Phantoms in an Empty World
The peaceful vision of a "world without us" isn't a future fantasy. We're all phantoms already.
Dear Living Dark reader,
A very short shot for today:
You know the peace of unpopulated landscape photos and paintings? Or the enticing calm of post-apocalyptic visions of empty cities? Or the delicious hush of ancient ruins where the people who once lived there are long gone?
You know the lovely serenity of the whole “world without us” idea that grew so popular a few years ago? That enticing, wistful vision of a harmonious earth after humans?
Those things are all real right now. It’s not necessary to wait on the demise of the human race, or to project a future idyllic vision of such. Because, as a matter of present fact, we don’t actually exist at all. And we never have.
The idea that we are separate things, entities, selves inhabiting an objectively separate world and negotiating a set of individual and collective relationships with it is spurious. And the truth of this isn’t a matter of objective consideration or verification, or of imaginative effort, but of firsthand, immediate knowledge. There is no separate self, either “in here,” within the space of your and my seemingly isolated subjectivity, or “out there,” as some solid existence on the other side of that invisible membrane of identity, lurking in the appearance of a teeming world of others and otherness with which we are each confronted. The ten thousand things, at least when conceived as an exclusively real world of multiplicity locked in universal, constant, cut-throat competition, is just a vapor, a sound and light show, smoke and mirrors.
Your customary sense of self is a phantom. The earth is already depopulated. The universe is already empty.
You can check on this by trying to locate the reality of your self, your identity, right here and now. Who are you, really? More to the point, what are you? Look back at the looker, remain completely committed to relying only on firsthand, immediate evidence, discard whatever has the slightest capability of being doubted, and see what you come up with. Your customary sense of self will be revealed as just an idea, a thought. A kind of dream. A phantom.
So will your entrenched sense and vision of inhabiting a bristling, bustling world that’s crowded with a multitude of other people and things. How can there be others without a self to begin with? Again: all phantoms.
This is not to say that there is nothing real at all. Rather, it’s to recognize that—again, as a matter of verifiable fact—only one thing is ultimately and really real. And it’s not “you.” Nor is it “me.” Though it appears as the image of each of us, and of everything else besides.
The earth is already depopulated. The universe is already empty. The placidity, serenity, and unassailable security of “a world without us” already obtains, in the form of a play unfolding on an empty stage for an invisible audience of one. A movie playing in an empty theater where you are the screen.
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