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Post-Apocalyptic Fantasies

Humankind has a fascination with post-apocalyptic stories, a theme successfully exploited by Hollywood. On theater screens today, Furiosa: a Mad Max Sagacompetes with ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and, in an only slightly different genre, Civil War.


‘The study of dreams [is] the most trustworthy method of investigating deep mental processes’ postulated Sigmund Freud. According to The Interpretation of Apocalyptic Dreams(1992), the psychologic essence of apocalypse is invariably based on a death and rebirth fantasy.


In ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Freud touched upon that same idea. He speculated that there is ‘an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces.’


The more unsettled a mental state, the greater the call for some form of renewal. Clinically, patients who suffer from illnesses such as schizophrenia have regular dreams of apocalypse – an attempt to manage trauma and regulate affect.


At the level of the collective psyche, the growing penchant for post-apocalyptic stories over the last two decades reflects deepening societal imbalances and a loss of control over destiny. In that context, a post-apocalyptic environment provides an audience the opportunity to press ‘reset’ and reimagine society, unburdened by the past, as sung in ‘Radioactive’ by Imagine Dragons: ‘Welcome to the New Age.’ With it comes the deliverance of the individual through the destruction of society.


Accordingly, humankind is unconsciously working to bring itself back to ground zero. There, the social hierarchy is leveled. Primal instinct, survival skills, and resilience become the key determinants of life or death. Anyone can be a hero, including the most unlikely, as it is stereotypically the case in post-apocalyptic stories: a child, an inmate, a little-known politician, or any type of unsuccessful professional.


Post-apocalyptic stories also help with a strange yet liberating form of scenario planning. Inevitably, the audience is drawn to the question: What would I do if society were destroyed and rebuilt?


Independently, the perspective of a post-apocalyptic world may also represent an excuse to enjoy the present times in ‘carpe diem’ mode.


Whatever the drivers, the fascination with the apocalypse is dangerous. It validates the notion that real change cannot be implemented without devastation first, to the point where an ‘end’ may be called upon as a form of salute, such as a bankruptcy for an underperforming business, a (civil) war for a nation, or an environmental catastrophe for an ecosystem. The appeal of the apocalypse suggests that human nature is on an inevitable self-destruction path because it is the path of least resistance.


While the innate appeal to post-apocalyptic narratives suggests a fatalistic view of human nature, it also reflects a deep-seated desire for renewal and positive change. Becoming aware of this attraction and repelling it may represent an important step toward shaping a future where the apocalypse remains a fantasy.

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