The end of all things. The collapse of the known world. The last dying struggle of a society kicking on its way to the gallows.
Ever wonder why people are so fascinated by something that, in all likelihood, they wouldn’t survive? I mean really; how many people do you know who fantasize about the end of the world (or, more appropriately, what comes after the “end”) who you can be reasonably confident would probably not make it through the first week, let alone the long haul? Hell, I have a couple friends that muse on the subject who openly admit that they would almost undoubtedly die in any real apocalyptic scenario.
Still, it’s a fairly common bit of delusion that we afford ourselves; that somehow, we are resourceful enough, clever enough, and ruthless enough to make it through the end of everything, despite the fact that most of us are woefully unprepared for such an event.
Jerry Pournelle once wrote a very well-though-out introduction to a short story anthology he was editing on the topic, and I found that a lot of my opinions meshed with his. Specifically, his thoughts on the temptation that Armageddon has, the terrible lure of destroying everything so we can start over again with a clean slate.
So that’s the lure of it: Fresh beginnings . Nobody, or at least nobody sane, really wants to be there for the end itself; that’s something you just survive, and if you’re actually enjoying the contemplation of what that survival might entail, then you probably need to seek professional help. But the aftermath, there we have something alluring.
Think about it: On a societal level, in some ways, it would be like living your childhood over again, with the knowledge you have as an adult. Rather than having to lurch along with the relics of past social conventions or the groaning weight of an aging infrastructure built over decades to design philosophies with an inadequate understanding of the technologies possessed at the time of construction, much less what is available to us today, we could instead ditch all of that, and start with a fresh slate. Sure, it wouldn’t be easy, and we’d have entirely new sets of problems to deal with, many of them probably unforeseen, but still…
Imagine what you could do if you could design a city from the ground up with full integration of modern technologies, the very best in city planning, and so on. Imagine, as I often do, the seductive lure of Chris-topia, and being able to rewrite the laws and structures that govern us to something a bit more modern, streamlined, and less prone to attracting the worst people for the job. Sometimes you get the feeling that, if you could just arrange it in the right way, a good apocalypse would be the best thing for humanity as a species, if not so hot for us as individuals.
Speaking of us as individuals, of course, leads us to the other part of the allure. Assuming you survived (and most, as I said, like to delude themselves with that assumption) you’d be part of a smaller group, rather than a faceless cog in the vast machinery that makes up society today. Your decisions and actions would matter, in ways that they just can’t for most people cocooned in the safety nets of the modern world, and would affect not just your own survival, but the survival of those around you, and would influence the shape of the society that comes after the end. Most people, at least from time to time, recognize that society really wouldn’t miss them if they were gone. There’s enough people who can do the same job as you, have the same capabilities, that if you were to disappear off the face of the earth tomorrow, they’d probably have you replaced within a day or two, or at the very worst, be able to make the necessary changes to compensate.
But as one of the founding members of this strange new world, pretty much every decision you make might well have staggering repercussions on the nascent post-Apocalyptic society. Realistically, of course, most of us would just die. But nevertheless, there remains that little voice in the back of my head, and I assume some of yours as well, that wonders what we could do, both as a society and as individuals, if we burned it all down and started over.