I spend entirely too much time thinking about the end of the world.
I should clarify. I don’t think very much about the ways the world could actually end: climate change-related, nuclear disaster, asteroid.
I spend more time thinking about zombies. Vampires. Dragons. Maybe aliens. But mostly zombies, the Walking Dead kind more than the 28 Days Later kind.
It’s not that I think I’d last long in any of those scenarios. I’m too nearsighted to defend myself and too slow to outrun most of you.
I’ll tell you what I really think about when I think about the zombie (or dragon or vampire) apocalypse: Achilles. And cows. And the Sumerians.
Achilles. Given the choice between a long, pleasant life and everlasting glory, he chose the latter. His choice, it seems, has been honored. I’ll bet nearly everyone reading Ghost Parachute knows who Achilles was. Brad Pitt played him in Troy, made in 2004 – thousands of years since his fateful choice was first documented in the Iliad, written sometime before 1180 BC.
But will the name of bright Achilles, so long remembered, survive a zombie apocalypse? Will anyone care about some long-dead Greek when survival is at stake? Will anyone remember the exploits of someone from a long-dead culture with different and strange values when civilization is teetering on the edge of destruction?
I hope so. And I hope for the survival of the more humble Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltsken too. Myths and fairytales have survived for thousands of years, have been retold countless times. The power of story is mighty indeed. I have no doubt that as long as there are people, there will be stories. And these stories, like the myths and fairytales told and retold, will comfort and awe, reflect culture and inspire bravery.
But will the name of bright Achilles survive?
And what about cows? Domestic cows ain’t bison. They aren’t as fast, they don’t have as much endurance. They aren’t as hardy. You can put a bison inside a fence, but that doesn’t make him domestic. Domestication is a long process. Think how many thousands of years we as a species have interacted with domestic cattle. The ancient Egyptians recognized the cow-goddess Hathor. The Minoans revered them. The Vikings credited them with creative power. And while the people indigenous to the Americas did not domesticate them, on the Great Plains their cultural and practical dependence on them is legendary. If human beings survive the zombies, and cows do not, how long before we are able to re-domesticate? What would we be without cows?
The world has seen cataclysmic events before now; the apocalypse has already happened, though not on a global scale. (Dinosaurs may beg to differ.) Civilizations have been destroyed by war or natural disaster. The Sumerians were among the first human civilizations, at least in the Western hemisphere. They were wiped out by the Akkadians in about 2100 BC. That’s a long time ago. But we know who they were by what they left behind, including cuneiform tablets that date as some of the earliest writing we know. They wrote in clay. Then they baked the clay. And took steps to preserve it.
You are reading this online.
Most of us keep our memories online – photos, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. We read online. We pay bills online. We read news online.
An electromagnetic pulse and poof! all gone. We, who document even what we eat, might leave behind almost no data at all. We’ll leave artifacts, I suppose. We have lots of plastic. Will what we leave, for the post-zombie world, inspire awe? Will tales be told of brave warriors, wise leaders, selfless heroics? Will our art outlast us? Will the post-zombie world marvel at what was lost? Or will our era be a Dark Age?
So anyway. I’d put tractor tires on a semi-tractor, because tractor tires don’t go flat. Assuming of course I’d know how to do that. Assuming of course the gasoline wouldn’t go bad. Assuming of course, I could run faster than you.