Recently, it has felt to me as though the world is rapidly collapsing into chaos. It’s not as if this is the first time. For years, I have fought against racial hatred, xenophobia, and our destruction of the planet. But I was always convinced that, in time, things would change for the better, that our efforts would pay off. Recently, it’s become more and more difficult to rely on my natural optimism.
When we look at the seasons and the way the earth regenerates itself year after year, we see cyclical time: the calendar of death and regeneration. Destruction leads to new growth, new beginnings. Some things are eternal. In my concept of the universe, energy is eternal and binds together all animate and inanimate things.
I try to ignore the fact that there is also something called linear time. And, in linear time, all things eventually dissolve into chaos: entropy. The earth, the universe we are a part of, will eventually cease to exist. Ok, the scale of time we’re talking about is incomprehensibly huge. But there is something inexorable and terrifying about this knowledge.
Humans have known this ever since our consciousness developed. In many mythologies, the end of time has a prominent place: the New Testament Apocalypse and the Norse Ragnarok are examples. In both cases, the myth describes the destruction of the age we know, a cleansing, and regeneration into something new and good.
In some ways, science is the newest form of mythology. Mankind has always searched to understand the wonders of life and science balances on the edge of what we can know and what we still want to understand. The means by which we can observe and deduce have simply become more refined. But there are still many, many things scientists don’t understand.
Professor Brian Cox gives a fascinating overview of this in his books and BBC series. One of the things I learned from him is that scientists now believe that ‘something’ exists beyond the universe, something that can only be described as ‘expansion.’ So, universes are continuously coming into existence and dissolving into chaos. Eternity does exist.
This doesn’t mean that we can close our eyes to the terrifying consequences of the end of time. In Creative Mythology, the final part of Joseph Campbell’s epos, Masks of God, he states, “For men confronted by the frightening features of time, which they do not penetrate with understanding, are made blind and deaf […].” To move forward, it’s important to accept the worst, the most frightening thing, the thing you do not want to see. (See my earlier posts on accepting the shadow.)
For me, the most frightening thing, the thing I prefer not to see, is the fact that mankind is capable of destroying life on earth. Or, at any rate, human existence on earth. The so-called Fermi Paradox states: Given the probability that advanced life forms can and have developed in our Milky Way Galaxy, why haven’t we encountered them? An interesting and scary solution is that all advanced civilizations eventually destroy themselves. Including our civilization; and we are very close to doing so.
The United States, one of the most powerful governments in the world, has elected a Presidential candidate who denies the fact of climate change and the current rate at which we are destroying the earth. He also supports and encourages bigotry and xenophobia. His election – no matter for what reason – sends a powerful signal to the rest of the world (and there were other signals before this we all tried to ignore).
When I think about the ramifications of this and what it means for the balance of power in the world, it terrifies me.
Fear of something must never lead to paralysis. “Fight, flee, or freeze” in this case means to stand and fight. We all have a responsibility to stand up for what we believe. Whether you are an activist or prefer to work within the political framework, whether you are a demonstrator or a poet, find some way to let your voice be heard.
If there were ever a time to fight for life on earth, it is now.