Ask Andrew W.K.: How to Cope With All This Terribly Tragic News
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Photo by Mario Dane
Thanks for writing your column. It's really helped me lately, which is why I'm writing to ask you about this: It feels like the world is ending. Every time I turn on the TV, there's a new crisis: War, riots, environmental catastrophes, disease, financial collapse, cyber crime, religious rage, not to mention the boring little problems of my own regular life.
In one week, I literally saw the top stories in the newspaper all describing various versions of Armageddon, one after another -- just a big list of apocalyptic events. And it seems like every recent Hollywood movie focuses on some apocalyptic disaster or dystopian vision of the not-too-distant future. If someone would've told me 15 years ago that things would get this bad, I would've found it hard to believe. And now I'm wondering, in 15 more years will they be even worse? What the hell is going on? How can things keep going this way? Is the world ending?
Afraid and Paranoid
Dear Afraid and Paranoid,
The world isn't ending, it's changing. And it's up to us to make it change for the better. When a baby is born and turns into a teenager, we don't say the baby "ended" and the teenager "began," we realize it's a fluid, if uncoordinated, transformation from one version of a young person into another. Both the baby and the teenager are unique beings with their own qualities, but they are also both part of one ultimate ongoing person.
When a young man or woman first physically becomes an adult with the ability to reproduce, it can be a traumatic and extremely distressing experience. As much as it's exciting to realize one's body is becoming more powerful and mature, it's also extremely frightening to realize that one is forever leaving behind childhood and the associated innocence, and moving into a new version of life with new endowments and responsibilities that come with them. Whether we like it or not, every fundamental aspect of life is tied to change, transformation, and revolution -- things turning into other things.
It's possible that human civilization itself is in some version of adolescence right now, learning how to manage and apply newly acquired powers and abilities -- testing the limits of our surroundings and enjoying, yet fearing, what we're capable of. As a civilization, we're constantly crossing new thresholds, encountering unforeseen and terrifying situations, and having to struggle with the painful realization that we can never return to the way things were, no matter how badly we may want to. At the same time, and in a less obvious way, we're realizing there's something perpetual, universal, and inevitable about our own development and the ceaseless change we encounter on scales both large and small. It's a drama that plays itself out on every level, globally as well as individually. It's the experience of being part of a living world.
We also must keep perspective. To those of us who feel like the world is ending now, has it perhaps always been that way? A quick glance back through history shows us that at nearly every era in modern civilization, humanity has been in the throes of a seemingly endless string of unconquerable impasses. Just as we have now, back then there were also those who were ready to throw in the towel and say, "See? This is the end of the world! I always knew it would happen!" And in a way, it was the end of the world -- but only the end of one version of the world, and, in turn, the beginning of another.
This is not to say that the ordeals we face now are any less serious or grave than those of the past. Our situations now may be more critical than any we've faced before. But our abilities and experience are also greater than any we've had before. It is up to us to tackle all of our problems with confidence and not become overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the task.