I’ve somehow managed to carve out an existence for myself. I’m alive. I’m living in a major American city. I have cash in my pocket. That’s fine. Everything’s fine. Two years ago I was waiting tables at a restaurant. One day I got bored and walked into another restaurant and now I’m waiting tables over there. Terrific. I’m in pretty good shape. I try to eat right, you know, in between binging at McDonald’s or White Castle. I run a lot. Fantastic.
But what if society were to collapse tomorrow? Let’s say zombie apocalypse. Or let’s not, because that’s kind of overdone. But imagine the same post-zombie apocalypse, just minus the zombies. Imagine no cities, no big populations of people, no societal rules, no infrastructure, no Internet. Just roving bands of human beings scavenging from site to site, occasionally coming upon another group of human beings, struggling for scarce resources, fighting for power.
All I want to do right now is to have as much of a life of leisure as possible. What would my role be in this new world? I think about this because if you look back at history, compared to the majority of homo sapiens that have walked this surface of this planet, I’m living a life of incredible luxury. Not only that, but I’m not really doing anything for it. I was born into this reality of highways and refined petroleum and microprocessors. My government sent people to the moon like twenty years before I was even born.
Here I am traipsing around, serving hamburgers to businessmen for lunch, riding my bicycle home and writing a bunch of nonsense on the Internet. If I’m hungry I go into my fridge. If I’m too lazy to put something together, I can walk down the block and buy a hot meal from like eighty-five different restaurants. If I’m even lazier I can call up any one of those eighty-five restaurants and pay somebody there to get on his bicycle and ride that food over to my place.
Boom. Nuclear war. Giant asteroid. Some sort of weird global pandemic that kills everybody shorter than six foot three. All of the sudden I’m back to my roots, back to my caveman roots. I’ll only be able to stand around in the burnt out shell of my apartment, mourning my losses, sifting through endless piles of rubble for so long before I start to get hungry. And then I’ll get really hungry. And I’ll walk through the streets and maybe I’ll run into some other people. And we’re all really hungry. And thirsty. And where do I go to the bathroom? And what do I use to clean myself off? And now I’d like to brush my teeth.
I’m not trying to make any point, except to remind myself that this humdrum life I’m living is a very pampered one. Three hundred years ago I might have been … what? What would I have been? At twenty-eight years old, I’d probably have grandkids by now. Would we all be toiling away in the fields? Constantly preparing for drought, for famine, any way to stave off the all but inevitable hunger?
Or would I even be alive? When I was a kid I had strep throat like three times. I had the chicken pox. Pink eye. In the eighth grade I had meningitis. Jesus. What about my cavities? Maybe I wouldn’t be alive. Maybe I’m not cut out for real nature, like raw pre-industrial society pre-Purell nature.
Whenever I start thinking about this, I always wind up going back even further, way back. There was definitely a time before human beings. Now there are human beings. What was the first generation of humans like? How far removed were they from the rest of the animal kingdom? What must it have been like to live as a human, as a group of human, before speech, before language was invented, before anybody had the chance to sit around and think about what’s right and what’s wrong.
No, nobody had time for reflection, because all anybody was thinking about was food, about not being hungry, about satisfying primitive needs. Was there any pleasure at all in life? What gets me crazy is that our ancestors actually had to live through that. That those experiences are all part of us, somewhere, deep down. And that if catastrophe were to strike, were somehow to erase everything that we’ve built up since then, we’d be back to some sort of a square one, a shared experience revolving around a base means of trying to stay alive.
And then I snap out of my daydream and I’m sitting here at this computer, frustrated because I can’t think of anything to write about, can’t get comfortable because the heat is too strong because it’s too cold outside. And I’m too full because I ate too big of a lunch.