You know, I almost hope unicorns don’t exist. Dragons, too, and fairies and gryphons and harpies, the grim and the sphinx, even ol’ Nessie; all those mythical creatures so rare and beautiful. I hope they’re not real, or at least that they’re long gone by now. That sounds terrible, I know, but think about the shape our world’s in. Do you want such fantastical symbols to exist on an earth we’re running to ruin? I’m not sure I could handle that; it might just be the very last straw. Imagine unicorns treading daintily over cracked concrete with plastic bags tangled around their shining hooves! Imagine kelpies coated in oil, their organs full of microplastics and chemicals! If our trash has made its way to the very farthest depths of the oceans, even onto the moon itself, then where can these legendary creatures possibly hide to escape our touch? Sure, some of them might survive in a polluted landscape – banshees, goblins, other assorted spooks – but not many. And anyway, even a banshee deserves a nice lonely moor to haunt, not some drained and cultivated piece of land with condos sitting on top. It would just suck, is all I’m saying, if we had such magical creatures in our midst and dragged them down with us. If all those unbelievable beings do exist, I hope they can at least get the hell out of here while the getting’s good.
Embracing Apocalyptic Fatalism, or: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There’s no point in beating around the bush by crafting a poetic opening statement, so I’ll just say this as bluntly as possible: the world is fucked. We’re simultaneously dealing with climate change, mass extinction, deforestation, mass shootings, bigotry, war, political corruption, deadly diseases, genocide, poverty, famine, terrorism, potential nuclear annihilation, totalitarianism, and fascism, and those are just the things that came to my mind in like thirty seconds. Each of those topics has an overwhelming number of smaller but equally horrible subtopics which might come spilling out like maggots from a carcass if you poke the wrong spot with a stick.
…I’m not really selling you on this particular essay, am I. Okay, forget the roadkill analogy and just focus on the fact that we – “we” being almost any living creature on the planet with more than a single cell – are pretty fucked. The last few years have shed an especially harsh light on the course of humanity’s future as we’ve watched history repeat itself in ways we thought would never happen again. Genocide? Still happening. Putting people in concentration camps? Yep, that too. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-semitism? Alive and doing very well for themselves. Actual, literal Nazis? Fuckin’ everywhere. What I’m saying is, here at the pinnacle of human achievement we’re still struggling with the toxic byproducts of a fanaticism that seems inherent to our very species. We destroy everything we touch.
So how do we cope with this? How do we go about our day knowing that at any moment there are people being killed for their beliefs, billions of animals trapped in factory farms, ancient Amazonian trees being bulldozed and burned? It’s really fucking hard, I know, and everyone copes differently. Some people find energy in being angry; some sink into depression; others dedicate every hour they possibly can to signing petitions and attending rallies. But if none of those options are working for you in the long term, good news! I’m here to tell you about my new life philosophy: apocalyptic fatalism!
What’s apocalyptic fatalism, you ask? It’s the belief that we as a species have gone past the point of no return, meaning we have little to no chance of stopping the issues listed above – especially, at least in my humble opinion, climate change and its associated Bad Shit. Apocalyptic fatalism means we’re fucked, and that we fucked over every other living thing too. It means accepting the world (as we know it, at least) may actually end in our lifetimes. It doesn’t purport to know the how of things, only that the when is much closer than we’d like to believe. We are in trouble now.
If you’ve never heard about apocalyptic fatalism, that’s because I made it up!
See, in the two years since Trump (*gag*) was elected, I’ve tried coping. Anger only works for me in short bursts, though, and the well of depression is already up to my chin. Part of me wants to hide in apathy, but I’m too empathetic to ignore all the living creatures suffering right now. So anger is fleeting, depression is dangerous, and apathy is a betrayal. What I have instead found long-term comfort in is… acceptance. Acceptance that humanity is a cancer on this planet, no matter how much good we do on an individual level. Acceptance that we might really have gone too far this time, and maybe now there’s no going back. Acceptance, in short, that we might have already started the apocalypse and on an individual level there’s not much we can do to stop it. Doesn’t that lift a weight off your shoulders? Think about it; our generation doesn’t have to save the world because it can’t be saved in the first place. We can only do damage control on the way down.
That’s horrible! you’re probably thinking. How can you give up like that? That makes you part of the problem! But that’s the bittersweet beauty of this philosophy: it’s not about giving up. You don’t have to stop being a force of good in the world just because you know your efforts won’t change everything for everyone. You can do good for good’s sake, make a difference on the micro scale instead of the macro, all you want. But when those little bits of good get overshadowed by all the horrible things you have literally no ability to stop, apocalyptic nihilism tells you it’s okay to let them go. If you have to buy a plastic water bottle one day, it’s okay; your one guilty purchase is nothing compared to what those in power are doing to the environment. If you buy something to lift your mood instead of donating that money to a charity in need, that doesn’t make you an inherently bad person contributing to the downfall of humanity. The world is ending – buy the damn book, eat the damn doughnut, use a damn plastic fork once a year. It’s okay. Your guilt and anxiety help no one.
Read that again. Your guilt and anxiety help no one. Apocalyptic fatalism frees you from the responsibility of saving the whole damn world, a burden millennials and Gen Y/Z have felt acutely since birth. We inherited a shitstorm and we know the generation before us doesn’t, for the most part, really care about the future. In fact, they seem determined to fuck it up as much as possible. We feel, therefore, that it’s up to us to save the oceans and the national parks and the atmosphere and human rights and freedom and science and… the list goes on and on. But you know what? We didn’t start this war and we can’t end it.It’s just too big. It’s just too entrenched. So do what you can for the world – but take care of yourself too. If the end is extremely fucking nigh, then every moment is unbelievably precious. Don’t waste them worrying.
I am no wanderer. I feel no desire to travel far from home, to visit foreign lands or step foot on other continents. I am happy in the same state, the same rainy peninsula, the same ten mile radius of forest and water where I grew up and which I still call home. This place is where I want always to return at the end of the day and I ask no more than that. As I said, I am no wanderer. I am no wanderer, yet the land around me has changed so that I feel lost in this alien landscape. Forests razed to make way for shopping centers; picturesque waterfront blocked by million-dollar homes. Storefronts sit empty while commercial building continues to churn out box stores and parking lots and cheap cookie-cutter housing. The nights aren’t as dark, the stars aren’t as bright. Every season seems hotter and drier than the one before. Where am I? I did not leave my home, yet neither do I recognize this place.
the earth is on fire and also underwater and i’m trying to embrace this whole apocalypse thing since that seems like the only way to stay sane here in the end times but it’s hard, you know, i’m feeling more and more like crazy cuckoo crackpot cassandra every day or like i’m the only person in pompeii who looked up and thought hey, the mountain’s sure acting weird this week, and if i don’t provide a viable solution to my fear-mongering that’s only because i really don’t think there is one, at least not at this point, not this far down the dead-end road, but hey at least i’ve got some really good news for people who love bad news
Look, it really depends on what you mean by “doomed”. It’s true, after all, what lan Malcolm said: We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet – or to save it. In the planetary sense everything’s fine. Man is just the briefest blip on the geologic timescale, just a pack of fleas the earth will wipe out with a twitch. Earth will remain so long after we are gone that the mind is incapable of grasping such immensity. However, if you define “doomed” as the inevitable extinction of most major species on earth, well, that’s different. Earth may not be doomed but every beautiful, complex, unique form of life upon it is, and isn’t that what we’re really talking about? No one’s worried that we’re going to annihilate single-celled organisms – just, you know, the millions of other precious lifeforms that can’t survive a nuclear holocaust. We are the product of billions of years of evolution, yet in a few thousand we will have managed to ruin everything. So are we doomed? Are we witness to life’s final death throes? I guess it just comes down to semantics. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us, he said. But it certainly won’t ever be the same, either.
I think I’d rather be Atlantis
or maybe Pompeii;
at least they went out in a blaze of glory
ninety-foot waves and boiling ash clouds;
at least they went out fast
Mother Nature reclaiming Her body
with a thunderous upheaval;
I think that would be better than
a slow death by pollution
climate change and vanishing bees;
I think anything would be better than
eking out existence in a desert
that used to be an ocean
and pretending this mass extinction
is just a coincidence.