Voice Inside My Head #1: Opening a wine bottle with a corkscrew seems wildly inconvenient these days.
Voice Inside My Head #2: Talk about first world problems! Poor Palmer, she can’t unscrew her wine!
VIMH #1: Plus there probably won’t even be wine in thirty years.
VIMH #2: No kidding. Drink up.
Last spring I had a nightmare about the end of the world. As I hustled my friends out the door, missiles whistling toward us, my last thought was, “if we’d been paying attention we would have seen this coming.”
After pondering the dream, I did some reading and discovered there are a lot of intelligent people out there who are extremely worried about the next fifty years. Not of the symbolic missiles in my dream, but of real issues like global warming and a fragile global economy. I became familiar with Prepper Theory and the need for a Go Bag.
Mine became a Go Rubbermaid because I couldn’t bear the idea of abandoning my cat… raising a lot of questions about my happy-hippie philophies of trusting in the kindness of strangers and throwing the world’s guns into the sea. Maybe, I thought, I should keep a few Republicans handy. Just in case.
I started confessing my “paranoid fears of apocalypse” to friends and family, hoping they would talk me out of it. A child of the Clinton era, I was always optimistic about the future. Now every thought of an improving job market or of having children is tempered with a pessimistic “maybe not.” I wanted someone to give me a reason to doubt these fears. But instead every person I spoke with conceded they felt similarly. Or worse, they’ve given me even more insight into what could go wrong.
Everyone sees a slightly different mix of environmental and economic factors leading to food and water shortages, social collapse, probably an end to annual iPhone upgrades.
Are people just naturally afraid of future doom? Surely there were plenty of people building bomb shelters in the fifties and sixties who turned out to be pretty damn wrong; ditto fears of Y2K.
Pessimism about the future does not help the future. The horrors of WWI and the possibility they might have to face such horrors again led many to the isolationism and hedonism of the 20s that arguably created the Depression and WWII (and a lot of moonshine hangovers).
The nuclear threat galvanized many to action, but one might argue that action didn’t make much difference. Some built bomb shelters, and some protested, but in the end it was the collapse of the USSR that ended the Cold War. Now we all debate over the table at Thanksgiving about whether social unrest brought down the USSR… or whether it was Reagan’s ramping up of the arms race, ultimately breaking the Russian budget.
In other words, did bombs end the need for bombs?
Is it defeatist to ask: Do we ever really know what the hell causes anything?
I raise these questions because I do not believe in being a pessimist. And yet I cannot be optimistic unless I believe in lucky breaks. I do not want to wake each morning believing we’ll someday kill for boxes of cereal. And yet I cannot believe we should remain so dependent on boxes of cereal. I do not want to ruin today with sadness over a possible tomorrow. And yet I cannot enjoy today unless I accept there might be no tomorrow.
For six months I’ve tried to either stifle these fears or justify them. Only now am I asking, what should I do about them if they’re true? It is an overwhelming question, ironically even more overwhelming than the more abstract idea of the end of human life itself.
This much I know: whatever you can do, you should, and the rest you have to let go.
Pack a Go Bag even if it’s just for hurricanes and earthquakes. Start a veggie garden because it’s fun and healthier. Love the people you love because you love them. Sell the old gas-guzzler, the stereo probably sucks anyway. Give some money to the EDF in case fuel-efficient technologies might also create jobs. Bake a cake. Argue with your uncle at Thanksgiving about hybrid cars because pissing him off is more entertaining than listening to his golf recap.
Whether our efforts work, or they don’t, whether our species has fifty years left, or five million, whether the environment and economy are stable, or they’re not, we only have this one moment anyway. Everything else always was, and always will be, theoretical. Do what you can with it. That will be enough.