F**k the apocalypse
My good friend Chris Scheer -- author of "Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us about Iraq" -- has something to say about the Chicken Littles of this world. Whether you agree with him or not, it asks us to think more seriously about the apocalyptic rhetoric that we sneer at when it comes from the Christian right, but eagerly embrace when touting our cause:
Fuck the Apocalypse. Seriously, it's bullshit. Fuck the one where God is coming to smite most of us, and fuck the one where the polar ice-caps melt and Nature is coming to smite most of us. It's all just morality-based negative wish-fulfillment.
If you want to say things are going to Hell in a hand-basket, fine. But it has always been thus. This is no school play, folks, it's a bunch of fragile survivors making life on a hot rock. Stop your grandiosity, stop believing you're at the absolute center of time and space. Believing the Apocalypse is upon us is just one gigantic ego trip.
In 10,000 years, whatever "intelligent" bunch of abstract thinkers still walks the planet will be mentioning the melting of the ice caps (which is real) with as much passion as my 6th graders recite the dates of the last Ice Age.
Rolling Stone, in an article subtly entitled "The End of the World, Part III," writes this month that:
The age of the International War on Terror seems to have turned itself into an unusually grim time in world history, an era of awesome and unforeseeable catastrophes, giant steps backward in the journey of civilization, ruinous and far-reaching political blunders and violently disillusioning confrontations with man's limitations. Even the most godless among us has to tremble before the biblical scale of the past twelve months' headlines: the tsunami that swallowed south Asia, the deadly lady named Katrina (also known as America Not Immune) and now this. We do not seem to be going forward very much, but every few months we lose, somewhere, a big piece of the world map, a mysterious and enervating process that is becoming like an ominously steady drip that can be heard all over the planet.OK, first of all, south Asia was not "swallowed." It's outermost fringe was hit with a devastating wave. There are still a billion people living in India alone, and they would like you to know that not only were they not swallowed by a wave or a dragon or anything else, but they are still singing songs, making love and riding the bus to work today. And while it is surely awful that three million people are sleeping under tents after the earthquake in Pakistan, it is not the end of the world, in literal terms. After all, three million people is only five-ten-thousandths (.0005) of the Earth's population! A couple hundreds years ago, 3 million people would have been a lot. Now, as the Jewish kids say on TV say, not so much.
What is astonishing is not that the earth shakes and makes big waves and storms -- that's what it does, people -- but that 3 million people are managing to live at all in a barren land only the most highly adapted creatures would even attempt to make home, one famous for its horrific earthquakes, droughts and religious extremism. The whole story of human expansion is like an expedition to the South Pole: If one party gets wiped out along the way, another one is still going to try insanely the next season, as soon as we can trick some dogs into dragging us there.
Believe it: God is NOT coming and boy is he NOT pissed. Nature is NOT seeking revenge, and it is NOT broken. If the whole world turns into a giant, bubbling-hot ocean whirlpool, there will be bacteria that will be happily living off the thermal energy and waiting for the next wave of evolution. Nature will survive, even if we are not there to see it.
Things are the same as they ever were, and always changing. You say there was a tsunami that wiped out the flimsy villages of poor people and a hurricane that flooded an impoverished city people had been predicting would be flooded for 150 years. It turns out people are sometimes venal and lazy and that leads to tragedy, and not everybody acts well during a crisis, and being poor is hazardous to your health. You think?
No, but really, there's a grinding war whose point has been lost, and somebody cheated during an election, and people are starving somewhere, and the rich are getting richer and ... what year was this? Any fucking year whatsoever in the history of man. Oh, that's right.
Yes, things are faster now. Yes, we have become the ants on the globe's crust, multiplying to such effect that a billion of us could be vaporized by aliens tomorrow and the story would fade off the front pages after a few months. Yes, there are too damn many of us and we are too damn stupid to handle it. Yes, technological innovation has outstripped intellectual evolution with disastrous results. Yes, if you're not outraged you're not paying attention. Yes, yes, yes.
But it is PERSONAL Apocalypse that is real, not all this End Times, neat-bow-on-everything, Judgment Day, Doomsday crap everybody is selling. All my life in California I've been hearing about The Big One, and you know what? That earthquake is going to suck, hard. I could lose my life, loved ones -- even a child. But five years later, for society, it's just going to be an excuse for anniversary journalism. For me, I may never recover, but the earth will go on, unmoved, and humans, for better or worse, will continue to surge over the shifting sands.
Here's what is personally Apocalyptic: Watching your family die of starvation. Combing the wreckage of your life after the hurricane. Digging out the dead bodies of your neighbors after the earthquake. Tragedy is personal, or it inevitably becomes tainted with voyeurism.
Please don't misunderstand: Empathy, whether for those in our bed or those on the other side of the border, is perhaps the must wonderful mammalian skill there is, especially when teamed with helping actions. When we aid the Pakistanis and Louisianans and the Indonesians in their time of personal and communal crisis, we are all the richer for it. Seriously.
Just don't call it an Apocalypse. The world is not ending. To think so or say so or make jokes about it being so is simply to cop out on the fact that this is all really happening right now and we are not going to be rescued by God or nature or anybody else. Nobody is going to 'get theirs" and the mountain lions are not going to take back California to the swelling sounds of choral singing and the tipping point or the hundredth monkey is not going to turn us all into Buddhas full of empathy and grace. Nanotechnology is not going to rebuild the ozone layer, although your Prius might slow its dissolution. Steve Jobs is a huckster, not a Messiah, and Dick Cheney is an asshole, not a devil.
We either do the best we can, knowing that doing good is its own reward, or we fade into miserable fatalism. Suck it up.