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Apocalypse Symposium

May 2, 2008 at 4:31 pm
By Margaret Taylor '10

Could we really all become brains in jars without somebody to carry us around?

This was just one of the many quandaries pondered at last week’s Apocalypse Symposium. After the success of last year’s event which focused on how to survive during the apocalypse, Carleton’s best and brightest met again this year to discuss how to thrive after the end of civilization as we know it. The event was held in Sayles Lounge, with such highly apocalyptic snacks as chips and soda (fortunately no kool-aid) on a side table.

Marjorie Harrington ’10 held a workshop on duct tape fashion. She stressed that because it might be hard to get to your neighborhood grocery store after the apocalypse, duct tape will be one of your most essential tools for survival. It is durable and can be made into almost anything, from hammocks to water bottles. She passed out rolls of tape and let symposium goers try their hands at the three basic duct tape techniques: the sheet, the rope, and the wrap. While demonstrating these techniques, she dispensed such truisms as “stick with silver and silver will stick with you.” In other words, don’t go for that fancy colored stuff.

But what do you do if you run out of duct tape? “You don’t run out of duct tape,” she explains.

Computer science professor Dave Musicant’s presentation, “My Brain Will Go On and On: Our Post-Flesh Bodies, Ourselves,” was an interactive brainstorming session on how we might thrive in the post-apocalyptic bodies by trading our vulnerable human bodies for something more durable. He outlined a few possible options. One is to encase what’s left of your body in battle armor. Or you could just keep your brain, since that’s the only important part anyway. Other alternatives include stealing somebody else’s body and transcending needing a body at all.

Discussion centered on how to avoid turning evil, since in the movies this is a common problem with giving up human form. “In Star Trek, the less human-looking you are, the more evil you are,” pointed out Emma Turetsky ’09. Turning evil is particularly a problem with brains in jars. It’s quite possible that not being able to get out much makes brains grumpy. The option of transcending a body and becoming a being of pure energy seems to be the least prone to turning one evil, but it is also the hardest to achieve. The consensus of the symposium-goers was that although battle armor is a good short-term solution, we need to figure out how to become beings of pure energy now, so that in the future, we’ll be ready. The first step will be to get really smart people (like Carleton students) to breed. That’s right, we can help save the world by organizing more Screw-dates!

Katie Pacala’s ’08 “Field Guide to Apocalypse Identification” reminded us that we need to react differently depending on the nature of the apocalypse. If it’s an ecosystem-killing apocalypse, such as a nuclear war or an asteroid impact, stockpile food. But if only humans are the victims, forget the stockpile and learn how to hunt. If the apocalypse is of a religious nature, surviving is not really an option, so it is best to start making plans for the next life. One of the warning signs of such an apocalypse is if people start disappearing. “If they’re all members of a particular religion, time to start repenting.”

The common theme among all these scenarios is to keep a low profile. Isolation is key. Trying to re-establish the species? You can bring friends: 10 men to 20-30 women is an ideal ratio. “Throw out the monogamy expectation when you move into the bunker.” Also, “cannibalism is a solution,” though only a short-term one.

Alexandre Adrian ’10 proposed a novel strategy for surviving the apocalypse in his talk, “Surrender and Collaboration: Because Dying for Freedom is Stupid.” It may sound shocking at first, but selling out to the alien invaders can end with you alive. The trick is to make yourself indispensable to them. Cthonic deities are easy to suck up to, and Adrian pointed out the little-known fact that working for them gives great dental care.

Heather Stevick ‘10 led an interactive zombie-evasion exercise and Jeff Rzeszotarski ’10 and Jared Christensen ’10 spoke on “Always Aim for the Groin: Lessons Learned from Video Games,” and "Hedonist's Guide to Post-Civilized Living or How I learned to Stop Surviving and Enjoy Doomsday,” respectively. The convention wound up with a poster-making contest for posters with apocalyptic slogans. If we’re going to be prepared for the end of the world, we will still need to advertise. Prizes for the winning posters included “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead,” by Max Brooks, and “How to Build a Robot Army,” by David H. Wilson. The sequel, “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” wasn’t included.