365 Life as we know it

For seventy years, Schwartz has been aware that he, with the rest of humanity, is in grave danger of being wiped out. He takes account of the record and reveals his solution to the most immediate threat.


With every day bringing us a day closer to the end of the world, I find myself wondering what will trigger it. It has long been apparent to me that we will not have to wait until the sun burns itself out in five billion years for human life on earth to come to an end. Since I began reading newspapers about seventy years ago, I have had sleepless nights (a figure of speech; I’m a thankful good sleeper, except for some bad nights after I saw On the Beach in 1959) over the following ultimate threats.

Weapons of mass destruction
—  Mutual U.S.-Russian nuclear annihilation
—  Nuclear proliferation to Iran, Iraq, North Korea or some terror group or other gets out of hand
—  U.S. launches fire and fury
—  Attack with or leakage of anthrax, botulin (a girl I knew in Baltimore in 1965 told me she worked with botulin in the U.S. weapons program at Fort Detrick) or some other chemical or biological agent

Natural disaster
—  Eruption of the Yellowstone caldera
—  Volcano in Indonesia blocks sunlight all over the world
—  Asteroid hits the earth. Boom
—  Monster earthquake generates worldwide tsunamis
—  Resumption of ice age, which ended (went into remission?) only 10,000 years ago
—  Gulf Stream fizzles out, ending life at least in my part of the world

Health disasters
—  AIDS: prediction by the maharishi that one third of mankind would be wiped out
—  Flu pandemic
—  Everyone turns out to have Creutzfeldt-Jacob from eating Big Macs
—  Indestructible prions kill all bacterial life
—  Pandrug resistance rob antibiotics of their efficacy

Manmade ecological disasters
—  Silent spring: DDT and the end of agriculture
—  Death of the bee population, ditto
—  Monsanto destroys all plant life in  pursuit of improved quarterly figures
—  Biodiversity tipping point passed
—  Ozone layer burnt off
—  Fatal resource wars
—  Acid rain poisons all trees
—  Destruction of Amazon rain forest chokes planet
—  Club of Rome: overpopulation makes human life unsustainable and resources unaffordable
—  Melting of glaciers, Arctic and Antarctic ice
—  Global warming accelerated through release of methane from melting permafrost
—  Worldwide deluges
—  Massive climate migration
—  Poisoning of oceans
—  Choking of oceans with plastic

Manmade technological disasters
—  Nuclear chain reaction burns up the atmosphere
—  Self-teaching computers displace mankind
—  Millennium bug crashes global networks
—  Westworld androids or robots kill off humanity
—  Runaway algorithms do the same

Apocalypses
—  Book of Revelation: The Rapture and end of days
—  The end of the Mayan calendar brings history to its close
—  Jewish Temple Mount fanatics blow up the Dome of the Rock and set off Final World War

And there is always the constant threat of alien invasion. I believe that I have seen movies about all of the above, and none of the following.

The same newspapers, during the same years, try to convince me that
—  human life expectancy has increased considerably;
—  the number of the desperately poor has dropped;
—  effective health care has become available to more people than ever before;
—  literacy has reached a level of 80% worldwide;
—  the percentage of income required for housing and food has dropped;
—  the price of nearly every natural resource, related to income, has declined;
—  no nuclear attacks have taken place since 1945;
—  and that in general things have gotten better rather than worse.

My solution

Forgetting the newspapers and concentrating on personal experience, I found that I have lost a lot of friends and family to disease and medical mishaps; one friend to each of the following: murder, automobile accident, airplane disaster; two to suicide; and three to brain damage after falling off a bicycle, the last only six weeks ago. In response to that warning, I have now bought a helmet that in uncool vioIation of fairly universal Dutch practice I now wear religiously whenever I get on my bike.

© 2018 Gary Schwartz. Published on the Schwartzlist on 28 June 2018


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27 thoughts on “365 Life as we know it”

  1. You forgot about the dinosaurs that have escaped from Jurassic World over the last couple of years (nothing about that in the fake media, of course!). But otherwise, love your optimism.

  2. “When hell freezes over.”
    “When pigs fly.”
    “When Hanukah is a hag.” (Sounds better in Yiddish)
    And now:
    “When the Dutch wear bike helmets.”

  3. Beste Gary,

    Alleen iemand die met de helm op geboren is kan zo’n geniale column over kunst schrijven en de lange lijst van categorieën vervolmaken met ars belli, en dat alles ook nog in volle vrolijkheid.

    Met kernachtige groet,
    Eddy

  4. Lighten up.

    My 95-year-old mother was recently reminiscing about
    the 1950’s when the housewives were all frantic
    about the bomb.

    Her conclusion?
    “We’re all still here arent’t we?”

    1. Yes, but there were many fewer bombs and less sophisticated delivery systems, and the two largest stockpiles were not controlled by mentally ill, narcissistic, psychopathic, paranoid autocrats. Or then again, maybe they were?

      1. Ah, but these are the new and even more deranged mentally ill, narcissistic, psychopathic, paranoid autocrats!

        1. As bad as our present crazies may be, the only time that nukes really rose from their silos for the launching it was Khruschev and Kennedy who pushed the buttons.

          1. A brilliant assessment of our past and up to today (Homo Sapiens) and “predictions” of what awaits us in the future (Homo Deus) by Yuval Noah Harari is an interesting analysis of past and future, albeit not as succinct as Gary’s; Harari nedded about 500 pages for each book to deliver the message :).

          2. I think of each of my columns as an excuse for not writing a book, Srebrenka. Although I don’t pretend to compete with Harari, you have made my day.

        2. So what does that tell about the 99,999999999 % of the population who elect ever crazier and more psychopathic autocrats? And – being the 99,99999999 % – KEEP them in power?

          1. As upsetting as it is to think that people like Trump have so many supporters (not 99%, not even 50%), we have to find our common humanity. That is the only way.

  5. Having considered many of these dangers, I have concluded that my passion for & commitment to my work as an artist is my best and, indeed, only response to the looming threats & to the certainty of our demise as a species. As well, I have glimpses, increasing over time, of the Bigger Picture. The endless cycles of creation & destruction throughout the universe. We are trapped in our self centered illusion of our importance .

    1. You sound like your father, Philip, the way I seem to be resembling my father too more than I ever thought.

  6. Brilliant analysis (I think you’re with Steven Pinker on this) and brilliant solution! Glad to hear it. I may become more like my father and get a helmet. And please don’t get an e-bike…

    1. That’s a big compliment, coming from a buddy of Daniel Dennett. Even if I would like to have an e-bike (which I would), my respect for your mother’s wishes is such that I won’t get one.

  7. I was tempted to comment “What, me worry?” but I am too great a worrywort to go for an easy laugh on such a serious topic. My take is to stop looking at life as if it were a book, a story with a beginning, middle and end. There are no books in nature. Nor are there any full stops in life when seen with the heart. Otherwise I agree with the artist, especially the part about the self-importance we humans like to indulge in.

  8. You Gary Schwarz must be the man Joost Elffers has been talking about. I am glad you told me about all our possibilities to die, I have never seen it summed up zo orderly. Thank you. All of a sudden I realize that you speak Dutch. Mijn dierbare echtgenoot Thijs, waarmee ik 45 jaar samenwoonde, heeft al die mogelijkheden niet afgewacht. Hij is vorig jaar overleden. Maar ik ben blij dat ik nu een foto heb gezien met helm. Als ik verstandig was zou ik er ook 1 aanschaffen. Je kunt hier best aardig fietsen in Bergen.

    1. Josine, het doet me veel pijn van het overlijden van Thijs te horen. Het nieuws is vorig jaar aan mij voorbijgegaan. Hij was een van de meeste begaafde en inspirerende personen die ik ooit heb ontmoet, met ook nog een ontwapenende charme. (Joost Elffers heeft ook wat van Thijs weg. Doe hem de groeten.) Ik heb alleen spijt dat ik niet met hem heb kunnen samenwerken. Tot nu toe heb ik me heilig aan het helmdragen gehouden.

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