The Appalling Meaninglessness of Being in a Post-Modern, Pre-Apocalyptic World

There is nature
Nothing really seems to matter much when your Planet is needlessly collapsing and dying. Big important ideas to base your life upon are in short supply. Pretty much god myths, stuff, and tribes are all we got. There is nature. And she needs us.

“The Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything is…42!” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
“Lady Presenter: Well, that’s the end of the film. Now, here’s the meaning of life… M-hmm. Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. And, finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy…” – The Meaning of Life, Monty Python (1983)
“The meaning of life is nature, and universal embrace of an ecology ethic before the biosphere collapses is all that really matters anymore. Bathe in the forest. Grow plants. No more burning. Stop bulldozers. Howl at the moon. Know how much is enough. Be one with nature or die.” – Dr. Glen Barry

By Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet
Living in an era of precipitous environmental decline, it is hard to know what to do with oneself. Most choose to just muddle through life, spending all their time working hard in order to be able to enjoy the last ill-gotten fruits of ecological devastation.
What a meaningless existence to be concerned only with the stimulation of your nerve endings, to love only a relatively small group of family and friends, and have no further connection with the profound wonders to be found in the natural order.
Humans evolved from the same genes as all life and are utterly one with the natural world. Whether we know so or not. Our evolutionary history goes back billions of years. We are part of a miraculous web of life, whereby life begets life, and the sum total of all life – the biosphere – is itself a living entity. Flowers, genes, meadows, wildlife, ecosystems, and landscapes are our kin.
Sadly, this living global ecological system is collapsing and dying as human industrial growth systematically destroys the very habitat necessary for our shared survival and well-being.
Most have been more than willing to trade this epic eco-evolutionary lineage for a world of toxics, violent video games, mindless television, perma-war, wage slavery, and ongoing and intensifying ecological diminishment. Resource scarcity, a global economy, and the rise of artificial intelligence mean middle class bourgeoisie lifestyles are shrinking fast. Dwindling natural ecosystems continue to be tilled and paved. All the violent, misogynist imagery in music and movies definitely coarsens and cheapens the real world of plants, lovers, stars in the sky, and wildlife.
Who can blame opioid addicts for seeking to numb the existential horror of meaninglessness found in the post-modern era? Similarly America’s epidemics of gun-based mass murders and rise of the fascist right are caused by an emptiness found in contemporary society. These terrible epidemics are the direct result of fewer opportunities for personal gratification as profoundly inequitable consumer violence murders a living Earth.
More stuff is not the answer
To be ecologically and socially aware is to be constantly confronted with dilemmas. What are we to do when the doctor says to eat more fish and you know the ocean’s fisheries are collapsing? How has perpetually having more as many have nothing been universally accepted as development? How does one go to work in the modern economy knowing your actions in sum with others are killing Earth?
How tragic that relentless modern techno-optimism’s quest for human comforts has spawned an ecological apocalypse.
Primordial, pre-modern humans were part of something that mattered. Like a cell in an organism, indigenous ways of being were part of the larger whole. Imagine the thrill of being the hunter as well as the hunted, knowing your bioregion intimately and how to use natural materials to meet your every need, lifetime intimate loving relationships with your kin and surrounding life, sitting with friends around the fire pit in the forest peering out to boundless endless stars and trying to make sense of it all.
Now as we seek to make a sensible, satiating life on a dying planet there is very little if anything that is special and of real truthful importance to care about. By and large we live empty, atomistic lives, cut off from each other and our rightful place enmeshed within a vibrant, living natural world. We live programmed, brain-washed lives in service to non-existent gods, fake countries, and illusory consumption.
What is there to believe in that matters? What is the meaning of life (other than popular entertainment’s silly suggestions of 42 and pictures of penises)? How is one even able to find any sort of profound meaning, sense of purpose, and righteous intent and action in a post-modern, pre-apocalyptic world? What can possibly matter when the mere act of being is destroying your host and 3.5 billion years of naturally evolved life, the only life of which we are currently certain?
To bring a child into a dying world is an act of negligent homicide to the child and our shared Planet. Unimaginable horrors await all of us, indeed already afflict hundreds of millions of fellow human beings and countless members of other species, unless we end war, learn to share, stop destroying natural ecosystems, and end burning of fossil fuels.
Howl at the moon
We must find our way back to the garden. Our only hope, and the only meaning for remaining human being, is to be part of the transition to a sustainable, just, and equitable world. A glorious, truth-filled existence can best be found in service to nature.
Personal efforts to cut consumption and be green are of course justified but they are far, far from sufficient. The only means of achieving global ecological sustainability is collective action to immediately stop biological diminishment and restore nature. That is destruction of nature must itself be destroyed.
The magnitude of change required to avert biosphere collapse is mind-boggling. There are innumerable environmental and social movements doing good work (but watch out for greenwash). Join with an established effort or start a group of your own. Being part of #TheResistance to a charlatan demagogue is worthwhile but we must think bigger, and come together in mass action to stop the ecocide of nature that is killing us all.
We have to stop the cutting, lashing, puncturing, burning, and lacerations occurring to natural ecosystems – the water, soil, oceans, air, forests, animals, and plants that sustain us – or shortly we face painful and enduring utter ruin.
Stopping ecocide at all costs is the only justification for existence at this pivotal moment in the human family’s being. Even as you earn a wage to pay off debts, work to transition yourself to an ecologically righteous existence as you go back to the land, and make sure to come together as one human family to say no to the end of nature.
The meaning of life is nature, and universal embrace of an ecology ethic before the biosphere collapses is all that really matters anymore.
Bathe in the forest. Grow plants. No more burning. Stop bulldozers. Howl at the moon. Know how much is enough.
Be one with nature or die.


  1. Dear Glen,
    It is very depressing knowing that humans are living unsustainably. However depressing, know that earth will survive without them.
    Yes, many non-human species are going extinct and many mammals will die. However, know that there is a reason and a cause and effect. No one ever gets away with anything. Even if you don’t believe in God, there is still is mathematics, energy.
    All we can do is the best we can do. As of know, I swear I am not going to reincarnate unless I am a Buddhist in a temple, meditating or so rich I can save the world. How pathetic is that? I dare them to give me a terminal disease. “Give me something good to die for to make it beautiful to live.” I won’t randomly kill people, I will expire the bad people.
    By the time I was 12 I decided I wouldn’t procreate because I thought humans were that mean, cruel. 30 years later, there are soooooo many more reasons. I am not a fan of humans, overall.
    Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not. ~ Theodor Seuss Geisel

  2. Hi Glen,
    Another well stated discourse on the sate of the world and humans’ apparent blindness in understanding the situation or at least admitting it as we rush headlong towards inevitable apoclaypse. I’d be most interested to know how much of a following you are receiving statewide and also globally. I for one am doing what I can here in my native New Zealand aand we now have a much more enlightened coalition Government that is making some long-overdue changes/efforts towards realising the relevance of sustainability, and we have ~32% of our country formally protected to retain a representative range of natural ecosystems, though a range exotic plants and animals remain a serious challenge. But keep up the goof fight Glen; you are far from alone and some of us are certainly with you!

  3. Glen, send me a permalink for this essay. I want to send people there in the next issue of Bobbing Around.

  4. Hi Glen
    Thanks for all your fantastic work, especially as the planet seems to be in the grip of an irrational and collective refusal to believe what’s happening in front of their eyes, and that humans are the cause.
    Many thanks
    All the best

  5. Lost, untaught, absent in the understanding and minds of most humans in this present overarching culture, are simple recognitions that led to hundreds of thousands of years of human intimacy with the rest of life.
    Both science, from physics and chemistry to biology and the life and behavioral sciences, and our natural ancient traditions, some still healthy and existing, tell us clearly how deeply a part of nature we are.
    I can cite numerous language names used to identify the basic processes of breath, which permeates all flora and fauna. Spirit MEANS breath in your language – you, other animals, plants, all inspire, expire, respire, in all their meanings.
    When you breathe, you exchange CO2 for oxygen, which you use to make energy to move, sense, break down and absorb food. The CO2 so directly useless to us animals is eagerly taken in by plants from the microscopic single cells of the great oceans to the massive redwoods just outside my window.
    The word spirit, which has been so misused by out-of-touch fabricating minds, is just that – breath, the invisible (hopefully ) air that moves in undetectable as well as hugely visible ways in tornadoes, waterspouts, clouds (sometimes appearing to emanate from cold breath).
    THe Algonquian & Ojibwe languages use the word Manitou, and the gitchi manitou, the great wind, was translated by missionaries to mean great spirit a cognate to their source of life, which they, the proselytizers, called “god.”
    But from Cree to Lakota, this sometimes borrowed word manitou always meant ineffable carrier, distributor, giver of life.
    They knew that all things that live required air,and saw how growing, eating, shedding, death, all redistributed both this invisible property, and the visible constituents of solid bodies.
    Without microscopes, they knew that organisms dissipated into translatable parts that were picked up and distributed , mixed and becoming part of EVERY other sensible part of life.
    This in fact is how they imagine the presence of ancestors – as everywhere in the air, the land, the water, in all plants and animals. Thus they recognized that the mind itself senses traded presence, that the past still forms life, taking observing and influencing ever-new part.
    Worldwide, other nations, other tribes also recognize this.
    In far Siberia, I heard a tale of how humans long ago forgot their relationship with the other animals, and how that dissociation led to mistreatment, and taking of too much, including space and the lives of other beings. They desperately sought to find a way to once again communicate with the humans, who had forgotten the natural language that all share.
    The Great Sky is the Mongol and high Asian prime mover – it includes the air and weather, the sun, which can be accurately described as sine qua non – nothing grows without its radiation.
    Humans cannot directly contact it, as it is pretty equally interested in all its children.
    But the animals found a way through its wisdom to once again enable humans to understand. You might envision this through the use of your senses and observation powers to see life springing from the earth, and the animals eating of it, and the animals eating of them, and of reproduction and seeds and warmth and seasons.
    The tale is not for this discussion, except to describe a few, whose place in society it is, to keep us in this caring discourse with our relatives, the other life of earth.
    There still exists a tribe I know of, who caution that we should not dig into the earth, for it is a wrong which may release more death than we would prefer – now there is an allegory with validity!
    With enough ecological and biological education, combined with pure observation of life and death, we can perceive that we have ALWAYS known our deep relationship with all that exists. Uncounted centuries of attention and inference, characteristics shared by other organisms right down to single cells and the molecules they sense and avoid or make use of, or commensally live among, led many organisms to functionally depend upon all who surrounds them.
    You are not different, and your life and death, and ALL your processes parallel the processes of all others. This is the basis of respect and of reverence; for all who ever lived, and all that will ever live, participates in this giving and taking of the gifts that all give.
    Although I am just a single organism pursuing understanding of biology, ecology, behaviors and cognitions of living organisms (the molecular processes of nucleotides and neurons, of RNA and enzymes, of hormones and pheromones, of dopamine systems and caudate nuclei accumbens, of ears and eyes, and fleet wings and feet, of slow migrations by remarkably accurate abscission of seeds and pollen to the katabatic winds of advancing and receding glaciers in the vast seasons of their increase and withdrawal), I am very acutely a part, a young relative to all, from the electromagnetic warmth of the sun that brought forth our senses, to the necessary cold and dark of space, which cools and tempers our daily and yearly lives.
    You, too, are participant, like the deciduous leaves who for their time, gather energy, breathe, and one day fall to dissipate into what becomes air, water, others.
    I lived with a wolf, watching his astonishing quickness of sense, motion, taking, shedding, and mutual giving with the natural world he was so made to balance and share, communicate and absorb. Some dawns we would lookup at the Turkey Vultures spreading their wings. They, too, silently took what was no longer of value to past self-creators, and pass those constituents beyond our ability to ever completely know. For me, he was the great teacher that all is change, as I saw him take and give life, communicate concisely and more quickly than the incomplete narrative of words. You may look to the lives and deaths of lovers and offspring, to finally find that great flow and the delicate and vulnerable pricelessness of each being, and their passing of gifts.
    Nothing is unworthy of reverence; all that you ever see has importance and beauty beyond the scope of your imagination.
    When you see a totem pole or read or hear of clans (totem itself is from the Ojibwa – ototeman: “he’s my brother”) or wonder why purposeful offering is made to the earth, to some spirit of bear or shark or seasonally-swelling river, now you know that it is a reaffirmation of our participation, equally , integrally, with all others.
    So, inherently, life is mysterious, as mystical as clouds parting for coyotes racing on a ridge, for only an instant, or the twisted agile shape of high bristlecones who have lived and gathered and given for longer than human civilizations. They seem to be still, but are never so.
    Without mortality, we could never have evolved the complex molecules and neural communications we feel as love. Such vital impulses as they transmit should be recognized and embraced by you every waking moment, for without this, we will merely sink back into that destructive state the Buryat tell that the rest of the animals, the rest of life, desperately desired, we abandon, returning to recognition for the survival and amicability of all, including ourselves.
    At every moment, with every breath, notice that you are breathing in atoms once held, shared, passed on by dinosaurs, stromatolites, trilobites, jellyfish, eagles, waving grains, hurricanes, and your and my very human great grandparents. Feel yourself giving out what was once you, eagerly being accepted by ancient cedars and sequoias, to become themselves along the wild waves of time.
    You can be a theoretical physicist or a waiter, a writer or a sailor – most of what you perform will be this process which I’ve tried to describe. It will be your most important work, your gift of greatest value to life – to have sifted and accumulated it, and shared it.
    What you manufacture for humans is insignificant compared to this participation. Take wonder and pleasure in it, and consciously give equal respect to all that lives, all that as, all that will.
    And starting here, you’ll fix the missteps we have made!

    1. Incredibly beautiful and valuable. One of the greatest truths that I pray all human beings everywhere can wake up to. Thank you.

  6. Hi Glen,
    You’ll be glad to know I’m dedicating a major portion of my time to fundraising for conservation groups. Short of a full out nuclear war this is the biggest issue facing humanity.

  7. to put a slightly slant to your topic, Glen it’s said “All good men or women have to do for evil to prevail is nothing”. We must trust and there is some evidence that or descendents will do better than us in caring for the planet and its ecosystems. Tread lightly and hope to leave the world better than when we came; nothing more is possible outside the sphere of persuasion that is best done by our own actions.

  8. Some bullet points:
    1) If population overshoot is not swiftly and significantly reversed (especially in the so-called developed countries, where per-capita consumption is orders of magnitude greater than in the poorest countries), there is no hope of avoiding disaster. The size of the world’s population has almost tripled in my lifetime (59 years). The size of the planet, and the amount of resources it can provide, have not.
    2) If industrial/consumer capitalism is not abolished overnight, there is no hope of avoiding disaster. Our consumption habits are grinding the planet and all other species into dust, which therefore means we are also committing planetary ecocide and eliminating the very habitats and resources that WE depend on for our food and our supply of drinking water.
    3) So-called ‘green technology’ and ‘renewable energy’ so far meet only 20% or so of the world’s energy needs. They also require very significant inputs of fossil fuels for their manufacture, transportation, installation and maintenance. They are not a viable substitute for high energy-density fuels such as jetfuel, the diesel used for trucking goods by road, or the heavy fuel oil used by ships. They are not capable of preventing disaster.
    4) Our corrupt, oligarchic politics and their capture of state institutions and ‘democratic’ governance across the globe, plus the inability of our interlinked, growth-focused economies to contract without a subsequent financial collapse, mean that there is no hope of a top-down change of direction and avoiding disaster.
    5) In our end-stage capitalism, the inability of corporations to significantly expand their activities and profits beyond their existing territories has motivated them to start cannibalizing their own host societies. This is already leading to social and political disaster.
    6) Most people living in industrialized and urban societies have lost all meaningful connection with Nature and respect for the natural world, except as just another form of entertainment and source of curious factoids. To them, it is mainly an endless piggy-bank to be raided for their own convenience and pleasure. When such an attitude predominates, there can be no hope of avoiding disaster.
    7) We are in the early stages of an abrupt baked-in climate change that is rapidly accelerating, and is about to change our environments (both locally and globally) beyond our worst nightmares. Here especially, there is no hope of avoiding disaster. The last chance to avert it was about 50 years ago.
    8) We are done for, both as a species and as a planet. No other reasonable conclusion is possible.

  9. I have been doing exactly what you prescribe working for the benefit of a 42 acre broad-leaf woodland in Devon for 12 years. I had even hoped that I could prove that working with woodlands could be the most profitable and rewarding — so money would begin to flow into woodlands with the side effect of increasing carbon sequestration.
    Now all I can do is stand with the woodland against the onslaught, ready, but not prepared. My only change to what you are say would be at the end. Not ‘Be one with nature or die’, but ‘Be one with nature and die’.
    I know of what I speak, since over the past 5 years I have been compiling the Environmental Change Monitor database of 33,000 ++ articles designed to give the the ability to see the full picture through the lens of 233 continually updated categories. (We aim to publish it online in January.) The collapse is accelerating on All sides.
    Our struggle for survival as individuals and species is what breaks the bond making us more important than a beautiful life giving plankton.
    Now people will be forced to be one with a dying nature. Otherwise they will die alone in anguish and incomprehension.

  10. Dr. Barry – you mention “ecology ethic,” something I have also seen in a research paper a while back. Do you articulate this concept in an earlier article or recommend any sources for a fuller explanation?

    1. Hi Jude I refer to the ecology ethic from time to time and searching on the site should reveal those references. With your prompting I am planning my next essay to more fully fill out the concept. Thanks!

  11. Too many people and environmental groups are AFRAID to name the problem, which is the uncounted millennia of MALE DOMINATION OF WOMEN.
    MALE DOMINATION OF WOMEN caused overpopulation which caused EVERY crisis we now face
    By Elaine Charkowski
    Free to Post and Share
    Everyone who works for social justice, stopping global warming and saving the environment will continue to just rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic unless male domination of women is dealt with!
    Connect the dots!
    • AGRICULTURE is often blamed for the human population explosion and the resulting destruction of Nature. However, for thousands of years, many tribes have cultivated small garden plots but kept their populations stable because women controlled their child bearing. Thus, with a small sustainable population, small gardens were enough to feed the tribe. There was no need for mass industrialized agriculture and it’s use of pesticides, herbicides, etc.
    • MALE DOMINATION OF WOMEN drives mandated and culturally coerced pregnancy.
    • MANDATED AND CULTURALLY COERCED PREGNANCY drives overpopulation which is great for the capitalist global economy but not for the Earth!
    • OVERPOPULATION drives economic growth due to women’s mostly involuntary re-production of consumer/worker/soldier/breeder units. More than seven billion humans buy a lot more stuff and burn a lot more fossil fuel than two billion did in 1940. This is great for the capitalist global economy but not for the Living World.
    • ECONOMIC GROWTH drives habitat destruction by changing the Living World into the Built World of pastures, farmland, cities, manufactured stuff and money for an ever increasing human population to consume.
    • HABITAT DESTRUCTION drives the Sixth Major Extinction.
    Reproductive rights for ALL the world’s women would slow the growth of, and eventually humanely reduce the human population.This is because most women do not choose to have more children than they can feed and care for.
    A reduced human population would save the Living World since fewer humans, (both vegans and meat eaters), would consume less habitat for both pasture and farmland. Fewer humans would reduce deforestation, burn less fossil fuel and reduce global warming.
    War would also decrease because women’s involuntary industrialized re-production of soldiers would no longer be mandated. The supply of soldiers would eventually run out as they killed each other off.
    However, men will never relinquish their appropriation of the uterus! Losing control of women as livestock would threaten their global economy!
    If women took back control of their bodies, Patriarchy (the global Earth-devouring, male-dominated capitalist social system) would collapse and the Living World would breathe a sigh of relief.
    But shhh! Never mention male domination of women! Dance around it and only name the symptoms!
    Overpopulation, (if it’s even mentioned at all) is the MAIN SYMPTOM of the male domination of women which caused ALL the other symptoms (global warming, ocean acidification, war, pollution, desertification, deforestation, drought, famine, habitat destruction, endangered species, etc).
    What to Do
    1. IMMEDIATE international action must be taken to enable EVERY women on Earth to have reproductive rights.
    2. Every soldier from every military on Earth (tens of millions of them) must be deployed to plant billions of trees, restoring habitat and cleaning up pollution instead of killing people.

    3. 3.75 billion emergency vasectomies would slow and reverse the human population explosion. Since one man can impregnate many women, it’s time to regulate MEN’s bodies for a change.

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