My favorite theory of the apocalypse comes from the bloggers Eric Knudsen and Kelly Coyne at the blog ‘Root Simple.’ They have attended some interesting conferences on ‘end times’, and from their experiences in these circles, and also from their viewing of choice Hollywood sci-fi/ adventure films, have noticed a tendency in American ‘fantasy’ apocalypse scenarios to use disaster to legitimize re-establishment of hierarchical (typically, male-dominated, white supremacist) social orders–usually through extreme violence. They point out that this hierarchical, violent, retrograde vision of how humanity will deal with our predicaments is not necessarily fe acompli– but that if we allow the visioning of end-times to always play out along these lines, will most certainly become so.
Root Simple posted that blog back in 2014, but it’s stuck with me, and seems eerily prescient of global politics in 2016. Donald Trump ran on what is essentially an apocalypse platform– something along the lines of “the seas are stormy and the boat may be going down, let’s make sure that white people with guns get the most booty before it sinks entirely.” So far, he’s running his transition according to this scenario as well–ensuring that the companies whose profits brought us to the precipice will also be able to profit by selling us faulty parachutes for our jump. Will the Donald Trumps and Steve Bannons and Rex Tillersons of the world get to stay on the top of the cliff and have a party to celebrate want they’ve wrought? Do they drive us towards the end because they expect themselves and their descendants to survive and profit by it? Or are they all closet anarchists and sadists who can’t manage to empathize even with their own grandchildren? Either way, their approach seems dreadfully shortsighted, as though it could be inspired by a mad hallucination mash-up of Saturday morning cartoons and the worst of 90s sci-fi.
All of this is to set the stage for: the Rice Family 2016 Holiday card! I’m definitely not the only one who’s felt that our holiday admonitions of peace and love would be ringing especially false this year. In November, it felt like the right thing to do would be to call off Christmas entirely this year. But while pictures of Aleppo intervene like static shocks and news of the Trump transition sours each work day, the daily pleasantness of my life has largely continued unabated. I couldn’t cry on election night because I had to take care of my children. My older son cried, but my baby just wanted to play basketball. In the end, I didn’t have the willpower to cancel Christmas either.
The challenge has been to figure out what, right now, I can do to make the ‘wishes of peace and love’ be genuine statements and less platitudes. Where in public life do I really see these principles in evidence? What strategies take us in that direction, present that alternative to a retrograde apoclaypse? That’s what I wanted to put on the holiday card this year.
And in honesty, as bad as things are when you read the paper, a very different reality presents itself much of the time when I’m out and about on the streets of Los Angeles. People in my school community, my park community, my neighborhood are, by and large, lovely to one another. I co-coached a soccer team full of really kind and wonderful kids this year, went back to my family’s church and was surprised by it’s progressive values (the first day I went there was a discussion about what faith communities should be doing about climate change), and in my work I meet people whose commitment to racial equity and ending the inequities in our society is profound, and evidenced by hours worked for a cause often without pay.
A few days after the election, I took the new Expo light rail line downtown for work. I was curious as to what I’d find– especially after reading in the press about a rise in hateful speech and incidents, and the countervailing wearing of safety pins etc. Within the small amount of time I spent on transit that day, the primary thing I noticed is that people seemed to be taking extra consideration in reaching out to one another, and in treating each other with courtesy. I noticed fewer people tuned out with earbuds, more people offering their seats to each other, women from different walks of life sitting together and talking. Taking transit in LA isn’t always easy. The platforms and trains get packed at rush hour, bikes jostle with strollers– but in general, people behave with dignity and kindness, and the system supports that behavior. When I got to Union Station, there’s a piano in the main waiting hall that’s open and available for anyone to play. There was a young Latino guy in shorts and bike helmet sitting there playing jazz, his backpack beside him on the piano bench. The old train station is one of our most beautiful places in Southern California– and there was something about the experience that was incredible faith-giving. LA passed a ballot measure to tax ourselves to invest _more_ in this version of the future. My design for this year’s card competition “Peace, love and transit in 2017” attempts to capture the hope I felt after returning from this journey.
I worked on my design over Thanksgiving, and I’d say that the reaction from my family was lukewarm. In response, I threw a few other designs into the mix. One was this drawing I did of a starry night in Great Basin National Park. Great Basin is in the true middle of nowhere in eastern Nevada, and the night sky is amazing. It was reassuring to go someplace where this many stars were still visible.
My third submission was done on behalf of the youngest member of our family, who carries a basketball like a teddy bear from the time he wakes up each morning to the time when he’s tucked into bed with it at night. He enjoys guiding drawings, pointing to the paper and demanding a ‘dack-I-daw!” Be placed here, there, everywhere. The “Basketball Tree” was the result of one such guided drawing– and Oran is quite the fan of the drawing.
Finally, the competition included this drawing from Oliver (the other person who got it together to add a design to competition *ahem*, Andy).
In it, a spying elf looks on as Santa dives into a hot cocoa-filled house. We printed all four designs on a page, and then have been sending to each person the card we think they’d like the best. I’m pretty sure we’re going to run out of Oliver’s design first– which just goes to show you that you shouldn’t overthink these things.
In their blog, the Root Simple people propose an alternative vision of the apocalypse. Rather than a firey brimstone conflagration with bare-chested He-Men running around with Uzis to keep order, they discuss the human predicament as being a ‘gradual crappening.’ Species go extinct at an accelerated rate, our expectations of human rights are eroded, we live in increasingly deprived physical environments, with worsening water and air quality, higher costs for everything, more refugees, rising sea levels and so on. At the end of 2016, I think we can safely say that the ‘crappening is happening’ and that we have elected a crappening accelerator to the Oval Office. The best I am going to hope for in this process is that we push back on the crappening as it occurs, and maybe, with some of our actions, (fighting for racial justice, advancing equity, building transit not car infrastructure) even start to get ahead of it. That’s my hope for peace and love in 2017.