Sunday, January 14, 2018

It's not the end of the world, but we can see it from here

The world did not end yesterday.

This statement has two qualities. One is that it is universally true for literally every situation you will find yourself in, a precondition for situations being that yesterday led to the present. The second, and more immediately pressing quality, is that it is related to a very specific event.

If you are reading in the future, then here is the context: yesterday, an alarm went off in Hawaii, warning about an imminent ballistic strike. Which is a technical way of saying that the nukes are coming, and they are coming this way. As you might imagine, this caused quite a bit of emotional anxiety for everyone involved. The fact that the whole ordeal happened because someone pressed the wrong button (I have been given impression that this is the literal truth, rather than mere evocative language) - did not help.

In fact, very few things help when the world is about to end. That is kind of the point of the world ending.

This is a very immediate situation to find oneself in. Everything becomes irrelevant, and one singular question becomes the totality of all possible lines of thinking: what do you do? Nothing matters any more, and thus the only thing that matters is what you do. Other questions, such as "what would others think?" "would this look good on my CV?" "does this affect my credit rating?" "can I really afford it in the long run?" - are swept away, and you are left with the immediacy of choice: do or do not, do this or do that. The long term is gone, this is your moment to define yourself in terms of your own. For the duration, you are the most important thing in your reality. You decide. What do you do?

This immediacy is both terrifying and, in a perverse way, liberating. The word that most perfectly summarizes the situation is the old version of "awesome": to be struck to one's very core with awe in the presence of some overwhelming factor which quite literally is larger than anything one has ever encountered before. It is the kind of experience that leaves you mouth agape and your mind repeating: everything I knew was wrong. Nothing makes sense any more, and because of that, the multitude of considerations that permeate everyday life melts away. Nothing makes sense, and the only thing that is of any importance whatsoever is:

What do you do?

Fortunately, the news about the world ending happened to be greatly exaggerated. We are still here to talk about it, and to try to get a grip on what this all means. Most, I suspect, will see it as just another news item among many, and not think too closely about it; there are still plenty of everyday chores to be done, and the non-ending of the world means they will not do themselves. Life goes on, with ruthless indifference, and this confronts us with a single, even more pressing question:

What do we do now?

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