Something strange is haunting our dreams these days.
The teenage cashier at the grocery store is conversing with a customer in front of my sister. “That’s right,” she says. “The only thing that will work now is for civilization to collapse so we can all go back to nature.”
The next day I encounter a friend at a party, a married woman in her 50’s who has just completed an advanced handgun course, has stocked a year’s worth of food and supplies in her house, and hopes to purchase a farm in a remote area of Madison County. “When everything collapses,” she had said to me earlier in the year, “I want a place for my family to feel safe.” Seeing her reminds me of a dozen other acquaintances who believe our civilization is teetering on the brink of an apocalypse, men and women ranging from tax-hating libertarians to radical environmentalists. Nor is this phenomenon restricted to the mountains in which I live: The web is rife with commentators and bloggers predicting breakdown and widespread disorder, and advocating ways of survival.
What is astounding about these visions of a postapocalyptic society is not the possibility of such an event occurring, but the positive note with which so many people entertain this idea of a collapse. Those who make such comments seem less rueful or despairing...