Doomsday Scenarios, The Problem With History’s False Alarms

From ancient religions to contemporary ecology, dire warnings that the end of the world is upon us are not only false — they bring a damage of their own.

Prepare for the worst
Prepare for the worst
Roger-Pol Droit


PARIS â€" Oh, to finally see it all disappear! Quick, let the world vanish, behold society's imminent collapse, watch everything be wiped away!

Whether an expression of unconcealed fear or a secret desire, this dream of destruction has long had religious roots: from ancient Indians to Native Americans, from Zoroastrians to Christians and Muslims, people from cultures around the world have envisioned the end of it all.

Some of these eschatological expectations are still very much alive, and they pop up here and there; ISIS and other groups have brought millenarianisms back to the foreground. But beliefs in a catastrophic end have also evolved, taking on unfamiliar new forms. Ecology, for instance, is shaped by recurring images of a "universal" collapse, of a soon-extinct humanity.

And, dare one say, political variations on the ultimate catastrophe have been resurfacing lately. We're being told, insistently, that "the system is going to collapse, capitalism is in its last days..." Even the old myth of a universal strike has been dusted off and trotted out: everything will finally come to a grinding halt!

Of course, such phantasmagoria is laughable. A multitude of millenarian ends of the world â€" announced, foretold and prophesied in detail â€" have come and gone without anyone noticing.

In the ecological sphere, a number of catastrophic predictions have long persisted, but in fact, we haven’t run into these countless walls that were supposedly unavoidable. The general strike of anarchists and trade unionists and other new dawn fabulists has only ever existed on paper. And the latest whack-job theory, of the great economic and social earthquake that will bring the world to a standstill, is nothing but a joke. A bad one, obviously.

For in spite of everything, these ridiculous delusions are harmful. Not so much because of their practical effects, which are all more or less nonexistent, but rather because of the damage they inflict on our collective imagination. Because they prevent people from thinking about the world’s continuity, about history as it occurred over time. Because they forbid notions of endurance and duration, substituting them with a single, radical, redeeming ordeal â€" flood, hell fire, revolution, etc. â€" that destroys everything to renew everything.

The virtue of this collapse is said to lie in the way it allows a different world to emerge, whether it’s called paradise, celestial Jerusalem, communism or a sustainable planet. But the immediate action is always the violent destruction of the existing world. From fantasizing about chaos, one moves painlessly toward perpetrating vandalism, because lurking beneath the fear of seeing the world unravel is, in fact, a raging desire to do the disrupting oneself.

Albert Goodwin's 1903 painting Apocalypse

Don't get me wrong. In criticizing these myths, I am not advocating resignation. I do not support Rene Descartes's idea that we should "change one’s desires rather than the world." It would be vain to believe that what exists deserves to be preserved just because it exists, at the cost of perpetuating injustice so as not to upset the current order of things. Capitalism isn't eternal, our ways of life aren't immutable, and believing the contrary would be delusional. Doubtless both will eventually disappear just as many civilizations, social systems, and economic structures have done before. Still, this doesn't mean the world or the human race will end. Not any more than history, time or nature.

What we need to dismiss is the very idea of an ultimate disaster, be it a regenerative or an annihilative one. Indeed, these are only two sides of the same distorted notion of a climax, a final crisis, a radical destruction. Where does this idea come from? Probably from our difficulty in accepting that the world, and history, are infinite.

Still, infinite doesn't mean unalterable. We need to be able to conceive of a world with no end but in constant evolution. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that change was perpetual, the world's eternity intertwined with an endlessly fluctuating future. Nietzsche, 2,000 years later, picked up on this intuition and developed it. Both were able to stand the thought that even though everything changes, the world never collapses. They understood that even though nothing ever remains the same, you must not â€" and cannot â€" take a tabula rasa approach with the past.

Reconsidering these viewpoints would certainly spare us a great deal of unnecessary turmoil.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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