(Basic spoilers for HBO’s The Leftovers, but nothing that should keep you from watching it or reading on)
One day, something strange and terrible happened that changed the entire world.
At the core of our personal operating systems, you won’t find a CPU; you’ll find a storyteller. As much as we like to think of ourselves as a rational species that makes wise decisions, it seems that we spend a lot of time listening to our inner mythologies, or following the narratives provided to us by religions or belief systems. There may not be anything inherently wrong with that, overall, but that approach to life has one built-in flaw that we can’t seem to avoid: all good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Two percent of the world’s population, seemingly at random, simply vanished into thin air.
That’s fine if you’re writing a novel or a comic book or talking your way out of a traffic ticket, but when you apply the same narrative structure to the existence of Humanity as a whole, there’s a big problem. Namely: however you picture “the end of the world” to be, there is often an unconscious assumption that you’ll be around to see it happen. And for a species that fears death so much, we seem to do a lot of cheer-leading for the End Of The World, don’t we?
The Leftovers… the 98% of Humanity left behind… seem to have gone mad with grief. Or perhaps worse, have gone mad trying to make sense of this weird, senseless thing that has befallen the world.
This need to impose a story line on the messy events in our world leads us all down blind alleys. We all have that relative or that Facebook friend or neighbor that believes in something utterly ridiculous — and we know it’s utterly ridiculous because it contradicts the story-line we see going on. Surely our story can’t be wrong. We’ve put so much thought into it! It matches all the evidence!
Seven years later, the anniversary approaches, and everywhere there are signs of The End.
History is littered with failed prophesies regarding the End Of The World. We seem to have a capacity for imagining the worst, then quickly forgetting about it and moving on to the next possible cloud of doom whenever the last one fails to appear. In 2015 it was the “Blood Moon” prophesy from John Hagee and Mark Biltz, in which four consecutive Lunar Eclipses plus a passage from The Book of Joel added up to a best-seller — but you may have noticed, we’re still here, aren’t we? And as far as Bible-based dooms go, brace yourself for the supernova which astronomers expect to occur in 2022, which some clever minds have already stitched together with bits of prophesy to make yet another warm and cozy Apocalypse Quilt for those who demand drama from their Universe to wrap themselves in. My bold prediction? See you all back here in 2023.
But maybe this time it will be different. There have been Signs…
The Leftovers is fiction, so naturally it’s all directed towards an end point… and if the progress of the series thus far is any indication, it’s likely to be brilliant. But is that really what you want for yourself, or your world? Do you want to convince yourself that the Apocalypse is imminent, only to be as wrong as everyone else in history has been? Whatever your worldview, whether you came to it by upbringing or choice or some combination of the two, it’s bound to have a dark side to it. And if you’re looking for proof that the Antichrist will take over the world next month, or that all religions are wrong and people are stupid for believing in them, or that there’s a secret Conspiracy of alien invaders running things, or whatever… you’ll find it. And you’ll probably be wrong.
I say unto thee: always and forever bet ye against The End Of The World, for thou shalt only be wrong (at most) once.