A preoccupation with calamity

It’s interesting how many films, from Spiderman to 28 Days Later, have destruction as their context. Watching previews recently at a theater, I noted that every film involved it: Great monuments exploding, cities depopulated, and sandy ruins the only beacons of a once-great civilization. There is an unease in so much of our entertainment, a feeling that calamity awaits despite peace and serenity (of course, the wishful thinking, the lie, in all these films is that civilization will recover via the efforts of heroes).

For the history student, this preoccupation with calamity may be related to what Nock stated so hauntingly:

A dozen empires have already finished the course that ours began three centuries ago. The lion and the lizard keep the vestiges that attest their passage upon earth, vestiges of cities which in their day were as proud and powerful as ours – Tadmor, Persepolis, Luxor, Baalbek – some of them indeed forgotten for thousands of years and brought to memory again only by the excavator, like those of the Mayas, and those buried in the sands of the Gobi. The sites which now bear Narbonne and Marseilles have borne the habitat of four successive civilizations, each of them, as St. James says, even as a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. The course of all these civilizations was the same. Conquest, confiscation, the erection of the State; then the sequences which we have traced in the course of our own civilization; then the shock of some irruption [internal collapse] which the social structure was too far weakened to resist, and from which it was left too disorganized to recover; and then the end. -Our Enemy, the State, ch. 6, p.144

However, I don’t think most people are that interested in history. So why the preoccupation? Ecclesiastes 3 says that we have eternity in our hearts. I think our consciences are also stamped with a sense of pending judgment, the day of the Lord, and this is the real cause of the unease. The viewer may pass it off as harmless entertainment as he exits the theater, but our fairy tales and stories often speak to eternal truths moreso than the news (as Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory: “[T]he ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy”).

Reading the prophecies of Isaiah, it’s hard not to ponder the great glory and sudden ruin of empires.

Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate,and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller;as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes,all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins. -Isaiah 24:1-12

This entry was posted in Clive, Mugg, etc, Culture, History. Bookmark the permalink.