Fanaticism of the Apocalypse Review Luke Steffen

The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse was a strangely refreshing book. Unlike previous papers and books I have read in classes related to human impacts, this one was more optimistic about what we do to the non-human world around us and the ability to recover. His general thesis reminds me of George Carlin’s routine on environmentalism; both share the general idea that over-pollution and overconsumption will not ultimately harm the planet, but will instead harm the people. At times, his arguments did make me feel uncomfortable because I have acted like the people who Bruckner derides. I fantasize about a drastic reduction in the human population, I support semi-religious environmentalist calls for guilt and shame. I often have doubts about new technology and I think that the various synthetic chemicals in products we consume every day are potentially, and, in some cases, actually, a serious harm. While reading this book, I thought that he had too much faith in the good work of large businesses and the ability of people without significant financial or political power, or collective public opinion, to control these companies.

However, I do admire this book overall. Though he references philosophers and works that I have either never heard of or never read, his prose is clear and organized well. I appreciate the fact that he compares Marxism with Christianity. They are, after all, quite similar, despite the fact that most Marxists are not Christians and most Christians are not Marxists. Both strive for a post-revolutionary utopia, always on the horizon and both are opposed to wealth and property, especially if it is too jealously guarded or not shared.

As a theatre major, I appreciate his comparisons with horror films because they are true. Bertolt Brecht understood that investing too much energy in emotion and eventual catharsis would probably not prompt action, but would instead either paralyze people with fear or make them laugh and decades later, Bruckner understands this as well; “apathy is born from excess: from blood, violence, and mechanical copulation.” I too am more compelled to action by concrete facts and partial proposals for a solution than apocalyptic talk.

I also like how he dispels myths of an ecological age of innocence, which is always sometime in the past. While I do think we can learn from some methods people used to use in daily life which may be more sustainable, I also believe that human perfection, in any respect at any time has and will never be achieved. However, people still use the ecological age of innocence idea, even those who should know better. For example, my Mom acts as though the 1940s-1960s were a better time ecologically for the US, even though DDT was used excessively, organic agriculture did not exist outside of certain religious communities, car and machinery pollution was heavier (per machine, I know the number of machines is different), and some places are actually more forested today than they were in the mid-twentieth century.
He cleverly breaks down the most problematic implications of different environmental ideas. For instance, the idea that all things, living or inanimate, should have rights is popular. He rightly points out that this can get out of hand if we take it too seriously; there would be a law suit for every blade of grass cut! Also, by giving non-humans a “voice”, we are speaking for them and anthropomorphizing them, which is arrogant because it assumes that all creatures have the same priorities and desires that we do. Additionally, he points out that people like to blame other people for natural disasters, but then claim that humans are powerless to nature’s whims.
Lastly, I enjoy how he has hope for technological progress to solve our problems and points out that human action can benefit other life around us. For instance, oil rigs provide great shelter for fish and other sea life (unless, of course, they blow up) and the more visited parts of the Amazon apparently have greater biodiversity. However, Bruckner is also no fool. He recognizes that the problems of people and their environment is like a Hydra. Once we cut off one head, another head grows.

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