THE ZERO ZERO DECADE
Author: Barry Vacker
Useless art magazine #10, 2011.
Though this essay was published prior to the founding of the Center, it explores the proliferation of "zeros" in the media environments of the first decade of the new millennium and what these zeros might mean for human destiny. The essay was adapted from Barry's experimental book, Zero Conditions (2008) and accompanied by artwork from Stacey Steers (not the images below).
Read/download the essay as it appeared in the magazine: Zero Zero Decade
So, here we are, more than ten years into the new millennium, seeking to make sense of the decade of “the naughts,” those years following 2000. These are the years in which the number of the year was preceded by double zeros. If we are looking for philosophical meaning in the decade of the naughts, then perhaps we should look at the “zero,” that number that stands for naught and nothing … and so much more.
Remember all those “Millennium Clocks” counting down toward the year 2000? It seems every major metropolis had at least one Clock counting down toward all zeros that would signal the arrival of the year 2000, the end of one millennium and the beginning of a new millennium.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the year 2000 was often associated with the arrival of “the future,” the new “world of tomorrow” filled with utopian possibilities for art and culture, science and technology, humanity and secular society. Yet as humanity approached the millennium, there was a declining confidence in the future, even a fear of the future, more often envisioned as the site for dystopia and the coming apocalypse. Born in an era of glowing technological confidence, the twentieth century ended in an age of growing technological skepticism, caused by fears of various apocalypses, from nuclear war to global warming to worldwide computer crashes to asteroids from outer space. For many, it seemed difficult to imagine an optimistic technological or cosmic future — the future would be the time of Planet of the Apes, THX 1138, Soylent Green, Mad Max, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Armageddon, The Matrix, and many others, all making it no surprise that the end of the millennium provided Fight Club. These dystopian visions have only been reinforced by the debacles of this decade of naughts, which concludes with the warning that the cosmos will wipe us out in 2012.
So, there is something is surely awry in the theory and practice of the future. Beginning in the 1990s and a decade into the new millennium, there here has been a strangely recurring theme of zero involving art, science, and technology, in many forms, from film to physics to architecture, all seeming to say something about the fate of the world in the third millennium.
THE CULTURAL MEANING OF ZERO
Though zero is often associated with a lack or a nothing, the cultural meaning of zero is powerful and paradoxical.
Zero is the first number in the real world, the nothingness from which we begin counting all things real and imaginary. Zero is the starting point for counting up and the end point for countdowns. Zero ends the countdowns for rockets to the starry skies, and ground zero is the detonation point for rockets with atomic bombs. The idea of zero as signaling nothingness or countdown is why it is usually associated with destruction and apocalypse.
Zero is one of two numbers in the binary system of the virtual world. 1 is the number for “on” and 0 is the number for “off,” or, understood another way, one equals representation and zero equals nonrepresentation — ones and zeros, being and nothingness, existential conditions for the information age.
When a zero appears at the end of a calendar year, such as 2010, it serves a powerful symbol demarking the passage of years, measured in decades. When three zeros appear, as in 2000, it is a symbol of the passage of centuries, measured in millennia. It is at such moments that the zeros suggest not only ends and apocalypses, but also beginnings and singularities, the possibilities of transformations yet to be realized. The three zeros of the year 2000 signaled the starting point or the singularity, the moment of nothingness between positive and negative, yesterday and tomorrow, countdown and blastoff. But, blast off into what kind of tomorrow?
THE COUNTDOWN TO 2000
By 1999, there were many clocks around the world counting down to 2000, yet the Millennium Clock at the Centre Pompidou had been the first clock of the countdown.
The Clock was born in 1980 after a Le Monde cover story about the thousand weeks before the year 2000. Designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, the Centre Pompidou is famed for having all its guts and skeleton — vents, ducts, wiring, escalators, and support structures — located on the exterior, an expression of pure efficiency and functionalism meant to provide complete artistic freedom in the use of interior space. If the sheer functionalism of the Centre Pompidou signaled the completion of the modern architectural project, then the Millennium Clock suggested the exhaustion of the modern utopian project.
For the existential nihilist Jean Baudrillard, the Millennium Clock suggested that modernity was running down, or out of time, becoming entropic in the exhaustion of all future possibilities — the project of modernity had become the “final illusion of history,” for its vision of perpetual progress and industrial technology no longer existed as utopian models of the future in the West. As the end of the millennium approached, the ticking only seemed to accelerate, with the zeros increasing on the left side of the Clocks and eventually cascading in the final minutes and seconds to all zeros. There was climax and completion in the zeros, heralding not only the end of the millennium, but perhaps the end of the future, at least “the future” as we once imagined it.
THE DOUBLE ZEROS OF Y2K
As the Millennium Clocks were ticking toward zero, a pair of zeros appeared on the digital horizon, the two zeros known as Y2K or "the Millennium Bug."
The Y2K problem was born of the need to conserve scarce and expensive computer space during the 1950s, when calendar years were recorded by the last two numbers — for example, “57” instead of “1957.” Many experts feared that computers would not properly recognize the arrival of the year 2000, which would be recorded as “00” at 00:00:00 between December 31, 1999, and January 1, 2000. It was thought that computers would record 2000 as “00” and conclude that the new year was 1900, thus crashing computers and effecting a technological apocalypse in the media and energy networks around the world.
Businesses and governments enlisted programmers to “correct” the code, combining to spend an estimated $300–600 billion around the world. Though there were some minor glitches, the corrections apparently worked, for the computer networks did not crash at 00:00:00 on January 1, 2000. The Millennium Bug was mostly dead on arrival.
The double zeros suggested a double-coding for Y2K, the nonevent that masked real events. The technological apocalypse was avoided with Y2K, thus masking the virtual apocalypse, where the territories of “reality” retreat beyond the proliferating maps of postmodern media — the hyperreality of image and information, clones and copies, replicas and reproductions.
THE ZERO UNIVERSE OF THE MATRIX
The virtual apocalypse is the subject of The Matrix (1999), which depicted yet another war with the future, that hyperreal tomorrow existentially defined by the number zero.
In the beginning of the film, the title — THE MATRIX — emerges from the glowing green numbers cascading down a screen. More columns of cascading numbers follow. Slowly zooming in on a single digit — 0 — moviegoers were propelled through the zero, through the vanishing point, into a mediated realm of nothingness, the virtuality of “the matrix.” Amidst all the gun battles, martial art moves, and counterfeit rebellion, The Matrix depicts the existential conditions of the information age, an ever-accelerating journey into hyperreality, into the zero, the nothingness.
But, this journey into “nothingness” should not be surprising. If media are extensions of consciousness and perception (Marshall McLuhan) and consciousness is a nothingness for perceiving all things (Jean-Paul Sartre), then indeed media technologies are electronic nothingnesses which we are filling with representations of the world. We are all filling the voids of cyberspace with copies of the world, the world of being and nothingness now coded in one and zeros. Humans are no longer the center of the cosmic universe, but we have created a substitute universe in cyberspace, a virtual universe where we are the center sitting at our computers. Isn’t that the meaning of Facebook, Myspace, and Youtube?
GETTING BACK TO ZERO IN FIGHT CLUB
“Everything’s a copy of a copy of a copy,” laments Jack, the corporate drone in Fight Club. Directed by David Fincher, Fight Club offered another end-of-the-millennium apocalypse, with Tyler Durden (Jack’s alter ego) leading a violent rebellion against the consumers and copies, the citizens of the modern and postmodern futures.
The film opened with Durden holding a gun in the mouth of Jack, accompanied by the following prophetic lines from Durden: “Three minutes. This is it: ground zero.” The film then flashes back to tell story of the rebellion, which began with brutal fistfights among gangs of GQ men in an underground network of “fight clubs.” The movement expanded its scope and ambition to include detonating corporate sculpture and destroying the skyscrapers of credit card companies, all in the effort to fully erase credit card debt, to get us to go “back to zero.”
Eventually, we learn that Durden was seeking a return to the premodern world, an agrarian-oriented hunter-gatherer society where people were attired in all-leather clothes and grew food amidst abandoned skyscrapers and superhighways. Attired in anti-fashion fashions, Tyler Durden was a hipster terrorist, an urban Unabomber, not theorizing in the forest and mail-bombing scientists, but acting on a much larger scale in the metropolis and bombing skyscrapers. In the conclusion to the film, we return to “ground zero” to witness the implosion and collapse of several towering skyscrapers in cinematic imagery that was strikingly similar to the collapse of the Twin Towers two years later at Ground Zero in New York City.
THE MILLENNIUM EXPERIENCE AT 0°L
Though computers did not crash in 2000, the future itself seems to have crashed, which was the very condition on display at the “Millennium Experience” inside the Millennium Dome.
Functioning like a synthesis of world’s fair and theme park, the Millennium Experience opened on December 31, 1999, and closed on December 31, 2000. Promotional literature described the zones as “windows to the future,” with the Millennium Dome being “the most forward-looking place in the world to celebrate the year 2000 and our voyage into the next thousand years.” The largest dome in the world, the Millennium Dome was intended to be an architectural icon for celebrating the new millennium, symbolically situated on the Greenwich Peninsula at 0° longitude on the prime meridian, which functions as the beginning and end point in the standardization of world time.
Inside the Millennium Dome was the Millennium Experience, a series of “zones” designed to be educational and entertaining, each dedicated to some aspect of the human condition at the millennium. The most popular zone was the Body, where visitors walked inside a giant human body (the size of the Statue of Liberty) that featured a pumping heart, brain activities, and other bodily functions. The Mind depicted the functions and neural networks of the brain. The Home Planet offered a multimedia presentation about nature around the world, with an exterior made of TV screens showing various images of nature. Other zones included Work, Play, Money, Faith, Learning, and Journey (transportation), each experienced much like a theme park attraction.
What can be made of this future displayed at 0°L? Looking much like the internet, the networks of the Mind were mapped and the “windows to the future” opened on a Disney-like vision of tomorrow. Not surprisingly, the Planet was a multimedia experience. After the Millennium Experience closed, the exhibits and everything inside were dismantled and sold via an auction—a fire sale of “the future.” By the end of 2001, the Millennium Dome was an empty cavern, containing nothing more than dust and debris.
If the Millennium Dome was about the future, then it seems we have entered a disposable future, or an empty future, or perhaps a future dead on arrival. Perhaps this future is suggested by the fate of the Body, for which there were no bidders, apparently because the giant human form was too unwieldy or just plain useless. After being dismembered, the Body was buried in a nearby hole. The only full-time resident of the Dome is already dead, the Body now decaying in its graveyard. The Body entered the future at 0° and was buried shortly after at 0°, at the beginning and end of world time.
GROUND ZERO IN NEW YORK CITY
The Twin Towers made their debut in a model of New York City at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which was dedicated to celebrating the “future” of the space and information ages. Originally conceived as a vertical world’s fair, the Twin Towers were the first skyscrapers wired for global telecommunications.
The World Trade Center was completed in 1973, and when Tower 2 was finished, it became the mirror of Tower 1, thus making the monoliths into icons for the copy, the clone, the replay of the event that had already occurred, the arrival at a destination already reached. The Twin Towers were like binary digits, the ones turned on, towering monoliths waiting for the countdown to Ground Zero. The people killed in the collapse of the Twin Towers were disintegrated and buried at a zero, not unlike the Body dismembered and buried at 0°L near the Millennium Dome. Conceived like world’s fairs to celebrate the future, the Millennium Dome and the Twin Towers both met unexpected fates — burials at two zeros, two funerals for a new future, now apparently dead on arrival. This was the future anticipated in the ground zero of Fight Club.
THE ZERO UNIVERSE OF NAQOYQATSI
In Naqoyqatsi (2002), the third film of the “Qatsi” trilogy, Godfrey Reggio echoed The Matrix and Paul Virilio’s post-9/11 critique, Ground Zero (2002), which theorized that reality had perhaps tipped “once and for all into electronic nothingness.” After the title — NAQOYQATSI — is shown on the screen, a burst of stars accelerates toward us, expanding in all directions like the big bang universe. A zero emerges from around the four sides of the screen and then recedes into the vanishing point, while the stars accelerate ever faster. The zero reemerges from behind the expanding stars, accompanied by a horizontal stream of ones and zeros that dissolve into exploding stars.
The remainder of the documentary offered a poetic meditation on the spectacle of mediated and hyperreal society, from celebrity to surveillance to genetics to sports to warfare to globalization. In the film, it is clear that media reality is becoming the dominant reality, whether it is the special effects of Hollywood or the 1s and 0s of Silicon Valley. Though it does not directly reference 9/11, Naqoyqatsi cinematically expresses the post-9/11 cultural zeitgeist of America, while suggesting America and the West faces a kind of critical void and cosmic vertigo in the wake of ground zero.
GROUND ZERO IN LAS VEGAS
In the 2003 book Zeropolis, Bruce Begout theorized Las Vegas as the zero metropolis, the city of nothingness and illusion, emptiness and nonexistence, evisceration and exploitation. While the idea of a “Zeropolis” is insightful and provocative, there is more happening in Las Vegas than mere gambling and empty aesthetics.
Las Vegas is a microcosm of the fully mediated world extending around the planet and throughout global culture. As Jean Baudrillard explained, it is by being seen as imaginary that Disneyland and Las Vegas save the reality principle — functioning as covers for the fact that the “real world” of the modern metropolis is no longer fully real or authentic. Disneyland and Las Vegas embody all the complexities of the postmodern hyperreal, where the real and fictional are no longer dualities but are digitized and cloned in an endless series of reprogramming and reproduction.
The events at Ground Zero in New York were strangely anticipated in Las Vegas, at the hotel “New York-New York.” As with the Twin Towers, the hotel New York-New York signaled the double, the clone, the copy, the rise of the hyperreal. Opened in 1997, New York-New York is a vast simulation of various New York City icons — with a skyscraper skyline that features a half-size Statue of Liberty, forty-seven-story Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Seagram Building, Grand Central Station, three-hundred-foot-long Brooklyn Bridge, and many others. Within New York–New York, tourists can dine in Greenwich Village or stroll along Times Square and Broadway. However, visitors have never been able to view or visit the World Trade Center, for the Twin Towers were not included in the skyline of New York–New York. Like a map prophesying the absence of territories, the future of New York City was presaged in the Xerox of New York–New York.
Capitol of the hyperreal, Las Vegas is where reproduction becomes reality, the map of yesterday that preceded the territory of tomorrow.
ZERO-BRANES AND ZERO CURVATURE IN STRING THEORY
In his 2004 bestseller, The Fabric of the Cosmos, physicist Brian Greene explained string theory and state of the art theories about the physical nature of the universe. String theory posits that the smallest constituents of the universe are not particles of matter but loops of energy, in the form of submicroscopic strings, which are linked together like a complex web or membrane.
The smallest of these loops are called “zero-branes,” and, like strings on a guitar, the loops of energy vibrate to generate the matter of the universe. Though not yet empirically verified, the equations suggest the strings make up a sprawling cosmic fabric upon which exists the matter of the universe.
Since the big bang, the universe has been expanding in all directions, with the galaxies hurtling away from each other with increasing velocity. Propelling the universe apart are the expanding voids in between the galaxies, voids powered by the mysterious force of dark energy. These expanding voids are apparently spreading the universe toward a final state of zero density and “zero curvature,” or toward a flat universe that will eventually disappear beyond all horizons. Greene likens the shape of the universe to a flat-screen TV and a hologram on a plastic card, where reality exists on a thin surface illuminated to reveal “the holographic illusions of daily life.” If the Second Law of Thermodynamics and superstring theory are correct, then the ultimate trajectory of the universe is from infinite energy and density toward zero energy and zero density.
Offering the promise of zero energy and zero density, Coke Zero may be the ultimate soft drink, the cosmic soft drink for a string theory universe.
Introduced in 2005, Coke Zero’s “zero formula” contains zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero sugar, zero protein — apparently meaning that the drink offers nothing to increase energy and nothing to increase the density of body fat, though apparently it still contains caffeine for a quick hit. From Coke to Diet Coke to Coke Zero, the trajectory of the original Coca-Cola is to disappear, to have its flavor simulated and function emptied, to reach its vanishing point on the horizons of the global marketplace. Like a copy of a copy of a copy, Coke Zero is the soft-drink simulacrum. Once promoted as “the real thing,” Coca-Cola has cloned a near-nothing, marketed as nothing, a zero, in Coke Zero. Other Coca Coal brands have followed suit, such as Sprite Zero and Powerade Zero.
Coke Zero is also a global brand with subtle meaning. Many of modernity’s ideals and secular values — freedom, science, enlightenment, equality, progress, etc. — have lost authority and authenticity as universal values, precisely as globalization has swept around the world, offering an explosion of personal lifestyles and group identities in a fragmented global village.
Coca-Cola and Facebook (there is even a Facebook Zero) are representative of the global brands and global media supplanting universal secular philosophy, where universality is emptied of intellectual content and then replaced by a proliferation of copies and reproductions as vacuous symbols of a shared destiny. Remnants of universal philosophy are now stamped as the tribal tattoos for the global village, where the global logos is replaced by the logos of global brands.
GROUND ZERO IN NEW ORLEANS
Hurricane Katrina effected another “ground zero” in an American metropolis. The global village gazed upon the horrific images — the Superdome and skyscrapers towered above a swamp, survivors stranded on highway overpasses and rooftops, and much of the citizenry reduced to hunter-gatherer status, all while the utterly corrupt government illustrated its ignorance and incompetence. In one sense, this ground zero was a test run for the effects of global warming; in another sense, it is a test pattern for American hubris and ignorance.
Hurricane Katrina fulfilled the apocalyptic prophecies of The Weather Channel. In January, 2006, The Weather Channel launched the series It Could Happen Tomorrow, which focused on possible weather or geological apocalypses that could hit American cities. The first scheduled episode of It Could Happen Tomorrow was about a Category 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans! Storm surge overwhelmed the levees, thousands of people were drowned, and skyscrapers were flooded amidst an urban swamp. As the show was being produced, in summer 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, and the episode was withheld from public broadcast until summer 2006.
Planners have known that a Category 5 hurricane would flood New Orleans, with catastrophic results, yet the necessary upgrade of the levees was not made by the Army Corps of Engineers, Louisiana, or the city of New Orleans. Plus, the wetlands south of the city were allowed to steadily erode, reducing the natural hurricane buffer for the city. Meanwhile, New Orleans erected the Superdome in 1975 and pursued the postmodern economies of tourism, sports, and media spectacles.
Between 2001 and 2005, two of America’s largest architectural structures — The Twin Towers and the Superdome (both completed in the 1970s) — were destroyed or severely damaged, suggesting a massive cultural reversal. The terrorists blew holes in the Twin Towers while Hurricane Katrina blew holes in the roof of the Superdome and the levees of New Orleans, the ground zeros of the apocalypse. This is the Fight Club future, where the postmodern future is engulfed by the premodern past and media spectacle encounters intelligent design.
NEW YORK CITY AS A ZERO
On the five-year anniversary of September 11th, the New York Times published a special section called “Broken Ground: The Hole in the City’s Heart.” On the first page was a circular photograph of New York City with Ground Zero at the center of the image and the rest of the city and world warping away toward the vanishing points. Wittingly or unwittingly, the New York Times depicted New York City as a zero, for what else is a circle with a hole in it — especially a hole called Ground Zero — but the site and symbol for nothingness and some kind of singularity?
As evidenced by the remainder of the decade since 9/11, some of the zeros have intuited America’s own ideological and existential crisis. America faced a ground zero and the resulting singularity has only amplified America’s hubris and ignorance. After all, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006) was a cultural lobotomy in the guise of a meaningful action film, offering zero explanation for why the Twin Towers existed or were destroyed.
And, what has America done since 9/11? America’s political leaders passed the PATRIOT Act, attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, tortured prisoners, betrayed the Constitution, flouted the Geneva Convention, watched a hurricane drown New Orleans, further bureaucratized the health care industry, considered zero interest rates for the Fed, and bailed out incompetent bankers on Wall Street, even though the economy tanked and stock market values are below the levels reached in 2000.
To top it off, government debt exceeded the digits on The National Debt Clock in Times Square and America now has a long-term debt moving toward 100 trillion dollars, or 1 followed by fourteen zeros!
CARBON ZERO TOMORROW
In the book and film An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore offered a warning and a plan to prevent the next ecological ground zero. Gore argues that humanity faces the moment of singularity for confronting global warming, which can only be reversed by a carbon zero tomorrow. Here the zero is the singularity, the endpoint for fossil fuel consumption and the starting point for a most optimistic ecological future.
Accompanying carbon zero tomorrow are other ecological zeros: “Zero Footprint” (consumer waste) and “Zero Emissions” (cars). There is also “Zero Water,” a brand of water filter which is supposedly provides “perfect” purified drinking water.
CARBON ZERO OR GLOBAL ZERO
In the year following An Inconvenient Truth, the zero appeared on a global scale, hovering above the clouds against a blue sky. On both sides of this zero was a capitol S, spelling out SOS, the famed letters signaling distress or emergency. The zero was the centerpiece of the logo for Live Earth, the 2007 global “concerts for a climate in crisis.” Upon arriving at the Live Earth Web site, visitors viewed each S disappearing behind the O, the center of which was black. Beside the O were the words “Live Earth” and if one scrolled over the two words, “Live Earth” disappeared against the black background, leaving only the O, the circle that became a zero, signaling countdown to the ecological apocalypse or blastoff for a carbon zero tomorrow.
GLOBAL ZERO NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
In 2008, one hundred international leaders convened in Paris to launch the “Global Zero” campaign to combat the all-too-real threats of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. The Global Zero campaign includes plans for deep reductions in the arsenals of Russia and the United States, to be accompanied by negotiations among the nuclear powers to eliminate all nuclear weapons. The leaders spanned political lines and included President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and President Barack Obama of the United States, who both have declared their support for “a nuclear free world.” The next Global Zero meeting is set for 2010.
Seven decades after Hiroshima, five decades after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a decade after 9/11, we can only hope that one zero counters another, where the next ground zero is prevented by Global Zero.
THE ECONOMIC ZERO
In a New York Times op-ed (December 27, 2009) about the state of the American economy, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman labeled the decade the “Big Zero.” According to Krugman, it was a decade of:
• zero job creation, with a decline in private-sector employment, marking the first decade on record in which that happened.
• zero economic gains for the typical family, with median household income (adjusted for inflation) lower than 1999.
• zero gains for homeowners, with housing prices (adjusted for inflation) now roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade.
• zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account.
Krugman blames this mess on the hubris and misguided “economic triumphalism” that reigns within the business and political establishments of America. To wrap up the decade of the aughts, Krugman suggests we “bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing.”
Amazingly or strangely, in the zero zero decade, the United States Federal Reserve had steadily reduced interest rates to almost zero, promptly some experts and catoonists to forecast zero interest rates.
At the end of the decade, the end of the world remains a popular theme, featuring a blockbuster film based on zero evidence and a hit TV series starring zero people.
Population zero, life after people, the end of humanity — these are the scenarios depicted in 2012, Roland Emmerich’s magnum opus, and Life After People: The Series, which is airing on The History Channel. The TV series is based on Life After People: Population Zero, which aired on The History Channel in 2008. Not to be outdone, National Geographic Channel countered with Aftermath: Population Zero.
In the clever TV shows, special effects are used to depict what would happen on Earth if humans instantaneously vanished from the planet, while our technological systems remained. Within seconds, cars crash; within minutes, planes drop from the sky. Within hours, the unattended power grid shuts down; within three days, nuclear plants melt down and the entire planet is shrouded in dark at night. Within ten years, roads crack and cover over with weeds as nature begins to green the cities. Within two hundred years, many skyscrapers and bridges begin to collapse because of rust and decay; Paris becomes a marsh, Manhattan becomes a forest, and desertification overtakes Las Vegas. Within one thousand years, the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty collapse, falling beneath the green canopy. Within twenty-five to one hundred thousand years, the next ice age sends glaciers grinding across the collapsed cities, erasing any last remnants of the human species. On Earth, all traces of humanity will have reached the vanishing point, the zero condition for human civilization.
In a billion years, the only trace of human existence will not be on Earth, but on the moon, where the items from the moon landings will still be intact, along with the four-billion-year-old craters. And, the Voyager space probes will be gliding through the cosmic voids.
At least Voyager will avoid the fate of humanity in 2012, the film whose plot reflects pseudo-science and human ignorance among those who buy into the astrology of Mayan prophecies. In 2012, that planet once known as Spaceship Earth, that planet filled with passengers, yet missing its pilot and instruction manual, is now envisioned as a planet destroyed by the alignments of the cosmos.
THE ZERO DECADE
So, here we are at the end of discussing “the zero zero decade.”
A decade into the new millennium and many people are preoccupied with the end of the world and end of the universe, from Al Gore to Roland Emmerich, fundamentalists to scientists, The History Channel to The National Geographic Channel. It seems humans can imagine the end of the world, but not an end to the things that might cause the end of the world — like war, exploitation, ignorance, superstition, willful delusion, and imaginary deities. Science and technology have hurtled into the new millennium, but it seems human culture and ideology is lagging far behind.
The patterns of zeros are more than a clever conceit or millennial numerology, for the zeros not only suggest dangerous cultural and intellectual trajectories, but also signal the moments of singularity for negative or positive cultural transformations. Many of the zeros suggest the entropy and exhaustion of modernity, that global culture shaped by the once-utopian trajectories of science and technology. Yet, some zeros suggest opportunities for the future, exemplified by the carbon zero tomorrow and Global Zero nuclear disarmament campaign.
The Cold War and its nuclear ground zero has been replaced by the Terror War and its new ground zero, which is an intellectual ground zero. This is the war that America and the West seem clueless on how to win. The Terror War is rooted in two wars, the war between two tribes of imperialist fundamentalists, Christians and Islamists, who are both at war with the perceived ills of modernity and postmodernity and seek to reverse culture in reasserting their deities as guides for destinies on Earth. This war cannot be won with new military strategy, new technology, or more relativism and toleration. The Terror War can only be won the same way the Cold War was won, by providing a better model living on planet Earth, a model that provides spiritual meaning for secular living in the modern world.
Perhaps the most profound effect of modernity was to remove humans from the center of the universe, to place us in our true location as passengers on Spaceship Earth, floating in a cosmos of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. Most humans dread or deny facing these cosmic conditions, which is a key reason they turn to religions and fundamentalisms with never-ending offers of deities that promise destinies in the heavens. Until artists, philosophers, and cosmologists show what the big bang and the fate of the universe means for humanity’s raison d’etre and joie de vivre, there will always be a void in meaning for secular society on Spaceship Earth.
Cultural theory is confronting the zero conditions — ends, exhaustions, reversals, nothingnesses, voids, and singularities. The year 2000 and the first decade of the millennium arrived, but the future seems to be crashing into the world of yesterday. A decade into the millennium, it is ground zero for theory.
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