Doomsayers Be Damned, How Our Messy World Always Avoids The Abyss

A feeling has spread through the popular consciousness: The collapse is near, we're living on the edge of implosion. But there is another way to look at our complicated world.

Holding on in Prague, Czech Republic.
Holding on in Prague, Czech Republic.
Roger-Pol Droit

PARIS — Who hasn't heard somone say, "It's all about to blow up …"? This recurring prophecy refers to pretty much everything: "the system," politics, public institutions, the European Union, world peace, the climate, our planet. And of course, in the end, everything carries on.

Sure, incidents erupt, tensions rise. And yet, the whole thing seems to hold together and continues to function, despite this vague but persistent gut feeling each of us has that our lives could tumble into true chaos, in the short-to-medium term.

Especially given that the number of ills keeps growing longer: terror attacks, growing insecurity, high social tensions, lasting economic stagnation, high unemployment, random acts of violence, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia on the rise, the cyberwar in motion …

These evils are of course hardly limited to France. They can be found, albeit under different forms, across Europe and the world. A dominant representation has settled in: the collapse is near. You can hear it all the time; we're living "on the edge of implosion."

Not explosion, which would imply that an internal energy expands outwards, projecting shards. An implosion, on the contrary, suggests inward deflagrations, collapse. The meaning is simple enough: We're not going to be smashed into pieces by exterior forces, but rather disintegrate because of our inner dysfunctions.

The economy is skidding and stalling, the digitalized/hacked society is bound to paralyze us, hatreds revive and clash in a vacuum, the climate is disrupted because of our bad behavior. In other words, the rot has set in. And it's growing, until … until what exactly?

The announced apocalypse isn't happening. We're "on the edge," and we stay there. This edge even seems solid enough to last. So what is this edge made of? Of real life. Our daily lives are based on concrete actions, ongoing work, positive routines. Projects are executed, creations are born. Inventions, exchanges, mutations continue. This world isn't imploding, even if it's indeed becoming painful or unfair for many of us.

We need to clearly distinguish this real edge — where society works, and nature too, despite what some say — from the illusions of disorganization, imminent chaos, that are worming their way into our minds. We're living on the edge without falling off, but this edge exists in the first place because we imagine that we will fall.

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Photo: Martin Fisch

Imagining an alternative

Insidious and constant fear is now part of our existence. We move forward fearing a fall that's already been announced, even if we're still incapable of explaining what would cause this implosion, what exactly it will affect, and just when it will take place.

Of course, there's no shortage of real causes for concern! From ISIS to the melting of glaciers and ice caps, from peoples isolating themselves in conclaves to the everyday barbarism, not to mention the atony of political life and the boredom of our citizenry.

The list of our legitimate worries is very real indeed. Sadly, we lack a counterweight to the catastrophist prophecies that risk becoming self-fulfilling. And yet, it's not necessarily naive, nor illusory or foolish to imagine that the dark times we're living in could end in something entirely different from an implosion.

Defeating ISIS is militarily feasible. Reorganizing work is, economically speaking, conceivable. Driving back hatred, intolerance and fanaticism is spiritually possible. Curbing climate change is technically within our means. And so on and so forth.

Nobody can say that these victories will be easy. We must find the force to imagine them, desire them and give ourselves the means to carry it out. Instead of nurturing the idea that the worst is waiting for us and will inevitably defeat us, we would be better off trying to resist it.

This is something different than the old choice of pessimism vs. optimism. The question here is not whether we should look at the world with rose- or black-tinted glasses. It's about seeing that reality has many shades and colors. Tensions, conflicts, hardships and opportunities are always part of this reality. But it has no edge, and it isn't bound to implode.

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