Friday, May 05, 2006

The Earth is Nothing

Damn we are insignificant next to the sun.

It got me thinking about the end of life as we know it. Again. I feel like young Alvy Singer in Annie Hall, who stops doing his homework because "the universe is expanding." If the universe is expanding, that means it will break apart someday and that'll be the end of everything. "What's the point?" he asks. We're supposed to laugh at his lack of perspective - this cold fate lies billions of years in the future - but I was young Alvy's age the first time I saw the film, and I remember thinking, "Holy crap, he's right! What's the point?"

Of course with the benefit of age I now realize it's much worse than I thought. The sun will burn out long before the universe breaks apart. What then? The end of the earth means the end of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer, Whitman, Thoreau, Bach, The Beatles, Kurosawa, Godard, my porn collection. Forget my little films. It all seems so futile. Like donating money to Democrats.

I recently traveled to Niger where I spent some time trying to buy yellowcake KIDDING! among the Touaregs. What, a herd of German SUVs? No, silly American, the original nomadic population of the Sahel. Nomads. The very concept strikes us as quaint. But looking at that picture of the sun, I realized that if we survive its extinction (big if, given the way things are going) it will be as space-faring nomads strung out through the heavens, confined to soup can city-states, each with its own sovereignty, style, politics and culture, and artificial gravity (we love being grounded). This will not be a happy time. I just don't see the nomadic lifestyle doing it for us. Do you?

The life of a Touareg nomad is extremely difficult, despite having more than a thousand years of practice. We who have been raised in the West, among abundant supplies of water, food and shelter, have developed a murderous attachment to comfort, and though we may cop to the guilty pleasures of Star Trek Voyager, TV is one thing, reality another. What worries me is that we only have a billion years or so before that is brought home to us once and for all.

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