What was important to us in 2015? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the quiet reverberations of the year’s big issues, and the loud ring of its smaller ones.
We love end-of-year lists because we, in our heart of hearts, know we deserve to die. What is an end-of-year list but a birthday or anniversary without reflection? These lists are, by nature, anti-reflection, codifying and canonizing the consensus, making SantaCon jokes while we pimp for the Santa-Amazon Complex, thankfully marking time as online bedpost notches in this interminable sluttery of days.
It is truly a blessed confluence of events, then, as we enjoy an unseasonably balmy December, that we can finally combine end-of-year lists with end-of-Earth lists. Who knows what caused the end of the world and who cares? Could be global warning, sad polar bears taking up our entire Facebook feeds; or maybe it’s the ultimate name of God finally being written as a terribly scribbled chest tattoo, all other random configurations of words and symbols having finally been exhausted. Or maybe Yahweh took all that “Only God Can Judge Me” ink as a deific challenge. That is, after all, his/her prerogative. Anyway, the end is here, like Galactus on the half-shell, Kirby-esque headgear framed by the reddening skies as we finally understand Watain lyrics as something other than high comedy and weep.
So say goodnight to the end-of-year list and welcome the end-of-time list. Can the heart contain such wackiness, the head conceive of such mirth? Try to wrap your mind around it, blown to smithereens as it may be, because in a land of hacks, the man with one joke is king. And who’s to say that the conceit isn’t true—that this isn’t our final hour, as you sit reading, pee-less and encubicled in spirit if not in reality, Adele playing in the background, Adele playing in all backgrounds. And what more appropriate trumpet than Adele, the sound of perfectly serviceable hotel lounge karaoke for a people too emotionally fragile and morally shallow to handle Mariah Carey, let alone Aretha Franklin? Truly, if this is not the end of days, it’s only because the Four Horsemen (Disease, Mixology, War, Out of Context Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes Used To Shame Black Protesters) have lost interest in us entirely, ridden on to more deserving pastures, leaving us eternally post-apocalyptic without even the decent Mad Max-ian hairdos of the apocalypse itself to comfort us.
But who could blame them? Our indignities are many and unrelenting. To cite an upsettingly recent embarrassment: the fact that we have for so long tolerated avowed-since-the-Eighties racist Donald Trump, this grubby Mussolini of the 21st Century, as a figure of fun and high seriousness. Look at us, though, getting wise in the past week, like a world of Merchant Ivory butlers gone wild, and hoping to be loved for it. Look at us, in the full flower of nostalgia and jenky comparison, yearning for the murderous W. Bush years. We want to kiss power so bad. Nineties kids will remember this: the state loves it when you call it Big Poppa. Truly we are crapulent to our core and epic death is too good for us. Horsemen arriving on the horizon or not, we will all be naught but ash and stardust shortly.
From walking on dry land to cave paintings to the steam engine to social media, it’s helpful to see our journey into civilization as any reasonable alien would: with unbridled contempt.
So how do we, as famine and war and an endless scroll of unmoderated comments run without interruption beneath our eyelids, summarize human achievement? From walking on dry land to cave paintings to the steam engine to social media, it’s helpful to see our journey into civilization as any reasonable alien would: with unbridled contempt. Maybe they’ll think us cute, a collection of kittens hanging in there as the clothesline frays. But, having probed the best parts of us since the McCarthy hearings, they probably have, like a meth addict on Pornhub, finally tired of our hot butts entirely. Let this listicle of human achievement, an episticle if you will, be our cosmic tombstone.
First, though, one note/caveat: The determining factors for this list were highly scientific, but out of respect for our religious readers, the mystery of its composition will remain intact. Just please trust that all the advantages of a two-year degree from a sub-division of Bard and a lifetime of leafing through back issues of The Economist at the free clinic were put into play. When the very air itself rains crimson howls, nobody will care if you made it past page thirty-six of Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Also, before we get to the list, the final and greatest encapsulation of our collective spirit, we should, as all the better end-of-year lists do, touch on the larger questions: what comes after, who are we, why is “alternative” standup comedy a thing that people enjoy? The afterlife is the bliss of laying in a field of dandelions, holding them up to the chin of someone you loved once when you were young, and never having to see those you’ve blocked on Twitter retweeted into your feed again. Or, alternately, it is eternal damnation, so, better get stoked on those Fake Banksy tweets now. We are basically slugs who love the taste of salt and talking about our feelings. Also, maybe people enjoy alternative standup comedy because on some level they know what’s coming after all and hellfire is something best eased into.
As with all end-of-whatever lists, attention must be paid to the fans. Where would we be without our enthusiasms for those who rule above us? A world of Princess Dianas without anyone to collect the commemorative plates is no place to live. So here’s to the life led vicariously. As Drake crushes his lessers, may we all feel the sand of their bones mulch between our toes, like a beachfront Corona ad where the discarded lime always lands on a paper cut. Praise and defend our betters lest we’re forced to define ourselves by our own achievements. As someone with the moral and physical definition of a funhouse mirror that consists of nothing but “before” imagery, I sure as fuck don’t want any part of that.
A quick digression: we should talk about lists. What lists get included in an undertaking as grand as saying farewell to life as we know it? Number of angels dancing on the head of a pin? (Like, five or six, but their limbs are endless chimeras on endless chimeras so it gets confusing.) Greatest human? (Mohammad; pre-Woody-Allen-defense Wallace Shawn.) Greatest artistic achievement? (Final slow-dancing-to-Dinah-Washington scene of Killer of Sheep, mid-Eighties-era Teena Marie; first two Danzig Albums.)
Now that I think of it, though … what else is there to say? There was probably some other stuff, but these lists are by definition exclusionary. There is no time more to waste: the shadow looms and the air is getting thicker, there’s more fault line than earth at this point, so shake accordingly. And I’m just kidding about all that stuff about fans being, you know, bad—that was just me being needlessly mean, and if there’s one positive side to these rising tides, it’s the utter superflousness of making people feel bad about joy. The end of days is no reason to be caustic and cruel. Your problematic faves may love you. Who’s that knocking on your door right now? It’s your problematic fave, here early, on your birthday, before it all collapses. Here to cover you in problematic smooches and take you to that promised land, right smack between new wave and the truth and lay you down in the tall grass and let you do your problematic stuff.
So, goodbye to us, and goodbye to the lists. The lists complaining about the lists. The publicists circling back, us embracing the publicists and our hedge fund overlords, all of us pushing the rock up the mountain together. The end of our toils is not the gift we were hoping for. We loved our lists. Even as they became totems to our furious love of the banal, our passion for the insipid, poptimism but, like, for everything, a Golden Age of Television that long ago started to feel like the Holy Roman Empire. But like the barbarians at the borderlands, lists were a solution of sorts. Maybe, when all feeling is an abstraction of an abstraction, it is our lists that I’ll miss most of all, even emotionally inured in the ether, because there will be no lists in what comes afterwards. But maybe that’s just so far. I have faith in our capacity. After the carnage of existence is over and we are all just notes in God’s choir, I can hope that I’ll see my family, my mawmaw and grandpappy, my pets and all the babies I admired from across the room, everything and everyone I’ve ever truly loved, again, perfect in eternal light and love, standing in front of me. I will greet them, joined finally in their universal energy. And I will, like the forming of the constellations that guided our sailors away from sirens and jagged rocks, rank them from best to worst.