There are so many books these days focused on what might happen after the world as we know it ends, books like Divergent, The Hunger Games, Prodigy, Uglies, and Matched. And in these books inevitably some horrible thing happened, involving human greed and devastation, that brought about a mass change in the way people looked at and interacted with their world. There are many movies that mirror that dramatic change as well, films like After Earth, Oblivion, and 12 Monkeys. As a society we are obviously obsessed with what comes after life as we know it.
I’m intrigued, however, about why we seem to think the world will go through some type of apocalyptic war and need to be cleansed by something that turns horrendous itself. Perhaps it’s because we tend to go in cycles, with good times and bad times, but human nature always wins out regardless. Human nature is of course greedy and self-serving. I remember watching White House Down and thinking about the motivations for the characters to do what they were doing, holding people hostage, killing people indiscriminately as they were. Then it hit me that they were just looking out for number one, what regular people do every single day in real life.
That’s why so many of these characterizations and plots revolve around horrible things happening, because when individuals are self-serving, it leads to chaos, anarchy, and war. We fight little wars every day, as singular human beings, but larger wars escalate as well, and it’s easy to see how they could morph into world-wide catastrophes. I often wonder what would happen if every single person did one thing every day to help someone else, how much that would change anything. I honestly think it might. If we’re thinking of others instead of ourselves, we would make decisions to help the collective instead of the decisions we make that lead to dissension.
I remember reading books when I was a kid about horrible things happening, but they always had happy endings. No matter how bad things got, there was at least that one thing that kept me reading until the end. Good would win out over evil, and things would be fine after it all. But life isn’t as clear-cut as all that, is it? Good and evil aren’t separate anymore, and we have to figure out which is which, something that has gotten incredibly difficult to tell apart. I think about when Katniss is faced with a huge decision at the end of Mockingjay that has so much hinging upon it, and I want to believe that she makes the right one, but I honestly don’t know. That’s how murky things are in the world these days, and literature mirrors it.
I grew up in a Christian household that preached that the world would end in a fantastic fire that would burn up the wicked for a thousand years and renew the earth as a “new Jerusalem” after that time. Then all of us who were wonderful souls who were in heaven for that thousand year period come back and live happily ever after with no more worries. Evil is eradicated, bad people are gone and can no longer do bad things, and the bad parts of us disappear like so much smoke as well. And it always made me wonder: what’s to say that things will stay that way forever? As far as I knew, heaven was that way before “the fall,” and it all fell down because of free choice and the aforementioned self-serving nature of beings.
Nothing is perfect, but neither do we have to subscribe to a particular idea of what will happen in our world. Maybe the world changes gradually instead of this huge shift that seems to happen across books, movies, and even in religious teachings. Maybe it’s time for us to stop thinking ahead to a future that may never materialize as such, and think instead about how we can make ourselves the best we can be in the world we live in now, and let that other stuff sort itself out in time.
“We will rise as the buildings crumble. Float there and watch it all. Amidst the burnin’ we’ll be churnin’. You know love will be our wings. Passion rises up from the ashes. When the world ends.” -Dave Matthews Band