The dangers of apocalyptic discourse

Adil Rasheed
Adil Rasheed
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The state of wakeful consciousness eventually culminates into the state of sleep and dreams.

It is the unity of opposites, a premise of non-duality posited by Heraclitus, wherein the identity of a thing is not only dependent upon the existence of its opposite, but eventually merges into it.

Thus the state of the collective conscious, as manifest in 21st century politics, is predicated upon the Jungian collective unconscious — a condition brilliantly adumbrated in Christopher Nolan’s metaphorical movie Inception.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the politics of our times often throws up ideological and mythological fantasies as solutions to real life problems.

In fact, brilliant orators and wily demagogues have for ages targeted our primal fears and baser instincts, even skewed our sanctimonious beliefs, religious myths and pristine legends to sell obscure and at times diabolical dreams at the expense of our saner sensibilities.

With the coming of the Internet and social media, this rapid eye movement (REM) of the collective delirium has become even more ecstatic.

It is not surprising that the politics of our times often throws up ideological and mythological fantasies as solutions to real life problems

Dr. Adil Rasheed

One of the most potent among such intoxicants is the fear that the world is ending very soon. Many political ideologies and religious movements have exploited this fear of the apocalypse down the ages, but the frenzy reached a fever pitch with the coming of the new millennium.

The Y2K paranoia, the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 markets collapse, the ‘Arab Spring’ anarchy and the fear of ISIS are some of the cataclysmic events that have catalyzed a global hysteria of gloom and doom even among the votaries of pure science and reason.

The punditry of peak oil, the exponents of economic and environmental collapse, the agitators against AI (artificial intelligence) and fear mongers of a nuclear holocaust have pushed the Doomsday Clock close to two minutes before midnight in 2018.

Doomsday cults

In fact, politics based on apocalyptic narratives has been on the ascendant since the 19th century with the rise of Black Sun worshipping Nazism, Third Temple-fixated Zionism and even irreligious communism that prophesized a futuristic stateless commune. However, it is only in the 1990s that doomsday cults and apocalyptic politics suddenly gained much infamy.

In 1993, a US-based cult called Branch Davidians — that believed in the immediacy of Christ’s Second Coming — started challenging US state authorities. After a weapons violations standoff with the FBI lasting 51 days, the group killed several security officials and the ensuing violence caused the death of all its members at their building in Waco.

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A couple of years later, two members of the group (Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicols) bombed a federal building in Okalahoma City that claimed 168 lives — the deadliest terror attack on US soil until September 11, 2001.

Again in 1995, a Japanese death cult Aum Shinrikyo — following a hybrid of Buddhist Tibetan and Hindu beliefs — released deadly sarin gas on three lines of the Tokyo metro that killed 12 people. The group’s aim was to start a global end-time war between the US and Japan as part of their supposed invocation of the Hindu deity Shiva.

Then in 1997, all 39 members of a California-based UFO millenarian cult called ‘Heaven’s Gate’ committed mass suicide in order to “safely transport” themselves to an extra-terrestrial spacecraft so that they escape the “impending destruction” of the world.

Apocalyptic neurosis

Curiously, such end-time psychosis did not end at the turn of the century but has since risen to a new level of organized delinquency.

Evolving out of small-time cults, doomsday ideologies are today the staple of major extremist and terrorist forces like ISIS, which seem hell bent on waging an endless war to unleash the apocalypse.

In addition, we find the Ku Klux Klan rearing its ugly hood once again in the US, as Christian evangelicals increase their eschatological influence in US politics.

While neo-Nazis have started reviving their Atlantean lore of end-time Aryan ascendance across Europe, Israel has officially become a Jewish state in order to herald the coming of the promised ‘Mashiach’.

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Even Iran extracts political capital out of Shiite Mahdism by repeatedly claiming the imminent advent of the apocalyptic King.
For their part, several militant groups like ISIS are essentially overgrown doomsday militias and not conventional terrorist or insurgent groups in that they seek to trigger an Armageddon (al-Malhamal Kubra) to consecrate themselves.

Thus modern extremist groups do not follow the teachings of their own sacred texts, as much as they anticipate the coming of prophesized saviors, whom they believe would deliver political emancipation as opposed to spiritual enlightenment.

This neurosis obviously preys upon the increased sense of insecurity prevailing across all societies and nations of the 21st century. In fact, there is a need to purge the collective conscious and unconscious from the influence of dystopian fantasies.

Let us find realistic solutions to our political, social and economic problems and replace violence and fear with messages of peace and hope in our daily discourse.

Let balance be restored to Heraclitus’ unity of opposites in order to avoid the rhetoric of apocalypse from becoming a self fulfilling prophecy in a rapidly changing and unstable world.
Dr. Adil Rasheed is Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence and Strategic Analyses (IDSA) based in New Delhi since August 2016. For over 20 years, he has been a journalist, researcher, political commentator for various international think tanks and media organizations, both in the United Arab Emirates and India. He was Senior Research Fellow at the United Services Institution of India (USI) for two years from 2014 to 2016, where he still holds the honorary title of Distinguished Fellow. He has also worked at the Abu Dhabi-based think tank The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) for eight years (2006-14).

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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