Mermerosity and Global Dread

From Earth Emotions (2019)

Global Dread

Beyond mermerosity (and meteoranxiety) is a more serious existential condition focused exclusively on extreme anxiety about the future. Having its origins in a conversation in 2003, “global dread is a psychoterratic condition that anticipates a hugely negative future state of the world.[1] It produces a mixture of terror, extreme anxiety and deep sadness in the sufferer who exists within such a state. It is a form of hyper-empathy that projects a person in the present into a terrifying vision of an apocalyptic future.

The dread about extreme climate change and its doomsday scenarios is so great, that the terror for the future can generate, in some, escapist tendencies. I have empathized with those who, under the threat of war and violence, have shifted into the emotional space of a form of euphoria. The Croatian writer, Aleksandar Hemon, in his The Book of My Lives, writes about his experiences in the early days of the war in Croatia. His term, “disaster euphoria”, could also be psychoterratic:

Then there was rampant, ecstatic promiscuity. A few exchanged glances, sometimes in the presence of the boyfriend or girlfriend, were sufficient to arrange intercourse. The whole institution of dating seemed indefinitely suspended; it was no longer necessary to go out before hopping into bed. Indeed, there was no need for bed: building hallways, benches in parks, backseats of cars, bathtubs, and floors were just fine. We revelled in Titanic sex; there was no need for comfort or time for relationships on the sinking ship. It was a great fucking time, the short era of disaster euphoria, for nothing enhances pleasures and blocks guilt like a looming cataclysm. I’m afraid we are not taking advantage of the great opportunities provided to us by this particular moment in human history.[2]

The futurist, Bruce Sterling, created the concept of “Dark Euphoria” in 2009 to describe the zeitgeist of the then coming decade, where he suggests that, “[t]hings are just falling apart, you can’t believe the possibilities, it’s like anything is possible, but you never realized you’re going to have to dread it so much”.[3] At that moment in history, for Sterling, the knowledge of a future apocalypse was so overwhelming that he could see a ‘euphoric’ rush towards multiple catastrophic endpoints. For some, global dread might be exciting; for others, it is just plain terrifying. I come back to Sterling and dark euphoria in the final chapter.

The blocking of guilt, and its sublimation in crass consumption and pursuit of pleasure, in the face of the environmental and climatic cataclysm, is one way to counter the huge negative emotional pressure of global dread. Unfortunately, disaster euphoria, just as it is in war, will be short-lived in the sinking ship of climate chaos. The party will come to an abrupt end, the police will arrive and the colored lights will be turned off.

A similar process, of sublimation to counter global dread, has occurred in the past with Millenarian or ‘end of the world’ movements. There is an urge within many of us to want a form of Armageddon to purge all our failings, and for everything to start all over again in a new context. To understand our predicament, we need to dig deep into our psyches and past ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. During periods of social upheaval and unrest, people yearned for instant relief and release from that which oppressed them. For example, various religious movements craved for an end of time where all evil and oppression would perish in a glorious moment of change. Even a President of the USA once proclaimed that the end of times would deliver us from evils such as nuclear war. The ‘rapture’ at the end of human time would take us into the Promised Land. Ronald Reagan famously declared in 1983:

I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if – if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about, I don’t know if you’ve noted any of these prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through.[4]

We are going through similar times right now in the early twenty-first century. Not only has the threat of nuclear annihilation returned, but environmental and social collapse seem everywhere imminent and threatening. A dark global dread hangs over the future, taking on many forms that are all already hugely damaging some people’s lives, such as in the Sub-Arctic and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The societal aspects of this build-up to Armageddon are not even subtle anymore. Millions worldwide are suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness, new generations are being born with life chances, such as good health, jobs and home ownership, significantly below those of their parents at a similar age. Material inequality exists now that has never before been seen on Earth, with the top eight wealthiest people (all men) having more wealth than 50% of the population of the whole world.[5]

Social dysfunction arising from drug addiction is now rampant where the forces of hopelessness, loneliness, unemployment, homelessness, and powerlessness all combine to create an oppressive social climate. Drug addiction to highly dangerous substances such as ‘ice’ has been seen by many as a contemporary expression of “the opiate of the people”.

There is much more: we have created a globally connected world that is destroying us as we are destroying it. Global dread is now interconnected and metastasizing. Many want out and are grasping at anything that makes the journey either smoother or faster. Such escapist thoughts combine to make climate change denial, escapism, avoidance and anti-environmentalism integral parts of a neo-millenarian movement that wants the current state of the world to end.

Some secretly celebrate record temperatures and climate-related disasters. They actually want the world to change fundamentally. It is no wonder that Christian fundamentalists are so prominent in climate denial circles. They have read and understood the blueprint for such an apocalypse. It may not, any longer, be a thousand years in the future, but the thinking is the same. When life becomes intolerable and there seems no way out, prayer and desperate hope for a final end, so that we might start all over, beckons. The non-believers in ‘rapture’ religion simply engage in disaster euphoria, take drugs and drink more.

The response to oppression just might be a desire to see the cause of the oppression to come to a grinding or blinding halt. Being involuntarily locked into a complex system that they cannot change forces people into escapism. They will want climate chaos because they want a change that fundamentally alters a state of affairs they crave to be out of. Despite the risks of future disaster with the great warming, in order to banish global dread, any big change will be a good one.

[1] Albrecht 2012b, 257.

[2] Hermon 2013.

[3] Sterling 2009.

[4] Reagan, in Lukas 1986.

[5] Oxfam 2017.


2 thoughts on “Mermerosity and Global Dread

  1. Dear Glenn,

    Hope this finds you well. I was just reading and thinking with you here on your blog, looking for an address to reach out. I’m an interdisciplinary artist based in lutruwita/Tasmania with-nessing front line sites of ecocide and more than human witnesses to state sanctioned disturbance. The term solastalgia has been clarifying in this space as my activist creative practice leads me to the relational sticky-ness of empathy, towards entangled solidarity, querying what might be in the liminal between thinking/ acting or overwhelm in this time of changing climate. I am in the process of researching a body of work, and gathering together artists/ thinkers/ writers/ scientists/ activists for a convergence next year titled Swift Plenary (after the imperilled swift parrot), and would be so interested to talk to you more about your naming practice, and how you see the links between perception (the naming) might impact the conditions (active responsibility). Look forward to hearing from you.
    not sure if the previous attempt at sending this worked- if it did, please ignore the doubling up 🙂


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