I think one reason the apocalypse intrigues me is because regardless of the tools and technologies available to humans, and despite the comforts heaped up around us, there’s a part of my brain that knows our grasp on existence is tenuous.
I’m not just talking about individual existential angst. Apocalypse stories sing along with the tiny alarm in my head that warns of the consequences of our consumer culture. We’re rapacious as locust, relentless as termites, and unheeding as lemmings as we speed toward the cliff’s edge of our own extermination.
As we burn more coal, cut down more forests, pull more resources from the ground, stock store shelves higher and higher with useless crap, I know things can’t go on like this. Something has to give. The center cannot hold. If we can’t get a handle on our own material consumption, we as a species will consume ourselves to death.
I think I’m also drawn to apocalypse stories because I want to know the worst that could happen. I want to test the most awful scenarios in my imagination, as if this might somehow ease the shock of the inevitable collapse. (And of course I’d survive the collapse—I’m the star of this movie, right?).
But the most potent lure of the apocalypse is the promise of freedom. You sit at a desk or stand at a counter all week, beset by a hundred tedious tasks, all in the name of selling something to someone else. Your days are clocked in careful increments, your productivity monitored and measured. It’s a treadmill life, a long walk to nowhere in particular.
Now contrast that with the image of yourself walking down an empty highway in an immensity of silence. Everything you own fits in a pack on your back. All around you, nature is reclaiming her territory: roots crack pavement, vines drape houses, creeping green tendrils erase our footprints. In the distance rises the silhouette of a smoking city, full of promise and peril.
The apocalypse wipes away the thousand tiny anxieties that plague our modern lives. At the end of the world, you live on the knife edge of freedom. Existence is distilled to its essence, unclouded by complexity or nuance—you’re either alive or you’re dead. Such raw simplicity appeals to me.
Of course, its appeal is enhanced when I’m contemplating that rawness and simplicity from the comfort of my couch, snacks at the ready, my family safe and well.
I know the truth: I’d be miserable at the end of the world, hungry and frightened and wishing for the bygone days of plenty and security. The apocalypse is best enjoyed when you can fold over a page to mark your place and put it aside.
If you like the apocalypse genre, what draws you?