Why I'm Not Afraid of the End of the World

Monday Magazine | April 18, 2005
Not so long ago, we were hearing a lot about Generation X—their aimlessness, unfulfilled potential, and overall lack of faith in the future. I’m sure you remember; there were lots of magazine articles, books and movies about it. Well, that was me—and I’ve got the NFB creds to prove it. (Le Temps X—rent it, see me.) Born at the tail end of the baby boom, raised in the shadow of the bomb, coming of age alongside AIDS, global terrorism, Orwell and various energy crises…is it any wonder we were apprehensive about our collective future?

Yet while we’ve managed to make our way in this world—and even do quite well by it in some cases—many of us are still haunted by a generational restlessness, an unspoken belief that we just might not be around to cash in our RRSPs. Earthquake, pandemic, global warming, world war . . . call it what you will, there still seems to be a shadow looming on our collective future horizon.

Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. Like I said, we’re used to it. First it was the energy crisis of the 1970s, then it was the looming threat of 1984, then the inherent doom of 1999 (and the completely unfounded Y2K frenzy), then 9/11, SARS, the recent tsunami . . . and, in amongst it all, rays of hope like Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, Earth First!, Clayoquot, the Battle in Seattle, the end of the Cold War, the release of Nelson Mandela, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of the Dalai Lama and too many peace walks, earth walks, pride parades and freedom marches to even remember. The pendulum swings, the shadow moves, the end doesn’t come and we get on with our lives.

I think that’s what we’ve learned to do best, my X generation and I. Get on with it. Sure, we live in this world, and take advantage of all the ATMs, SUVs and DVDs it has to offer, but deep down inside, a lot of us know we could do without it all. Would actually prefer it, if only the collapse would come. Of course, we’re just a little bit too lazy, a bit too content to make that happen—or take steps to ensure it won’t—so we just carry on, and wait to see what happens next. (And if you think your student loan is big, try having this hanging over your head: the secret knowledge that you’re waiting for the end of the world as we know it.)

There’s always a price, you see, and one generation or another is going to have to be the one to pay it. Take all those folks who were coming of age just over a century ago—thanks to the ravages of famine, disease and war, more than 25 million of them died worldwide between 1916 and 1922. That was less than two percent of the global population at the time, but that’s still one hell of a lot of people gone. And since we’re currently tipping the global scales at some 6 billion and counting, I’d say nature’s past due for a little house-cleaning. Call me a defeatist, but I’ve always had a feeling it might be my generation that has to pick up the tab. Not that I’m necessarily happy about it, but resigned to it? Sure. I mean, it’s what I was raised for.

Brazil. The Stand. Soylent Green. The Omega Man. Planet of the Apes. 12 Monkeys. 1984. THX-1138. Night of the Comet. Dawn of the Dead. The Day After. The Day After Tomorrow. Threads. Logan’s Run. Damnation Alley. Mad Max. A Boy And His Dog. A Clockwork Orange. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Terminator. Independence Day. If You Love This Planet. Until The End Of The World. Apocalypse Now. Has there ever been a generation more culturally programmed for the end of the world?

Face it: life as we know it isn’t really all that great. There are wonderful moments and remarkable advances, true, but there are also dreadful things happening on a scale unheard-of before: serial killers, home invasions, assassination, terrorism, illegal wars, environmental disasters and mass death on a planetary scale. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think we’re ready for the future yet. We’re still having trouble with basics like pollution, war, famine, disease, genocide and corporate “accidents” like Bhopal.

Maybe all those books and movies were right and it’s going to take something truly disastrous to pull everyone together and build a better tomorrow. And if that’s the case, if a sacrifice is needed to make things better, maybe we’re the ones to make it happen—Generation X, I mean. Sure, it’ll suck, but so does my student loan.

Now, I’m not saying we’re going to have to lay down our lives, but there’s no doubt we’ll have to give up our lifestyles—no more three-car families, big-box stores or mangos in December. We’ll have to get smart, and resolve to exist in harmony with our eco-systems; devolve into more community-based, self-reliant existences; give up on air travel and return to a smaller global village.

Change is coming; it’s inevitable. Regardless of the price of gas, we’re still going to run out; regardless of the Kyoto Accord, the mountain pine beetle will still keep eating; regardless how often our neighbour uses their sprinkler in the summer, water is still going to become the most precious commodity of the coming century. We all know our children will never take their children on driving holidays—thus ending five generations of physical and technological laziness. (But strangely, the phrase “Are we there yet?” will live on.)

But I’m fine with it. In fact, I’m ready to get on with it.

Disaster doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. When it’s big enough, beautiful changes can come of it. Sure, the dinosaurs may not have been particularly thrilled when that big-ass meteor dropped in, but you don’t hear us complaining about it now. (Who wants to run the risk of pterodactyls every time you dash to the store?) And the Black Plague? Boffo for the advancement of medical science. Personally, I don’t find it at all surprising that the biggest hit of the 21st century so far is Survivor. I just hope people are taking notes.

Me? I’m still waiting for the end of the world—and I really do feel fine. M

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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