The Bright Side of the Apocalypse

Tomorrow, they say, the world is going to end.

Whether you believe in the doomsday prophecies or not, you’ve probably heard that the Mayan calendar will come to a close on December 21st. Speculations as to what could happen range from the cataclysmic environmental disasters, to a visit from extraterrestrials, to nothing at all – and while I can’t say for sure one way or another what’s going to happen, just in case this is the last blog entry I ever write, let’s talk optimism. 

Let’s talk apocalypse.

It’s not all doom and gloom, after all; the word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek apokalupsis, which just means “revelation” – the disclosure of some vast, foreign sum of information to mankind. Somewhere during its long and reoccurring history, the innocent word took on a darker tone, and now it evokes the plagues, nuclear fallout and zombies we associate with the end of human civilization. It’s pretty grim stuff. Panic-worthy, even. But what if an apocalypse is exactly what humans need?

As humans, we can’t help but want what we want. We want food. We want shelter. We want protection and affection and security, and generally, our strongest appetites are for those things we don’t currently have. Our dissatisfaction with the status quo is what leads us to make houses out of trees, cities from settlements, assembly lines and space shuttles and nanotechnology. No matter how much we grow and change, we want to keep growing and changing. We’re insatiable.

But despite our limitless urge to discover everything about our world, the more we learn, the more complicated the universe proves itself to be. Spirits and gods and folktales have ceased to satisfy us as explanations; we now have chemistry and physics and medicine; Wikipedia and YouTube; Google and Siri. Our world hums with information in a way our ancestors could have barely imagined, and what could have been the quiet conclusion of a thousands-year-old calendar is now a worldwide phenomenon.

So maybe this is actually old news – maybe we’ve already undergone an apocalypse. Or ten.

Because let’s face it – we’ve crossed oceans. We’ve crossed airspace. We’ve propelled ourselves into orbit and taken pictures of our planet from the outside. We’ve launched satellites, built megacities, drained swamps, conquered earthquakes and constructed artificial islands. We’ve decimated ourselves with war and cured ourselves with vaccines; enslaved ourselves and liberated ourselves; discriminated against each other and fought tirelessly for equality. We can stay connected with countries we’ve never visited, talk to people we’ve never met, and learn anything in an instant from the comfort of our own homes. Our world is utterly unrecognizable from that of the ancient Mayans’ – we are, in fact, their post-apocalyptic future. And yet some things stay the same. The sun still rises. The sky is still blue. People still want what they want. And humans are still here.

So maybe it didn’t come in swarms of locusts or zombies – but if the Greeks knew what they were talking about, maybe humans have withstood more revelations than we give ourselves credit for. And maybe we’ve done okay. Maybe we’re even ready for more.

Because what is progress but an apocalypse? A shift from the unknown to the known; leaving the rules of one age for the rules of the next; and encountering the freedom to define one’s own uncertain future? What is an apocalypse if not the universe’s perfect answer to our human, insatiable thirst for bigger, newer and better?

So if there’s any way I’d like to conclude my final blog entry before the world ends, it’s wishing you a happy revelation. May the last day of the Mayan calendar usher out the old world and bring you something pleasantly unexpected; may tomorrow be only one of many apocalypses yet to come; and may you encounter just the kind of impetus you need to keep searching, keep trying, and keep being human.

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