This Is How the World Ends

This is the Way the World Ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

If you are unfamiliar with T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, a haunting masterpiece of 20th-century existential modernity, I highly recommend sitting with it for awhile on a cold, bleak Autumn afternoon.  Even more than the howling winds, it will chill you to the bones.  Just don’t read it with a loaded gun resting beside you.  You might blow your brains out.  I think they found a copy of it laying beside Kurt Cobain’s vacant corpse.

But what if T.S. Eliot was wrong?  What if the world ends not with a whimper but with a bang?  Does it really make a difference?  After all, if the world is indeed coming to a screeching halt, is there any true significance to the bang given that there’s no one left to hear it?  And if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, do I really need to give a damn that Paul Bunyan hacked it down with an axe?  Perhaps what I am suggesting is that if the world is going to end, the “how” might not be the most pertinent question at hand.  Perhaps what we should be asking is, “Is there a lifeboat?”

These seemingly dark and dire metaphysical ruminations started a few years back when I met the mother of an ex-girlfriend for the first time.  The girlfriend had advised me in advance that her mother was what is known as a “prepper”, a term I had not previously heard, apparently because I did not watch nearly enough badly-scripted reality television.  As you may know, there is actually a show devoted to these folks, largely crackpots intent on surviving what they believe to be an  imminent armageddon, an end of days soon at hand.  I laughed.  “Your mom really believes this nonsense?” I asked.

“Just don’t ask her about it.”  I had been warned.  I should have listened.

Because when her mom started to explain step-by-step the invariable process by which the world as we knew it would be plunged into utter chaos and disarray, a Mad Max vision of life on Earth where resources have become so scarce that the few remaining survivors are thrown into a daily battle to live to see the next sunrise, something truly remarkable occurred.  I could not argue against a single thing she was saying.  I had no choice but to acknowledge that everything she envisioned made complete but horrifying sense.

In the scenario she described, the schism in wealth distribution, already untenable in its current form in the United States, would continue to widen until reaching a breaking point.  I’m not talking about the Occupy movement, a group of kids smoking dope and talking politics in the city park.  No, I’m talking true Marxist revolt kind of stuff.  Now, I’ve never been a big fan of history, but even I know the old adage that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.  Well, I also had just enough of the French and Russian Revolutions shoved down my throat to get the basic gist.  Free market capitalism (or laissez faire economics as it was known to the French elite right before they lost their heads in the guillotine) is all well and good, but as Marx suggests, it, like all socioeconomic systems, has it’s inevitable endgame.  The inherent greed of humanity, our drive to have material goods and resources that outnumber those of our fellow brothers and sisters, will invariably drive us to take more than our fair share from the common plate.  This rift will only be further exacerbated with time as those that have more accumulate the ability and power to take even more, leaving the disadvantaged with even less, until the crumbs the poor are left with are no longer enough to get them by from day to day.  Statistics continue to show the erosion of the middle class and the allocation of wealth in the hands of a few, as the richest 1% now own as much wealth as the bottom 90% combined.  Well, at some point they are going to get pissed off enough to do something about it.  And that, my friends, is where the trouble begins.

Just ask Marie Antionette how much the proletariat liked it when she told them to just eat cake.  Eventually, like Marx suggests, the workers of the world will unite, and I can tell you, even with my limited history background, that ain’t ever pretty.  What the mom told me next, though, was even more terrifying because imagine now that the revolution we seem to be headed for is fueled not by a cumbersome contraption that cuts off your head, but instead by a populace armed to the teeth with firearms, weaponry that allows even rogue individuals to take up arms against a government they feel has wronged them.  And what will that government, now functioning as a prop serving to protect and defend the interests not of the citizens but rather of the economic elite who currently control it, do when the people push back against it?  Yeah, I don’t like that answer either because military might used against a well-armed populace frightens me more than the vision of my ex waking me up in the middle of the night wearing a hockey mask and wielding a butcher’s knife.

Sure, we could avoid this nightmare scenario by working together to find solutions to bridging the divide in income disparity, but we all know that the ones who now have the power and the money aren’t going to do so without a fight.  So go sit out on your porch with a stiff, warm cocktail and read some poetry.  Just don’t start with T.S. Eliot.

Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works.  Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com

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