Baby Shark and the End of the World

Will Buckingham
Jul 19, 2019 · 3 min read
Image: A basking shark. From A history of the fishes of the British Islands (1862–5) by Jonathan Couch. Public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

It is a sunny day. There is a cool breeze coming through the window of the apartment. Up in the branches of the trees, I can heard the sound of birds: wood pigeons, sparrows, crows. Opposite in the nursery school, the kids are singing along to the global super-hit Baby Shark. I know the words by heart now. Later, I will go for coffee, or walk down to the sea. And the song will be playing in my head.

On mornings like this, it is hard to understand that we are living through an unprecedented global crisis. Everything seems so calm. But sometimes, when the kids get to the end of relentlessly perky song, I feel uneasy: “It’s the end, doo doo doo doo doo doo / It’s the end…

Is it the end? I don’t know. We don’t know. I hope not, and we all hope not. But it is hard to know where the solutions will come from. The problems are so vast and so extensive, where do we even start? If we were properly rational, as the philosophers imagine we are, or as they claim we should be, we would be able to find solutions. But then, if we were properly rational, we would not be here in the first place. Even if we were rational and self-interested, we would not be here. Because here is in nobody’s interests.

But we are not rational beings, and we never were. And that includes the philosophers who stake their lives and their careers on reason. There is a kind of madly irrationality to the idea that we are, or ever could be, wholly rational agents.

We know enough now, here in the twenty-first century, to no longer believe in the fantasies of rationality, the idea of Man (and it is always gendered) as some kind of champion of reason. That is not us. It never was.

What are we? We are peculiar, evolved, bewildered primates, whose grasp on things has only ever been partial. And now we are looking at the world we have fashioned, and we are thinking ‘Oh, fuck!’

But still, we’ve not done badly for ourselves. We have developed a formidable knowledge of the world of which we are a part. Remarkably, we know about the global predicament we are in. Working together, we have managed to measure and model and forecast.

The only thing we don’t know is what we can do to get out of it. Of course, we have lots of ideas about how we should get out of it. But these ideas so often assume that we are properly rational beings. And we’re not.

So is there hope? I think there is. Because although we are not particularly rational, we are endlessly resourceful. We are filled with a weird, quirky inventiveness.

We can make a song as ridiculous as Baby Shark, and it can influence half the planet. This is a strange and miraculous thing.

Who knows what a primate who invents Baby Shark is capable of? It gives me hope that we will muddle through. It gives me hope that we will find a way out of this mess. It gives me hope that it is not the end.

Note: My friend Mary Valiakas asked me to write something for a project she’s doing at the Little Chill on the subject of what it means to be human today. I hadn’t intended to write about Baby Shark… but that is somehow how things ended up.

Wayward Things

Wayward Things is curated by philosopher and writer Dr. Will Buckingham. It is a place for thoughts on writing and philosophy, stories, snippets and ideas.

Will Buckingham

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Writing, philosophy, life. Next book “Hello Stranger: Stories of Connection in a Divided World” (Granta 2020).

Wayward Things

Wayward Things is curated by philosopher and writer Dr. Will Buckingham. It is a place for thoughts on writing and philosophy, stories, snippets and ideas.

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