Millennial Thinking isn't just for theists obsessed with "The End of Days". In Secular End Times & Apocalyptic ‘Roosters’, Gordon Haber reviews Richard Landes' Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience.

We like to downplay our fascination with the apocalypse. When it shows up in pop culture, we treat it as metaphor: an alien invasion represents our fear of immigrants, zombies our fear of pandemics, and so on. Or else we’re dismissive...

We ignore the apocalyptic mindset at our peril, as millennial movements have a tendency to end in bloodshed, to the point where they create their own localized apocalypses.

Richard Landes, a Professor of History at Boston University, presents a gutsy hypothesis: that many secular movements—the French Revolution, Marxism, Nazism—can be better understood as millennialist or apocalyptic.

But before Landes investigates the movements themselves, he defines his terms—which, by his own admission, are “idiosyncratic.” By “millennium” he does not mean a specific date,... Instead he means “the period of the messianic era”: for example, the Christian prophecy of Jesus’ thousand-year reign, perversely echoed by the Nazis’ “Thousand-Year Reich.” “Apocalyptic” refers to “a sense of imminence about the great upheaval and the scenario whereby we now go from this evil and corrupt world to the redeemed one.”

Every millennial group, whether religious or secular, is marked by the transformation of “normal time” to “apocalyptic time”—when its followers eagerly anticipate the millennium, seeing signs and symbols everywhere in a state of “semiotic arousal”... [emphasis mine]

One example Landes gives is

The story of the nineteenth-century Xhosa Cattle-Killings, for example, is downright fascinating. For the Xhosa, a millennial movement sprang up (as they often do) during a time of great societal tension—in this case “the brutal incursions of European imperialism.” Apocalyptic time began with ... a fifteen-year-old orphan. In 1856, she prophesied that if the Xhosa slaughtered their own cattle, stopped planting crops, and destroyed their grain stores, the British would leave, and peace and plenty would return to the land.

Most readers will not be surprised to learn that the plan was a failure. But the majority of Xhosa didn’t survey the wreckage and say, “What were we thinking?” They just slaughtered more cattle.

The Cattle-Killings demonstrate how reluctant we are to let go of apocalyptic time. For some, like one Xhosa chieftain, admitting error would bring dishonor, though more often we simply don’t want to lose the “inebriating sense of empowerment.” [emphasis mine]

My own thinking about Climate Destabilization meets a few criteria for millennial thinking. I certainly see a radical transformation coming soon. Just as metabolism has both catabolic and anabolic functions, cultural maintenance has processes that foster coherence and those for dissolution. While destructive processes such as millennial thinking have an essential role in removing dysfunctional cultural features, necessary for cultural advancement, they clearly have vast destructive power.

... he shows that millennialism is not only a cultural universal, but also an extremely adaptive social phenomenon that persists across the modern and post-modern divides.

from the Amazon review

My first exposure to millennial thinking was Cargo Cults, especially in New Lives for Old by Margaret Mead. In 25 years the Manus people had completely remade themselves from stone age people to participants in the then modern world. This process included a tipping point, a frenzy, in which goods valued in the old culture were communally discarded, to usher in the new cultural goods.

I've see this process as a template for self-transformation from an eco-cidal growth economy culture to a global sustainable culture. I imagine a global frenzy in which we discard inefficiencies such as high heeled shoes, fashion and other forms of built-in obsolescence, and fossil fuel centric capital (such as Exxon-Mobil stock certificates), for sustainable alternatives.

We can only transform ourselves successfully if we learn from anthropology, sociology, psychology, and history to chart a realistic course. We must be able to envision HOW to make a rapid constructive change, to plan globally, lest we devolve into nuke-studded chaos.

Tags: Climate Destabilization, cargo cults, millenial thinking, sustainable culture

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Replies to This Discussion

"We're in a giant car heading toward a brick wall and everyone's arguing over where they're going to sit."     - David Suzuki                          

Unfortunately a significant minority see a brick wall of some kind as inevitable:

According to a new Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters, 22% of people in the U.S. (and nearly 15% worldwide) believe the world will end during their lifetimes.

But only seven percent in Belgium and eight percent in Great Britain feared an end to the world during their lives. ...

Gottfried also said that people with lower education or household income levels, as well as those under 35 years old, were more likely to believe in an apocalypse during their lifetime or in 2012 ...

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