So is today the end of the world? No - depending on how you define "world," anyway. For the ancients and even some of the moderns, "the end of the world" means the literal end of the literal, factual, physical world - and for many of our apocalypse-minded friends, this is what they anticipated happening today. Whether that end of the world was through nuclear war, an asteroid hitting the earth, or some other sudden event, they thought it meant the end of the physical world.
We have other worlds, however, that are not physical. We have worlds based around all kinds of social institutions - the economic worlds of business and the First/Third World divide; the world of the ivory tower in higher education; the political worlds that are sometimes defined by their physical locations (the Beltway, for example). All of these are what we might call "social worlds."
Many of our social worlds are based around a worldview more than a physical world. We call these worldviews "ideologies." Ideologies can be fact- or fantasy-based, but they serve a particular purpose for human beings - they give explanations for what would otherwise be a chaotic, unpredictable environment. Here's the kicker: Those explanations do not have to be factual, they just have to be emotionally satisfying (as shown repeatedly by studies in what psychologists and social psychologists call "attribution theory" and its related offshoots). Occasionally they are both, but there's no requirement that any explanation for why something happens or why people are the way they are be a factual explanation.
What happens when the ideological explanation gets confronted with contradictory facts?
Well, you could say it's the end of the world as we know it.
The battle between progressives and non-progressives has always centered on ideology. Lakoff's examination of the "Strict Father" and "Nurturant Parent" models, or frames, of the world is just an example of the ideologies that separate us. Conservatives want every single person to be completely individually responsible for everything he or she does and obligated to the authorities in his or her life; progressives see the world as a network of interlinkages that we choose to be part of but that we are also obligated to simply by being born into it.
One can easily see how this is comforting to the conservative: if you're completely responsible for everything you do, then you're also completely responsible for your successes as well as your failures. Nobody "built that" for you - you did it yourself. Progressives draw equal comfort from the idea that we're not alone, that we can find support where we need it and when we need it because we're all in this together.
Notice how these worldviews clash? We use these as basic explanations for why things happen and why people do what they do, but many times our ideologies produce radically opposing answers for the same phenomenon, because what comforts us does not comfort them, and vice versa.
Conservatives will insist that the gunman had total responsibility for what happened at Sandy Hook and that the answer is to give everyone else personal empowerment by arming them. Progressives will recognize that the gunman was embedded in a network structure of social pressures that made it impossible for us to blame him alone. It's the culture, stupid.
Conservatives say that progressives don't live in reality; progressives say the same thing about conservatives. But when push comes to shove, it appears that progressives are probably correct, because our worldview (as ideological as it can be sometimes) seems to be more based in reality and in facts than the conservative worldview, and thus less prone to disruption when the facts rear their ugly heads.
Conservatives believe strongly in personal responsibility, authority figures, and the use of force. But some facts in the last few weeks seem to be getting in the way of that worldview's survival.
For example, (probably soon-to-be-ex-) Speaker Boehner demonstrated to the country - and the globe - last night that he has totally lost control of his caucus and it's been taken over by the Batshit Crazy wing of the party. This loss of authority will not go over well with any conservative, because it demonstrates that Boehner's party is operating in an alternate reality, and they haven't quite grasped that yet. The idea that Cantor could be the next Speaker just demonstrates how unready they are to give up their comforting explanation that a strong male authority figure will fix everything, by force if necessary.
This morning, the NRA demonstrated to the world that they have lost all grip on reality by doubling down on their call for more guns, more guns, more guns. The last thing that most people want to hear right now, when confronted with the facts of Sandy Hook, is that we should dress our children in Kevlar and post armed guards in every classroom. This fact is escaping conservatives, but it's also undermining their worldview.
Last week, the Pope accused gays of living in an alternate reality - and he's right. We do. We live in the real reality, the one based in facts, rather than fairy tales and fantasies. Look, I admit to having real hostility towards religion, but my main reason for that hostility is the belief system's departure from facts on a regular basis and the way in which that departure is so often used as a justification for violence (physical, economic, social, cultural, and symbolic) against people who aren't the "right kind" of people for the church in question.
So, is it the end of the world as we know it? Probably not. But I think that conservatives and theocrats have a nasty surprise on the way, even if it doesn't crystallize today. A lot of what they've been doing in the last twenty or thirty years is finally coming home to roost, and the comforting fantasy-based explanations they've been giving themselves for why people do what they do just aren't working, even for many members of their own political group, any more. The fact that 53 percent of all people polled think that the GOP is going to be responsible for the coming recession if we drop off the fiscal curb on the 31st demonstrates that their worldview is no longer working for the majority of Americans.
It's the end of their world as they know it - and I feel fine.