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Doomsday is not a day of the week

Sometimes, we dwell on tomorrow at the expense of eternity

Ninety-seconds to midnight. Doomsday approaches. Humanity has never been closer to tripping into the ready arms of Death. At least, the world’s top scientists assure the public this is the case.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced after their annual summit that the Doomsday Clock — “a global alarm clock” — remains set at ninety-seconds to midnight as humanity “continues to face an unprecedented level of danger.” The source of this danger? Nuclear armament, the “accidental and deliberate misuse of biology”, climate change, and – in what can only be described as a strange semantic coupling – AI, and disinformation damaging our “information ecosystem”.  

Since the clock was last advanced, in two-thousand-and-twenty-three, the world witnessed the October 7th attack. For the first time, the writhing masses on the internet have access to AI in the form of chatbots like ChatGPT. And the West continues to be told that they fail to sacrifice enough children in the developing world to change the weather. And yet, the time on the Doomsday clock remains the same. 

Do I detect hesitancy? In recent years, the intervals at which the clock has been advanced have been reliably shrinking; down five points in 1998, down two points in 2002, two points in 2007, one point in 2012. In 2015, the decimal place was introduced — half second, half second — then, in 2020, one-third of a second. 

Perhaps bringing about our own extinction is a lengthier process than first anticipated. What scientist will call time, and say “Midnight, it has come!” None. For whom would subject themselves to the humiliation of having declared the end of the world only to have the world continue turning? Their shame would be the shame of the whole scientific community. 

What should one conclude from this? Doomsday is not a day of the week.

The Doomsday clock is an artefact of a generation that cannot scrub the mushroom cloud from behind their eyes.

What does Doomsday entail, should it ever come about? Extinction, I presumed. Consult the Bulletin, and one shall encounter chilling phrases such as “global catastrophe”, “destroying our world”, and “man-made destruction”. But there is no attempt to delineate what this means in concrete terms. “Death” does not appear anywhere within the official statement about what should happen if these dangers go unchecked — yet they pose an “existential danger”.  If not death, annihilation, what is meant by “catastrophe”, “destruction”; what do these scientists mean by the term “our world”?

The Doomsday clock is an artefact of a generation that cannot scrub the mushroom cloud from behind their eyes. 

The dawn of the Atomic Bomb left the Boomers in fear of their own impermanence. There is no wonder in this. When they were little more than a toddler balanced upon trembling knees, they were told by adults with taut lips and guilty eyes that to crouch under a desk would save them from the light that would melt the flesh from their bones. The threat of the Atomic Bomb left a psychic scar upon that generation at a depth comparable to Black Death or the Peloponnesian Wars: the bleached skeletal fingers tickle and taunt the poets’ ankles, the priests’ and the politicians’; they scratch at the pages of books, flick the paint from masterpieces, and tap upon the windows of high rises. “I am decay,” they say. “I am decline, I am doom, I am Death.”

For the Boomer, to die within the fireball of a nuclear bomb is to never have existed. You would not merely die; you would be vaporised, and no book, no birthday card, no bar of soap could attest to your ever having existed. It is très, très mortalité. And everything done by the Boomer generation has been orientated towards bequeathing themselves with permanence that only a God could afford them. The Space Race, global vaccination programmes, Dolly the Sheep, IVF, material gourmandism: the Boomers’ life work has been to outsmart death — or, at least, to prove themselves worthy of more life than their forebears.

The Boomer wants to be in control; and the project of their Doomerism is to bring about the end of history — on humanity’s terms and in their own good time — before history can bring about an end to them. Doomerism is a mentality, and one that cannot be wholly attributed to the Boomer generation. They are spurred on by the round and sad faces of their grandchildren; the young who cry foul, and teeter upon motorway gantries and sob, in all earnestness, that they do not have a future. 

Those who seem most resistant to the narrative of doom are Generation X. They look upon their ageing parents who shuffle in a daze and mumble about the nuclear winter that never came and they do not see themselves. Likewise, they look upon their children, who clutch their iPhones with quaking fingers, and do not comprehend their terror. 

Generation X are resistant to claims that the sky is falling because, for them, the sky has been falling for the last sixty years. From the day they were born, they were told their life would end in some fantastic and painful manner. But the Cold War never got hot; the nuclear winter never came. There was no Big Freeze or Big Crunch. No famine came from the population boom, nor an eternal winter brought about by Global Cooling.

It is not that I believe nuclear arsenals to be an empty threat, or that autodidactic AI could not build a planet-sized gatling gun and kill me in the name of carbon neutrality. It is only that I do not live my life in fear of these things. Doomsday may have already been and gone. It has. And it will come again. Each generation will testify to their suspicion that they are living in the end of days. And each generation will harbour the quiet hope that, “Yes, we might be the ones to make it to immortality this time.” Not realising, of course, that the arms of Immortality are as ready to catch them as the arms of Death. 

For some time, humanity has been trying to reckon with their mortality without the assistance of God — without a loving and steadfast father to promise them tomorrow. The Boomer generation were perhaps the first group of children to do this in some serious manner. Their collective existential distress — at having discovered themselves to be fatherless — is our own collective and existential distress. And in the attempt to guarantee tomorrow for ourselves, to parent ourselves —for the role of the parent is to secure tomorrow — humankind has forgotten the cultivation of eternity. 

When tomorrow is promised, one need only focus on today. Doomsday is not a day of the week. Doomsday is every day that is lived for the expediency of tomorrow and not for the glorification of forever.

Tomorrow festers upon the brow and the dread of impermanence makes a person grey and weak. Under the burden of guaranteeing “tomorrow”, the prospect of “forever” turns the heart to stone — to the extent that attempts continue to be made to forestall the arrival of forever with a countdown clock that will never reach zero. 

But what  is “tomorrow” compared to the forget-me-not summers and moonlit mornings that had no name? They do not exist in “tomorrows”. Daisies that wreath a child’s head are withered tomorrow. Spires do not shine gold in tomorrow evening’s sunlight. Talk to “tomorrow” makes these transcendent things hazy — it turns them to shadows in the mist. Those things which give permanence are already permanent. This is to say, I do not think our permanence is our business. If the human has any share in the transcendence, it is only in the recognition and honouring it; we find ourselves integrated in it that way. It is a humble endeavour but there is meaning in it. 

In short, don’t sweat the big stuff. The divine is in the detail; keep your eyes fixed firmly there. 

When the world does come to an end, none shall notice. There will be no explosion that swallows us; no great flood to drown us, nor all-consuming disease that gnaws at the ankles of one and all and giggles and calls us “fleshly”. When the world does end, it shall be because some small part of our character we once suspected to be immortal shall slip away. And its passing shall be as unremarkable as a Thursday afternoon.

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