Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead - Robert Brockway (2010)

INTRO

There is no shortage of modern apocalyptic thought: Some Christians thought that the second coming of Jesus would coincide with the turn of the millennium, for technophobes the Y2K scare was the secular equivalent of Armageddon, and most cults declare the end-times every other Wednesday (and alternating Saturdays), while the new hot apocalypse theory on the block, based on ancient Mayan prophecies, says that the end of days is set for 2012.

These are just the current dates, but humanity has believed that we are living in the end-times since the beginning of time. From the moment humans gained sentience, we immediately thought that everything around us was irrevocably fucked, and that it was just a matter of years—if not days—before the whole world came crashing down around us. Nostradamus is the most famous of these ancient criers of doom, but he was not the first by far: One of the earliest apocalyptic heralds is recorded in an Assyrian clay tablet dating all the way back to 2800 BC, which reads, in part:

Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. Corruption is rampant. These are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end.

This tablet, in addition to being one of the first recorded apocalyptic prophecies, also holds the dubious honor of being the oldest inaccurate prophecy in history—considering that since you’re alive to read these words, that anonymous author was wrong by at least five thousand years. Though there have certainly been other mistaken prophets of doom since, none has been such a truly epic failure. It just goes to reinforce that age-old adage: You can’t spell Assyrian without an “ass.”

The end of days isn’t just reserved for cultists and tablet-dictating prehistorical idiots, however. The presumed apocalypse has held intense fascination for people from all walks of life. Sir Isaac Newton, for example, was obsessed with eschatology, the study of Armageddon, and he spent a good chunk of his life attempting to “decode” the Holy Bible, writing a five-thousand-word treatise on the subject. He was absolutely certain that the Bible contained an underlying cryptic code that, if unlocked, would reveal all the secret laws of the universe. After apparently finding his key in the Book of Daniel, Newton settled on the year 2060 as the official RSVP date for the end days.

This is a little-known aspect of the famous pioneer of science, because he was loath to show his work to anybody; this obsession was only recently uncovered in private manuscripts by scholars at the Jewish National University Library Archives in Jerusalem. Newton was so sure of his findings that he even started a preindustrial beef with other apocalyptic prophets, stating that:

It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophecies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.

That’s some serious trash talk, Newtron Bomb! You not only insisted that everybody but you is wrong, but that they are all “fanciful men” (which is how people questioned your sexuality before the internet made it so easy just to type “fag”) who fail so hard that they disgrace God himself. But before you go thinking that one of the most notorious geniuses in history may have actually cracked the mathematical code of the Almighty, you should also know that Newton believed the apocalypse would be preceded by a thousand-year reign of immortal saints—of which he was one. So, unless you believe every day of the last thousand years has been heaven on Earth and that Isaac Newton is basically the Highlander—secretly ruling the world from his immortal apple orchard—perhaps you shouldn’t put too much stock in this particular hypothesis. There is, after all, a fine line between genius and insanity—and apparently Newton wasn’t a “color inside the lines” kind of guy.

Don’t start believing that foretellers of the apocalypse are somehow relegated to the annals of ancient history, either. It wasn’t all Nostradamus, Newton, and ancient Mayans: In 1910 there was an extremely popular theory that the passing of Halley’s Comet would somehow poison the entire Earth with cyanide gas. This was so common, in fact, that snake-oil salesmen of the day made fortunes from hawking so-called Comet Pills that would ostensibly render people immune to unearthly toxins.

Sure, mostly it’s just whackjob cultists who are preaching the end-times these days, but it’s easy to see the appeal of the concept: As human beings we are all keenly aware of our own mortality, but although we know we all have to die eventually, there is some small amount of comfort in knowing that maybe it’s something we could all do together, as a team. There is, after all, no “I” in “apocalypse.”

And so, in the same spirit of these joyously stupid celebrations of the potential end of humanity, this book is going to take you through all the very real ways that we, as a species, have already damn near died, may be dying off right now, or may be suddenly wiped out in the future. What this book will not do is take any sort of metaphysical stance on the end of mankind, by detailing cop-out bullshit that could “irrevocably alter our society.” This book will not take a “grand scheme of things” approach by covering stuff like astronomical events billions of years in the future that could destroy our long-dead planet. And this book will absolutely not take the easy route, by simply fictionalizing some potential apocalyptic scenarios and asking “Wouldn’t that be scary, folks?” No, every single subject within this book fits three simple, important criteria: They affect the reader directly, they pose a real threat, and they could happen soon. To put it more succinctly: Everything in here will kill you and everyone you love in various horrible ways, and there’s not much you can do about it but laugh. Or void your bowels and call your mom. It’s your choice, really (but the former option is substantially less embarrassing and slightly less disgusting).