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Are We Doomed to a Post-apocalyptic Future?


Gordon Rowlinson

I recently was reviewing my old VHS movie tapes and watched The Terminator 2 for the 100th time. Towards the middle of the movie, I found a brief disturbing and reflective moment. In one of the few breaks in the many action scenes, the young John Connor character speculates that, in the long run, the human race is doomed. He turns to the Terminator character and says, "We're not going to make it are we?" Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator heartlessly replies in an Austrian accent, "It's in your nature to destroy yourselves." It got me thinking about the the myriad of post-apocalyptic books and movies. More importantly, it got me wondering if the Terminator is right. Are we doomed? Is it our nature to destroy ourselves? If so, it would certainly make a bummer of a final chapter in history books.

The post-apocalyptic future genre has become very popular in novels and movies. It feeds on our inner fears of an unknown future. It also places a civilized protagonist in a more primitive, non-civilized setting and has him dramatically fight for survival. There is lingering suspense in these books and movies as readers and viewers want to find out if the main characters in a worldwide catastrophe survive and if civilization itself survives.

Probably the first work of literature to exploit this theme was Mary Shelley's The last Man. This novel was published in 1826 and was sub sequentially slammed by the critics. However talented Shelley didn't write a clunker. Mary Shelly, who is remembered much more for her novel Frankenstein, was merely ahead of her time. Another classic SciFi author to use this idea was HG Wells in the unforgetable novel The Time Machine (1895)where the time traveler fights for survival in a dark unknown future.

More recent notable post-apocalyptic literature includes: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951); Daybreak - 2250 AD by Andre Norton (1952); I am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954); On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957); A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller (1961); The Devil's Children by Peter Dickinson (1970); The Stand by Stephen King (1978); The Postman by David Brin (1985); World War Z by Max Brooks (2006)I'm sorry I didn't mention a couple of your favorite novelsbut hey, there are too many to mention them all.

The cause of worldwide destruction varies from novel to novel. The most popular way of destroying the world is a plague. Other popular ways are global nuclear war, biological weaponry, an alien invasion, and an asteroid collision. In recent years, zombie attacks and climate change have become popular ways of destroying the planet.

Of course Hollywood has produced a massive number of movies with this theme. Notable post-apocalyptic films include: The End of the World (1939); Day the World Ended (1951); Planet of the Apes (1968); Mad Max (1981); The Day After (1983); First Contact (1996); The Day After Tomorrow (2004); Zombieland (2009); 2012 (2009); The Book of Eli (2010)I'm sorry I didn't mention a few of your favorite end of the world moviesbut hey there are too many to mention them all. Even the Star Trek movie producers couldn't resist using this theme. Part of the popularity of the Star Trek movies and TV shows is showing a vision of a positive future. Yet in 1996, Paramont Pictures released Star Trek First Contacta movie showing earth in 2063 after World War III has destroyed much of the planet.

Are all these negative books and movies right? Are we doomed? The positive news is that mankind appears to becoming more and more civilized. Evidence of this is the fact that all of the major players involved in World War II have not waged another all out war against each other. There has been no World War III. The bad news is we live in an era of dwindling resources and increasing climate change. Dwindling resources such as oil, water, food can easily lead to wars. For the past 35 years, the Middle East has been the main global source for oil. It comes as no surprise that for the past 35 years, the region has been plagued by wars. As for climate change, the U.S. Government has recognized climate change as a threat to peace. In 2012, the Pentagon has issued a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which warns about the impacts of climate change as a threat to national security.

In the end, I believe that human beings have more sanity than insanity and more reason than non-reason and more positives than negatives. Even though world destruction is popular in novels and movies, only a fool is willing to see the world destroyed in reality. Therefore we are not necessarily doomed. It should be noted that the post-apocalyptic book club of London, England (yes there is really such a club) reports several post-apocalyptic books to be released this year. Also, there are more post-apocalyptic movies due to be released including a remake of Left Behindwhich depicts the end of the world based on the book of Revelations. We may or not be not be doomed in reality. However, the world is destined to be destroyed over and over again in upcoming movies and novels.

Your comments below are welcome...

2014-03-27 15:59:32
Pippin91 - It's a matter of time horizons and priorities. If you're starving and need to cook dinner, and all there is to cook with is some nearby brush, you don't think about the fact that you're denuding your environment, or polluting the atmosphere. At the other extreme, if you're a hyper-competitive alpha male (and I've known more than my share of this type) all you care about is outshining your rivals, meaning making more money than they do, having more stuff. So if that means investing in companies that strip mine half of Alberta for tar-oil, or ship the stuff in leaky boats, so what? You'll be dead before the consequences could possibly affect you. Worrying about the state of the world just simply isn't what most people do. And thus, the enduring popularity of the post-apocalyptic genre. It's just simply so easy to believe that something really bad is going to happen, and soon.

2014-03-20 17:52:01
GordonRowlinson - I hate to sound cynical but I have noticed that we tend to go willy-nilly into the future without much foresight until something terrible happens. Then we learn. After 9/11, we all thought-"well gee, maybe we should increase airline security." After the Titanic went down, people thought-"well gee, maybe we should make a rule that there has to be enough life boats." After we dropped the Atom bomb on Japan and saw the horrors, we thought-"well gee, maybe we shouldn't do that again." If a pandemic happens or any other terrible event (and we survive), we will learn and there will be major adjustments. I'm attempting my first post-apocalyptic story. But I keep putting it off. It's all too depressing.

2014-03-02 23:52:29
Ironspider - "In the end, I believe that human beings have more sanity than insanity and more reason than non-reason and more positives than negatives." I'd like to agree, but having watched the news over the past few days, I don't think sanity, reason or positivity enter the equation. Mankind has proven itself to be a very short-sighted species and we lack the required level of altruism to make the kind of sacrifices needed to ensure future growth and stability. I also watched a recent BBC Four programme on pandemics (The Horizon Guide to Pandemic) which, while fairly positive in it's assumptions to we have the intelligence and technology to defeat pandemics, left me with a distinctly uneasy feeling over the potential for man-made disease outbreaks. I guess that's probably my favoured sub-genre of apocalypse story (my own Ultima Ratio stories - not published here - take that as their starting assumption. I would prefer to think of mankind as intelligent enough to not pursue a route to self-destruction, but as Einstein commented "two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity - and I'm not sure about the universe".

2014-03-01 07:27:51
micheledutcher - I know this sounds narcissistic, but whenever I write a post-Apocalyptic story, I ask myself what's the point - if the world is going to be dead in a hundred years anyways. It isn't that mankind will always try to do the right thing so much as how far can we go willy-nilly into our future until we reach a point of no return. We are living on this planet as if we have another one to go to.

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