The End of the World As We Know It; A Discussion of Nihilistic Complacency, and Universal Catharsis

There’s a scene in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World where Steve Carell’s character – Dodge Peterson – reunites with his father for the first time in 25 years. It’s revealed that the father (played skillfully by Martin Sheen) abandoned his family when Dodge was young, and the vacuum created by the end of the world acts as the appropriate motivation to force Dodge to seek out his absent parent in an attempt to bring their relationship to a cathartic resolution. At first I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief; after all, the movie’s plot involves a 70-mile-wide asteroid named Matilda approaching the planet, leaving Earth’s inhabitants with nothing but three weeks until the inevitable collision, and our inevitable end.

 

Despite the film’s insistence on maintaining a semblance of realism and reality – including several scenes showing anarchy spreading throughout the world in the forms of riots, and rolling blackouts and a lack of water being the result of the government’s nihilistic apathy – the scene where Dodge attempts to resolve his longstanding issues with his father (and actually succeeding) was the sole moment that I found unrealistic, and I was unable to accept the film’s premise. The resolution was too perfect, and the reconciliation completely disregarded any possibility of the father’s negative qualities. In a more realistic situation, it would have taken months and years for Dodge to fully trust his father once again; given the characters’ circumstances, however, I’m ashamed to admit that the scene’s potency only recently struck me.

 

Today is December 21st, 2012 – the supposed End of the World as predicted by the Mayans and Nostradamus after them. Obviously, the world didn’t end today, because the Mayan equivalent of December 21st, 2012 is nothing more than a reset of the entire calendar itself to insure continuity for at least another 5 quintillion years. At the same time, no astronomical anomaly capable of ending the planet has been charted, meaning that the human species – and every other species that we share the planet with – can continue existing until Earth is consumed by our sun 5 billion years from now, when the yellow star expands and sequences into a red giant, eventually consuming the solar system’s inner planets.

 

Interestingly, though the consumption aspect of the planet’s demise is debated, there appears to be little doubt that the heat radiating from the sun will leave the Earth as nothing more than a dead planet with a surface of molten rock in a matter of a few billions years after the sun sequences.

 

Despite this theorized end, today is December 21st, 2012, and contrary to many irrational prophecies, the world has not yet ended. Certainly, the human species will continue attempting to eradicate itself through war, poverty, famine, illness, and the slow ecological destruction of the planet, but for all intents and purposes, we haven’t quite yet succeeded.

 

What I’ve only now come to realize, through the help of the widespread exposure given to the recent trends in predicting apocalypses, is that the end of the world is cathartically, complacently romantic. The apocalypse, as most prophecies tend to describe it, isn’t the end of the universe nor is it even the end of our solar system; instead, it’s the total destruction of the planet Earth, and the absolute annihilation of the human race – so far, the only discovered intelligent lifeforms in any part of the universe.

 

To the universe, it’s merely the end of all life on Earth, and is the end of humanity, but to humans it serves as an undeniable sign of the pointlessness of our existence.

 

Imagine for a moment that a 70-mile-wide asteroid was actually graphed to crash into the planet in less than three weeks time. Yes, people would run around scratching items of their bucket-list, and some might even live to their heart’s content doing everything they wished they could do but never had the courage or the time to; families would reconcile, lovers would reunite, parents would spend more time with their children, unhappy cubicle slaves would quit, people would go skydiving, some would go rocky mountain climbing, and a few brave souls might even attempt to ride bulls named Fu Manchu for 2.7 or more seconds. No human on the planet would have an excuse to not live like they were dying, for the simple fact that in three weeks time, every single human being on the planet (and the planet itself) would no longer exist from a purely ontological perspective.

 

This isn’t to say that handfuls of survivors would be capable of perhaps resuscitating the planet; once the world ends, everything is gone including 5 billion years worth of ecological, geological, social, cultural, intellectual, educational, mathematical, scientific, literary, philosophical, religious, and psychological evolution and devolution. It’s daunting to know that generations worth of change would be eliminated in an instant (and that’s assuming a quick end like an asteroid), and it’s even more daunting to be faced with the knowledge that everything the human race has done will ultimately be reduced to ruin simply because the sun will undergo an inevitable astronomical change 5 billion years from now.

 

Therein lies the dual nature of human existence.

 

Our existence is ultimately meaningless because any given astronomical anomaly can destroy our planet, and that’s assuming we don’t get there first on our own. However, human existence is simply meaningless from a universal perspective; shifting the point-of-view to that of an actual human produces difficulty in validating one’s nihilism. The cliched way of thinking is that an individual is held accountable for their actions because their motivations have the ability of resonating with the entire planet. A single shift in worldview can mean the fruition or completion of any given person, organism, nation, or idea and though the universe couldn’t care any less, the rest of the planet certainly does.

 

In essence, my ultimate point is dual in nature: The End of the World is cathartic insofar as one remains complacent through their life, choosing to remain inactive and refusing to attempt to exercise any amount of control over the events that occur around them. Certainly, the belief that the entire human race’s existence is meaningless and inevitably pointless is a universal truth, but as far as humans are concerned, we stand to lose everything once our planet ends.

 

Sadly, as many “End of the World” plots tend to highlight, including a man’s quest to find the love of life before time runs out for the rest of the planet, we only seem to recognize the importance of our existence once our existence is brought into question.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; today isn’t the end of the world, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

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