A Convergence of Catastrophes

The catastrophic “imaginary” (as the postmodernists might say) is alive and well.  Haunted by the falling Twin Towers, we imagine still more horrific scenarios to come: dirty bombs, perhaps, reducing our cities to rubble and befouling the air of the countryside with invisible clouds of lethal radiation; or dust bowls spreading like New World saharas across the fruited plain, withering crops on the vine as the polar caps melt and Long Island becomes a watery grave.  Such catastrophic conjuring has, of course, been a cash cow for the purveyors of Hollywood B-movie sci-fi since the 1950’s.  Our sociologists reassure us that we flock to such entertainments because of the anxieties generated by modernity—the accelerating process of change, our increasing dependence upon vast and faceless bureaucratic systems of control, our heightened sense of vulnerability as our social networks become ever-more virtual.  But never fear, they insist; these anxieties are perfectly normal.  Indeed, we appear to be developing neural capacities heretofore unknown to the human race, coping mechanisms that will ensure our evolutionary fitness for survival in the challenging age to come when we will, no doubt, begin the Great Migration into what we quaintly call “outer space.”

Well, I, for one, am not reassured.  After all, those images of mushroom clouds rising over Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t trick photography. ...

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