Tag Archives: end of the world

Final Fantasy

On February 23, 2008, close to 200 volunteers flushed, at coordinated intervals, every toilet and urinal at newly built Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to ensure the pipes could handle the load.

Imagine a moment when everyone in the world with a cellphone sent each other a smiley face emoji at the same time—not to test the limits of all the networks, just for shits and giggles. Put yourself in that micro-second between everyone hitting send in unison and the possibility that no one would remain on the planet afterwards to respond. Are we not right now suspended between the fantasy of synchronized global suicide and its fulfillment via technology?

Humans are all equal before the Law of Communication. We’re compelled to send and receive information—useless information. In fact the more useless, the better. Just do it. Just speak.

Technology actualizes every possibility. If our ultimate wish is to destroy reality, technology will make it happen.

The most efficient way to eliminate reality is to realize every fantasy. Realizing every fantasy, however, destroys the symbolic power of fantasy itself. We’re left with a literal translation of every metaphor, a logical explanation for every random thought. No more latent content to our dreams–every secret must be dragged out of our minds like a false confession and streamed “as is” in real time. Data infestations, digital plagues: such is our new manifest destiny.

The most radical message left for us is to say nothing at all.

Until then imagine a moment when everyone on the planet with a cellphone refused, at the same time, to send a text. Or a moment when everyone on the planet flushed a cellphone down a toilet. Dream up a fantasy so spectacular it threatens to end the world and then, for the sake of fantasy, make sure it never happens.

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To Infinity And Beyond

Religion and science have at least one thing in common: people from both fields theorize (hope for?) the end of the world.

Many Christians believe in the Rapture. The world as we know it, full of misery and sin, will one day be transformed. Believers will be raised in the clouds “to meet the Lord in the air.” Non-believers will remain on earth and suffer, falling for the Devil’s tricks. Sounds pretty harsh, but that’s God for you.

Scientists take a more practical approach to the apocalypse. Man-made climate change will eventually wipe out humanity if we don’t get our shit together. Everyone knows this. Except conservative politicians who’d rather save your soul than the planet.

In both cases humans are responsible for the end of humanity. In the first case, the Left Behind have only themselves to blame. In the second, no one’s left to verify the prophecy.

Maybe we’re beyond speculation and dire forecasts. What if the world has already ended? The earth suspended in a blinding flash, humanity a tragic afterimage in the mind of God?

Or perhaps we’ve yet to begin. The world is in beta mode and we’re the flaw(ed) testers. God still weighing the costs and benefits of moving forward with his program.

Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated. There’s so much suffering left—obscene amounts of pleasure too. Sometimes infinity takes a long time getting started.

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The Nine Billion Names Of God

In The Perfect Crime Jean Baudrillard references Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Nine Billion Names of God” to set up his critique of virtual reality and our desire to actualize the world in its totality.

Clarke’s story centers on a group of Tibetan monks who for centuries have been transcribing with great care the nine billion names of God. Logging the final name, we’re told, will trigger the end of the world.

It’s a tiresome task so the monks call in technicians from IBM. Computers finish the job in a few months.

On page 27 of The Perfect Crime Baudrillard describes man’s fate: “As they walk back down into the valley, the technicians, who did not really believe in the prophecy, are aghast to see the stars going out one by one.”

I believe the monks not only knew their project would end the world but actively wished for it.

The rise of IBM and its solution-focused IT professionals facilitated a quicker exit. Computers relieved the monks of their duties. Ethics and the Middle Way no match for algorithms and HTML.

Computers relieve us all from the burden of being human. Tools for the realization of every fantasy, computers fulfill our secret wish to disappear. Social media posts serving as our collective suicide note.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops communicate for us, but not necessarily on our behalf. “I’ll text you,” we say, as if the text creates you—a “you” we never meet. If the medium is the message, today the message is singular: “Show me your text and I’ll show you mine.”

In the valley of the shadow of tech we are all monks—all “IBMers”—exchanging the pleasure of face-to-face interaction for the stupor of screen-to-screen manipulation.

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Apocalypse Film Theory

World War Z hit theaters last week. It’s another in a long list of recent films focusing on the apocalypse. Why the appeal of these end-of-the-world narratives? Here are a few possibilities:

Apocalypse Films Express Our Fears, Serve As Metaphors For Global Terrorism

We’re on constant alert for attack and every day brings the threat of disaster from unknown sources. Apocalypse films put terror into motion, which is both frightening and a relief in the sense that, rather than waiting for terror, we have to face it.

The Zombies And Aliens Represent The Other, Help Us Secure Our Identity

Apocalypse films contain well-defined enemies who come from other worlds and states of being. They help us realize our place in the world as good human beings. They are the quintessential Other—foreign, unnatural, hostile to our way of life. And, of course, we’re right and they’re wrong.

We Enjoy Viewing A Romanticized Version Of Our Political Origins

When the world comes crashing down, we’re forced to reconstruct society from the ground up. Apocalypse films show us from a distance the nuts and bolts holding together the framework of society. Leaders emerge to combat threats and in the process teach us the origins of contemporary democracies. Heroes operate within politics; as society crumbles someone needs to save the superstructure.

We Need An Outlet For Our Cultural Guilt, Our Collective Death Wish

Freud would’ve had a field day analyzing these films. When you’ve mastered the environment and hold the fate of the world in your hands, you’re bound to feel the weight of such power. Maybe you secretly desire a way out, an exit from responsibility. While apocalypse films focus on the will to live, our tendency toward self-destruction lurks in the shadows.

It’s Really A Morality Lesson, An Overcoming-Sin-To-Reach-Redemption Tale

In the end we enjoy seeing things destroyed only to be rebuilt. Old-time religions may be lagging these days, but spiritual quests are fixtures of the human experience. When the threats are mitigated (at least until the sequels arrive) and the monsters/terrorists are turned away, we emerge heroic. The End is just a new Beginning.

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