Why are we not apocalyptic

End of the world

Wolf-Detlef Rost

To person

Dr. phil., Dipl.-Psych., born in 1951; Psychoanalyst in private practice in Giessen with a focus on the treatment of addictions. [email protected]

The 25-year-old student, who usually appears quite cheerful in psychotherapy, talks about her two-year-old daughter and her future plans. Suddenly the voice becomes quieter, her expression darkens; she changes the subject. "My mother believes in December 21, 2012 - and so do the in-laws," she continues in a depressed voice. The sudden silence weighs heavily in the room. The patient's mother is not a drifted esoteric, but the nursing manager of a large hospital, in the middle of life. The apocalypse date, derived from the Mayan calendar, does not only concern the psychotherapist's patients. On the Internet there were thousands of pages and forums with millions of users on this topic, and the filmmaker Roland Emmerich, who specializes in disaster scenarios, made "2012" the title of his latest doom and gloom.

Apocalypse fears - seen sociologically and psychologically

The Mayan calendar interpretation, as well as countless previous prophecies of our imminent doom, will prove invalid. However, we will not have to wait long for new announcements of the Apocalypse. If one prediction is certain to be correct, it is this: In the future, too, the media will inundate us with ever new doom scenarios. The sociologist Frank Furedi speaks of a "culture of fear" in this context. [1] He writes that "there has never been such a massive accumulation of fear campaigns as in the last 25 years. The survival of the planet seems to be at stake somewhere all the time." Scare tactics have become a cultural resource "from which various people and interest groups feed themselves in order to gain recognition for their messages or arguments. That is why an act of scare tactics is so often counteracted by a conflicting horror scenario." [2]

However, as we shall see in the following, fears of the apocalypses have dominated people for millennia, even if not in the same number of different subjects as today. For Furedi, the staged and artificially high fears of the future are an instrument of political opinion-making and control, where different interest groups try to outbid each other with increasingly dramatic scenarios in the fight for money and the monopoly of opinion. The "belief in people and in the future" fell by the wayside. [3] For some sociologists, fear is a socially induced phenomenon: "Fear doesn't just happen. It is socially constructed and is then manipulated by those who see it as an advantage." [4]

From a psychological point of view, it must be countered by the fact that fear is part of the basic equipment of human existence and controls our impulses to flee and survive, although at this point, for reasons of space, we cannot deal further with the distinction between the original fear and the more unspecific fear. [ 5] The awareness of one's own mortality and the incomprehensibility of our inevitable death leads to the fear of death as the core of all human fears. Your own death or that of a loved one with the simultaneous continued existence of humanity, life itself, are so difficult to imagine that they are linked to fantasies of, as well as the desire for a general downfall and the disappearance of the human species in general. Our own death is the inevitable personal apocalypse, needs consolation and explanation. The awareness of the limitation of one's own existence between birth and death, the questions of why and where to, what was before and what will be after, are the sources of all religions.

The fear of the end of the world is part of myths and religions in almost every culture, but especially our western ones, whose values ​​and morals are decisively shaped by Christian-Old Testament representations. However, the hope for what will come after is formative for the Christian view of the Apocalypse. [6] Ultimately, what is desired is not the end of the world, but purification, the resurrection, in which one's own survival in a now better world is hoped for. The biblical apocalypse therefore always proclaims hope, not only the end, but also a new beginning. "Starving after the apocalypse actually means longing for the time after the apocalypse." [7] However, this positive perspective has been lost in the myriad of modern apocalypse fantasies and has been reduced to mere destruction, which makes it so fatal.

Fears of doom through the ages

Gerhard Henschel describes in his book "Menetekel: 3000 Years Downfall of the Occident" that in historical times every generation had been convinced that the apocalypse was imminent. [8] Nevertheless, there are recognizable historical fluctuations in the distribution or weighting of this global fear fantasy. The 20th century was marked by armed conflicts of almost apocalyptic proportions, Germany and Europe experienced extensive destruction by National Socialism under Adolf Hitler, who saw himself as an executor of the apocalypse. The decades after the Second World War were ultimately determined by the East-West conflict and massive nuclear armament. The nuclear weapons potential of the two superpowers would have been enough to wipe out the world's population multiple times, and it looked like it would only take a small trigger to usher in this apocalypse. The post-war generation grew up aware that the "hands of the human clock were pointing to five to twelve" and that the sword of Damocles from nuclear war was always hovering over them. In retrospect, one can state today that the fears of the apocalypse at this time were tied to the nuclear threat, since nuclear annihilation seemed only a matter of time.

A turning point that nobody expected came around 1989, when the East-West conflict literally dissolved, disarmament took place and the threat of nuclear annihilation disappeared almost overnight, at least compared to previous decades. However, celebrations were largely limited to those about the fall of the Berlin Wall. We see dangers and negatives rather than positives, and anyone who now believed that apocalyptic fears would also disappear was quickly mistaken. Rather, the disappearance of the atomic threat created a kind of collective psychological imbalance, as we know it from the neurotic, who is not allowed to indulge himself and only waits for his moments of happiness to be followed immediately by punishment. The fears of annihilation previously bound in the nuclear threat floated freely and looked for new objects.

If in the post-war period it was the communists and, from the point of view of the East, the capitalists and imperialists who allegedly threatened to destroy us and were therefore supposed to be destroyed as a prophylactic measure, the image of the enemy was now lost.

We no longer know who is threatening us, but that we are threatened precisely because we are fleeting, we know that, and therefore fear and anger have to look for new objects about this reality. We have been presented with new apocalyptic threats every year for about 20 years, mostly, if not always, of a very temporary nature. First of all, there are the new epidemics, stimulating fears, from which hardly anyone can break free. Even during the Cold War, AIDS was the first in the series of diseases that were apostrophized as apocalyptic; it was followed by BSE, bird flu, swine flu and, most recently, EHEC. Catastrophe scenarios followed, which addressed the possible effects of genetic engineering, environmental destruction and climate change, computer crashes, especially in the transition to the new millennium. With the attacks of September 11, 2001, global terrorism emerged as a threat.

Unlike disasters, positive news rarely attracts interest. We are programmed in such a way that negative information is picked up and processed in the alarm area of ​​our brain. They have a higher attention value than positive reports because they control archaic escape impulses. The Bible, the Judeo-Christian religion and the apostle Paul already made use of this. When he preached about avoidance of sin and a pious life in Athens, he was laughed at. He got the idea not to talk positively about love and hope, but negatively about punishment and retribution, and proclaimed: "The end is near!" Now the people were listening to him, he filled the Circus Maximus and the amphitheater in Ephesus. [9]