(Trigger warning for those with suicidal ideations or fears about death/the apocalypse. No judgment, I’m right there with you. This is just my version of therapy).
Sunday night I finished reading The End is Always Near by Hardcore History podcaster, and radio personality, Dan Carlin. I devoured it in about 4 days, which is monumental for me since I have ADHD. It was one of those books I’d always intended to read, but just never got around to it. The past month, however, it kept showing up on my Twitter feed. Naturally, I had to read it.
My thoughts on the book overall? If you don’t like random thought experiments, political and psychological theory that seem to go nowhere, and unconnected ideas, then this is not the book for you. If, however, you love history, you love thinking and new ideas, and you listen to Hardcore History (if you don’t but do meet the criteria above, then what are you even doing? start listening, like yesterday), this is the book for you.
Carlin begins by posing some very existential and societal questions about the way we’re raised, the way our grandparents were raised, and how past generations may or may not have traumatized every child until the 1960’s. Next, we foray into the ancient Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires; the Greeks, Romans… and then the plagues. Black Death and Spanish flu, finishing off finally with nuclear war and “Fancy Boy” President John F. Kennedy.
For my own personal tastes, this book kept me entertained for the most part (not Carlin’s fault, I just don’t particularly care for 9th century France), leaving me wanting more. Don’t worry, if you want to read more, there is a “Further Reading” section I know I will be taking advantage of. But this book took me back to my favorite episodes of the show, and introduced me to some new ideas and events I want to explore next. So I give this fast-moving, philosophical, historical leap frogging book, a 4.8/5. Probably the highest score yet.
That leads me to wonder, why do I like this book so much? Not just for the time periods, or the dizzying array of intellectual rabbit holes… but because the subject matter is just so relevant, I just can’t help putting myself in these situations. Why was I drawn to read this book for the past year? Why was it all over my Twitter feed (probably because I follow a lot of nerds).
Why are people so instinctually drawn to movies, books, and music about the end of the world (or at least, the end of humanity)? It doesn’t seem to matter if the material is using humor to confront this terrifying idea like Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, and James Franco’s This is the End, or maybe a more satirical turn like Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It also doesn’t matter if it’s serious, gritty, and so in your face you can’t ignore the fear of death and destruction… like The Terminator series, Night of the Living Dead, or Soylent Green.
Humanity likes watching the end of humanity. Weird. Not only that, but there’s been an uptick of films, books, and TV shows featuring these themes; The Walking Dead, The Maze Runner, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Resident Evil, Donnie Darko, World War Z, Good Omens, Station Eleven… the list goes on. Some people seem to think the reason for this is due to our own anxieties about the increasingly unstable world we live in (global warming, threat of nuclear war, political upheaval, pandemics, Mark Zuckerberg creeping in on your weird sexting kinks involving a broom, lube, and diapers on Facebook Messenger).
But it might also be that our brains are just weird. Of course, our brains aren’t even supposed to be aware of themselves, but here we are some 10,000 years of ‘progress’ later. And for some reason, the urge to self-sabotage is a problem many of us deal with. There’s the sabotage we’re aware of… say for instance, breaking up with someone because you’re afraid of commitment, or not wanting to have to deal with seeing the same dick everyday (literally). And then there’s the kind we’re unaware of. Those instances where you’re standing on the edge of a building and wondering, ‘Huh, what if I just jumped?’
Quite often, many of us who have had this experience have never once had depression or suicidal tendencies (I have, but I’ve heard of others who don’t). It’s not related to wanting to kill yourself, it’s just… because. Perhaps it is akin to being a kid and wondering, ‘What would happen if I touched this hot stove?’ even though you’ve just seen your older sister burn her fingerprints off (a good opportunity to start a career in crime). You know what will happen. You burn. You fall. You die.
Still, for a split second, that thought makes all the sense in the world. I’m sure a good amount of you have heard of “l’appel du vide” or, “Call of the Void.” The first time I remember hearing of it (I’m sure my brain heard it before last year, but was paying attention to a corgi in a sailor suit instead), was listening to Stuff to Blow Your Mind episode, Jump Into the Void.
I know I’ve suggested this show before, but I’m going to recommend it again. The episode kind of plays around with the idea of our own self-sabotaging nature. One theory they mention being floated around is that our brains are trying to short circuit a problem. For instance, you are afraid of heights (I am not, I am more afraid of dying from the fall… because I am way more logical about that than I am about being buried alive. Apparently my mind thinks that’s what it needs to worry about). Your brain wants to solve this problem, and overcome said fear. The only way to overcome fear, is to face it. Just fall, and you’ve solved the problem because you just did it. Only now you have a bigger problem; you’re dead.
So perhaps the only way we can face the fear of dying or losing everything and everyone we hold dear, without actually having to face it, is to simulate this experience through various forms of media. Or maybe this kind of simulation is a warning of how bad things could be, and it can help us mentally plan and prepare. As an INTP, I thrive off of the pre-planning process, the execution… not so much. But in the end (pun not intended) most of us don’t actually want any of this to happen. If you do, maybe it’s time to seek help.
On that note, read the book (or maybe something else), watch the new season of Altered Carbon (future review…?), and bake a cake because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing.