Reviewed by David Beatty
We’re Doomed! A Humorous Exploration of Humanity’s War Against Life
By Scott Erickson
ISBN: 9780989831192, Paperback, 309 pages, $14.99 paperback
Perhaps it’s because of the latest IPCC report on catastrophic climate change. Perhaps it’s the growing number of news stories about the ongoing drought, water shortages, and increase in megafires. Perhaps it’s the COVID pandemic.
But whatever the reason, “doomism” is in the air. Jared Diamond’s 2011 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed was a frightening wake-up call for millions. There are a growing number of groups on Facebook and Reddit, with names such as Near Term Human Extinction and Deep Adaptation.
It was in one of these groups that I discovered WE’RE DOOMED! A Humorous Exploration of Humanity’s War Against Life.
We may be tempted to ask the question: If we really are doomed, then why a humorous exploration? And what about the weighty claim that humanity is at war against life? Doesn’t that deserve a non-humorous exploration? Is this book meant to be taken seriously?
The book even takes on the weighty philosophical question of What is life? The topic is explored with humor, but begins by asking a serious question: If we consider life to be such an important thing, why do we put almost no attention into the question of what life actually is? The author continues, “It would probably be a good idea to know what life is, just in case if we ever got the crazy idea to live in harmony with it or something.”
Which is precisely our problem. We have yet to adopt the crazy idea of living in harmony with life. As a result, we’re at war with life. And as a result, we’re doomed. Therefore, why take anything seriously? Why take philosophy seriously?
If the author had written the book as a “serious exploration,” would it have made any difference? The answer is: probably not. Plenty of other serious books have been written, which are making little or no difference. And they aren’t touching the roots of the problem. So why write a serious book that nobody would take seriously?
Yes, the book is funny. At times, laugh-out-loud funny. The book is filled with jokes, limericks, random characters who enter the book to argue with the author, a fictional conversation between Freud and Jung, a conversation with a mother explaining to her daughter why she needs to sell her soul to a corporation, and an essay by a lawn. Yes, an essay by a lawn.
Our only hope would be a radical re-imagining of literally every aspect of human civilization including energy, agriculture, and economics. The author’s exploration of economics is especially insightful, as it describes some serious problems—most notably our addiction to economic growth—that mainstream economists refuse to even discuss. And if we refuse to even discuss a problem, how can we hope to solve it? We can’t.
For the growing number of people that are beginning to agree that the situation is hopeless, there’s the question of how to deal with it. How can we live with this awareness while going on with our daily lives?
This is the main reason the book is written as a humorous exploration. In the conclusion, the author explains how humor can help with psychological survival. He compares his approach to that of Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy Dr. Strangelove. Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which used humor to help people cope with the possibility of nuclear Armageddon.
The author makes it clear that he’s not recommending that we give up on the world. He suggests that we adopt the Buddhist concept of nonattachment as a way to approach activism as end in itself, while letting go of expectations about the effects of that activism.
In the author’s most heartfelt advice, he says: “It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best way to cope with a life-defying culture is to affirm life to the best of your abilities. In the big picture, we’re doomed. So focus on the little picture. Focus on the differences you can make in your personal life. Add something life-enhancing to every moment.”
But what does it mean to affirm and enhance life? This brings us back to the question of What is life? It’s an excellent question. Funny that we don’t consider the question to be important.
About the reviewer: David Beatty is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. Now retired, he was a Professor of History and Humanities at Reed College. He reviews books with a focus on bringing attention to important works that have been overlooked and under-appreciated.