While watching the protests and demonstrations across the USA (and elsewhere) in the last month triggered by the brutal murder of a black citizen by four white policemen, I’ve been engrossed in a rather curious tract by an Irish writer called Mark O’Connell, who has compiled some Notes on an Apocalypse (Granta, 2020). I’m not sure that it is a book I would recommend, although O’Connell succeeds admirably in describing a series of locations to be explored by those interested in the end of the world: bunkers in remote South Dakota, a convention of prospective colonizers of Mars, luxury hideaways in New Zealand, a wilderness retreat in the Scottish Highlands, etc. He also takes a friend on a tour of The Zone, the sealed off and abandoned towns and villages around the radioactive ruins of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that melted down in Ukraine in 1986.
Along the road, while reflecting on civilisation and its discontents (or the multiple fears disrupting the anthropocene era), O’Connell observes societies ”under pressure.” Perhaps his most damming remarks concern America:
Nobody is going to make America great again. Nobody even seriously imagines it to be a possibility. America might it is true eventually stop outsourcing its manufacturing to China, but if those jobs are ever brought back home they will return in the form of automated labour. Robots and algorithms will not make America great again – unless by America you mean billionaires and by great, you mean even richer. Trump is only the most visible symptom of a disease that has long been sickening the country’s blood – a rapidly metastasizing tumour of inequality, hyper-militarism, racism, surveillance and fear that we might as well go ahead and diagnose as terminal-stage capitalism.
I guess these words were scribbled sometime in 2019 with a prophetic choice of metaphors… Interestingly, “black lives matter” and related protest movements have rapidly taken shape in the streets of towns and cities across the whole planet, not just in the USA. Let’s hope that the people’s movements will come together around renewed community dynamics, better education, responsible law enforcement, etc. Somehow the degrading ugliness and pain of racism and violence permeating our societies need to end.