I have an important announcement to make today: You’re going to die. Yes, you. You are going to die. Not your neighbor, or your cat, or that old lady down the street who walks slower than a tortoise, or even your parents or your best friend. No, you are going to die. That whole body you’re experiencing right now is ever so gradually falling apart. Over time the decay may become increasingly torturous, or you might be part of that small minority of people who die long before they notice the signs of decay. What is certain however, is that you’re going to die.
What is also certain, is that there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Eat your vegetables? You’ll die. Wear a seatbelt? You’ll die. Wear a mask? You’ll die. Wash your hands? You’ll die. Do you see where I’m going with this? What I’m telling you is that it’s all going to be over at some point. Depending on how you look at it, it’ll be over relatively quickly. You’ll probably be dead before the end of this century. The universe, is 12 billion years old. Your life takes place in 0.000000833333% of its lifespan. Compress that down into your lifespan and we’re dealing with perhaps fifteen minutes.
To the world around you, you’re meaningless. The universe is old, enormous, endless perhaps even, but more than anything, it is profoundly indifferent. When you die the sun won’t so much as flicker. Have you ever tried praying, when you wanted help from God? I tried this as a teenager. Then I began to think. If God genuinely listens to people’s requests, then he shouldn’t be helping me, because some people have it far worse. There are children in parts of Bangladesh who have their healthy limbs amputated, because criminal gangs will bribe doctors to perform the surgery, so that the children will earn more money begging.
Think about that. If you truly internalized the information you receive from the world around you through your senses, then you wouldn’t pray. But if you truly understood what it means to be a human being, if you truly allowed yourself to become aware of the profound absurdity of every single moment you experience, then you would also scoff at the notion of safety. What safety could there possibly be? You’re an emergent complex system, constructed out of meat, wandering around on a rock that happens to be spinning through the habitable zone around a giant nuclear furnace. You have a muscle in the center of your body, that pumps blood around through your veins. If something obstructs its path, if a valve were to leak, you’re dead or crippled. By the time they would find you, you could be a vegetable.
Do you think Nature is beautiful? That’s nice, but Nature doesn’t care about you. Nature is profoundly indifferent towards you. Do you think viruses are scary? The oceans alone will happily swallow a quarter of a million people in a day. In 2003, a piece of the Earth’s crust off the coast of Indonesia vibrated. The ocean above responded by generating waves. Within an hour, the waves had swallowed Aceh. A hundred thousand people were dead within an hour. If you survived? You lived around the stench of bloating corpses, waiting for your turn to identify which of those bloating corpses were once your family members. Is it shocking that Aceh became a radical Islamic theocracy to you? They’re desperate to appease God.
That’s bad, isn’t it? But it gets worse. For whatever reason, the world was once covered with giant lizards that could grow as tall as a house. This lasted for millions of years, before they were all obliterated by a meteor, with the exception of a handful of survivors who learned to fly and turned into birds. It could happen again at any moment. More realistic in our lifetime, are supervolcanoes and islands in the ocean that can suffer landslides that trigger megatsunamis. Tens of millions would die within hours.
Those megatsunamis would then swallow the major coastal cities of the United States, where nuclear waste is stored in pools of water. As those pools collapse, the nuclear waste is exposed to the air and starts to heat up, which leads to massive amounts of radiation that make the landscape uninhabitable for decades to come, unless you don’t mind giving birth to deformed children I suppose.
We could also witness the eruption of a megavolcano that blocks out the sun. Does God approve of global warming? I don’t know. If he doesn’t like it, a single big eruption would be enough to get us to stop and fix just about anything we messed up about his creation. The world would be covered in darkness for centuries to come. You think that won’t happen to us? It already did. It’s called the Toba catastrophe, it happened 75,000 years ago. Most members of our species died, the survivors had to live through six years of volcanic winter during which practically everything around them died, followed by global cooling for a thousand years.
So tell me please. You just became aware of your mortality. You want me to wear a mask. I need to wash my hands and stay six feet away from you. Fine. What else can I do to make you feel safe? We live beneath sea level. Would you like a tsunami alarm device in your bedroom, so that you have perhaps twenty minutes to jump into your car and get stuck in traffic before the first wave strikes this Godforsaken swamp? Shall I send you some Iodine through the mail while we’re at it? We both know the Belgians are as bad at managing their nuclear power plants as they are at managing anything else.
The media made you afraid of a virus, but if you want to be truly afraid, just tell me, as I’ve got some horror stories that will be more effective to keep you from leaving your home than a virus. I’ll first tell you to take a big hit from my bong and then I’ll tell you everything I know about the human predicament. You think death is scary now, well have I got some news for you: Living is much scarier than dying!
We’ll start with living antelope babies who watch as their guts are consumed by hyenas, we’ll move on to nuclear accident victims who are kept alive in agonizing pain to study the effects of radiation on the human body. After that we can discuss children who are rented out as sex slaves on the Internet by their own mothers, before moving on to orphaned children in Senegal who are mercilessly beaten by “holy men” when they didn’t earn enough money by begging on the streets. Once we’re done with that, we can discuss girls in Somalia, who are forced onto the floor by their own mothers and aunts, to have their clitoris chopped off before having their labia sewn together. When we’re done, perhaps you’ll understand why I am a fan of the Buddha. Seeking out happiness for yourself in this life, is like pulling down your pants and bending over on the altar before a priest: You’re asking to get raped.
But now I’m bashing boomers, which is overdone. Let’s take a shot at hip young millennials like me. You think it’s bad that the planet is dying? That’s a nice cope, but the fact remains that you’re probably going to die before the planet does. When are you going to protest against that my dear? “Help me, I’m stuck in a bag of meat that’s gradually falling apart, you have just seventy years left to save me from certain doom and you’re not even seriously trying to save me!”
“But that doesn’t matter!” You say, because everyone who ever lived has died and there are billions of people out there just like you. Well you’re almost there. How special do you think Gaia is? Granted, we don’t know about any other planet with life, but whose fault is that? We’re kind of being kept in the dark in regards to that question, aren’t we? Does it really matter to you, what happens after you die? Does it matter to you if the whole world reaches a positive feedback loop of global warming, that ends up in all the forests burning down, all the animals dying and life itself going extinct, with the sole exception of a handful of single-celled species of extremophiles that survive for a few more million years before perishing when the sun starts to expand?
That’s kind of silly don’t you think? The Earth is profoundly indifferent to our suffering, but you and me have an almost teleological obligation to save the Earth from our greed? This same Earth, that swallows a hundred thousand people of all ages in a timespan of an hour, creating thousands of orphans in the process who spent days dwelling in piles of bloating corpses, now needs us to go lay down on a road somewhere to stop some multinational corporation from chopping down a forest or digging up some coal? The universe is 12 billion years old, it contains more stars than we have grains of sand on our beaches, but you’re going to make a difference in the survival of life itself? Don’t you see that this is a completely pointless endeavor?
What if I told you, that nothing matters? What if there is fundamentally no purpose behind anything anyone ever experienced whatsoever? Why do we pretend as if there is any meaning to anything? Marxists claim to be atheists, but they are as insane with their Hegelian narrative of a perpetual upward trajectory in history as anyone else. The rate of profit declines as capitalists compete with each other, thereby reducing the number of capitalists. Eventually we are left with very few capitalists, who will then be easily overthrown by the proletariat, ushering in a communist revolution in which people won’t have to work because everything will be automated and everyone lived happily ever after.
Except that didn’t happen in some timelines, because when the capitalists started figuring out what was going on, one disgruntled libertarian released some smallpox stored in a bioweapon lab, leading to the death of hundreds of millions within weeks, subsequently followed by complete societal collapse. Or maybe Gaia herself didn’t feel like it and finally allowed that one canary island to collapse into the sea. The point I’m making is: How can anyone pretend that there is some sort of grand narrative to draw from history, or worse, to try to extrapolate how it is going to end?
The same principle applies to the pandemic. “This is when we ushered in the Great Reset and finally learned to live sustainably within the boundaries of the Earth. We finally figured out that what really matters in life is not status and material wealth, but friendship and solidarity. [Insert other feel good clichés here.]” Imagine genuinely being arrogant enough to unleash this sort of metanarrative on any of this.
Just think about that for a moment. Two million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are mutilated by their families because foreign aid workers did not have access to them. Tens of millions are thrown into extreme poverty because schools were shut down and tourism imploded. Children in the Western world had their education delayed and will suffer consequences in the form of obesity, stunted social skills, addiction, PTSD and depression for years to come. Fortunately, YOU learned that you can just hold your business meetings through Zoom instead of flying around the world, so none of this was in vain after all!
Try telling this to the world’s poorest. Try telling this to people who watch their dreams fall apart, or who had to bury their own children. Try telling them that any of this has some sort of deeper meaning, that there is some sort of lesson to learn from this, that we will somehow emerge stronger from this, rather than weaker and more in doubt. This can only feel like it serves a greater purpose to you when you live isolated from the impact that it has on everyone else.
If you saw what it caused, then you would quite readily recognize it for what it is: Sheer chaos, random noise spit out by an indifferent biosphere, on an indifferent planet in an indifferent universe, that tortures us for reasons beyond our human ability to comprehend, if it even has any sort of motive at all. Sometimes there just isn’t an upside to things. Sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. Sometimes there is just chaos, a profound indifference that we would consider cruel if we had any reason to believe there is any agency behind it whatsoever.
But let’s go back to where we started: You’re going to die. What I don’t comprehend, is why this new way of dying that came into existence in 2020 seems any worse to you than the myriad of other ways you have by which you might say farewell to this mortal coil. “I could go to the grocery store and I could draw my last breath in the hospital next week as a consequence.” Yes, that always existed. We used to call that pneumonia before we started locking people up in their homes.
Somehow, in 2020, the media suddenly found it necessary to make you aware of your mortality. But for whatever reason, they stop short of the natural conclusion this realization leads you towards. This is a targeted strike of existential terror, they’re being really careful to make sure they don’t hit all the other munition depots of existential terror stored within your brain. They don’t tell you about all the other ways you could die, many of them far more horrifying than this new way they taught you about.
Human beings don’t suffer from too much existential terror in our society. They suffer from too little of it. Society has concealed the reality of what it means to be a human being from you for decades. You don’t have a proper immune response against existential terror, because you had never been exposed to it. What did they show you on TV? Dancing with the stars, American Idol, Keeping up with the Kardashians, all sorts of nonsensical crap that serves only to keep you mind distracted from the things that really matter.
You suffer from Existential Terror Deficiency Syndrome: You have never been truly scared shitless. You have never really had to ask yourself what it means to die. The only cure for the targeted strikes of existential terror performed by the media, is a complete and overwhelming indiscriminate carpet bombardment of existential terror: When everything is terrifying, nothing is. That’s what I’m doing to you today. I’m hoping to terrify you so hard that nothing will ever terrify you again. If I do this correctly, you will live every moment as if it could be your last.
This isn’t new by the way. How did medieval society function? How could people toil in the dirt, accepting that others lived as kings? Well, here’s a hint: What do you think all those strange paintings of dancing skeletons were meant for? Everyone dances the Danse Macabre: This is the one royal ball where every peasant is invited! You will dance with skeletons, you will dance with the pope, you will get to dance with every monarch who has ever lived. Who could ever worry about inequality, when consciously aware of the overwhelming totality of death? Every crown on a mortal being becomes a bad joke.
To medieval people, death itself was basically a bad joke. Read the Decameron, to see what I mean. In 1347, the black death arrives in Europe. A third of the population dies. Entire cities are depopulated. The stench of rotting bodies hasn’t dissipated yet, when the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio begins to write. He writes a story, The Decameron, about a group of people who lock themselves up in their home and start telling each other a bunch of perverted stories. The book is nicknamed the Human Comedy, because it is genuinely hilarious. It features stories, of Jews who mock the Christian religion, of merchants who swindle their way into heaven, stories of love, deceit, philosophy, religion and death.
What is the proper response to a pandemic? Ask Boccaccio: It is the sound of defiant laughter. When you realize how utterly hopeless the human predicament truly is, why not laugh about it? The reason people can’t laugh about it, is because they genuinely believed they had it under control. Worse, when you laugh about it, these people who thought they had control over the chaos get angry, because they feel as if they are the butt of the joke.
So, let us continue where we left off. The media tries to scare you with fantasies of your impending death, because you didn’t properly wear your mask over your nose in the supermarket. They have nothing on me, the nightmares they peddle are hilariously gentle, they peddle the equivalent of forgotten science fiction horror movies from the 50’s that we only know about from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
You could get Kreutzfeld-Jakob, mad cow disease. You’ll feel a little strange and confused, you’ll visit the doctor, the doctor will tell you that you have a prion disease for which there is no cure and you’ll probably be dead within half a year. Before that time, you’ll start suffering hallucinations: You’ll see things and people that aren’t really there. You’ll become paranoid. Your limbs will start moving involuntarily.
Think that’s bad? Sometimes, if you’re particularly unlucky, you just run into a psychopath: A human being who doesn’t feel empathy. You could be sitting behind your computer, reading some strange essay on an obscure blog. You’ll look out of your window and see a guy in a mask. He will rape and torture you, before murdering you. What’s scary isn’t the rape itself: It’s that sudden frightening realization that there is absolutely nobody or nothing, no higher force out there that takes care of you, that protects you from harm. Your luck simply ran out.
These are fortunately exceptions in our era, so let’s move on to some of the common ways people’s lives go to shit. Over time, you start noticing that you can’t hold your urine as long as you used to. Urinating itself seems to be rather difficult too, compared to how it used to be. You’re a middle-aged man and your prostate has grown larger. It will keep growing larger as you grow older. You’ll eventually just start peeing your pants, you won’t be able to hold it long enough to go to the toilet. Now what does your life look like? Are you going to start wearing diapers? Are you just not going to go to the local pub anymore?
A lot of people develop Alzheimer’s. They become forgetful and unable to live by themselves. They spend every evening watching TV, but at some point they realize they forgot how to turn down the volume of the TV. What button was it again? You call your son, who explains it. You call him again and he grows tired of it, he starts labeling the buttons on your remote control. Eventually, you forget to turn off the gas of your furnace. Your son visits you at home, smells the natural gas that’s leaking and now it is decided that you’re too far gone to live by yourself.
You’re sent to a facility that’s used to house the elderly, but now you’re no longer capable of comprehending what’s going on. You start hallucinating, seeing people who aren’t there. You wander back and forth through the hallway, imagining you are being chased by people who simply can’t be seen by other people. When you go to sleep, you think you see a man laying in your bed, someone you don’t recognize. This is essentially the story of how my own grandmother died.
Remember to stay safe and keep those around you safe. Wear a mask.