If you woke up this morning and felt like something was different, you’re almost certainly right. Because everything ended in the night.
History has ended. Reason has ended. Poverty has ended. Sex has ended. Apparently, even men have ended.
How do I know? All the literature says so. Look no farther than your local Barnes and Noble.
Here is a small sample of the “The End of…” books currently on the shelves. “The End of Normal;” “The End of Money;” “The End of Guilt;” “The End of Time.” Also, blackness, leadership, materialism, war, the future, tradition and philosophy have ended. So have learning, art, physics and power. Inexplicably, “Big” has ended. (I don’t know what that means, and I’m afraid to find out.) Faith and science have ended, too.
I’m not the first to note this “End of” fad, and I won’t be the last. I like what Carlos Lozada says in a Washington Post article about The End: “‘The end of’ is… the perfect headline for our age. It fits a moment that fetishizes disruption over stability. It grabs an audience enamored of what is next, not what is here. It suits a public debate in which extreme positions are requisite starting points.
Lozada says claiming the end is the height of generalization. The authors who write these books don’t need to be experts; they just have catchy titles. “The more grandly you proclaim the end, and the more vast and undefined the thing that is ending, the easier it is to kill off…. If you’re contending that something specific has ended — well, the specific is measurable, observable and debatable. Specificity implies expertise. Generality is accountable to no one.”
I think this trend is also a marketing ploy. We like extremes. We are radicalizing ourselves. We like to think we are living on the edge of something — of everything. It gets our adrenaline pumping and it’s good for book sales.
We may have to wait for heaven to see the end of The End.
But on a more serious note, the fashion for Endings is, I think, as dangerous as it is wrong.
Intuitively, we know these titles flaunt ridiculous claims. Does anyone think war has ended? Does anyone think reason is done with? Isn’t it self-defeating to say that history is over, that time is in the past?
But the books keep coming. And as absurd as we know they are, they’re hard to argue with. Somehow, there’s a confused logic to very real things ending. Slivers of them ending? The idea of them ending?
Not only is a bit prideful to say, “This gigantic concept has ended,” as though we get the final word about it, it’s also irresponsible.
The End becomes a catchphrase. How often do we hear people say, “God is dead” as though that single phrase — those three simple words — were an argument in and of itself. People have told me to my face that the world has reached “The End of Faith” as thought it were an irrefutable claim. People see The End in bold print on hardbound book covers and think its true, that, hey, if it’s in print, it must be a defensible claim. Then they’ll use it, either in argument or in their own minds, like a magic spell, said once and then, abracadabra, it’s true.
Of course I think there is a lot of good material in some of these books. The Leithart piece about the end of Protestantism has some real wisdom in it. But I still wish he, and the other authors, wouldn’t sound so haughty and so utterly final. Protestantism, for instance, can still serve a very good purpose. It’s unhelpful to banish it outright.
To me, progress doesn’t require extinctions. Sometimes these dismissals aren’t bad (note: being “not bad” doesn’t necessarily make them true), but it wouldn’t hurt to get away from the hyperbolic extremes, because even though book titles don’t hurt people, distortion, pretension and misrepresentation do.