Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic Member of the House of Representatives for Arizona's 8th District. Image Source: Blog for Arizona.
The terrible and tragic shooting of American congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as well as several others (with six people killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and a nine-year-old girl, Christina Greene, who was born on September 11, 2001, was recently elected to her student council in third grade, and wanted to talk to Gabrielle Giffords about American government) in Arizona today, has provoked soul-searching among America's law-makers, officials and journalists. It has also sparked a storm of debate across the political spectrum about the extreme tensions between left and right political factions in America (while true, much of this boils down to perpetuating that very problem through more political finger-pointing; see here, here and here).
The clearing out of the political centre was a result of post-9/11 stress. It did not just occur in the United States, but in Canada, Britain and across Europe - and I would guess, further afield. It also reflected deep uncertainties in the west during the first decade of the Millennium. This is not just about world affairs. It seems we believe western society is on the verge of collapse because we live at the turn of a millennium. There is a subliminal sense that a great revolution is taking place - a change over to a new order, with a new dominant culture.
Is that true? Not necessarily. But if we think western society is collapsing, these predictions become self-fulfilling prophecies, and gather strength and momentum. Can ideas about the end of western civilization create the end of that civilization rather than prevent it? This is what I thought earlier today as I ran across the following call for papers for a February conference at Bowling Green State University. It is a typical example of the exploration of the 'doomed west' discourse. It questions that discourse, while insidiously indulging in it at the same time:
BATTLEGROUND STATES COLLAPSING CULTURES & DARKENED DREAMSCAPES: SOCIETIES AND IMAGINATIONS IN A STATE OF DISORDER ...
Where are we going with this conviction that we are pushing the limits of our society and our reality past all previous boundaries (even if that is true)? It might be good to face the Millennium and its conditions squarely, and to start telling ourselves that we are not doomed. It might be good to heal the west's toxic political divide and step back from the brink. As for crises in world affairs and social and technological upheavals that are rocking the world at large, it is imperative everywhere in times of flux to behave with sense, conciliation, and courage. Mutual decency and reponsibility can prevent chaos.In eras of economic, social, and political collapse, scholars and citizens are often forced to examine the ruins of the past and work towards a unified and productive future. Where ideologies of demoralization and disunity urge us into disarray, opportunities for reconstruction exist in the interplay of imagination and social alliance. From literature, history, and the arts, to the sciences and the study of the virtual, academics and activists are called to consider the notions of catastrophe and cultural nightmares as theoretical paradigms for the study of culture itself. The sixth annual Battleground States Conference asks: How do we envision, represent, and analyze societies and imaginations in a state of disorder?
We welcome creative interpretations on the conference theme, including, but not limited to:
--Malady, Moral Panic, Mental Illness --Apathy & Pandemonium --Blurred boundaries of chaos and order --Decadence and Disaster Capitalism --Urban & Geographic Decay ...
--Architectures of Fantasy, Idealism, & Dreams --Trauma, Disintegration, Violence --Natural and Supernatural Catastrophes
--Anomalies, Mutations, Liminality --Disciplinary & Theoretical Deconstructions
--How are fatalistic narratives of collapse and disorder represented? --Why do our political, social, and cultural models seem productive but fall short in practice? --What sends thriving and prosperous cultures/societies into decline? --Are we able to create a vision of an ideal world? What are the limits of our imagination? --What exists on the fringes of culture?