(Note: see other notes. I probably shouldn't blow all these at once, so people can think I'm actually producing new work. This is from when I was teaching.)
After my last class of the season, I remembered we're all going to die.
Since most of the these last four weeks have been lab classes, partly because my students needed the practice, and partly because I'd been tired and depressed and didn't feel up to straight lecturing and Q&A for 16 hours a week, I've taken to checking the news between classes. I haven't looked that closely at the news in years, aside from leaving NPR on in the afternoons, post coffee and pre beer, when I'm usually berating myself for not working and waiting for the clock to hit six, when it's late enough to drink but early enough to catch happy hour. So I'm not much up to date.
The last class of the session involved a little more activity on my end than usual, so I only took a cursory glance. Google news is fantastic. Six boxes: U.S., World, Science, and Entertainment, plus two that I never look at and can't remember. Science is regularly disappointing, since science news is predominantly gadget news, and I don't care what's fresh and new, because fresh and new gadgets always break, and aren't much worth buying until the second or third release, assuming they're worth buying at all.
Entertainment news is entirely boring. X wins Y, bangs C, is arrested for D, stars in M, which is glorified by critic P and shredded by critic Q. Unless there's a new rapper worth shooting, I skip it.
Which leaves world and U.S. Skimming over the articles for the last few weeks, all I can tell is that Bird Flu is supposedly going to break into a murderous pandemic, and is due in the states this summer. Iran is threatening harm and pain, which makes sense because we've been threatening them with harm and pain for years. Everybody's getting a bomb, Roe vs. Wade is going south (so to speak), and intelligent designers are making idiots of themselves with renewed fervor.
This didn't really hit until I was depositing my last pay check. I was filling out the date at the top of the deposit slip, which was 3/8/06, and I wondered, briefly, if I should leave out the 0 in 06 when 6/6/06 roles around, just for fun. It would be great on my bank slips, because my account number starts with 666, and maybe it would freak someone out. Anyway, a deep, hidden psychosis popped up and suggested "Hey! Maybe is DOES mean something... what with all this going down in the world, maybe this is the SIGN!" which triggered my anti-psychotic defense mechanism, which over the years has become, "No, nothing means anything." With the headlining news and three weeks of unemployment looming, this snowballed quickly into, "Nothing means anything, life is a pointless waste of energy, and we're all going to die in this semi-apocalypse by the end of the decade."
I blame a lot of this on low blood sugar, but it didn't help at the time, and I had a miserable day.
Still, it made me think. While imminent, individual death tends to drive me towards finding meaning and a reason to struggle (and quickly), the general, everybody death drives me towards stripping the whole human struggle down to what I assume to be its genuine emptiness. Personally, the fear of my own death pushes me to hope that I will live on in social memory, and that makes me try to figure out a reasonable system of hope, and symbolic immortality, but if everyone's dead, well fuck. Fact is, unless we find some really, really smart people in the next few million years, our species won't get off the planet in time to avoid being consumed by the sun, and eventually, the universe will dissipate or crunch and that's that. I worry about these things not because they're my problem, but because I don't believe in God, and failing God, I would like to live forever. It doesn't keep me up every night, but the pending demise of my society is enough to make things seem a little futile.
Yet, on a brighter note, the world is not ending. And people won't die out this round. Whatever we say about being a blip on the cosmic scale, we've survived 10,000 remembered years of plague, famine, and war, in times when we were far less able to take care of ourselves. A total nuclear holocaust is the best bet for ending life on earth, and it would suck, but would it kill everyone? I honestly doubt it. It would kill a whole lot of people. And it would shove us back to a point when the people would no longer be able to launch nuclear assaults on a large scale, so at least the survivors wouldn't have to worry about that. Say a billion people are left, with massively accelerated mutation rates, and odds of survival aren't even that bad, because someone will survive. We get left with a hundred million after a few generations, and we're all set for a fresh start.
This works because our species is a dynamic self-preservative, as are most things in the universe. What's frightening, in the face of various types and magnitudes of death and destruction, is facing the possibility that we are a screaming ego in an egoless universe. I would frankly rather be hated by and fight against a God I knew was there than putter around the void until I ran out of steam. Yet that's what I believe, and I can only make that belief a purpose as long as there are some people around to hear me. And most of the time, I'm just banging C and taking D.