“When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.
– Book of Revelation, Ch. 6 v. 8
I proposed here in July 2020 that it was the worst year I could think of in my lifetime.
I wrote simply of the arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, since the world was indeed beset by a plague, a crisis as big as the Great Depression, mass riots in the United States, and it would only take a decent-sized war to complete the miserable set. Which trotted on stage right in Ukraine eight months later.
But in November 2022 the four horsemen appear to have slowed their scything of world humanity and at least putting their horses in for a rest. We’re on the bench sweaty faced having finished the Great Colonic taken two Neurophen 2 kilos lighter and now upright on the bench glowing rather proud of ourselves. The great Toyota Corolla of the human order has done another 100k on the clock had its shocks changed and appears up for 400.
In the last month really useful things have occurred, which like coming down the other side of the Routeburn and falling means in existential terms we’ve sprained our hand bracing the fall and not broken our ankle meaning hypothermia and helicopter evac.
Weird things have now revealed that both reveal a truth and also a staircase out of serious schtuck.
In no particular order: Plague.
This particular apocalyptic horse of the pandemic still does a lively trot and anyone in our health system has been worn ragged reining it in. But the plague has been defeated into something as common as the mumps or chicken pox which can indeed still go wrong but is less so and managed on a population basis through public health measures.
Our thousands dead, our hundreds of thousands of young with futures shunted, our millions carrying mental damage like a social concussion. They need love and monuments tens of metres tall to surviving, tributes to different kinds of heroism, grieving, martial control and ANZAC Day at our letterboxes with the neighbours and a radio as the Last Post was played.
And so to war.
There are many dozens of smaller wars needlessly ruining lives in Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Azerbaijan, but frankly we will always have those on that scale. What we have is a full-scale national invasion by nuclear-armed Russia against the Ukraine. Ukraine has since September seriously pushed back against the invader and this is despite a truly massive near-all-in conscription of men by Russia having now lost 80,000 soldiers in death and over 150,000 wounded or captured. That’s a measure of defeat more than the hiding Soviet Russia took in Afghanistan that accelerated the full demise of Brezhnev’s cruel legacy.
That plague of war has not expanded into and across the borders of other states, even Belarus or Poland or Moldova. The United States, the United Nations, and latterly even China has railed against Russia’s ruler President Vladimir Putin for daring to suggest that even nuclear armaments could be used against the Ukrainians. Backwards went one tock of the nuclear clock.
One dare not forecast how much further Russia’s military will be pushed back before the winter ground freezes over, or indeed how many years at this rate it will take indeed for hot war or hell to itself freeze into slushy miserable permanent enmity. But one can indeed see that tyranny is indeed losing.
The European Union that continues to be held like Batman’s Mr Freeze hostage to the supply of gas for heating and electricity generation has both found other sources and sensibly used the crisis to massively accelerate car fleet electrification and otherwise accelerate away from the worst of its carbon emissions.
That’s one apocalyptic horse pastured for turning into red pet food.
Two years ago China got into a serious trade war squeezing our patron state Australia with sanctions, knowing that New Zealand were at least as reliant on their favour to trade as Australia was. They could have choked us to death with their pinkie finger.
But two years on Canberra and Beijing have resumed ministerial level dialogue. The long term structural divide between China and the United States has kept the trade policies against Australia in place but China still needs all its raw mineral ingredients just as much as it still needs our foods and beverages and holidays. A solution to the bilateral political tensions driving the trade disruptions is not on the horizon but everyone still be making the money one deal at a time. In about as many fronts as one can think of, the United States is winning and oddly doing a lot of good controlling not only global tyranny but internally much of its own.
What about the epistemic apocalypse whipping the horse of societal death into bloody frothed flanks?
By which I mean the massive overweening control by social media companies to drive free and unregulated speech into the rise of hard right populism that in turn drove very hard right governments in many major countries into success unparalleled since the 1930s. Brazil. Hungary. Italy. The United States. And this year the rise again of Netanyahu within a racist controlled coalition back to power once more.
But Bolsonaro in Brazil has been defeated. Popular and liberal social democratic movements have taken power not only in most of South America but also in Australasia, Indonesia, Germany, and elsewhere. The hard right hasn’t overcome the ageing and unpopular Democrats, and Trump and family are readying themselves for the legal trials that will both indict him personally for Federal crimes and burn his empire into cold ash. The media’s leftie darlings and us wee poppets on the centre left can now sell tickets to watch the Republican Party and its media dogs tear themselves apart live before a studio audience.
Xi Jinping may well have installed himself as god within a Stalinist state but the great real estate empire of rapid debt-fuelled widespread property ownership and prosperity has long since peaked and really there are no answers left for him any more. He will rule as a tyranny but not as a success.
For open societies the great social media machines that drove populism and apparent wealth appear to be crumbling. Twitter and Facebook and TikTok are being humbled from within. Amazon is troubled. Bitcoin variants have seen all, to quote Marx, all that was solid melt into air. The recently divorced Tom Brady will be playing American Football until they install grease nipples in his knees and Steve Austin-style bionic eyeball sockets just to keep Giselle Bundschen in Badger spleen facials for as long as she can inhale Happy Thin Powder, given that they bet most of their fortune on some dumb bitcoin variant. Emperors like Zuckerberg and Musk, like the Russian oligarchs with Scrooge McDuck vats of unspendable Roubles, no longer have clothes on. Or friends anywhere in power.
What happened to the certainty that there was nothing we could do and human agency was no more?
Why did the four clicloppers of the apocalypse decide to shake their manes buck their riders and roll over in the clover for the evening?
Why are the Four Horsemen unable to momentarily shake their manly certitude and ask for directions?
Here’s a few reasons.
States with strong institutions like public health, public finances, public servants, strong reserve banks, and good voting systems, got those public institutional weapons to fight successfully against famine, war, pestilence, death and other plagues like lies and deception.
Banks and market analysts finally started to call out the truth of the tech boom (once more) at just the same time as multibillionaire tech tyrants overreached their place within society, and pushed the collapse of globally unregulated speech into fallen houses of cards at least for now.
The left did not give up the fight against neofascist tyranny and fought back to gain previously lost territory, and took many peoples with them back to the centre and indeed back to belief that the idea of a big state that organised stuff when times are really tough is a sufficient and necessary causal condition for actual continuing existence as society. Parties like the UK Conservatives and the French National Rally are seeking new direction and will be for some time and boofuckinghoo to them all.
The people saw what unregulated anomie looked like and it looked like a bad idea that ought be stopped before it set in as it had a generation earlier in Thatcherism, Reaganism, Rogernomics, and everything of that terror.
Moral shaming is back on a national scale, underway in Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, and even in Egypt’s shameathon of COP27. It’s not enough to rebuild the world but it’s a serious functioning moral mechanism that is getting stronger not weaker, and we are all better at operating it.
If November 2022 ain’t a new dawn then at very least the Four Horses of the Apocalypse are munching happily and distractedly on solid flower-bedecked clover.
If this had been 1919 a whole new version of communism would have arisen. If it were 1946 a whole new global regulatory order would have been required. If it were 1967 there would be mass riots, excruciating poetry, excrable music and millions losing their minds on drugs as foolish colonial wars were started all over the place. If it were 1987 there would be market purges and hyperinflation and mass unemployment and collapses of government and major companies in multiple sectors and yet another corporatisation of hard-earned public assets.
Yeah nah and none of it.
Instead for little old us, walking by the reigns the Four Black Riders of Hobbiton into the high Country Calendar fields of world-adoring mountains means inflation remains low compared to anything pre 1999, unemployment is at record lows, government is competent if a bit spent, and public subsidies for everything including just inhaling and exhaling are growing across this land as not seen in 30 years.
Apocalytopia just trotted up to crest the ridge and revealed warm afternoon golden sun and rolling pasture.