Photo by Cru Camara
Not a lot of people know this, but 2018 marked a century since the end of World War 1 — a monumentally bloody conflict that, having claimed between 50 and 100 million deaths worldwide, was described at the time, perhaps naively, as “the war to end all wars.” Happy anniversary.
To commemorate, The Atlantic released a series of photographs documenting the current state of old WW1 battlegrounds, most of these spaces covered in a pall of indifferent grass. An observation post for the British artillery sits obsolete in the middle of a tranquil field. Moss coats the walls of an abandoned bunker. A stand of barbed wire coils around a twig in the obliterated village of Bezonvaux, France: the remains of a human conflict, grown over, made beautiful by the absence of human beings.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on the ongoing phenomenon of global warming — if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate and the world’s temperature rises another 1.5°C by even half a degree, then in roughly 12 years, humanity will see greater catastrophes such as: more floods and droughts, increased forest fires, the death of half the insect population, and the total annihilation of our corals.
Visualize today’s disasters, amped up to their worst possible forms by the year 2030 — an image so paralyzing, the inevitability of it actually seems unreal. Imagine: I will be 37 by the time the earth decides it is done with my complacency. At the mercy of an actual deadline, great minds beg the world’s governments and businesses to stave off the apocalypse.
Both of these issues are stories that I didn’t get to react to in an editorial sense, but they left a mark on 2018. One thing most people don’t understand about online content creation is how merciless the pace can be — so much sh*t happens all the time, faster than I or anybody on this team can process.
Our team spent last Saturday afternoon in a meeting, scoping the year out for possible stories and, by extension, imagining the things we can control. These plans will eventually be derailed, when the president says something so catastrophically stupid it starts a war, or when another musician gets outed as a rapist, or even when one of us starts to leave for greener career pastures. And in each scenario, we will have to respond in some way. We cannot afford not to respond.
A negative emotion is useless unless it’s converted to some kind of fuel, so I spent a lot of the year reading. In her book The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing explores the possibility of building hope on top of the remains of destruction, examining sites of possibility in a capitalist, environmentally precarious world through the lens of the matsutake mushroom — a commodity fungus that tends to thrive in sites of ecological disrepair. She writes, “If we end the story with decay, we abandon all hope — or turn our attention to other sites of promise and ruin, promise and ruin,” encouraging us to imagine the ways we can make the most of our current situation of labor and resource scarcity.
The late anti-capitalist philosopher Mark Fisher, however, offers a bleaker thought: “It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.” I think of friends who would rather die than cry power. Not because they want to, but because it can’t be helped.
I don’t know; I don’t know. I guess I say this because one half of my heart says that the most sensible, even divine thing to do would be to survive, live and dream. But the other half of my heart succumbs.
Funnily enough, Marie Kondo says, “Tidying is the act of confronting yourself; cleaning is the act of confronting nature.” So there’s that. Effective panacea, for now.
It is Dec. 23 as I write this. Drawing closer to the brink of another exhausting year, I am entitled to think about the end of the world.
The New Year’s resolution is an invention, only in so far as it is a special name, dependent on occasion, that we give to the natural human impulse to try and regain our momentum, or equilibrium. When the fireworks go off and fracture with noise and light the void of a pitch black sky bleeding into a new year, suddenly you have nothing to look at except yourself, and everything you were and are and wish you could become. Sensing the end of a year in which you could have become whole but did not, you say to yourself it will be different this time around.
So you look at the previous year, and all that has grown over what you built. And what is everything you went through but an abandoned battlefield, strewn with the obsolete relics of what used to hurt you? Isn’t it something to be proud of, that your greatest accomplishment of 2019 is keeping your sanity and staying alive?
And isn’t it a borderline miracle that you get to try again? That you managed to tear up the black night with noise and light before it could claim you? The answers are already there. But it’s only good form, I think, to begin and end with questions.