We Can’t Imagine
This isn’t going to end up the way we think it will.
We’re all soothsayers. I keep telling everyone this is going to last a long time. The biggest truth the military taught me was that change is the only constant in life. All this will fall away, the bad assignment. The good one, too. I knew a few contours of the future — I got out and advanced my education, but both experiences left me with flavors I could not have anticipated.
We knew a pandemic would happen and right around this time, too. But the end of the world was depicted as much more specific than it is. The future is nebulous and blurry. It doesn’t follow human logic. Our if-thens often don’t apply. We didn’t know that we’d be obsessed with the unemployment rate or that a tiny part of us would be ecstatic that emissions are falling. Or that we could function, as individual humans, without working. It’s different. But it’s not over yet, and it’s certain to change.
I called a friend when the governments began shutting down movement and asked how he was. He said he was hunkering down to wait out “the apocalypse.”
But the world is not ending. It will be here through this collapse, and it will be here through the next one — climate change, whatever. Will we be able to live on this terrain or be happy? Will we want to go on in a monoculture?
These are the questions that should give us pause. Because we don’t have any other driving mechanism than the dream of our advancement, growth, and wellbeing, we have to see the peril in destroying the natural world.
We have existing notions of the post-apocalyptic world, constructed by artists and prophets. Many of these edifices were not created to dictate our expectations, only to expand the social horizon of possibility. But they have settled and calcified in the collective mind, achieving the opposite goal.
Knowing this, a fun way to imagine the future after the pandemic has subsided — or we have gotten used to it — is in the most positive way possible.
The pandemic has told us that our model of living is unsustainable. It hinted at other ways of living that are better, like discouraging meat consumption, which is so central to historic epidemics; democratizing health care; dismantling the broad human axiom that we are more important than other life. It would be a place to slow down and not worry about growing — we’re big enough. It would be a place where people could be who they want.
We could look back and be happy with our response.