Part of the thrill of reading post-apocalyptic fiction is the disturbing sense that it’s not true escapism, but rather one uneasy step away from reality as we know it. There’s a lot to be learned from a genre that by definition portends the end of everything it means to be human. Here are four things I’ve learned from post-apocalyptic fiction.
Adversity introduces a man to himself.
– Author Unknown
Disaster is a catalyst for the best and worst in humankind. Some reach deep inside, others fold like accordions of misery. Some rise to the occasion, others go stark, raving mad. The Walking Dead is a classic smorgasbord of the human condition stretched to its limits. Post-apocalyptic adversity is intriguing because it levels the playing field in one violent strike, bringing entire communities to their knees. Privilege, class and education are no longer advantageous, and may in fact leave people more vulnerable due to their disconnect with what it will really take to fend for themselves in a barbaric world.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
– Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
When apocalyptic disasters unfold, we all need someone to have our back. No man is an island. Our best option is to pool skills, abilities and resources to achieve an exponential chance of survival. While an apocalyptic event may provoke a manic survival-of-the-fittest rampage, it is a short-lived exercise in futility. Like anything in life, forming an alliance is a better long-term strategy for success. The more we grasp how powerless we really are against the immense forces that threaten our existence, the more we understand the importance of forging our worth as team players.
You don’t have to worry about burning bridges, if you’re building your own.
– Kerry E. Wagner
Most people are familiar with the Girl Scouts motto “be prepared,” but may not realize that it comes with a qualification: “Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency.” The paramount importance of preparation is borne out in every post-apocalyptic book. Those who do nothing to anticipate disaster are the first to succumb to hunger, thirst and violence. The maxim “cash is king” rings hollow in the apocalyptic landscape, and plastic gets you on the road to nowhere fast. Commodities are the hot currency, and wastefulness of resources becomes the new deadly sin when survivors are forced to begin life over as dumpster-diving scavengers. The fascinating thing is that a lack of resources always drives human beings to invention and innovation. Resourcefulness can overcome lack of resources, as long as human beings continue to build and create.
Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
– Winston Churchill
We are all haunted by the threat of an endgame, it’s ingrained in our psyche. The true heroes in post-apocalyptic literature are those who can take a step back from the savagery and figure out how to proceed in a world with no morality. The heroes are not afraid to ask themselves if they could have done anything differently, or even if they could have prevented the disaster from happening in the first place. They contemplate how best to rebuild some semblance of civilization, and analyze what they have learned about themselves in the process.
Post-apocalyptic fiction has always showcased the capacity of heroic individuals to rise above tyranny and change the course of history in the face of staggering odds. Small wonder that it captures the imagination of a generation of young adults asphyxiating in an increasingly over-regulated world where even their speech and viewpoints are prescribed by those in authority over them.