When the world is not in order, when it’s too vast, too complex, too unmanageable, and when it’s all these things for far too long, then people pack their bags and go on holiday. Where to? To paradise, of course, but not before passing through customs–which is to say, Judgment Day.
As it happens, tomorrow, May 21, is Doomsday. Please mark your calendars, save the date!, and by God remember to bring your passport. Also, don’t forget all those super tiny liquid holders.
* * *
In the face of the unknown and the unintelligible, we can construct metaphysics or we can tell jokes. You know where I’m headed with this.
But, in reality, the joke is on us creatures of habits–I mean, you and me, my friend–those of us who bungle the problem of induction ad infinitum. For the true claim that “There is no evidence of Judgment Day” is NOT logically equivalent to the false claim, “There is evidence of no Judgment Day.” That “no” is a slippery bugger. (Confused? Try this: “There’s no evidence of cancer.” Reasonable enough. Now this one: “There’s evidence of no cancer.” Alas, no, not yet anyway.)
The sun has risen every day that I’ve lived, but it doesn’t follow that it will rise tomorrow. Judgment Day, therefore, can never be ruled out from the start, and the idea is certainly not nonsense.
“Oh, but May 21 is just an arbitrary day. Why not May 22?”
“Yes, and what day wouldn’t be arbitrary for Judgment Day? What signs, my dear atheist friend, are you looking for?”
“But Judgment Day is just a ‘social construct.”
“I see you’ve taken a few humanities courses. I’m sorry for your loss.”
It’s nice to get off our high horses and sit down on our lowly arses.
* * *
The problems we face–climate change, unemployment, decaying institutions, attenuated public sphere, fat people–are so immense. The great solutions we lefties have come up with so far (and I list): Wrapping ourselves in hemp, buying heirloom tomatoes, raising our own chickens, composting food scraps, biking around town with spaceships on our heads. If the problems of modernity are indeed so immense, then why are our our our (I stutter…) solutions so stupendously farcical?
* * *
The retrograde movement, which sometimes goes by the name “simplicity movement,” involves getting back to the land. Such nostalgia for a premodern world, such profound naivete, as if growing long beards and moving to Boulder would quiet your conscience. Go West, my son, go west! The ideal buried underneath this nostalgia is beautiful; the practice is self-defeating and smacks in my ears of Portlandia self-righteousness.
Around individuals who speak ad nauseam about social justice, I like to imagine the Eloi, the well-intentioned, childlike, and utterly helpless creatures from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. “You’re so fucking pathetic.” (That’s me channeling my Tyler Durden.)
* * *
In their hearts there is hope and despair. Doomsday cults despair because they have the true belief that the world is vast yet broken. Their false belief is that we’re not up to, can’t possibly be up to, the challenge. Their hope is that another world could be, another world that saving grace, that healing balm, that blessedness, that omphalos.
Their fear is honorable–but paralyzing. Their hope is honest, beautiful, freeing–yet erroneous, mangled, displaced. Their philosophical mistake was to stop thinking, to stop imagining otherwise. I love them their follies.
* * *
Follies indeed: Lefties, in their everyday practices, having succumbed to realism; doomsdayers, meanwhile, having dreamt otherwise but then having made those otherwises into Candy Lands. Yes, we, you and I, my friend, are lost, but not beyond hope, I hope, and maybe we, you and I, can find ourselves through our own efforts, our humility, and love.
Philosophy, I say, begins with a life need, begins with my pulse, with your breath, with our skin. And then, if it is honest, strong, and true, it gets down to work–the hard work of thinking our way out of this. My grandmother, the melancholy and hope:
You’re on your honor now. / Not beyond the plow. / You’ll never get rich/ Till you dig in the ditch. / You’re on your honor now.