To put it bluntly, the human species is coming to an end. It feels hyperbolic to say, and yet I can’t think of another phrase that fully encapsulates this sense of impending doom. It isn’t an apocalypse of a single threat (although COVID seems to be giving it a good effort). It’s a daily apocalypse, hourly, minutely. We’re winding down the motor of the human experience.
Of course, over the centuries, people have been equally convinced of the very same thing. The Black Death, the threat of nuclear destruction, Y2K. And on the individual scale, we’re all working towards our own private apocalypses with every passing day. But still there’s a feeling – zeitgeist if you want to get German about it – that this is it. The big one. We’re exiting stage right.
Surprisingly, I’ve come to realize that this doesn’t depress me. It doesn’t even discourage me. There seems to be possibility in this species-wide unraveling. I’ve long had the sense that people are capable of anything for better or for worse. There are physical confines, certain rules that have (at least so far) governed our movements, but beyond this human beings can operate fairly freely.
“To man it is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills.” Pico della Mirandola.
How much truer when standing at the edge of an abyss. Where to leap is to land somewhere utterly unknowable. No floor, no roof, no forward or back, only directionless movement through space.
Is this close to nihilism? It is certainly not my intention. What I mean to say is that at the edge of dissolution, we have unparalleled power to re-envision our lives both singularly and collectively.
For me, this translates to the imaginative possibilities of fiction. To quote from Walidah Imarisha’s essay To Build a Future Without Police and Prisons, We Have to Imagine It First: “… visionary fiction demands us to be unrealistic in our visions of the future because all real substantive social change has been considered to be unrealistic at the time people fought for it… we start with the question, What is the world we want? rather than What is a win that is possible and realistic?”
Here’s a world that I want, even if only for a few glowing years: people no longer having to choose between health care and food; abolition of mass-incarceration and freedom from the police state; ability without regard to gender, race, (dis)ability, sexual orientation to work towards self-fulfillment; recognition and reparations for the attempted genocide of Native people; the possibility of meaning-making independent of capitalist machinations.
Honestly, seems like the bare minimum of what we might achieve. Others with greater imagination are already working towards better worlds than I can conceive.
But in my own way, I hope to open doors towards a stranger, freer future. I can’t describe my fiction as “utopian” or even “optimistic,” but what I hope is that it invites curiosity and provokes re-vision of the world and its structures. What we see now is not necessarily what has always been or what always must be. The world can shift, can be made strange. If we haven’t learned anything in the past two years, we might at least accept this: the world-potential is far different from what we can predict.
So, I hope to make the world a stranger and thereby freer place. I hope to become un-integratable to an economy founded on exploitation and erasure of individuality. I hope we can learn to recognize one another beyond the pressures of commodification. We are not machine parts, interchangeable, and disposable, we are far greater and less predictable than that.
The human species may be ending, but we can still make our final days the kindest, most loving, and most just we can possibly imagine.