Apocalypse as Revelation: Will You Look Away?

Author Junot Díaz has a powerful essay in Boston Review: Apocalypse (Haiti, Japan, earthquake, tsunami).

Díaz analyzes “mini-apocalypses,” in particular, the Haitian earthquake, which was certainly apocalyptic for the country of Haiti. He seizes upon the definition of apocalypse as a revelation. When things fall apart, he argues, the aspects of society that we normally try to hide are exposed. What comes to light are inequalities, injustices, patterns of corruption. An apocalypse can thus be a cleansing, transformative event, if allowed. “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” Becoming “ruin-readers,” as Díaz calls this process, may save our lives.

Hurricane Katrina, another mini-apocalypse, revealed America’s Third World. The Haitian earthquake revealed a place desperate beyond imagining. Yet what the apocalypse reveals, we naturally seek to evade. We blame the disaster on God or nature or the victims themselves. Díaz argues that natural disasters are often actually social disasters. When our actions devastate the natural world, we significantly reduce our protection from such natural disasters as tsunamis and hurricanes. Are we transforming our planet into Haiti? Both Díaz and I fear that we are.

Díaz hopes that it will not take many more such mini-apocalypses for us to see and then, more crucially, to act. I don’t feel so optimistic. Haiti, like Katrina and the Asian tsunami, has largely disappeared from the public discourse. Many powerful and ordinary people alike refuse to acknowledge that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it has the potential to be the greatest social natural disaster of all. Let’s hope that our situation is not fiction come to fruition: that those who finally see are a small band of survivors after it’s far too late to do anything to avert or mitigate the catastrophe.