Cartoon by Stephane Peray

Why we have apocalypse on our mind

News Australia: Rich kids are bugging out. Entrepreneurs want to escape to Mars. Celebrities are building luxury bomb shelters. Is the end of the world truly nigh?

According to sociologists, it may as well be.

Western society is slipping into despair.

Where once people were filled with hope for a bright, prosperous, technologically advanced future — there’s now an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and fatalism.

Apocalypses are nothing new. People have been predicting them for millennia.

What is new, according to Vice President of The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Dr Alphia Possamai-Inesedy, is that we feel we can do very little about them.

And that’s getting to us.

The Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation may no longer be at the forefront of our minds. It’s still there. But joining it are fears of climate change and pollution, asteroids and superbugs. And then there’s job security, health, accommodation and the uncertain future of our children.

“Our world is changing,” she says. “Our environment is warming up, the economy feels precarious. There are so many things making us feel less certain about our future.

“Envisaging an apocalypse is how we express our fears about change and uncertainty”.

Now, such fears are no longer just the domain of the marginalised.

Billionaires are recognising that they are not immune to these new types of risk. Worse, they are realising they can only buy their way out of trouble up to a point.

So they’re building bolt-holes in New Zealand. They’re digging immense luxury underground shelters. They’re even paving their way to different planets!

What’s with this all-pervasive apocalyptic vision of the future?

Why are even the mega-rich intent on preparing an escape?
A disturbing, desolate scene from The Last Man on Earth (1964). Views about the end of the world then was very different to that we have now.

A disturbing, desolate scene from The Last Man on Earth (1964). Views about the end of the world then was very different to that we have now.Source:Supplied
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Apocalypse obsessions are not just a fundamentalist Christian problem. It’s spread to all elements of society, with the popularity of zombies, killer asteroids and mutant viruses being the most obvious symptom.

Underlying it all, says Dr Possamai-Inesedy, is a growing sense of helplessness.

We’re surrounded by risks. And we have no control over them.

The threats we face in the modern world are utterly different from those perceived in previous time periods.

“Risks and hazards used to be seen as fate or Fortuna — from the hand of God(s),” she says. “Today they are recognised as human created”.

But our ancestors also knew they had to prepare for winter: it could be extended and cold. They knew not to venture too far into the jungle, lest a leopard drops on them from among the trees.

Now, human risks are no longer limited by time and space, or solely defined by religion.

“We used to be able to sense risk. Now many are invisible,” Dr Possamai-Inesedy says.

“Chernobyl is an example — we’re still feeling the effects of its radioactive fallout. And climate change is unfolding over the course of decades, so we can’t see its incremental steps”.

And to extreme heat, radiation poisoning or plague, wealth is no barrier.

“Risk today I think has been democratised,” she says. “The wealthy have realised they’re not immune”.

While they can use their immense cash reserves to safeguard themselves and their families somewhat, “they know they still can’t be completely safe,” she says.

It’s not just a new concept to the rich.

It’s something we’re all having to come to grips with >>>