I spent my childhood going to an evangelical church and was taught that the apocalypse was just around the corner: beasts rising up from the sea, Satan, 666 on your forehead. The whole shebang, and all very literal – no room for metaphor. I could never swallow the doctrine and stopped going as soon as I could effect a strong enough resistance to my parents. Forcing me to go to church was a bigger pain in the ass to my parents than just letting me sleep in and after a while, they stopped going too.
I abandoned all of that spooky fundamentalist nonsense, but I wasn’t able to leave behind a perverse love for apocalyptic scenarios: zombies, alien invaders, nuclear bombs, you name it. While other kids played Army men and cowboys and Indians, I played “End of the World”. Hauling around our machetes and BB guns, we pretended to be survivors of an unnamed eschaton: Forts were built, supplies scavenged, mutants were dispatched. In retrospect, it was a particularly American fascination; the product of fundamentalist End Time prophecy and escalating militarism. Jesus was coming, and he was bringing a heavenly host of MX intercontinental missiles with him. It was only a matter of time.
As I got older, I started investigating the “end of world” as a concept. I started asking questions like “What do you mean by ‘end’? Can you define ‘world’?” After reading books like Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture, Alex Heard’s Apocalypse Pretty Soon, and Norman Cohn’s In Pursuit of the Millennium, I came to the conclusion that by ‘world’ and ‘world’, most people mean the cessation of human civilization as we know it. It’s an egotistical, humancentric notion that’s frightening and seductive at the same time. We long for life and death in equal measure, but why?
Expanding on the egotistical portion of my argument, I suggest that our pseudo-lust for the end of the world stems from our awareness of death. All of us know that the our personal apocalypse is coming. The MX missile of mortality is just peaking the horizon, and the bomb shelter we’ve built may not be strong enough, be it constructed of great earthly works (Ozymandias, anyone?) or religious belief. We’re going to die, and it’s inconceivable to imagine that life could go on without us. Instead, maybe it should go with us: “Après moi, le déluge”
Another date for the supposed apocalypse (or transition or whatever you’d like to call it) has come and gone. (Believe me, there have been a lot of them, too.) It’s been a laugh, for most of us, but this could be an opportune time to reflect on our selfishness and short-sightedness as a species. We don’t need the Mayans, Jesus or Zombies (or Zombie Mayan Jesus) to pull the cord on this strange, beautiful world: We can do it ourselves, and we may be well on the way to doing so. We can, and must, stop our headlong plunge into oblivion; replace our fear, anger and hatred with courage, patience and a sense of brotherhood. This little ball of dirt is all we’ve got. Isn’t it time we start treating it like the fragile miracle it is?
If we work hard enough, this can be the end of the world, or at least the world we know. It’s after the end of the world. Don’t you know that yet?