Apocalyptic themes have always been common in cultural creations and popular tales, from the earliest biblical texts to the most recent Hollywood blockbusters. From Noah's ark to the Apocalypse in the Gospel According to St. John, from fears of nuclear catastrophe to Mad Max, The Walking Dead and The Handmaid's Tale, the threat of a world-destroying cataclysm has always been a pervasive motif in our culture, as a potential expiation for the trespasses of mankind.
The etymology of the word "apocalypse" is quite interesting. Its original meaning, from both the Greek and the Latin, is revelation: a vision, a promise of a better world once our sins have been purged. A salvation but one that can only come to pass after a cathartic catastrophe washes away the iniquities of Man.
In Western countries, as well as in other countries where religious ideology no longer predominates, the notion of apocalypse is still present. It continues to play the same role, but in a secular way. Today, our "sins" involve our lack of respect for the planet, climate change caused by human activity, the destabilization of democracies by the rise of the Extreme Right, terrorism, the "financialization" of the economy at the expense of "real" production, the staggering and widening gap between rich and poor, etc. (and I'm sure there's more I've left out!).
And so, even if "apocalypse" no longer bears its earlier religious connotation, it performs the same function: the threat of cathartic disaster if we do not mend our ways.
In fact, the apocalypse is a project: to change the world in the face of the threatened extinction of mankind and society. The threat justifies the project to transform our way of life.
It is fascinating to observe that a large majority of Canadians entertain this kind of apocalyptic view of life today. Presented in a secular way, as climate change and social change, three out of five people in the country share this vision (61%).
Our way of measuring this phenomenon is a bit peculiar. Respondents to our surveys are presented with a question with two opposing ideas and are asked to choose the one that best reflects their opinion. In this case, the exercise was as follows ...
Which of these statements do you feel closer to ...?
The world is heading for disaster: within the next 10 to 20 years there will be a major upheaval
The world is evolving and moving forward: within the next 10 or 20 years we will see the establishment of a more humane and happier society
In Canada, it's the first statement that takes the prize, at 61%, compared to 39% for the second statement.
It is interesting to note that on a socio-demographic and socio-economic level, there is not much variation. The less fortunate, the less educated, as well as residents of smaller communities are a little more likely to entertain this vision of disaster, but the differences are small, in the order of 3% to 5%.
Even on a regional level, in Quebec, the least "catastrophic" province, we find that 57% of the population agree with statement number one. This agreement climbs to 66% in the Maritimes, while the other provinces hover around the national average.
Thus, given variations of around five percentage points, majorities of about 60% of Canadians share this apocalyptic view of our modern world, believing that we are heading for disaster!
It is also fascinating to observe that this apocalyptic view of the world has been systematically on the rise in Canada since 2008. While our "disaster" statement garnered the agreement of 61% of the population in 2017, it was at 49% in 2008, an almost perfectly linear rise of 12 points over nine years.
It is interesting to note that it was the 2008 crisis that triggered this upward momentum (previously, our data was flat on this indicator). Since 2008, despite the subsequent economic recovery, an apocalyptic view of life has continued to rise, as if people feel increasingly threatened by all the uncertainties burdening society and their lives.
Topping the list are obviously the planet's ecological problems, climate change and all the natural disasters associated with them. To which is added a completely Darwinist view of our social model, where they see only the strong surviving, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and governments in the pocket of the rich and powerful! Feeding this world view is a dash of cynicism and populism - no one cares about the public good.
These "dystopians" feel personally threatened by all these social issues. Life has become risky in every way. They feel that they are not in charge of their own lives, that they ae at the mercy of societal forces.
We interpret the fact that three out of five people share such an apocalyptic view of life in Canada as a heartfelt cry for help, a search for hope! Politicians are less and less credible. Business is perceived as having very little social conscience. The world is falling apart and no one seems to give a damn.
This situation represents an opportunity for organizations, brands and business to give back to the community, to launch initiatives that make a difference in this context. Finally, those who succeed in making a credible mark with such projects stand to win points from citizens and consumers.