Hansel & Gretel and the Breadcrumbs of the ApocalypseAnja van Kralingen
There is great disorder under heaven, the situation is excellent. (Mao Zedong, as quoted in Living in the End Times, Slavoj ‘izek)
Nothing is ever lost, not even the blood pact with the devil. (C. G. Jung, CW 9.1)
This post takes a closer look at the ‘apocalyptic’ era that we are living in. It is a follow on and amplification of the apocalyptic theme first raised in my last post These are Strange Days.
My intention is to better articulate the myth of our time, specifically that we are on the precipice of global disaster, and to ask the question: is there hidden in this apocalyptic era the latent potential for a new prosperity?
Hansel and Gretel is a story well suited to our purpose and we will use its narrative structure to consider these questions.
A kind old farmer and his two children
We start our story with the following premise. As in the fairytale we assume a time existed prior to the current dilemma. A time where the current questions of meaning, purpose and what the future may hold, did not trouble us as they do today. A time when things were, more or less, right with the world.
A time when we were not terrified at the prospect of the world our children will inherit. A time when it seemed as though we existed in a state of sublime grace, where time seemed somehow an artificial imposition of man upon a cosmic stillness that held our world in its secure and unchanging grip.
Rather than what time has become today a desperate race against the inexorable ticking of an atomic clock. That sees us move closer to a critical stage, even as we desperately seek to find a handhold on to something we can count on something which won’t change, which won’t erode, which won’t die.
Did such a utopian time ever exist we might ask ourselves? Or is it simply the nature of a generation facing disaster to posit such a reality, a hope in the past where little hope exists in the future?
Ultimately it doesn’t matter, what matters is that we are capable of hope and the belief in a utopian ideal where we can live in (relative) peace and with faith that our lives mean something and the future is secure.
It is a natural human trait to think back on the good old times or a golden age Even if maybe we are using creative memory. Still it’s hard not to look with a sense of nostalgia on the swinging sixties, bell-bottom seventies and consumerist eighties.
That hedonistic time of free love, LSD and rock and roll, the time of Elvis, Simon & Garfunkel and a Bridge over Troubled Waters, short skirts and big hair, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, The Beat Poets, The Age of Aquarius , of Vietnam and President Nixon, of Apollo 11 and the First Moon Landing , of the Vietnam War, of Jim Morrison, of the Beatles and VW Beatle;
the Me Decade, Feminism, the African American Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King , Muhammad Ali, Fleetwood Mac, The Carpenters, Steely Dan, Queen, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and The Dark Side of the Moon , and the birth of Disco baby , Bruce Lee , The Godfather, Jaws, Saturday Night Fever , Rocky and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;
Ronald Reagan, the end of the South African Border War, hurricanes Allan, Alicia, Gilbert, Joan and Hugo, arcade games, the birth of MTV, Michael Jackson, and techno music, Madonna , Chariots of Fire , Out of Africa, Rainman, The Last Emperor, Star Wars, Back to the Future, top Gun and The Breakfast Club.
Enter the Evil Stepmother
By the nineties things started to change. We started paying for the materialistic excesses of the previous three decades. The forbidding prospect of a new millennium loomed. Somewhere and somehow a sense of dread started to eclipse that of hope.
Although the 20th century was admittedly a troubled time and saw excesses of violence on a previously unimaginable scale; including the birth of a true doomsday weapon in the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Nevertheless the last fifty years of the century, along with localised conflicts, saw a time of prosperity, of growth, of technology and of real belief in the future.
It was for much of the time the Cold War. But for those of us in the West not overly given to paranoia, the Cold War was something we could deal with. It was in some sense a necessary evil. For in Lacanian terms it kept the obscene other suitably removed from our own community.
Unlike today where the obscene other lives in our midst and where the line of differentiation between ourselves and the other is becoming increasingly blurred. Where our greatest anxiety of being consumed by the obscene other has gone from nightmarish fantasy into de facto reality. Analogous to the fear of the children in fable of being consumed by the wicked witch, the doppelganger of the evil stepmother.
But as the new millennium approached a sense of uncertainty about the future became increasingly evident in our collective spirit. This was expressed to some extent in the massively inflated fear (driven no doubt by Machiavellian IT executives ), in the so called millennium bug. The fear that we would suffer a massive melt down of computerised intelligence systems at the turn of the clock from 1999 to 2000.
On a personal note a relative of mine actually predicted the apocalypse as occurring at the turn of the millennium. Jonathon, deep dyed in the baptismal font, was influenced by a catholic mystic who was doing the rounds at the time by the name of Vasula.
Although Jonathon was embarrassed when his quite explicit predictions were not realised, maybe his intuitions were not entirely without merit, but rather only a little hasty and somewhat too literal.
The Trail of Breadcrumbs
In the fairytale, as we know, firstly Hansel and Gretel manage to outwit their evil stepmother and horribly apathetic father by leaving a trail of shiny stones which they follow home by the light of the moon. It is only after their second eviction and Hansel having to resort to breadcrumbs (which are eaten) that the truly lose their way.
Not to be too literal, I will limit by use of the fairytale to one set of signifiers by which we might identify our current location. I trust you will forgive my loose and somewhat expedient changes to the strict narrative structure of the original story .
Before we get to the markers along the path though, I want to draw an analogy with our final and successful eviction from our prior home.
This happened at 9.03am, (US Eastern Seaboard), on the 11th of September 2001. The fateful day which will forever remain etched on the memories of those who witnessed it. The day of the attack and destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City.
It was a day which not only was historical in and of itself and which gave rise to the idea of witnessing an apocalypse, but more significantly it was a day which rendered a profound trauma on the global psyche, even I would suggest on the anti-Americans. It was a day which changed everything in a way in which surely exceeded the greatest expectations of its perpetrators.
The world we live in today exists in the shadow of those events and day and the subsequent reaction of the American Administration to the attack.
So significant do I believe that event to have been I am going to suggest, if only for the purpose of our narrative, that the apocalypse started on that fateful day. 9:11 was the first great tear in the fabric of the world as we previously knew it. On that day what shook us all to the core was not only the events, which were admittedly shocking in and of themselves, but the fact that we were witnessing a death of everything we knew and, mistakenly, assumed unassailable.
Possibly what occurred was inevitable and symptomatic of the critical point we had reached as a global community rather than the cause. Nevertheless it marked a point in history from which there was and is no return.
Then to the breadcrumbs on the path
It is estimated, and I get this from a reliable source, that the US will have spent 3 trillion dollars on the, latest, invasion of Iraqi before their final and inevitable withdrawal. The majority of this money was borrowed. The US national deficit is at catastrophic proportions.
The global economy crashed in 2008 and we are experiencing the worst financial recession since the great depression of the 1930’s.
Many EU countries including Ireland, Greece, Iceland and Portugal are effectively on the verge of economic collapse.
Global warming continues largely unchecked as does the depletion of our limited supply of fossil fuels. This despite the most urgent warnings from ecologists about the irreversible damage to the planet.
Never has the threat of an act of nuclear terrorism been greater than today. Nuclear technology is proliferated throughout much of the world.
Islamic militant fundamentalism is surely stronger and more entrenched today than it was before 9:11. The acts of aggression by both the USA and the UK in the region and the continued aggression of Israel have continued unchecked and been vastly escalated since 9:11.
The problem is terrorism cannot be countered in this traditional way and if anything the anti-west hatred must be vastly increased.
A single act of terror in 9:11 changed the world’s political and economic climate. Imagine the possibility, a very real possibility, of an act of terror ten times greater than 9:11, one that sees the death of tens or hundreds of thousands of, a truly shocking act.
What do you suppose the global fallout of that would be? And do you imagine for a moment that there are not fanatical groups actively planning just such an attack?
The very nature of what we call real is changing, rapidly changing with the exponential growth in technology. Areas such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and advanced bioengineering are no longer science fiction they are occurring before our eyes. The technological advancements just in the last thirty years far exceed anything we seriously could have imagined.
What are the implications of this for us and our children? We seriously don’t know, except that everything is changing and that the life we knew prior to this change will die as surely as the romantic world before the industrial revolution died. What we can say with some certainty is that barring a massive catastrophe we are bound to find out, and it will exceed anything we can currently imagine it will be like.
What I have shared so far is simply the indisputable, empirical facts of our material world today. Going a bit further let’s examine the world spirit, the anima mundi: /p>
The Mayan calendar ends on the 21st of December 2012. This date has become significant for Mayanism, a Not so New Age movement, as a date at which a significant shift in human consciousness will occur. With the Not so New Age and other popular commentators there are differing opinions and interpretations which can be a little confusingJ. Nevertheless most of it seems to be indicating a shift in human consciousness, explained through different causal phenomenon.
Carl Gustav Jung, one of the most insightful intellectuals of the 20th century, predicted just before he died that fifty years from his death the world would face catastrophic changes. Changes of an apocalyptic nature. Jung died in 1961.
The Lacanian philosopher, Professor Slavoj Zizek, recently published a book Living in the End Times wherein he addresses what he believes is the critical global situation, a situation he firmly believes is not sustainable.
The last ten years has seen an unequalled number of apocalyptic movies and TV shows, usually a good indication of the collective zeitgeist. Too numerous to list but some of the more notable include: The Road, I am Legend, 2012, Jericho, Survivors, The Stand, The City of Ember, Armageddon, Blindness, War of the Worlds, Deep Impact, The Day if the Triffids, The Matrix, The Book of Eli, The Terminator, 12 Monkeys, The Children of Men, Quite a bit of Japanese Manga addresses an apocalyptic theme and last but not least the TV series Heroes, to name a few.
A house Built of Cake and an Old Witch Who Wants to Eat Us
Here, in the fairy tale, is where I would locate us. We have lost our way and been led into a house made of cake and many other wonderful sweets, by an ugly old witch who is really fattening us up for a feast. And a feast that, as we know, has us for the main course.
I remember that as a kid when I first read Hansel and Gretel the house made of cake and sweets was by far the most numinous image for me. More so than the evil witch, I was truly fascinated by the house. If you knew me personally you would know how funny that is, I have what may be euphemistically called a hedonistic temperament .
I think the metaphors of the House of Cake and the Evil Witch are in a sense self evident and possibly require very little amplification. The house is what lured us in our excessive materialism, greed and our ambition for a material utopia filled with nice things to eat and no vegetables.
Today our ideal is excessively one sided, instant gratification with zero purchase price.
The Evil Witch is the hidden source of our desires and the goal to which they lead. We have become consumed with appearances with little care for the abiding spirit from which they emerge. I think that this is what Slavoj Zizek would posit as the spiritual basis of capitalism, we are happy to be profitable through the exploitation of others.
Unlike my father, Carl Marx and Slavoj Zizek, I am not at heart a communist. Nevertheless as we learn from Jung, capitalism, like any conscious orientation, requires an unconscious compensation or balance. And possibly we have exaggerated the position to such a degree that it is now becoming a caricature.
I think the following is a rather good description of the problem:
Post enlightenment philosophical dilemmas related to the development of capitalism in the West: Industrialism, exploitation of natural resources, rapid scientific progress, the class struggle and the supremacy of capitalist individualism and instrumental rationality. (Bassil-Morozow, Helena, (2010), The Monster and the Crowd, a Post-Jungian Perspective)
I would say the above is a fairly accurate description of not only capitalism, but the modern commercial, industrialised world. It is a reality underpinning our current way of life, and if you consider its continued exaggeration it is hardly surprising that it would lead us into critical state. It hardly strikes one as a sustainable system.
The Way Home
First of all, and perhaps most importantly, Zizek makes the following point: there is no point of return. I fully agree with this. We simply cannot back to an earlier state of existence, the desire to do so whilst understandable is based on an illusion.
Our father’s house at it existed prior to our rude eviction by the Evil Stepmother no longer exists. That return is truly the sole domain of fairytales.
Our only option is to go forward and face whatever it is we are obliged to face as a result of the legacy of our, and our ancestors, actions.
I began this post with a quote from Mao Zedong: there is great disorder under heaven the situation is excellent.
The duality of life teaches us that with every crisis opportunity arises as well. Sometimes necessity is what is needed to guide us into finding better solutions, to stop regurgitating the same old bullshit. We are by nature complacent, but complacency is not an option when everything we know is crumbling around us. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say our very survival depends on finding better solutions to yesterday’s problems. Because yesterdays solutions just aren’t working anymore.
What does this have to do with me personally you might ask? What on earth can I do in the face of such monumental issues? As the veraaier said in reply to my last post dealing with these issues, ‘ I think, What can I do? What will be, will be. All I have energy for is getting through next week.’ (Or words to that effect.)
On the contrary I would say it is only you who can do something, God knows the politicians will not only not solve these problems but chances are will only make things worse.
These are serious times my friend, I urge you to sit up and take action.
What should you do, what can any of us do?
I’m not sure I’m afraid, but I’ll tell you what I believe.
An apocalypse is a revelation. The very point is to become conscious of what was previously veiled. The sooner we become conscious, the less traumatic the event needs to be. (A good book on this theme, first posited by Jung, is Archetype of the Apocalypse by Edward Edinger.)
We need to be ready for the most radical changes. We need a plasticity of mind and soul. We need to release out intellect from formulistic thinking and access new ways of being, of thinking and of feeling in the world.
We need to let go of old prejudices and face the future with love, courage and hope. We need to dream the myth of our humanity on, for ourselves, our children, and for our enemies and their children.
We need to dive deeply into the very essence of our being, our innermost core, the source from which we have sprung, where the answers must surely lie. We must pray to our gods and if we hear no answer we must find new gods to pray to.
We must love and live, and we must go on.