If The Day of Judgement Dawns Tomorrow

In 2022, at the start of my second year at the University of Toronto Mississauga, I took a 100-level philosophy course: Introduction to Knowledge and Reality. Having already struggled through my first year, I felt a sort of pleasure in observing the terror of my younger classmates, mostly freshmen. I’d been in their place just a year ago, but they now seemed so young and naïve. While I still experienced normal amounts of anxiety over my second-year exams, I felt almost beatifically unflappable in PHL103. To a second-year student, a first-year course seems like nothing.

I’d never even read a philosophy book before, but I needed a course to fulfill part of my mandatory humanities credit. My first impression of the field was that philosophy conversations are like games: fun and intellectually stimulating, but with next to no effect on my daily life once I exited the classroom. This was until, one day, our professor asked us where we believed humanity would be in 50 years.

To the best of my memory, the options she provided were something like this:

A) Humanity will survive in small numbers, but their suffering will be immense
B) Humanity will not survive
C) Humanity will survive
D) I don’t know

I hit “C” on my iClicker device without pausing to think about it. As I waited for the rest of my classmates to answer, my friend shot me a look.

“You believe that humanity will still be here in 50 years?” she asked, obviously skeptical.


“That’s… optimistic,” she said.

I didn’t respond. I thought that she was wrong—I’ve never considered myself an optimist—and that she’d see that when the majority supported my answer.

That didn’t happen. Instead, more than half of my classmates said that humanity would be gone in 50 years. The cynicism unnerved (and annoyed) me, but I forgot about it. Then, six months later, we experienced an apocalyptic summer.

As wildfires tore through Canada’s West Coast, and also its East Coast, and also all the places in between, smog descended upon the Greater Toronto Area. I’d formed a habit of biking every day, but now found I could only wheeze through a fifth of my usual route before being forced to stop. The oppressive heat made walking equally unbearable.

Each member of my three-person household came down with a cold within a day or two of each other, and I resigned myself to rot in the basement with an itchy throat, a runny nose, and a bad case of climate anxiety. Suddenly, I was predisposed to asking and more seriously considering my philosophy professor’s question: where will humanity be in 50 years?

~ ~ ~

Growing up in the early 2000s, the future was depicted as clean and bright. The sky would be clear. High-rise buildings would provide affordable housing to millions of people, perhaps including literal aliens. Everything would be within walking distance on floating sidewalks. If you needed to drive somewhere, your car would fly. Maybe your city would even be built around a heart-shaped lake or something, I don’t know.

In 2023, robots deliver food downtown and carry trays across sushi restaurants but, otherwise, the future doesn’t seem so bright. We have a serious deficit of recent media that portray the future in a positive light, such as The Jetsons or even Back to the Future. In their place, we have The Hunger Games, The 5th Wave, The Matrix, and Black Mirror: signs of the times.

Several studies show that people with memory loss have a hard time picturing the future. In other words, our memories of the past directly impact our expectations for the future. This is displayed even by something as inane as my calm in that philosophy course. Unlike my first-year classmates, I had memories of previous university courses—and how they turned out—which showed me that the challenge posed by PHL103 was nothing to freak out about.

It makes sense, then, that today’s youth and young adults have a strong sense that doomsday is at hand. Most of us were born around the time that thousands of innocent lives were lost on 9/11, then millions more in the ensuing conflict. That was closely followed by the SARS-CoV-1 epidemic, then the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. We claim that nothing will ever get better and that the wisest path of action would be to read Nietzsche and gear up for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. In contrast, our elders can lean toward what seems to us like infuriating naïveté: their memories of a better time fuel a sometimes blind hope that, if everyone would just calm down, everything will turn out fine. Are either of these correct perspectives?

My friend accused me of optimism, but—true to my generation—I find optimism even more unsatisfying than nihilism. Mere positivity is fickle. It requires reaching into the depths of your imagination and fabricating a vision of what the future might be like: a silly philosophical exercise with no ramifications. In a world of wildfires, massacres, natural disasters, genocide, and humanitarian crises, we need something more enduring than optimism. What we need is hope. We need roots that grow deep into our own history, into humanity’s history, and our planet’s history.

For instance, one story that I’d love to carry with me is that of the Clean Air Act of 1970. America passed three clean air laws between 1955 and 1967, each of which largely failed. Then, in 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, was so contaminated with oil-soaked debris that it caught fire for the twelfth (possibly more, according to some accounts) time. The event brought the possibility of an environmental crisis—particularly hazardous pollutants and their effect on public health—to the forefront of everyone’s minds for the first time.

From this revelation, a new Clean Air Act was born. This Act was the brainchild of two friends, who also happened to be diametrically opposed senator’s aides: Leon Billings, a Democrat; and Thomas Jorling, a Republican. Its passing required the cooperation and collaboration of senators from both parties. Government analysis found that, in 1990, the Act saved about 200,000 lives and averted 150,000 hospitalizations for heart and lung problems.

My first thought when I heard this story was that, from start to end, nothing like it could ever happen today: people are too desensitized to be collectively reborn, politicians are too complacent to take urgent and immediate action, the world is too divided for political opponents to ever cooperate. But why not? Am I so narcissistic to believe that this generation is completely unlike any other generation? That this time is completely unlike any other time? I’d like to think I’m not so insularly unaware. But if not, what holds me back from believing—from hoping?

~ ~ ~

The events of 2023 left me more aware than ever of the precarious balance in which our universe hangs. I gravitated—at first subconsciously, then intentionally—toward memoirs and essays written by people close to the end of their lives. Perhaps, initially, this was to indulge a youthful compulsion to fatalism. Instead, they did the opposite: they re-awakened my thirst for hope.

One such book was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer, a clergyman and member of the German anti-Nazi resistance, was imprisoned for more than two years before his execution in a concentration camp. This was almost 80 years ago, but the words he wrote remain so fresh and apt that, if someone stopped me on the street, shoved a microphone in my face, and asked me to recite a book quote for their TikTok, I would be able to recall this one almost verbatim:

“To talk of going down fighting like heroes in the face of certain defeat is not really heroic at all, but merely a refusal to face the future. The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live. It is only from this question, with its responsibility towards history, that fruitful solutions can come… It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; in that case, we shall gladly stop working for a better future. But not before.”

While the past cannot be changed and much of our present circumstances cannot be controlled, the future is still being shaped by our current actions—and, while there is a future, we still have reason for hope. Many of our greatest innovators and leaders are those who aimed to impact not just the world around them, but the world to come. Billings and Jorling didn’t wake up the morning after the Clean Air Act was passed and breathe noticeably cleaner air. They might not have been able to detect the day-by-day changes in air quality over the months, or even years. Then, one day, in 1990, they may have heard that their legislation had saved hundreds of thousands of American lives every year. I wonder if they went outside after learning that, took a deep breath, and thought, Huh, yeah. The air is much clearer.

Apathy, activism fatigue, or—worst of all—attempts to undo work that has already been done occur because we forget. The air we breathe did get cleaner. Life expectancy did increase. The hole in the ozone layer is shrinking. Giant pandas are no longer endangered. More girls are going to school. I vow to remember these things. This world is terrible, but I know that it can be so much better because it is so much better. If we did it before, we can do it again. The work is not yet done.

~ ~ ~

I still believe that humanity will be here in 50 years, although that’s a question I now need 1,955 words to answer instead of a couple of seconds. I’ve been forced to weigh it and think about it deeply, and it’s a belief that I’ve decided is worth keeping.

Yet I’ve also realized that, maybe, to ask that question misses the point. The question that should be asked is not whether humanity will still be here—for no one could ever answer that with certainty—but whether we want it to be.

Without hope, the answer is no. What’s the point? If only suffering awaits us, if there is no beauty, no joy, it would be better if there were no future.

But I have hope. I love my planet and the people who live on it, both as they once were and as they are now. There is so much beauty, so much joy. I hope those who come after me can experience it. I believe that they deserve to.

In 50 years, I will be 71. I might be dead already and, if I am, I don’t believe I’ll care anymore about whether humanity is still here, or if Earth has passed away. But if I’m not dead, maybe I’ll have grandkids. I hope that they wake up to the sound of birdsong. I hope I can drive them to school sometimes. My car probably won’t fly, but I hope that it won’t leak tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air my loved ones breathe. I hope that there will still be warm days and cold days, clear days and cloudy days. I hope that my heart will still be soft, that I’ll still mourn when tragedy inevitably occurs. I hope that the world will mourn with me. I hope that we’ll remember, and that we’ll change for the better.

Okay, so I answered that question. Now it’s your turn:

Do you want humanity to be here in 50 years?

Copy Editor (Volume 50); Associate Arts & Entertainment Editor (Volume 49) — Maja Ting is in her third year at UTM, completing a Specialist degree in Forensic Biology. In her spare time, she reads, visits the ROM repeatedly, waits for public transit, talks and reckons more than is good for her, and refers to herself in the third person.


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