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Sunday, February 22, 2009

E.O.T.W. or Bust

What would you say to console someone if the apocalypse were here? “Hey, cheer up… it’s not the end of the world.” … “Okay, um, maybe it is… but look at it this way — there’ll be brighter days ahead… or, um…” Hmmm.

How do you put a positive spin on that? Not very easily. “You know all that laundry you hated doing? Yeah... Well, you can stop worrying about it now. And those bills that are due in a few weeks? Forget about them.” Score! I get to keep all of my paycheck this month...

A question arises as to whether the end of the world is the only thing we should become troubled over. Conventional wisdom via cultural literacy suggests anything that’s not the end of the world isn’t that bad — that everything short of being an apocalypse can be adequately dealt with and work in our favor. Is there truth in such a maxim, or is it merely an exaggerated and catchy way to give a pep talk and sell detergent? Aren’t there other things rivaling the end of the world?

Nietzsche intoned, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” To me, that would require always recovering from difficulty, and I don’t think Nietzsche was able to support such a notion. He might have more correctly said that anything that doesn’t kill us has the potential of making us stronger. Nietzsche also said that God is dead, to which God said, “Oh yeah?” and he struck Nietzsche down on my birthday in 1900 (though it wasn’t quite my birthday yet).

Death obviously represents the end of this world for the person who has died, even though such a representation is displaced for those of us who are still living. But then if that person was the world to us, isn’t it a microcosm of the end of the world? Just because you or I keep on breathing, how is that necessarily preferable to an apocalypse for everyone?

C.S. Lewis knew I was going to think about this someday, so he graciously provided material to augment my point. In The Problem of Pain, he writes, “We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the ‘unimaginable sum of human misery.’ Search all time and all space and you will not find that composite pain in anyone’s consciousness. There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.”

So based on Lewis’ assertion, an end-of-world scenario wouldn’t produce heightened suffering to what already exists today, but rather the suffering would merely be distributed laterally. Thusly, greater news coverage would only be justified in terms of quantity, but not in terms of quality.

Another question that begs to be answered here is this: Is the end of the world really so desperate that it’s truly the “end of the world”? In other words, is it something to worry about? I mean, what are the ramifications if it is the end of the world? Are people going to be around to be upset about it? Will it be on the news? What news? Will it adversely affect the stocks? Will it make it harder to run barefoot through the park in the rain?

Amid Nietzsche’s claim about anything but death making us stronger is the assumption that being at the end is negative thing. Finality is therefore construed in that sense to be bad. Note the scientifically based consequences mentioned below in discussion of the shelf life of mother Earth:

The luminosity of the Sun will grow by 10 percent over the next 1.1 billion years. Climate models indicate that the rise in radiation reaching the Earth is likely to have dire consequences, including the possible loss of the planet's oceans. The Earth's increasing surface temperature will accelerate the inorganic CO2 cycle, reducing its concentration to the lethal levels for plants in 900 million years. The lack of vegetation will result in the loss of oxygen in the atmosphere, so animal life will become extinct within several million more years. But even if the Sun were eternal and stable, the continued internal cooling of the Earth would have resulted in a loss of much of its atmosphere and oceans due to reduced volcanism. After another billion years all surface water will have disappeared and the mean global temperature will reach 70°C. The Earth is expected to be effectively habitable for about another 500 million years.

I like how they round off their estimates. Give or take a few hundred million years here or there. Hey, when you can maybe get next Thursday’s weather forecast semi-consistent, I’ll start thinking about trusting your models for the future of the universe a little more. In the meantime, we’ll call those projections slightly cloudy.

Sufficeth to say that a long, long, long time after Desperate Housewives has gone off the air, the Earth will stop being habitable for the likes of us. There — was it that hard to put in words?

I’m sure that the primordial soup went through the same process of portending doom and gloom over the impending big bang. The soup wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but ultimately it seemed to have been all for the best. Were those seen as dire consequences back then? Did the universe survive? Well, you be the judge. What were the realistic alternatives anyway?

So then what are the sociological ramifications of the end of the world? True, it will make it harder to have a civilization, which could put a damper on a lot of the things we’ve become accustomed to. Yet ultimately, it represents nothing more than a change. We often fear change due to its unknown qualities. The sun scorching the earth is indeed a phenomenon we have yet to experience, and sure, we realize we’d have to sacrifice a lot of the amenities we’ve come to enjoy. But it's not like it's the end of the world or anything...

2 comments:

cristy said...

Again your blog entertained me. It's a well rounded guy that can quote Costner and Nietzsche all on the same page:) Thanks for leading my brain into fun and strange lands.

Lauren said...

Yay! A new Rusted post! You're one of the funniest people I know. Of.

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