Eschatology is a word I found, the way you would find a interesting and dusty book misplaced in library shelves, in a textbook on the writings of Isaiah. It referred to Isaiah’s fixation on the way that the world would end. Eschatology, properly refers to the study of the end of times, I think it’s a convenient way for theologians to avoid discussing THE END OF THE WORLD!!! all the time.
Now it seems lay-folk are using zombies for that. Right? I can talk about my obsession with the inevitable falling apart of society without being actually crazy if I’m calling attention to how silly it all is by preparing for the ZOMBIE apocalypse instead of the wrath-of-an-angry-god-evil-government-takeover apocalypse. Why? Why do we even care?
I’m slowly developing a theory about this. I think is has to do with our perception of change. We are good at noticing when something moves, but we tune out what is standing still. We miss microscopic change and only see the dramatic. Children only grow when we are away and they only grow up fast when we compress the past into slices of “remember five years ago.” What we compress are the millions of minutes where nothing happened but everything was changing.
As part of my economics training I studied the economic history of the United States. I, like the scholars I studied, went to the data expecting to see fireworks, violent change, drastic swings in the economy, and there certainly were spikes in the indicators. Runs on banks, Black Tuesdays and depressions, but the surprise is that neither data nor anecdote deliver the precipitous calamitous change we expect to see. The great depression didn’t start or end over night. We find a pattern of where instability and change are the rule along an overarching trend, but we only remember stories of how different things were 50 years ago.
The concept is this: when we sit down and think about how things were 20 years ago - remember no cell phones, no less internet, we are amazed, but then it wasn’t that big of a deal. Sure there was hype about the first mobile phone, but it was just another new thing. Calamity and revolution are continuous and evolutionary. Remember Darwin didn’t document men exploding from the wombs of apes, he documented changes in the size of finch beaks from season to season.
Everything is changing. Everything is falling apart, and everything is ending. Always, and right now. But also not for a very long time.
I look back and remember feeling more secure about the future of the world. I remember that politicians were nice. But when we look back we don’t control for the bias of nostalgia.
We talk about how nice politicians used to be, and how unruly they are now we forget another congress so dysfunctional there was a war to settle their differences. And the media, Fox News and MSNBC may be biased, but in Lincoln’s Illinois each town had two newspapers, one Whig and one Democrat, without even the guise of impartiality.
Things are always crazy and changing and careening out of control, but we forget that even in the madness that infects our planet from end to end life keeps on getting lived. For better and for worse people keep on surviving.
An actual dusty book that’s laying next to my keyboard starts with a fantastic paragraph, the first two clauses of which have long descended into the chasm of cliche, but only so because it could have so simply have been penned today or any day, and that is precisely my point:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree only.”
I’m saying that Dickens saw what I see. Everything is in turmoil, and everything is changing, but that’s exactly how it’s always been.
And zombies have always been a problem.