I’ve always been fascinated by books and movies about people surviving alone against nature: crossing oceans alone or finding one’s way through a mountain range, desert, or jungle. I am not quite sure what so intrigues me about this genre but I suspect it has something to do with my own independent nature and an interest in the outdoors. There have been a few books and movies of similar ilk that have recently, for me, supplied some fodder for reflection. A frequent theme among stories of this type is the one about the “last person on earth”. At gut-level, if I was in this situation, it seems like it would really be neat. I could hop in any car I wanted, drive as fast as I wanted, raid grocery and department stores, wear the best clothes and sleep in presidential suites at the best hotels.
But, if one goes beyond that instant perception, some “snags” crop up. How does loneliness begin to affect you? Without others, how does morality change and, consequently, how does my relationship with You evolve? There’s something very telling here about the nature of man. For all intents and purposes the contemplative hermit is the “last man on earth”, but without the temporal distractions. The “I-love-mankind-it’s-people-I-can’t-stand” mentality is really put to the test here.
Being fiercely independent in the midst of others may, in fact, be easier than if one were truly alone in the world since one cannot be independent if there is no one from whom to be independent. It therefore makes one utterly dependent upon whatever is left. All sanctions of morality narrow down to the acceptance or rejection of either an “I-Thou” or a “me-me” relationship. That which was meant to regulate us within society, family, community, neighborhood, etc., is gone.
So, here I am, the last man on earth; an earth still replete with material goods. The focus of survival now becomes very much a “me-me” thing. But what of “I-Thou”? When left entirely to myself, a “self” I mistrust, that is indeed the question: what of “I-Thou”? No one is looking anymore. There is no one for whom to be an example! But there would still be myself, and there would still be You. I wonder.