Editorial: Apocalypse not now

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

(Editor’s note: Fair warning. This is not a Christmas bromide or a pleasant read in any way, but don’t let it distract you from having a nice holiday.)

The whole Dec. 21, 2012 thing was made up out of whole cloth, spun up by addled mystics back in the ‘70s and drummed up by doom-peddlers hustling to make a dishonest buck from the anxiety-prone. This much should be obvious by now.

What is less obvious, especially to the anxiety-prone, Armageddon-fixated and otherwise fearful (that would be pretty much all of us at one time or another and a lot of us all the time) is that the world, our human world of 7 billion people, will indeed end. It’s ending as we speak. Ending as we wrap presents, drink up the egg nog and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the 20th time. Ending as we sleep, dream of the new year and worry about how we’re going to afford retirement. Ending as we yell at the TV when the Jets and Giants are playing, brush our teeth and rummage for the last beer in the fridge.


Yes, the apocalypse is slow-rolling its way all over the planet. It’s been subtle but relentlessly methodical, unfolding like a noxious fog on all of our lands and water. It takes a great many forms, this delayed-action catastrophe. Sometimes (tsunamis, mass shootings, “superstorms”) it lashes out with horrific quickness, only to go back to lulling us into a false sense of, if not complacency, helplessness.

At this point, there’s not much else to be said about what happened in Connecticut. Maybe, this time, there’ll be some meaningful gun control. (I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this. Guns, like slavery before it, are America’s “peculiar institution” and it’ll take a massive cultural shift, perhaps as massive as the Civil War, to break our bonds with them.) Maybe, this time, there’ll be some meaningful devotion of more resources to our mental health infrastructure, so people as sick as that kid will be detected and helped enough so it won’t come to what it came to last Friday. (I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this, either. This infrastructure upgrade would not be cheap. Social services are just too easy to cut as their recipients are just too easy for politicians to ignore.)

What I take away from the shootings is sadness — sadness for those kids, and sadness for the kids killed by wars, disease and hunger all over the world. Senseless death by violence cheapens all of our lives and threatens all of our security in ways large and small, every day. Until all of us, whether in Kingston, Newtown, Kandahar or Darfur, are safe, none of us are truly safe.

Not that we are safe anyway. Killing each other with direct acts of violence is one thing, but we continue to enable the apocalypse every day we don’t take global warming seriously. Slowly, but with terrifying sureness, the planet’s getting hotter, the weather’s getting deadlier and the seas are getting higher. Even if we get past the bestial urge to slay one another with weapons small and large, we continue to, in defiance of all reason, abuse our ecosystem and crap where we eat. It’s the greatest of macro-ironies: we’re the first species smart enough to understand and guide our own evolution, but we as a global community are not smart enough — or not able to overcome denial and short-term interests enough — to even seriously try to fix this problem. And it’s only going to get worse, as the billion people in China and India apiece start to live lives like ours, with the attendant ravenous appetites for material and energy consumption.

So, some Christmas Yet to Come, maybe 2112 or 2212 or whenever, on a storm-wracked and superheated Earth, the last member of our species, somebody’s great-great-great-grandchild, will pass away. Probably in agony and in fear, and embodying in one human’s wretched torment the pain of millennia and the refutation of hope this season is so famous for. That moment will be the end of the apocalypse which started a long time ago, is happening right now and will keep happening unless we get evolving a whole lot faster. Not with a bang, wrote T.S. Eliot, but a whimper.