I would say I think about the end of the world a lot — and I actually blame the song, “If the World Was Ending” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels, which blew up on TikTok sometime in 2020. Since then, I have struggled to get the idea out of my head. In the song, Saxe and Michaels are two lovers who have broken up and grown apart. When an earthquake hits the city they reside in, they both are left pondering the question, “if the world was ending, you’d come over right?” It’s every bit as cringey and disingenuous as it sounds. While it’s likely that it was meant more as a breakup or an “in your feelings” type song than any meaningful commentary on the end of the world, it spurred me to ponder how I think about an inevitable apocalypse.
Whether it’s zombies or armageddon, it’s kind of fun to imagine a massive, Earth-shattering ending of life as we know it. Where would I be? Who would I call? What would I want in my final moments as the world collapses into fiery rubble around me? Maybe fun isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly easier to glamorize the apocalypse with sensationalized movies like “2012” than actually sit down and realize we are already living through the end of the world — and it’s actually much worse than any Roland Emmerich movie could be. I wish the apocalypse that is to come could be a little bit more like the 2018 film “Bird Box” with its dramatic premise that causes the characters to make gripping life-or-death choices, or even like the world of “The Maze Runner,” which at least gave us characters to root for and cool robot bugs.
Our apocalypse might be similar to the makings of our best science fiction writers, but it certainly won’t have the glamor. To be completely honest, the end of the world doesn’t really strike the kind of fear in me I think it probably should. In place of this fear is more of a passive understanding that what’s to come is out of my control. Maybe I should be angrier about the world’s looming climate change disasters or the ongoing threat of a major global conflict that has the capacity to wipe out life on Earth.
As it stands right now, most days I feel powerless to make any significant change that could possibly put to a halt the rapid downward spiral it feels like the world is heading towards. With the emphasis constantly placed on individual actions that are palatable enough to appeal to the masses like reusable bags and paper straws, often we lose sight of the true forces that have the power to send the world as we know it into a true apocalypse — corporate greed and capitalism.
If that sounds at all too nihilistic, it’s probably because I just finished reading Tom Kaczynski’s “Beta Testing the Ongoing Apocalypse.” Set to release in March of this year, “Beta Testing the Ongoing Apocalypse” is an expansion of Kaczynski’s 2013 collection of comics, “Beta Testing the Apocalypse.” With comics pulled from “The Drama,” “Punk Planet” and “Backwards City Review” as well as two new stories, Kaczynski creates a work that forces the reader to stare directly into the face of the worst parts of our world. This kind of honest and unabashedly cynical writing style fits perfectly with Kaczynski’s subject matter. While he’s not afraid of having a bit of fun telling his stories, he is able to masterfully examine the world in which we live and the place of human beings in it.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is called “Million Year Boom.” Originally published in MOME 11 in 2008 and reprinted in the anthology Best American Nonrequired Reading in 2009, our protagonist has recently been hired at a start-up that was looking to make it big in the “green economy.” The protagonist notes that the conglomeration of “hippy scientists, lawyers and managers, drowning in investor capital” all lacked any semblance of corporate identity and rather “extended their tentacles” into a variety of industries. Sounds pretty familiar. As the protagonist spends more time at the start-up, he starts to experience allergy symptoms, which are quickly abated when his coworker suggests a medication that takes away his symptoms. As the story continues, the protagonist becomes more distinctly animal, with his heightened senses spurred by the medication as well as new primal urges.
Kaczynski does a better job writing and illustrating the story than I could ever achieve through explaining it. As Adalbert Arcane explains at the Notes and Theories section of the novel (absolutely required reading if you’re picking up this book), “Million Year Boom” “… excavates the primitive drives concealed within us under a thin veneer of civilization.” Arcane goes on to say that in order to save the planet, it’s necessary for humans to devolve. “Even all the green activists view the planet as something to protect (we are more significant than nature) or insist that we must de-industrialize (i.e. to devolve, implicit in that demand is our already existing evolution beyond nature).”
As an environmentalist, I’m not sure what it looks like to think about preventing a climate change-induced apocalypse from happening that doesn’t include a feeling of needing to protect. Maybe that need to protect really does come from a sense of significance over nature — after all, I think there’s an argument that could be made that we have mastered nature to the point in which we can use it to meet all of our needs.
I also feel confident that no matter what happens to our Earth — whether life is business as usual for the next 1,000 years or the climate crisis kills us all in the next 100 — nature will find a way to go on without us. Arcane also gets to this point in his Notes and Theories on Kaczynski’s never-before-published “Utopia Dividend.” Arcane mentions the countless times nature has filled in the areas that humans have abandoned, filling in the voids and creating wild spaces once again. However, Arcane also says, “When environmental activists talk about isolating and preserving natural habitats, deindustrializing and denuclearizing, they really speak about humans leaving the planet. This can be achieved through only two means: extinction or exodus.”
I’m not sure the solution to saving our planet and preventing an apocalypse is simply to leave. While that certainly would solve the problem on Earth, it’d either extend the inevitable to when we all pack up and move to another planet or completely wipe humans out of existence. I may not be afraid of the coming apocalypse, but I still would rather it not happen! And I’d prefer for humanity to survive for future generations. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the answers. Is it better to be more pessimistic or optimistic about the state of our climate crisis? Do my individual actions really matter in preventing the human-caused apocalypse from happening? Is hope for a better future all we have? I guess I’m just crossing my fingers that I can figure it out before the apocalypse comes.
Daily Arts Writer Isabella Kassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.