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The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America Paperback – March 6, 2012
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This book is very well-written and covers an interesting topic. It was interesting to read about the background of some of the apocalyptic ideas that had been around and how it still pervades our thinking. I remember during Y2K when friends were stockpiling bottled water, making sure they had lots of cash, and doing other crazy things, so it hit a personal note there. I also like how it addressed the problems of apocalyptic thinking on the right and left side of the political spectrum, and how both sides do damage to actually solving real problems. I admit to being more of an environmentalist, so it was good to have some of my own ideas challenged.
In the last part of the book, I think there is a problem with the ideas that are presented. They talk about the problem of apocalyptic thinking and how it is causing us to ignore the longer-term problems we have to face, due to resource depletion and our dependence on fossil fuels. I agree with the general ideas they are talking about, but they need to talk to someone about how to frame ideas if they are going to win people over to their side. They state that we'll have to accept the idea of a world in decline, and the problem is that even based on the material in their own book, it is clear that no one is going to accept this sort of argument. It just won't work with human psychology, so we need an alternative. I think we need to re-frame this issue in a way that people can accept and get behind. The best way to do it is to think about how to define your argument - we need to re-define what is desirable so that we don't depend on resources that are running out and try to convince people that is the way to go. With a society that is focused on consumerism it's going to be hard to do. I'm not sure how to convince people they don't need a new phone every six months, but if we want to start to change people's short-term thinking, we're going to need to win them over to our way of thinking...I'm not sure how to do it, but talking about accepting the decline of society doesn't seem like a winning option.
I think this book is a good contribution to the debate we should be having. Unfortunately, I really don't see that happening politically or socially, but I hope I am just being pessimistic.
The problems of global warming and resource management threaten to flank the world into an unenviable situation; however, if the end of man does come it will likely arrive with a whimper, not a bang. For, we have proven over and over again our proclivity to "fiddle while Rome burns." Gross and Gilles have given us a sober wakeup call, but it is not a warning born of distempered dystopian fear; it is merely a call to justice, equity, reason, and common sense. We can still choose our "fate," as Jared Diamond has said in another book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested not only in history but in setting a new course for human history.
Jeffery L. Irvin Jr.
Author of "This Is the End: The Coming Apocalypse, the Culture of Fear, and the Fate of American Society"
In the end, The Last Myth may change the way you think about your place in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps more importantly, it will steel you for the times to come, and equip you for the times you are living in right now. Supervolcanoes, asteroids and pandemics are the laughably improbable bogeymen for a decline that's already taking place. Peak oil, economic collapse, global warming and income inequality factor high on the authors' TEOTWAWKI list for good reason. Unlike far-flung extinction level events that we can do very little about except grin and bear, the scientific community is lined up to support the authors' assertions. American collapse is simply the other side of the hard-fought bell curve that the baby boomers giddily bounced on top of when they got back from the war. Now far beyond driven into the red, the authors point to chunks of the American Dream as they crumble off, and warn us of the next pieces to fracture, only this time perhaps more violently. All the while, a pragmatic optimism persists, and the authors are strictly professional when it comes to the presentation of the facts.
You'd have to be living under a rock to not see the changes taking place, and yet this is the very argument put forward. Our rock is our cultural identity, which we cling desperately to during the onset of what feels like the end to us. Behind the magnetic pole shifts and solar flares, we are not only hiding from our own inevitable death -- we're coping with the tenuous nature of being alive. What is the value of one's life's work if there is no future for it (or in it)? Gross and Gilles smack the existentialism out of the reader's head to get to the facts: the time to do something is now. Not because the whole world is going to end, but because the illusion of infinite prosperity via technology is giving way to the reality of a finite natural world.
As I set the book down after voraciously tearing through to its humble but enthralling conclusion, I couldn't help but think of how future generations would regard mine. After reading The Last Myth, I think history will split us into three groups: those who started the fire, those who threw fuel on it, and those who knew well enough to stay far away from the spreading conflagration. Up until now, we Americans were free to belong to all three groups. But with every passing day, that's changing. The groups are getting more polarized. Eventually the fire will consume most of those dancing around it. History is written by the survivors.