike or meteor shower. Go back to the '50s and if it wasn't nuclear war it was alien invasion or giant monsters.

But what actually ends the world?

I've written before about civilization and energy. I argued that conservation for the sake of conservation is antithetical to civilization, which always finds ways to use surplus energy. But I was speaking there in physical terms.

What is money? Money is civilization's embodiment of energy. It's not the only one: As I wrote previously, slavery can be an embodiment of energy, too. But slavery is like barter: the overheads of maintaining a significant slavery population are far greater than simply rewarding people for their work.

I read something lately by--I think it was a milblogger--who was saying that civilization ends when we become convinced that we can't build it back up again after the latest attack or catastrophe.

I would add that we can also become convinced that it's not worth it. The USSR's own apocalypse was based on that. "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work" went the saying.

When Will Durant says that a great civilization is destroyed from within before it is destroyed from without, what do you suppose that means?

Insty linked this book (Liberation) yesterday, which might be fun--and then again might not be, if it hits too close to home.

I'm not suggesting, by the way, that this is the end of the world. Only that "Watch the skies!" might be a less useful admonition than "Watch your wallet!"


  1. Zappa said:

    "...I've also talked about the End of the World being a question of whether it's going to be by fire, ice, paperwork, or nostalgia. And there's a good chance that it's going to be nostalgia because the distance between the event and the nostalgia for the even has gotten shorter and shorter and shorter with each nostalgia cycle. So, projecting into the future, you could get to a point where you would take a step and be so nostalgic for that point where you would take a step and be so nostalgic for that step you just took that you would literally freeze in your tracks to experience the nostalgize of the last step, or the last word, or your last whatever. The world just comes to a halt - remembering."

    (pulled from this 1988 interview)

    You might find this bit from the same interview interesting (and prescient):

    "I don't know whether anybody truly wants to be interested in a campaign for two years, and I think that's one of the reasons why they run them for two years. Because they want to numb the electorate. They want to keep the voter turn-out low. If you keep the voter turn-out low, then you realize that the only people who have managed to stay interested long enough have to be weird. The average guy, who just wants to exercise his democratic right to vote, he's so turned off by the whole thing. He's seen these guys over and over, he's heard the lies, he's looked at it and just gone "Yuck!" And now it's not a privilege to vote. It's a horrible obligation and they don't even want to know about it. And especially when you tell them that the election's already over, then why should they bother? Why should they leave their job or go, especially on the East Coast when it's cold, to someplace in November to pull a handle or poke a hole in a piece of paper? Who cares? The election's over. They want you to believe that."

  2. Zappa was smart and meta- to boot.

    I remember that interview. But the nostalgia thing hasn't really come to pass, i.e., if it were true we'd be getting nostalgic for 2005 about now.

    (As opposed to nostalgic for anything--anything at all!)


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