Friday, September 27, 2019

Apocalyptic Dreams

Sacchi Green

I’ve been procrastinating. It’s hard for me to write casually about a theme of apocalypse. The concept of an ecological climate apocalypse is all too real, too threatening. Societal or political apocalypse is certainly threatening, too, but doesn’t come close to inspiring the same dread.

However, I’ve come across some political/societal information interesting enough to divert me, for a while, from climate change paranoia. A paper by researchers from Denmark's Aarhus University and Temple University has the intriguing title of “A 'Need for Chaos and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies.” They acknowledged the influence of the power of the internet, but went further, conducting six surveys with a 6000-person sample, four in the US and two in Denmark. Among many other true-or-false questions, they asked things like “Do you agree or disagree” with statements along these lines:

“I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over”
“I think society should be burned to the ground”
“Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things”
“There is no right and wrong in the world”
“We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

 24% agreed with the fantasizing about a natural disaster, and 40% agreed with letting all political and social institutions “burn to the ground.” This reminds me of how some people (such as actress Susan Sarandon) were advocating letting Trump win so that things would get so bad that society would revolt, tear everything down, and start over, presumably in some way that they would approve of.

The article I read, from the NY Times, didn’t elaborate on how those 6000 responders were chosen, but it’s stated that the researchers’ interest was mainly in exploring what they termed “A Need for Chaos” as it related to spreading false political rumors on the internet, and they mention such groups as “4-Chan” and "Q-Anon" generally perceived to appeal mostly to young, angry white men.

The researchers say that “this study provides insights into the kinds of thoughts and behaviors that people are motivated to entertain when they sit alone (and lonely) in front of the computer, answering surveys or surfing social media platforms.” They add that they don’t think, from their research, that these people have any real intention of acting on those fantasies beyond stirring whatever pot of chaos they can find or create online. My own take is that a need for chaos is closely related to a need for recognition, for doing something, anything, that makes a difference, and provides entry into a community of like-minded disaffected people who have no other way to feel that they have any power over anything. A need for power is even more widespread than the need for chaos, but online chaos is more easily obtainable. Part of the fantasy is that in a post-apocalyptic world someone might have the power and status and libertarian freedom that they have none of now, without much thought as to how they would be able to merely survive. Or, as with so many YA books centered in dystopic futures, that they could be like the heroic resisters in, say, The Hunger Games. Full disclosure: I loved both the books and the movies.    

The way our world looks now, it’s not hard to have a certain amount of sympathy with the urge to “tear everything down and start over.” As someone far from young, though, I can’t help envisioning the results of all the upheaval, conflict, suffering, and, well, chaos that would result, with very little likelihood that even if some degree of order was eventually achieved, it would be any better than what was destroyed. A “burned down” society would be unlikely to be able to maintain infrastructure or the kinds of technology we take for granted, at least not for many years, if ever. Where did the guys in the Mad Max movies get the fuel to be careening around in toggled-together vehicles, and what would they do when those relics of another time finally gave out for good? Yes, science fiction novels and movies find fictional work-arounds for these problems, but non-fictional solutions would be slow at best, and by no means sure. Then there’s the matter of communication. And food transported for any distance. And widespread electricity in general. No TV, no Internet, no power for video games. And really, is there any great chance that the hot babes who currently shun the self-identified Incels would turn to them, unless these men have skills in hunting, farming, and other survival necessities?

Face it, guys, in a burned-down world, skills for creating chaos, via the online spreading of nasty political memes and conspiracy theories and far-fetched “facts” you know to be false, are not going to be in high demand. And an apocalypse is not going to be a YouTube flick with you for a star.

Okay. Rant over. I did warn you that I have trouble with an apocalyptic theme.

On a completely off-topic note, for several weeks now Blogger has not been letting me post comments on any of your posts. It does let me do new posts, though. No idea why. Maybe I should be kinder to some of those chaos-promoters who know their was around computers and the internet than I do. I have no hot babe credentials, though, Do you think my butterscotch chocolate pinwheel cookies might do? (Just a joke--my professional computer expert son may be able to advise me when we get together over the Columbus Day weekend. I'll bring him my pumpkin bread, his favorite.)        


1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post, Sacchi. I'd like to know more about the surveyed population, though. Without some statistics, attributing these attitudes to 4-Chan type of folks seems like an unjustified assumption.

    When people are frustrated, they're more likely to fantasize about extremes. And certainly, many of us are frustrated these days -- though for varying reasons.

    Sometimes I do think back wistfully to the days when I didn't carry a mobile phone with me everwhere... when I'd go off on a trip (as I am about to do right now) without concerns about checking my email every day.

    Simpler times. We remember. But of course we're gradually vanishing...


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