Let’s be honest. Those of us who have written apocalyptic fiction, which is inevitably predicated on the end of civilisation and possibly a little more, are not really attempting to predict the future.
In my case, I really do hope that human civilisation doesn’t end in nuclear conflagration after years of unravelling as a result of the pressures of environmental degradation and an ever more unstable, polluted and unequal society as predicted in my novel, No Future. In fact, I would rather prefer it didn’t end at all and continued into the indefinite future untroubled by nuclear war, ecological catastrophe or any other kind of endgame.
However, there is a long tradition of belief in a kind of anticipation of the end of the world. It’s predicted in Revelations, it’s predicated in the Norse myth of Armageddon, and there are countless accounts of a catastrophic and violent end in many sub-sects of established religion, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Salafists (which probably have more in common than in opposition). But it is so very deep in our psyche that the notion of a day of reckoning, judgement day or the apocalypse occurs again and again in cultures that couldn’t possibly have been influenced by one another (like the Mayan death cult and the many references in the ascribed words of Christ) or believe themselves to be diametrically opposed to one another (like New Atheists and Fundamentalist Christians).
The interesting question is whether, given our rather greater understanding of the world through science and open debate, we do have genuine knowledge as to the imminent end of the world. Those like George Monbiot and James Lovelock might assert that we do and it’s not looking good.
My own stated opinions are much closer to these gentlemen (and others like Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky) who have a combative attitude towards the kind of society we live in and a generally pessimistic view of where it will go. But we mustn’t forget that there are many religious fundamentalists and reactionaries (including Anders Breivik, Adolf Hitler and Glenn Beck) who have peculiar views about the end of times which have nothing whatsoever to do with fear of environmental catastrophe, war or overreaching capitalism.
What is the evidence of impending doom?
Well, it’s not at all clear what will happen. Annihilation through nuclear war, despite Putin’s best efforts, no longer seems as likely as it once did. The standard of living across the globe has actually improved: the billion on starvation levels of income are now a smaller proportion of the global population. In fact, while the West continues to decline in relative terms the standard of living in India, China, South America and even in most of Africa has actually continued to rise (if admittedly from a very low base). The conflict between the interests of invested power in any nation state and of the subject population remains in the same kind of impasse as it always has, but, reassuringly, only a minority of the wealthy and powerful are openly intent on crushing the poor as a deliberate policy as opposed to believing it to be unfortunate collateral damage. There is evidence that the general tendency of history is towards a more understanding and caring world as Stephen Pinker and Jared Diamond have argued (to the delight of many on the right and the relief of many on the left).
But environmental crisis is real and accelerating (as a scan of any reputable Science website soon confirms), there is a real risk to our liberties and welfare through the growth of computer technology (as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have demonstrated), the modern practices of capitalism are both dangerously unstable and monstrously unfair (as shown by the recent crises in the world economies and the published works of the most reputable economists) and there are many other real (as opposed to fanciful) threats to the welfare of every one on this planet.
So, where are we?
Personally, although I am inclined towards believing in a kind of apocalyptic millenarianism the truth is that I hope nothing of the sort happens and I also hope (as most Brits constitutionally do) that we will somehow muddle through. Recent historical evidence over the last few centuries seems to suggest we will, but a longer view, taking in the total collapse of countless civilisations in the short period that such a thing has existed, suggests that it might be a much more touch-and-go affair.
But the truth is that my faith in humanity (and perhaps a kind of wilful Panglossian view of the world) makes me rather hope that things will work out for the best.