Doom and The Hero’s Journey
Over our lifetimes, we list many roles in our resumes: child, parent; student, teacher; spouse, divorcee; reader, writer … Well, you get the idea. As I approach seventy, with my son grown and filling out his own list of roles, and having retired from the workforce, myself, I’ve narrowed my list to three – writer, gardener and doomer, albeit, a conflicted doomer.
The Illustrated Oxford Dictionary defines doom as a grim fate or destiny; death or ruin; a condemnation; a judgment or sentence; the Last Judgment. Doom can be as personal as a terminal illness or as sweeping as the Biblical Apocalypse.
The internet, of course, is alive with impending doom, a virtual Tesla coil discharging high voltage arcs of doom through blogs and forums around the world. Whole sites are dedicated to economic collapse, peak oil crash, environmental and climate destruction, overpopulation and die-off, a nuclear world war and combinations or permutations of all of these. These sites crackle with descriptive acronyms such as TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), WTSHTF (when the shit hits the fan), MZB (mutant zombie biker – the modern equivalent of the Huns and Visigoths, the Civil War bushwhacker or the all-purpose terrorist) and, of course, TPTB (the evil elite of the world who some doomers believe are conspiring to bring about some or all of these events for various nefarious purposes). Even the average Joe or Jane, who has no truck with such sites, has the occasional, pull-your-collar-up-and-draw-your-coat-tight-around-you sensation of impending doom, a stomach churning sense that all is not right with the world and we, as a nation and, perhaps, as a species, are teetering on the edge of some monumental cliff.
Make no mistake, I’m a dedicated doomer. Looking at only the partial list of prospective doom scenarios above and at how little we’ve done to address them as a species, I firmly believe one or more of them will get us – probably sooner than later – and, because we are now so intertwined globally, get us on a worldwide scale. No conflict there.
My own conflicts about doom are two-fold. Given the wide variety of doom scenarios to choose from, how do you go about preparing for the doom you believe is coming? And, since I live in the United States, how will Americans, particularly those who had no inkling of doom and weren’t prepared, behave toward each other?
In answer to the first question, most doomers would say, be as self-sufficient as possible. But there are as many variations on what that actually means as there are doomers. My own parents went through the worst of the Great Depression as pastor and wife in a small Oklahoma town while raising my two older brothers. Their answer was to raise their own vegetables and a small flock of chickens, can or otherwise store the excess, barter with neighbors and share with those who had lost everything. And when all else failed, make do. Many doomers are planning to do just that, while others feel, nowadays, that would be naïve and dangerous.
There are almost as many different answers to the second question circulating among the various doomer sites. Many take the stance that, whatever doom befalls us will be worldwide and, therefore, unprecedented in its violence and chaos as governments fail and nations fall. Hoards of MZBs will sweep out of the stranded cities to plunder the small towns and countryside. Even people we’ve loved and trusted will become brutal thugs willing to murder us for our last can of beans as starvation and deprivation move inexorably across the land. Life for the survivors will be brutal and short.
For fiction writers, doom is the great cornucopia of ideas. Like the gods of old, we create worlds, populate them with characters and, with heartless abandon, shove them headlong into the path of whatever doom suits our fancy. We give them a heart’s desire and a flaw that makes reaching that desire almost impossible; we place them on a path beset by woes worthy of the great Egyptian plagues, torture them with doubt, test their mettle in a million creative (and, alas, sometimes not so creative) ways. We even have a name for this process. We call it The Hero’s Journey.
Why do we do this? And why, when we do it well, do people pick up the novel or short story and actually read it? I don’t know. I do wonder if it’s because, more often than not, we see our own lives as a series of niggling vexations that leave us feeling more hassled than heroic. We all, reader and writer alike, long to make the hero’s journey – if only vicariously.
I also wonder if that doesn’t color our own expectations of doom. Finally, yanked out of our mundane lives, pushed onto that woe-filled path, our mettle tested to the breaking point and, possibly, beyond, we’ll make our own hero’s journey. Having written a number of those fictitious journeys, myself, I can’t help but think it does.
More about that next week.