Who Would You Be If the World Ended?
Category: OtherVia: hallux • one week ago • 6 comments
By: Tom Nichols - The Atlantic
The critics and the gamers have written much about The Last of Us , the video game that became a majestic HBO series. The main story is about love and family, but there’s a dark and nagging question in the scenario: If the world had no more rules, what kind of person would you be?
Who Are You?
This story contains spoilers for the entire first season of The Last of Us .
Did you read that disclaimer? No, I mean it—I am going to spoil everything in the first season. You’ve been warned.
In interviews , the writers of The Last of Us have said that they intended the series to be about love. And they have indeed created a gorgeous—and disturbing—tale of how we find and cherish family. But I want to raise another question that lurks in the adventures of Joel and Ellie, a dark rumble of a thought that most of us would rather not confront: If the world ended, and all of the rules of society vanished, what kind of person would you be?
This question, I think, resonates more with us today than it did during the Cold War. Back then, and particularly in the 1970s and ’80s, postapocalyptic fiction included an entire pulpy genre that the scholar Paul Brians called “Radioactive Rambos,” in which men—almost always men, with a few notable exceptions —would wander the wasteland, killing mutants and stray Communists. (They also had a lot of sex.) Sometimes, these heroes were part of paramilitary groups , but most typically, they were the classic lone wolf: super-skilled death machines whose goal was to get from Point A to Point B while shooting everything in between and saving a girl, or a town, or even the world.
But we live in more ambiguous times. We’re not fighting the Soviet Union. We don’t trust institutions, or one another, as much as we did 40 or 50 years ago. Perhaps we don’t even trust ourselves. We live in a time when lawlessness, whether in the streets or the White House, seems mostly to go unpunished. For decades, we have retreated from our fellow citizens and our social organizations into our own homes, and since COVID began, we’ve learned to virtualize our lives, holding meetings on glowing screens and having our food and other goods dropped at our doors by people we never have to meet.
We also face any number of demagogues who seem almost eager for our institutions to fail so that they can repopulate them in their own image and likeness.
Living in a world of trees and water and buildings and cars, we can posture all day long about how we would take our personal virtues with us through the gates of Armageddon. But considering that we can barely muster enough civic energy to get off our duffs and go vote every few years, how certain are we about our own bravery and rectitude?
Although Joel and Ellie are rendered with wonderful complexity by the show’s writers and by the actors Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, some of the greatest moments in The Last of Us are with people the protagonists encounter during their travels: Bill, the survivalist (played by Nick Offerman in what should be a slam-dunk Emmy nomination); Kathleen, the militia leader (Melanie Lynskey); and David, the religious preacher and secret cannibal, played with terrifying subtlety by Scott Shepherd. (I warned you there were spoilers.)
Each of these characters is a challenge, and a reproof, to any of us who think we’d be swell folks, and maybe even heroes, after the collapse of civilization.
Bill is a paranoid survivalist who falls in love with a wanderer named Frank. They live together for years and choose suicide when Frank becomes mortally ill. It’s a marvelous and heartbreaking story, but Bill admits in his suicide note that he always hated humanity and was initially glad to see everyone die. He no longer feels that way, he says, implying that Frank’s love saved him, but right to the end, he remains hostile to almost everyone else in the world—just as he was before Outbreak Day.
Kathleen leads a rebellion in Kansas City against FEDRA, the repressive military government that takes over America after the pandemic. Her “resistance,” however, is a brutal, ragtag militia, and Kathleen is a vicious dictator who is no better (and perhaps worse) than the regime she helped overthrow. She promises clemency to a group of FEDRA collaborators, for example, and then orders them all to be shot anyway. “When you’re done, burn the bodies,” she says casually. “It’s faster.” She even imprisons her own doctor, who pleads with her, “Kathleen, I delivered you.” She executes him herself.
What’s important about Kathleen, however, is that she later admits that she really hasn’t changed . Her brother was the original head of the resistance: kind, forgiving, a true leader. She admits that she never had that kind of goodness in her, not even as a child—which raises the troubling thought that we all live near a Kathleen who is tenuously bound only by the restrictions of law and custom.
And then there’s David.
History is replete with times when desperate human beings have resorted to cannibalism , and although we recoil in disgust, we know it can happen. David hates what he felt he had to do, and he admits his shame. But it turns out that what makes David evil is not that he eats people but that he’s a fraud: He cares nothing about religion; he cares about being in charge, and he admits that he has struggled all his life with violent impulses. He is another character whom the apocalypse reveals more than it changes. When he gleefully tries to rape Ellie, she kills the former math teacher in self-defense.
Again, this raises the creepy question of how many Davids walk among us, smiling and toting algebra books, restrained from their hellish impulses only by the daily balm of street lights and neighbors and manicured lawns. We should be grateful for every day that we don’t have to know the answer.
If the world ended I wouldn't be anyone, I'd be dead and destroyed along with the rest of the world
"If the world ended I wouldn't be anyone, I'd be dead and destroyed along with the rest of the world."
When I read the seed title that is exactly what went through my mind as well. However, I note that that is not exactly what the seed is about - which is a series about a post-apocalyptic world, a series that I'm sure I'll never be able to watch. So I'll draw from the seed an issue it mentions. There was a reference to much better days in the past than there are now. I think back to what life in Canada was like in the 1940s and early 1950s when I was a little kid and teenager. When I was a kid, nobody bothered to lock the doors of their homes or cars, because nobody took advantage of that. Almost never was there news about a murder, especially rarely one where a gun was involved, because there weren't many murders and nobody had a gun except policemen, and when there WAS a murder it was a sensation, the biggest sensation I remember was when a woman named Evelyn Dick dismembered her husband. I recall us kids chanting "You cut off his arms, you cut off his legs, you cut off his head, how could you, Mrs. Dick." Kids played outside from dawn to dusk without anyone accompanying or supervising them, and often times I played alone in a ravine behind our home. We drank water from a garden hose and it didn't kill us - we didn't even get sick from it. No computers, no internet, no social news sites, no misleading information. How many times have I posted on this site "Scotty, beam me back to the early 1950s. PLEASE!!!"
And yet if it was currently the early 50's you wouldn't have had the opportunity to live where you are or have met or even known your wife. Every generation believes their youth represented the best of times (rose coloured glasses) but what is the best of times is highly subj to individual interpretation, for me it was the 70's (although I don't want to go back there). Lol in a couple more decades people will be happily reminicing about the early 2000's
Yes, of course I'm very happy now, but given the choice, I do wonder about whether I might make the sacrifice. As far as those decades from now looking back a couple of decades - I lament that my children and grandchildren might consider the environment, the avarice and political power-seeking that pervades the world today, better than the horrors that will most likely be their lot in the future.
Who would I be? Without a doubt one of the dead extras after farting my last cloud of dust.