My Greatest Fear

Spiders? No. Those guys are about two grams, tops. Boots squish them. Let’s all stop being afraid of spiders. They aren’t scary. Calm down.

No, I’m talking about something much worse. And this is going to be a serious one, so brace yourselves, brothers and sisters.

I am deeply and frequently afraid that everything I have ever known and cared about will one day cease to be and matter and to be remembered in this universe. Before moving on, you need to understand. I do not believe there is an afterlife, much as I’d like to wish there were. There’s no evidence outside the realm of faith to suggest that who and what we are goes on in any way at all, as far as I can see. You can disagree, I won’t be offended, I don’t care. Notice that I said “in this universe.” That’s important.

I’m not worried that humanity will wipe itself out, we’re too stubborn for that. I’m not worried that I’ll die one day, I lost all my grandparents in a year during my teens. I know we all die, and that’s cool, it makes life more beautiful. I recognize that my literary contributions (should I be allowed to make any) are like to be considered middling at best, and that in a century or two not a soul will remember my name.

But I’m absolutely terrified of what the humankind of a hundred thousand years from now will look like. I’m worried that Shakespeare and Da Vinci and Sophocles and Einstein and Sagan will be forgotten, that their ghosts will moulder forgotten in the mass grave of human history.

Scary, right?

No, seriously. I lose sleep over this, and it’s not something I ever really have to face. Indeed, it’s something I refuse to face. With the exception of a few close friends, no one at time of writing here has read my science fiction (maybe no one ever will, who knows?), but the future there–about 20,000 years removed from this century–shares so much in common with our world today, and indeed with ages past.

Now there are a few reasons for this, mostly literary. For a start, I really like fantasy, and have endeavoured in my writing to apply the tropes of epic fantasy to a hard science fiction adventure story through the strong hero character in a way of both engaging and refuting the Great Men Theory of History. I also am limited in that I have not been to the future, cannot imagine what it will really be like, so I have to guess, to speculate, based on what I know: the past and present. But I’m also building a future with which I am at peace. Not perfectly so, because it’s a rough place, and humanity has retained that core sense of cruelty which defines our species in the world. But at peace because my vision of humanity far in the future has retained an understanding of and a reverence for its past, and in my future my own ghost rests easy in light of this. The legacy of our civilization is safe, even if only a few people bother to study it. Shakespeare, Da Vinci and the rest stand remembered, and that’s a pretty good thing.

This seems a trifling concern, since people are even now starving and suffering the effects of racism and sexism, and everyone else is busy righting the wrongs of this world, while I’m writing the wrongs of another. (By the gods, that was clever of me.) But attending to the future is never a bad concern, and remembering the past in context allows us to understand and to better direct our own actions. The atrocities and indiscretions of our day and age are enacted because we, the people, allow them to go unmarked and unremonstrated. Our time teaches its lessons too, and this is my greatest fear, that our art and our struggles and revelations will fall flat and vanish under the booted march of time, and all we’ve accomplished and all we’ve fought for will be as nothing to tomorrow’s mankind.

Because then we will not only have died, but we will never have lived at all.

We can fake the survival of our spirit by writing science fiction, but only the next generation can make it real.

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