The Deepwater Horizon disaster has triggered a strong emotional response. Gulf Coasters are grieving for their lost way of life and expressing outrage over BP and the government’s response to the crisis. People from across the country and the world have demonstrated their empathy though protests, directing most of their frustration at BP. Even the President of the United States said in a televised interview that he was looking for an ass to kick.
I share in the pain and anger brought on by this tragedy. But I can’t deny that it also summoned another feeling: self-satisfaction. The Doomer in me is cheered by this confirmation of the oil industry’s reckless greed. He is delighted that millions of people will be shaken out of their torpor by the only thing apparently able to wake them up: an abrupt end to their livelihood. The Doomer says catastrophe is necessary to effect the societal changes required to deal with Peak Oil and Climate Change.
However, I know the Doomer is wrong. Crisis can bring out the best in people, but it can also bring out the worst. When people are in shock, they don’t often make the best decisions. Extreme emotions tend to cloud one’s judgment. The Doomer also forgets that it’s a slippery slope from hoping for disaster to abetting it. He may get so caught up in following the news of collapse from around the world that he neglects (intentionally or not) to do anything to prevent or even mitigate the repercussions of that collapse. He may not even feel responsible for taking preemptive action, since he believes calamity is a prerequisite for reform. Of course, this theory only applies to the supposedly oblivious residents of distant states and countries. He would surely be singing a different tune if the same fate had befallen him.
The Doomer is motivated by much more than a perverse sense of altruism. He mainly desires to see everyone brought down to his level. His fondest wish is for everyone to be as emotionally crippled as he is, and, if they could also be paralyzed fiscally, that would be great too. The argument for the necessity of disaster is merely an excuse for his vindictive fantasies. This is the Doomer’s Curse: to wallow in despair, to sneer at the happiness of others, to revel in schadenfreude and to believe that he has humanity’s best interests at heart. The Doomer honestly thinks that a universal depression (in the emotional sense) would lay the foundation for a better world, but this belief is rooted in his own selfishness, not in a rational socioeconomic analysis.
The Doomer wants this world to end, because in this world he is a failure. He has failed to achieve his goals personally and/or professionally, but he lacks the maturity to take responsibility for his failure. He blames the rules of this world for his defeat, to the point of judging this world irredeemably corrupt. This belief makes a virtue of his failure, for only the corrupt could succeed in such a world. His moral integrity precludes his success in this den of iniquity. With a better perspective, he could see that it’s not the world’s corruption that condemns him to failure, but rather his failure that leads him to condemn the world. Therefore, instead of taking steps to improve his chances of success, he throws up his hands, picks up the remote (or the mouse) and eagerly awaits the end of the world that (he believes) is dead set against him.
The Doomer confuses his personal collapse with the “inevitable” collapse of society. (“Inevitable” is the keystone of the Doomer vocabulary and, as such, should be avoided whenever possible.) He suffers from a severe case of tunnel vision. Like a horse with blinders on, he can only see what’s immediately in front of him. Anything indicating that other people’s experience contradicts his world-view is dismissed as false or a lie propagated by the corrupt elite. He doesn’t want his dogma tested, because then it might be refuted, and the emotional consequences of that would be too much to bear. He would have to accept that he has failed due to his lack of merit and not by his refusal to make some moral compromise.
As I mentioned before, the Doomer I refer to is not a personality type. He is an aspect of my personality and, it seems, the personalities of many people. (How else do you explain the enduring popularity of apocalyptic cults, auto racing or Goth music?) I’m attempting self-analysis in the hope that it will resonate with others. Therefore, when I call the Doomer a loser willing to blame anyone but himself, I’m talking about myself. All the characteristics I enumerated are ones that I’ve personified many times in the five years since I learned about Peak Oil and even before then. My hope is that being honest about my Doomerism will help me overcome these tendencies and help others recognize the same tendencies in themselves.
My other motivation for writing this essay is to point out that our emotional condition goes a long way toward determining our vision of the future. Someone wrote that Peak Oil is like a Rorschach test. People use it to project their wishes onto the future. For instance, those who pray for the death of industrial capitalism are likely to view Peak Oil as the catalyst for just such an event. In this mindset Peak Oil functions as a Messiah, able to deliver the faithful from whatever evil plagues them. But we must remember that the future doesn’t take requests. Unless we can make common cause with millions of like-minded individuals, we aren’t likely to get the change we want, with or without Peak Oil. And, even if we do succeed, we’ll probably have to work within resource limits far more restrictive than we’re used to.