The Apocalypse Test
How does one run an Apocalypse Test?
One simply imagines that tomorrow the apocalypse begins – this is an event of catastrophic destruction which interrupts most or all social systems.
We run the hypothetical Apocalypse Test to ask ourselves what still matters when everything we’ve taken for granted is threatened and interrupted.
Things that do not pass the Apocalypse Test.
Social media followers no longer matter, because our digital systems have fallen.
The stock market no longer exists. Your ownership of your assets is now contestable – you will struggle to defend your claim to a single deed of land, as the deeds you signed are just pieces of paper.
Digital currencies no longer matter – if all you built over the course of your life was financial wellbeing, then this is now gone. Your money cannot buy anything anymore, and your coins are just pieces of metal.
Most businesses will cease to matter – because businesses are ideas. Where is Amazon or Google located for instance? We’re not talking of course about their office, but where do they materially exist? (If anywhere at all).
Not least of all, the image you had of yourself attached to these things, your goals for 2021 and so on, these were all anchored to the ships that are now sunk. Does that mean your identity has sunk too?
Your sense of safety and security is now shattered. You have slid down Maslow’s Hierarchy overnight.
Why do these things fail? (Life as a series of games).
What does the list of items which fail the Apocalypse Test have in common?
They are largely imagined stories; they gain their power from shared belief in something intangible – much like the myth of Santa Claus that parents perpetuate generation after generation.
That we own a piece of land, that we have a stable job, that we have a certain amount of wealth – these are all stories. Stories we believe too much in, given that they can collapse at any moment, if death of the apocalypse should choose to strike. They are all games. I don’t mean to be cynical or nihilistic – these games are fun to play, as long as we don’t lose perspective.
Compare these things to the rewards of a video game or sporting fixture – such rewards mean a lot to us in the moment but may in fact appear inconsequential ‘in the grand scheme of things’. These bigger games that fail the Apocalypse Test might too mean little ‘in the grand scheme of things’, and only mean a lot to us in the moment – that moment just feels a little longer than that of the video game.
All life is a series of games. Games that, in an Apocalypse, we would struggle to play.
But Apocalypses are rare?
There is one writer proving very influential for me right now, another fellow with Lebanese heritage by the name of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He would call events like the Apocalypse ‘Black Swan Events’ – events that though rare, do come around and do matter when they do come around.
COVID-19 has proven an Apocalypse Test for many – Taleb’s writing points at our collective idiocy; that we cater for frequent small-impact risks but rarely the serious and more confronting risks because they are rarer.
That is, we cater for risks based on frequency and not on size.
So we can here begin thinking differently. Being prepared for the worst doesn’t equate to pessimism – it equates to actual preparedness, to protection of the downside on one’s life. And protecting the downside on life is important given that we only have one life to live.
What survives the Apocalypse Test?
Health remains important before and after the Apocalypse. The state of your body will be just as, if not more important.
The state of your mind – your adaptiveness to change, your stoicism in the face of events you cannot control, your capacity to deal with uncertainty. Your philosophical wellbeing and ability to think deeply and understand.
Your morals and ethics survive the Apocalypse Test – and now they will be needed more than ever.
The way you look at yourself will remain important. If your image is built only on those things which fail the Apocalypse Test, it means you are invested only in stories and games. If you are narcissistic, you will be a prick in the post-Apocalyptic world. If you are more self-transcendent, you should be in better stead.
Lastly, your connection with others. Your relationships, your family, your wealth of social connections; these things will still matter in a world where little else does.
So what will you invest in, focus on and prioritise?
Apocalypses are rare. But Apocalypse Tests are available whenever you decide to perform them. I recommend every six months or so.
What do you think?
A special thanks to Tylah, who through frank conversation helped me hatch this.