Though there is room for debate, The Epic of Gilgamesh is generally considered to be the earliest known work of science fiction. Originating from Mesopotamia around 2000 BC, it is a collection of 5 poems which follow the crazy adventures of King Uruk and his nemesis Enkidu. The stories are jam-packed with sexual initiation via soliciting a prostitute, killing heavenly bulls, and raises questions about the viability of eternal life while pondering our own mortality. While the story in itself is not widely considered to be a literary masterpiece, it’s significant for two reasons. The first being that it’s really old. The second reason is that it humanizes those ancient people. It shows us that, even though the circumstances of our births are quite different, when it comes down to it, we aren’t very different from them. It shows us that humanity has always been excited for what the distant future has in store for us.
Well, almost always. Things began to change during the 20th century. People began to realize that perhaps these fantasies weren’t situated in the distant future any longer. It began to look like these fantasies were already starting to unfold. People were seeing new kinds of material comforts becoming accessible to the average person, luxuries that the elites didn’t even know existed only a decade or two ago. People went from dying at 48 years old and sending their farm boys (or at least those who managed to survive into adulthood that is) to fight a war on horseback, to moving into suburbia. It became normal for the average citizen to own, toasters, vacuums, radios and TVs, to drive cars, utilize antibiotics or get educations.
Technological growth was happening fast. Humanity couldn’t help but extrapolate the technological progress at the time to try and guess where it would take our species in 20, 30, 50, or even 100 years. Science fiction books flew off the shelves at an unprecedented rate, TV shows like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica became an overnight success. Because after all, if we could go from flying the first airplane to landing people on the moon within only 72 years, with a little elbow grease and determination, what could we not accomplish?
Well, not a lot, apparently. It’s 2018, and almost all of the expectations the people of the 20th century laid out for us have failed to come to fruition. We have no moon base, no anthropomorphic Martian robots learning what it is to be human, and, fuck; we don’t even have flying cars. What do we have instead? Life-saving vaccines, lower instances of infant mortality, cell phones, electronic cigarettes, and tolerance for different cultures. (That’s good for us, but old timers are generally pretty racist and don’t understand computers, so for them, it just doesn’t cut it.)
Undoubtedly, all those perfectly happy, white, suburban families of the 50s and 60s would be disappointed, if not completely devastated, with our lack of technological progress. Hell, you don’t even have to be an old person to be disappointed with our lack of progress. Almost every prominent figure in science has vocally complained about our lack of space exploration and painfully slow transition to newer, sleeker, safer energy sources, while every teenager getting their driver’s license is, deep down inside, slightly disappointed that their car can’t fly.
And while I think this frustration is completely warranted, it misses the bigger picture. Yes, it is sad that we can’t vacation on Venus or be young forever, but there is an even bigger, more impactful shortcoming on the part of humanity that no one seems to be mentioning. In fact, I would argue that the fact that this failure hasn’t already been exposed for the disappointment that it is, is a failure in and of itself. Especially considering that, unlike terraforming Mars, or creating spiritually inclined robots, this vision is -despite our lack of technological innovation- within reach, today. This is something that we could and should be working on right now.
You read the title of this article, you know where I’m going with this. We need to build a city in Antarctica.
THE CASE FOR AN ANTARCTIC CITY
I know what you’re thinking. A city in Antarctica? Why? That’s so… unnecessary. And perhaps it is. But, as I’ll explain later, that’s unimportant.
There are two primary reasons why I think we need to be making a city in the South Pole.
- Antarctica is fucking cool.
- If people were to live in Antarctica, they would be cool people.
REASON 1: ANTARCTICA IS FUCKING COOL
Antarctica is underappreciated. People barely even know it exists, and, can you blame them? It doesn’t even show up on most world maps.
But keep in mind, Antarctica is an entire continent. Imagine if Europe were to suddenly become devoid of people (excluding a handful of scientists), and then be moved to the bottom of the Earth where no one was to pay attention to it. Then on the rare occasion that it’s existence is acknowledged, people mix it up with the Arctic and ask if it’s the one with polar bears or the one with penguins. (It’s the one with penguins). It’s fair to say that in this hypothetical situation Europe would be deserving of a little extra love. But that’s the problem, this situation isn’t hypothetical. The only difference is this continent isn’t called Europe, it’s called Antarctica.
That’s right, Antarctica, the world’s 5th largest continent. The only continent that is entirely a desert, while simultaneously holding 70 percent of the Earth’s fresh water. The only continent that has been recorded reaching temperatures below -90 degrees Celsius, where even water vapour in the air freezes, with winds that can go up to 320 kilometers per hour. It’s so cold, that there are entire mountain ranges, canyons (that could give the ol’ grand one in the USA a run for its money), and bodies of water are completely buried under massive ice sheets. Antarctica is home to Earth’s only live lava lake, and no sunlight even touches it for the entire winter (which, for Antarctica, is quite long.) And last, but not least, it is the home of a few penguin species. So, as I said, Antarctica is fucking cool.
REASON 2: ANTARCTIC PEOPLE WOULD BE FUCKING COOL
I’ve put a lot of emphasis on how we’ve let down our ancestors in regards to our lack of technological progress. Surprisingly, despite all of this, the most vocal disappointment that old timers have expressed has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with people, more specifically young people. Kids these days, they say, are too soft, too fickle, too easily offended. All it takes is making one racist comment, and BOOM, suddenly you’re the bad guy!
Because baby boomers, they were hard working don’t you know. They had to put themselves through university. They didn’t have none of these interwebs or twitters back in their day, they had to socialize face to face like a fucking man.
While many people have dismissed this whining by firing back, saying “yeah well at least we didn’t destroy the housing market and nearly all the world’s ecosystems”, I will refrain from this antagonistic line of thinking. Because, I have taken the liberty of finding a solution for these baby boomers, and if they don’t want to accept it then they’re just going to have to stop complaining so damn much.
Baby boomers, this is for you. I propose we make a bad-ass factory, of sorts. I propose we stop fucking around and let kids know: Hey, life can be fucking hard sometimes, so fucking deal with it you living bags of shit, also, Santa Claus is a lie.
How, you ask? Well, what better way to expose our young ones to the harshness of reality than to raise them in a polar city? A city with millions of people, where every single one of its residents will have to have a heart of ice and be just about the baddest fucking ass you’ve ever met just to survive. Let’s get Darwin’s theory of natural selection and give it some practical use, for God’s sake.
Oh, what’s that? Back in your day, you walked 10 kilometers to school, rain or shine, without shoes? Well, today millions of toddlers walked to school in an Antarctic blizzard, relying solely on headlamps and self-taught sonar abilities to navigate their surroundings because they literally have not seen sunlight in over 6 months. What’s that? You rationed your food during the war? Well, this one chick I met from Antarctica had to feed herself with fucking robot arms because she lost them both due to frostbite after her snowmobile broke down in the middle of a freaking Antarctic mountain range. “Jesus Christ”, she told me “old people these days are such fucking pussys”. Anyway, I digress.
People born and raised in Antarctica would by default be really interesting people, because, you know, they were raised in Antarctica. Conditions like that don’t breed paper salesman or Bob from accounting. Young or old, I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like interesting people. So drastically increasing the number of interesting people in the world would be better for all of us. Yes, those people would need to suffer through conditions so harsh that it makes the Martian surface look like the fertile crescent, and, quite possibly, develop PTSD from that time their nephew Jimmy was kidnapped by a waddle of emperor penguins performing a pagan ritual. However, their pain is for a good cause: Our entertainment. And last time I checked, that’s what western society is all about.
We don’t even have to do anything to meet these interesting people. They’ll come to us (because who would actually want to live in Antarctica), which will make them well traveled, therefore even more interesting.
Here’s an example:
Close your eyes. (Actually, don’t do that because I want you to read this.) You’re at a bar. You see someone (of the gender(s) you are attracted to) in the corner, on their phone, drinking a pint, motorcycle helmet in hand. They look interesting so you decide to go over and talk to them.
“Come here often?” You ask.
“No, actually I’m from out of town.” Hmm. This person has an… unusual accent. It’s hard to describe. Sounds almost like they have frostbite on their tongue. Either way, you dig it.
“Oh. Where are you from?” You ask, intrigued.
“New Toronto? Where’s that?” (I thought that name would be appropriate since Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, and everyone knows Canadians live in igloos.)
“Oh, you haven’t heard? It’s the new world-class city in the middle of fucking Antarctica.”
Now tell me – Ladies (and dudes) does that not get your jimmies in a twist? If that fantasy doesn’t get your bells a’whistlin’ then I don’t know what will.
RETHINKING OUR PRIORITIES
The most common criticism to establishing New Toronto is concerns over its practicality. In order to justify undertaking a project of that magnitude, there would need to be some sort of tangible benefits. It would need to aid the economy somehow, or help scientists learn things that could be of practical use. All that, time, money, and energy would be better spent elsewhere, like trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, or think up new, innovative solutions for climate change, right? I disagree.
Well, not really. I do agree that it would be a waste of time, money, and labour, I do agree that it would be impractical, and I do agree that all those resources would best be put to use elsewhere. But, that doesn’t matter.
Because, when it comes down to it, building a city in Antarctica would be fucking cool. That’s all that’s important, as far as I’m concerned. People are so caught up on doing things because they’re practical. They think that everything they do has to have some sort of economic, humanitarian, or scientific benefit. Frankly, I think that’s insulting.
What happened to doing things for no reason? What happened to the play in our lives? When we were kids everything was a game. We’d stack things on top of each other, it would tumble to the ground, we’d cry for 10 minutes then do it all over again. We’d make inappropriate sounds with our armpits, and build forts by dissecting the couch and rearranging the pillows. Why? Just for the hell of it! Why not? Our lives were consumed by fun, but that’s been pounded out of us by “the man”.
We’ve become domesticated and institutionalized. We’ve grown up believing what really matter is work, and play is unproductive, a time waster. (As if that were a bad thing). Our concept of what’s considered to be acceptable play has been diminished to either watching other people play things on TV or (if we’re feeling adventurous) adult colouring books. Disgusting.
Enjoying yourself is frowned upon. If people catch you playing, just because you only live once and why the fuck not, you’ll be ostracized. Society will tell you to “stop being so childish” or accuse you of “having unhealthy coping mechanisms” and tell you to “stop playing with Hot Wheels, you’re 34 years old, get a job” or tell you that “you’re the reason your father and I got a divorce.”
What happened? What happened to all those hours we wasted goofing off, what happened to being carefree and having no concept of your own mortality? What happened to the forts we’d build? If I went back in time and told my 6-year-old self that one day, when I’m an adult, I could collaborate with other adults and build a mega-fort with real materials in the middle of Antarctica, well, I’d be ecstatic, to say the least. I don’t see why that has to change now that I’m an adult.
We need to stop taking things so seriously. As a society, we’re chronically, tired, busy, stressed, anxious and depressed. We’re all stuck on trying to keep up with the Jones’s, trying to get ahead in the rat race. We have to make our parents proud or impress that fuckhead John who thinks he’s the shit just because he bought a motorboat. We feel the need to prove to ourselves and others that we’re successful. We need to let everyone know what we are special, God dammit, in order to feel some sort of existential validation. This is not a recipe for happiness. It’s no wonder that cultures that take work even more seriously than we do, such as in South Korea or in Japan, have some of the highest suicide rates in the world.
We need to face reality. One day all of us will be lying on our deathbeds. We will look back at the lives we’ve lead, as we try to come to terms with the prospect of eternal unconsciousness. That’s terrifying, and to be honest, I don’t know what we need to do in our lifetimes in order to be at peace at that moment. However, I do know that the knowledge that we one-upped John’s stupid motorboat by buying a vacation home will not be of any comfort. Building an Antarctic city, however? Well, that’s probably not going to help much either, because we’re about to fucking die. But we would have had fun building it, and if we’re going to feel shitty on our deathbeds no matter what, we might as well look back at a life that’s full of fond memories than one that’s full of a bunch of corporate bullshit and buzzwords.
We’re at a crossroads here. We have the choice to either make the world more interesting or to keep up with the status quo. We can either keep on the trend of making future generations disappointed with our lack of progress or, make future generation grateful for how fucking futuristic everything is.
As Elon Musk put it “life needs to be more than just solving everyday problems. You need to wake up and be excited about the future”. So let’s give ourselves things to be excited for! Don’t eat that last piece of cake, that way you have something to look forward to on Friday. Save up to go on that Eat Pray Love hippie trip to India you’ve always dreamed of. Learn how to play the accordion so you can look forward to impressing potential mates with you mad skills, and last, but not least: let’s build a city in motherfucking Antarctica.
“Antarctica has this mythic weight. It resides in the collective unconscious of so many people, and it makes this huge impact, just like outer space. It’s like going to the moon.”
― Jon Krakauer, mountaineer and author of Into the Wild
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