Millennium Frenzy

by Jeremy Seabrook

Third World Network Features, Penang, Malaysia, May 1999 (World Press Review)


The millennium is a time for endings and consummations. Its coming is heralded by signs and portents. There is no doubt that the whole world is apprehensive at the prospect of an apocalypse foretold. Indeed, this anxiety arises precisely out of Western global hegemony and a fear that this uncontrolled dominance may be a progenitor of doom.

It is a paradox that a culture that has ceased in any meaningful way to practice the religious values it claims to embody should nevertheless seek to act out a secular version of its debased and neglected beliefs, should appear hell-bent on precipitating the dreaded Day of Judgment-not in the hereafter, of course, but in the present-day world that the West bestrides with all its power and might.

It seems that faith, crushed beneath the weight of fabulous material wealth, nevertheless asserts itself. And it reappears in the almost mystical conviction that the global social and economic system that has grown out of Western wealth and power can continue in perpetuity even if, in the process, the Earth, its treasures, and its peoples are all sacrificed. In this way, faith and apocalypse are fused.

Of course, this is not how the prospect of the millennium is being greeted in the West. There, it is presented as a celebration: the party to end all parties, a feasting and jubilation such as the world has never witnessed. Certain singers, entertainers, and movie stars are commanding millions of dollars to appear for one night in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or New York. Flights to exotic destinations have been fully booked for months; airlines have tripled their fares, since millions of privileged people wish to awaken to the dawn of a new millennium on some soon-to-be-spoiled beach in Africa or in some five-star mountaintop hotel.

To create the once-in-a-thousand years occasion presents certain problems. Since to provide its happy people with perpetual fun is now the deepest purpose of Western civilization, it is quite a headache to achieve the orgiastic transcendence called for by the event, the gargantuan hype befitting a millennium. The celebration is, in some measure, a consequence of the certainty that we are entering the last days: Party now, for tomorrow we perish.

All this is no more than culmination, an intensification of the daily reality of a world tormented to extinction by an indifferent hedonism careless of a future already consumed. The millennium is expected to yield only more of what already exists-a continuation of the rapacious, extractive devouring of the Earth.

Those who have seen evidence of millennarian fantasies in the mere cultural artifacts of the West-in, for instance, the growth of cults and survivalism; the fascination with horror stories, aliens, and ghouls; all the purveyors of frissons of fear to those whose lives appear impregnably comfortable and secure- have been looking in the wrong place. These are all harmless diversions-from Ecstasy to Disneyland-the vapid, visionless imaginings of the market, the pedestrian interpreters of a future already inscribed in the predictable certitudes of junk culture.

The real millennarists are more subtle. These bearers of apocalypse are the more deceptive since they do not peddle apocalypse. They have penetrated all the governments on the planet. Their nostrums of salvation permeate every instrument of governance in the world.

They do not meet in seedy backstreets. Rather, they assemble in hushed teakwood conference suites with leather folders at their elbow. They sink into soft padded chairs beneath the purring of unobstrusive air conditioners. The tones of their discourse are measured. The utterances and revelations that fall from their lips are grave and stolid. They speak an unintelligible tongue called economics, of a blandness and ambiguity in keeping with their tasteful handcrafted suits, silk ties, and soft leather shoes.

All this serves to conceal the impossible vision they are evoking, the lurid fantasies that lurk beneath the cliches. They, the officials of the International Monetary Fund, representatives of the World Trade Organization, functionaries of the World Bank, or emissaries from some United Nations agency, step from their first-class berths into VIP lounges before being whisked away to the I capital city, where, between | the lobster, tiger prawns, and | ancient whiskey, they will | confide to the country's leaders, rulers, and governing classes, the secrets of growing rich like the West. They pour into the receptive ears of the elite recipes for securing the same advantages which they so conspicuously enjoy. They have come bearing not gifts but loans, packages, blueprints for rescue, moneys made available for structural adjustments and economic rectification. Theirs is a blind faith in privatization, liberalization, transparency, economic reform, fiscal rectitude, good governance, human rights, democracy, and freedom.

What they mean is: Sell us your country's resources, its minerals, forests, fishing grounds, precious stones, crops, natural landscapes for tourist traps, the labor of its people, the lands of subsistence farmers and peasants, the real estate occupied by the urban poor, and we will make you rich.

The real merchants of millennial fantasy are those whose errorless vision, clarity of understanding, high-octane intelligence, peerless know-how, and sense of justice and humanity have brought whole continents to the verge of collapse, have driven millions of people in Indonesia, Brazil, and Russia into incalculable suffering and ruin.

These bringers of the millennium know neither remorse nor repentance. They are enthusiastically received everywhere. The sobriety, seriousness, and high-mindedness of their presentation disguise the millennial madness of their proposals. This only makes them more dangerous. No wonder they are inviting us all to celebrate the millennium and to party like there is no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow if their diagnoses and prescriptions continue to dominate this poor wasting world we must call our home.

New World Order