|Graphic: Stanley Zimny at flickr|
In This Civilisation Is Finished1 Samuel Alexander (Simplicity Institute) suggests that “crisis might be our best hope for disrupting the status quo and initiating the transition to something else.” This prognosis is timely, given that we are on the brink (if not having already surpassed) a number of climate and other environmental tipping points.
Predictions and scenario settings for the future envisage a breakdown of environmental systems that lead inevitably to social collapse. The outcome? Apocalypse.
Yet, Alexander and his collaborator (Rupert Read from Extinction Rebellion) remain hopeful, or at least, not pessimistic.
Perhaps in a trio of words we use to describe the coming crisis lie the grounds for their sense of non-despair. This trio are the words: catastrophe, apocalypse, and collapse. The ancestry of these three words contain signposts for us to follow as we enter an uncertain future.
The words catastrophe and apocalypse both come to us from Greek. Catastrophe is made up of the word kata meaning to go down, downwards and along. The second Greek part, strephein, means to turn. Thus, catastrophe has a sense of “to turn downwards and along,” as if we are metaphorically entering a cave and following it down and into the earth.
The association with sudden disaster is only some 250 – 300 years old.
Apocalypse, also Greek, begins with the prefix apo, meaning away from, or off. The main part of the word is the Greek word kalyptein, which means to cover, conceal, or hide.
Hence, apocalypse, before it came to mean “an ending of times,” had the idea of uncovering, or revealing. Indeed, during the Middle Ages, the word apocalypse meant insight, or a vision. The association with devastation is only less than 200 years old.
The final word in our trio of words, collapse, is of Latin origin. The prefix col is a form of the prefix com which we recognise in words such as community, commonwealth, and compassion. As in these words, it means with or together. The lapse part of the word we recognise in its own right, and comes from the Latin lapsus meaning to slip, fall, slide, or sink.
So, we can re-think collapse as falling, or sliding, together.
Now, let’s put all three words together. The phrase collapse into catastrophic apocalypse can be re-framed as something that enables a way for us to proceed, although not necessarily in a comfortable manner. The phrase could mean:
“Turning our attention towards the dark, underground space where our soul resides, and sliding into that space together, deliberately, and in that dark space uncovering and revealing our true selves, and our natural relationship with the earth.”
This is not a comfortable journey. It will require radical honesty. It will require a willingness to confront our hidden demons; those aspects of our psyche (individual and collective) that we might prefer remain hidden. It will require a reappraisal of the autonomous ego. It will mean healing our fractured selves, and it will mean re-establishing our niche in nature (as opposed to our present separateness).
The journey will necessitate risking all we think we know. It will necessitate casting aide old habits, old behaviours, and old belief systems.
It will mean letting go, and stepping into the unknown, into the abyss.
Are we willing to collapse into a catastrophic apocalyptic state?
Notes:Rupert Read & Samuel Alexander, This Civilisation Is Finished: Conversations on the end of Empire – and what lies beyond, Simplicity Institute, Melbourne, 2019.