Through the Eyes of a Stranger: The Apocalyptic Mentality

One of the characteristics that defines the American people for me is the joy with which they indulge in doom-and-gloom scenarios. People seem to collect stories about how everything is horrible and about to get even worse. “Yippee! I have discovered something else to be miserable about!” they often seem to say in their articles, blog posts, and tweets.

There are people who scour the news for confirmation that the world is going to the dogs at an alarming pace. I know a guy who used to walk around looking all tragic on behalf of the victims in Darfur. He must have thought his endless melodrama was somehow helpful. I haven’t seen him for a while but I have no doubt he is now getting a lot of mileage out of the famine in Somalia.

This is an extreme case, of course, (albeit not as extreme as that of the folks who were expecting the world to end a couple of months ago), but even perfectly reasonable people seem to get impatient with good news and welcome the tidings of disaster. After spending some time reading articles and blog posts, I often have to look around and remind myself that we all live in a reality that is a lot more benevolent towards us than in many other places in the world.

My explanation for the phenomenon of this apocalyptic mentality is that people have it so good that they feel the need to spice up their lives with some imaginary drama. Only a person who hasn’t known true exhaustion can come up with “Somebody said hi to me in the street, this makes me feel exhausted.”

Among my people, there is an opposite trend. Nothing is ever a big deal. No catastrophe needs to be taken seriously and anybody who mentions, for example, that an explosion of a nuclear reactor in the middle of the country should probably not be dismissed lightly is an old bore.

13 thoughts on “Through the Eyes of a Stranger: The Apocalyptic Mentality”

  1. This might be a result of the fact that most Americans don’t know the first thing about large-scale tragedy – and thus are collectively attracted to doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic warfare. Apparently propserity and abundance gets boring after a while.

    Need I go any further, than pointing to things like the popular Call of Duty series, with the last three incarnations involving rehashings of fictional (and not so fictional) warfare with Russia and the U.S.S.R?

    Hell, the entire debt-ceiling debacle probably happened because our congressmen/women needed to get close to the “edge” just so they could feel a little high of self importance and danger. Kind of like a kid in suburbia who, growing tired of his good grades and boring home life, begins to huff paint fumes.

    I just hope that the U.S. doesn’t become like the world’s Charlie Sheen.

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  2. That’s why when bad things happen in America we never hear the end of it, and they keep saying that “Things will never be the same again.” But those kinds of things are often “the same again” for people in other countries, and often that “same again” is caused by Americans dropping bombs on them.

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  3. I agree with both comments completely, which doesnt happen to me often. πŸ™‚ The entire debt ceiling melodrama was so obviously over the top that it made one observe it in wonder.

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  4. I’ve lived in the US most of my life, and I was born here. While I agree with some of this, part of the reasons this mentality exists is that though Americans still have it very good compared to much of the rest of the world, American standards of living and economic security have fallen greatly in the past three decades.

    It’s all about relative levels. Though now more Americans’ experiences resemble more the norm in much of the rest of the non-European world, it is a huge cultural shift as people’s expectations and hopes have been diminished or eliminated altogether. Everything is objectively getting worse for the majority of Americans, and has been for a while, and this can’t but help have an effect on the culture and their views of the world.

    That Americans still have a high standard of living is irrelevant, as relative differences matter far more to people than absolute ones in comparing themselves to the past and to others.

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    1. Honestly, I find it hard to understand. In terms of economic security, things have definitely gotten much better for women who don’t have to rely on the mercy of a husband to keep them. That’s already half of the population that is doing better economically.

      Of course, the chronological frame of reference is also important. If you are talking about the diminishing economic security, what are we comparing this moment with? I wasn’t here during the Reagan era, for example, but I had the impression that things were much worse then for regular people. Of course, I might be mistaken because that’s the impression I got from reading and not from any actual experiences.

      If you mean the Clinton era, I caught its last stage on this continent, and I do have the impression that things were easier economically then. However, it seems more of a cyclic thing rather than something that could have been stabilized and improved on.

      If those readers who have been around during Reagan and Clinton want to share whether they felt more secure economically then, that would be great.

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  5. I’d say that for apocalyptic mentalities, how do you take it I can’t take it and on and on, Argentina, Spain, and France can beat out US any day.

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  6. Have you heard of the pantyhose killings? Our society is really becoming more violent all the time and women need to know how to protect themselves. I’m a student of Psychology and this information was given me.

    The information given me was that this occured in the early 1970’s. The victims were all university girls. The victims were all wearing micro mini-skirts and pantyhose.

    The killer would hide inside their apartment. As soon as the girl would step inside the door, he would grab them and place them on the bed. He would put a pillow over their face and began suffocating them. He would revive them and smother them three or four times over.

    After smothering the life out of his victims he would remove their pantyhose and keep them for a sick trophy. The girls were not raped. They were found fully clothed with the exception of their missing pantyhose. The pantyhose were never removed until after he killed his victim.

    A classmate of mine emailed me this video that shows how depraved many are within our culture. We are studying the dark element within the human mind.

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  7. Strange, my impression always was that the US mentality is much less apocalyptic than that of the FSU people. Honestly, Clarissa, I believe that this particular one of your conclusions about the Americans is based on observing a disproportional number of representatives of some kind of the overprivileged pseudo-left in Ivy League schools… Who have time to feel perpetually tragic over victims of Darfur…

    NB: I do not doubt that the situation in Darfur is tragic. But any reasonable person would either help (volunteer, give money, give food, etc) or not be a hypocrite.

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    1. I’m not in touch with my classmates from Yale, except one. And he is a Quebecois. πŸ™‚

      These observations are based on what I see among people I meet now and what I read in newspapers, blogs, etc.

      At Yale, people were a lot more into buying condos and hiring wedding planners than into Darfur. πŸ™‚ Our department did not in anyway correspond to the image of East Coast lefties. Everybody was stinking rich and concentrated on that. πŸ™‚

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      1. But look at it the other way: the American credit habits are overly optimistic. And expectations of life in general… There are more examples of the same sort…
        And the FSU people always complain and imagine all kinds of doom, Usually they are Western conspiracy theory kinds of doom, but they qualify as “apocalyptic scenarios”.

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