by Jacob Blumenfeld, Brooklyn Rail
Did the world already end? Did we miss the moment of our own expiration? That seems to be the question we are collectively asking ourselves at this moment through the medium of popular culture. No longer satisfied by seeing our planet repeatedly threatened by aliens, disease, robots, nukes, or nature, we find joy in watching humanity manage the fallout of disaster instead of preventing its occurrence. No longer convinced by the theme of the unification of mankind against a universal menace, we take pleasure in watching people divide and fight each other to the death along lines of race, status, and country. To believe in the once utopian ideal of the working classes of all nations joining together to make a more perfect world signifies now more than ever that one is certifiably insane.
Is there any hope left for a future without perpetual war, economic crises, environmental catastrophes, rampant misogyny, racist violence, gross inequalities, horrendous prisons, endless work? Nothing points that way. Utopia was always a stillborn idea, pronounced dead on arrival to this world we must leave. For some, the world only gets better by including more people in the wealth of society. For others, the world only improves by investing capital in productive lines of industry. Most people, however, don’t care one way or another. The point is to survive, to manage my own exploitation as best as possible until society lets me cash out with enough money to feed myself, pay my debts, and watch my kids and grandkids fall with delight towards a much worse existence.
This is the dawning of the age of post-post-apocalypse: life not after the catastrophe has struck, but after it has settled in as a permanent condition. Whether you’re a Maze Runner or a Divergent, the collapse cannot be reversed, only partially escaped. The hot Fury Road leads to an endless desert, and revolution only brings more Hunger Games. The force has not awakened, justice has not dawned, humanity has not evolved. But a world without heroes does not mean a world without villains. Billionaire vigilantes, suicidal death squads, nihilist mercenaries, and neoliberal politicians have all taken on the role of saviors from the threat of the even-worse option. The message is clear: we are the villains we’ve been waiting for. The true enemies of the present, however, are not people but abstract structures of domination. And how do you fight an abstraction?
In our mass-mediated imaginations, the structure of civilization has already collapsed due to one of the many choose-your-own-adventure disasters occurring in slow motion all around us. Whether Syria or climate change, the prison system or Brexit, the refugee crisis or Trump—it all ends in the same way: the inability of anyone to change anything at all. Progress, if it occurs, comes by accident, luck, or automation; humans only get in the way. Collective political change appears only as a cover for individual tyranny. People are constantly changing their lives to accommodate the impossibility of changing anything at all. Cybernetic dreams of greener pastures and cosmopolitan citizenship may circulate among the diverse ruling classes of the world, but for the rest of us, there’s no way to escape the utter subjection to national borders, international law, and the global market. No cosmoproletarian heroes are here to save us. Refugees come and go in every generation, but the magnitude of the desperation at the moment is overwhelming. A world civil war beckons while history marches forward inexorably to its completion in the supersession of man. No time to be alive like the present.
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