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Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth

Sasha Lilley et al.

We live in catastrophic times. The world is reeling from the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the threat of further meltdowns ever-looming. Global warming and myriad dire ecological disasters worsen—with little if any action to halt them—their effects rippling across the planet in the shape of almost Biblical floods, fires, droughts, and hurricanes. Governments warn that there is no alternative to the bitter medicine they prescribe—or risk devastating financial or social collapse. The right, whether religious or secular, views the present as catastrophic and wants to turn the clock back. The left fears for the worst, but hopes some good will emerge from the rubble. Visions of the apocalypse and predictions of impending doom abound. Across the political spectrum, a culture of fear reigns.

Catastrophism explores the politics of apocalypse—on the left and right, in the environmental movement—and examines why the lens of catastrophe can distort our understanding of the dynamics at the heart of these numerous disasters—and fatally impede our ability to transform the world. Lilley, McNally, Yuen, and Davis probe the reasons why catastrophic thinking is so prevalent, and challenge the belief that it is only out of the ashes that a better society may be born. The authors argue that those who care about social justice and the environment should jettison doomsaying—even as it relates to indisputably apocalyptic climate change. Far from calling people to arms, they suggest, catastrophic fear often results in passivity and paralysis—and, at worst, reactionary politics.

Praise:

Catastrophism comes at the right moment: 2012, the year of The End proclaimed across the political spectrum from deep ecologists to the Mayan Calendarists. Instead of concentrating on the merits of the claims of the various apocalypticians, Jim Davis, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and Eddie Yuen examine the political function of these claims and find them to be deeply reactionary. This is a controversial book that challenges many of the unexamined assumptions on the left (as well as on the right). It is a warning not to abandon everyday anti-capitalist politics for a politics of absolute fear that inevitably leads to inaction.”
—Silvia Federici, author of Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle

“Bravo! This is the book that has been sorely needed for so long to reveal the dead-end that a politics founded on catastrophic predictions must lead to in terms of either preventing them or actually changing the world.  Essential reading for all those on the left who are concerned with the question of strategy today.”
–Leo Panitch, coauthor of The Making of Global Capitalism

“I cannot overstate how critically important this volume is. Catastrophism captures a problem that few have seriously grappled with. Anyone who wishes, as I do, for a new kind of (occupied) politics will have to face this formidable array of theoretically-inspired reflections on the politics of apocalypse.”
—Andrej Grubacic, co-author of Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History

“In an age when even Mayan prophecies of the end of the long cycle are turned into prophecies of doom and destruction, this book offers a reasoned and lucid alternative understanding. Definitive and momentous, this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who wishes to comprehend the world we live in and change it for the better.”
—George Katsiaficas, author of Asia’s Unknown Uprisings

“This important book aims to end the politics of The End. The authors of Catastrophism claim that apocalyptic politics, though promising to motivate revolutionary transformation, all too often leads to a fear-induced paralysis and cynicism. This book provides a badly needed boost to our political immunity systems against the apocalyptic claims bombarding us in this purported terminal year for our planet.”
—George Caffentzis author of In Letters of Blood and Fire

“This groundbreaking book examines a deep current—on both the left and right—of apocalyptical thought and action. The authors explore the origins, uses, and consequences of the idea that collapse might usher in a better world. Catastrophism is a crucial guide to understanding our tumultuous times, while steering us away from the pitfalls of the past.”
—Barbara Epstein, author of Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s

About the Contributors:

Sasha Lilley is a writer and radio broadcaster. She is the co-founder and host of the critically acclaimed program of radical ideas, Against the Grain. Sasha Lilley is the author of Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult and series editor of PM Press’ political economy imprint, Spectre.

David McNally is Professor of Political Science at York University, Toronto. He is the author of six previous books, including Against the Market; Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism; and Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance.

Eddie Yuen teaches in the Urban Studies Department at the San Francisco Art Institute. He is the co-editor, with George Katsiaficas and Daniel Burton-Rose, of Confronting Capitalism: Dispatches from a Global Movement.

James Davis is an Irish documentary filmmaker based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His works include “Safety Orange” and “Meeting Room.”

Doug Henwood is publisher and editor of Left Business Observer. Among other books, he is the author of After the New Economy and Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom. He is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine.

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