Date: Mon, 31 May 1999 01:20:47 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: TWN: The Millennium Frenzy
/** headlines: 210.0 **/
** Topic: The Millennium Frenzy **
** Written 10:05 PM May 27, 1999 by econet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 1:32 PM May 27, 1999 by email@example.com in twn.features */
/* ---------- "The Millennium frenzy" ---------- */
The Millenium Frenzy
By Jeremy Seabrook, Third World Network Features
The two aspects of millennial frenzy - the apocalypse, on one hand, and the
biggest binge of all time on the other - are part of the same phenomenon.
The celebration is, in some measure, a consequence of the certainty that we
are entering the last days: party now, for tomorrow we perish.
Millennium is a time for endings and consummations. Its coming is heralded
by signs and portents. It is preceded by prophecies, irrational beliefs and
strange cults. Millennium is the hour of the apocalypse, when revelations
are made and the wildest happenings find fulfilment.
It has not been difficult to discern these features in our time. Leaving
aside the fact that the coming millennium has a specific and local origin
(that is, in the Christian West), there is no doubt that the whole world is
apprehensive at the prospect of an apocalypse foretold. Indeed, this anxiety
arises precisely out of Western global hegemony; and a fear that this
uncontrolled dominance may be a progenitor of doom.
It is a paradox (or perhaps it isn't) that a culture which has ceased in
any meaningful way to practise the religious values which it claims to
embody should nevertheless seek to act out a secular version of its debased
and neglected beliefs, should appear hell-bent (if that is not too loaded an
expression) on precipitating the dreaded Day of Judgment, not in the
hereafter of course, but in the here and now, in the living present-day
world which the West bestrides with all its power and might.
It seems that faith, crushed beneath the weight of fabulous material
wealth, nevertheless asserts itself; and it reappears in the almost
mystical conviction that the global social and economic system which has
grown out of Western wealth and power can continue in perpetuity, even if,
in the process, the earth, its treasures, and its peoples are all
sacrificed. In this way, faith and apocalypse are fused.
Of course, this is not how the prospect of the millennium is being greeted
in the West. There, it is presented as a celebration, the party to end all
parties, a feasting and jubilation such as the world has never witnessed.
Certain singers, entertainers and pop-stars are commanding millions of
dollars to appear for one night at Las Vegas, Los Angeles or New York.
Flights to exotic destinations have been fully booked for months; airlines
have tripled their fares, since millions of privileged people wish to awaken
to the dawn of a new millennium on some soon-to-be spoiled beach in Africa,
on a Pacific island, or some five-star mountain-top hotel.
To create the once-in-a-thousand-years occasion presents certain problems.
Since to provide its happy people with perpetual fun is now the deepest
purpose of Western civilisation, it is quite a headache to achieve the
orgiastic transcendence called for by the event, the gargantuan hype
befitting a millennium. The response has been extra days of Bank Holiday, a
plan for the pubs to stay open all night, the creation of a Dome, the
contents of which are still at this late hour in a state of disputatious
uncertainty - such are some of the epic gestures being contemplated by a
These two aspects of millennial frenzy - the apocalypse, on one hand, and
the biggest binge of all time on the other - are not exclusive. Quite the
contrary. They are part of the same phenomenon. Indeed, the celebration is,
in some measure, a consequence of the certainty that we are entering the
last days: party now, for tomorrow we perish.
And all this is no more than a culmination, an intensification of the daily
reality of a world tormented to extinction by an indifferent hedonism
careless of a future already consumed. The millennium is expected to yield
only more of what already exists - a continuation of the rapacious,
extractive devouring of the earth: this is, after all, no more than a
description of the model of development in which the whole of humanity is
inextricably caught up.
Those who have seen evidence of millennarian fantasies in the mere cultural
artefacts of the West - in, for instance, the growth of cults, survivalism,
the fascination with horror-stories, aliens, ghouls, monsters,
extra-terrestrials, the preoccupation with the paranormal, out-of-body
experience, the superstitions of soothsayers and fortune-tellers,
card-readers, oneiromancers, all the purveyors of frissons of fear to those
whose lives appear impregnably comfortable and secure - have been looking in
the wrong place.
These are all harmless diversions - off-the-peg undemanding spirituality,
the merchandising of mysticism, the hucksters of inner, as well as outer,
space, the salesmen of mind-altering substances, from Ecstasy to Disneyland,
these are the vapid, visionless imaginings of the market, the pedestrian
interpreters of a future already inscribed in the predictable certitudes of
The real millennarists are more subtle. They talk a different language. The
true chiliastic zealots who menace the world with destruction will be found
elsewhere. These bearers of apocalypse are the more deceptive since they do
not peddle apocalypse. They have penetrated all the governments on the
planet. Their nostrums of salvation permeate every agency, every
institution, every instrument of governance in the world. They do not meet
in seedy back-streets, they do not huddle over crystal balls behind red
velvet curtains, they do not wear the trappings of gypsies and mountebanks.
Rather, they assemble in hushed teakwood conference suites, leather folders
at their elbow, together with fresh spring water and fruit juices from every
fruit on earth, at tables garnished with mortuary floral arrangements of
stiff lilies or gerberas. They sink into soft padded chairs beneath the
purring of unobstrusive air-conditioners. The tones of their discourse are
measured, the utterances and revelations that fall from their lips are grave
and stolid. They speak an unintelligible tongue called economics, of a
blandness and ambiguity in keeping with their tasteful hand-crafted suits,
silk ties and soft leather shoes.
All this serves to conceal the impossibilist vision they are evoking, the
lurid fantasies that lurk beneath the cliches, the unrealisable scenarios of
universal prosperity, happiness and secular salvation which they proffer to
the credulous peoples of the earth. The runaway unreason of their version of
the future of humankind is dissimulated behind a torpid imagery long become
They, officials of the International Monetary Fund, representatives of the
World Trade Organisation, functionaries of the World Bank, emissaries from
this United Nations agency or that international acronym of global
dominance, step from their first-class berth into VIP lounges, before being
whisked away to the capital city (it doesn't matter which country), leaving
a scent of reassurance, exuding an aura of certainty and a hint of expensive
cologne; to where, between the lobster, tiger-prawns and ancient whisky,
they will confide to the country's leaders, rulers and governing classes,
the secrets of growing rich like the West.
They pour into the receptive ears of the elite recipes for securing the
same advantages which they so conspicuously enjoy. They have come bearing,
not gifts exactly, but loans, lending facilities, packages, blueprints
for rescue, moneys made available for structural adjustments, economic
rectification. Theirs is a blind faith in privatisation, liberalisation,
transparency, economic reform, fiscal rectitide, good governance, human
rights, democracy and freedom.
What they mean is, sell to us your country's resources, its minerals, its
forests, its fishing-grounds, its precious stones, its crops, its natural
landscapes for tourist-traps, the labour of its people, the lands of
subsistence farmers and peasants, the real-estate occupied by the urban
poor, and we will make you rich. They promise their avid hearers they can
expect the amenities of foreign bank accounts, unlimited foreign travel,
property in California, Acapulco or the Riviera, education in the most
prestigious academies for their children, access to the most fabulous
consumer toys the busy global market can provide.
The real merchants of millennial fantasy are those whose errorless vision,
whose clarity of understanding, whose high-octane intelligence, whose
peerless know-how and sense of justice and humanity have brought whole
continents to the verge of collapse; have driven millions of people in
Indonesia, Brazil and Russia into incalculable suffering and ruin.
They and their disciples have brought the planet such exotic and thrilling
visitations as bovine spongiform encephalitis, genetically modified
organisms; they have enhanced our daily bread or rice or corn with their
value-added chemicalised improvements, they have modified our immune-system
with their gentle carcinogens, and with their agreeable additives and
bracing radioactivity they have irreversibly altered the gene-pool of
humanity, reducing the sperm-count, inducing cancers of the breast and
prostate and all reproductive organs except those mysterious and sacred
instruments which generate and procreate money.
These bringers of the millennium know neither remorse nor repentance. They
are enthusiastically received everywhere, welcomed, looked to for the latest
tranche of salvation or the next instalment of hope, the latest disbursement
of charity. The sobriety, seriousness and high-mindedness of their
presentation conceal the chiliastic premises of their discourse, disguise
the millennial madness of their proposals.
This only makes them more dangerous. No wonder they are inviting us all to
celebrate the millennium and to party like there is no tomorrow. For there
will be no tomorrow if their diagnoses and prescriptions continue to
dominate this poor wasting world we must call our home. - Third World
About the writer: Jeremy Seabrook is an author and freelance journalist
based in London.
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