“Join together. SMASH THE STATE.”
This call to action— sprayed in sloppy gold paint on the cement wall—seemed oddly out of place. I stood in the skeletal shell of an old steel plant, surrounded by piles of crumbled brick and wonderingabout my last tetanus shot.
This industrial wreck was the aborted brainchild of Bob Cassilly, an architect famous for converting St. Louis’ old International Shoe factory into a multi-story playground. After finding this abandoned steel plant on the river, he decided to turn it into an adult theme park, complete with castles, swinging bridges and spiral staircases to the sky. In 2011, he died in a freak tractor accident, and the park never opened its doors.
The name Cassilly chose for the park has endured, even if the business hasn’t. Cementland: the word evokes some giant grey paradise, like a scene from the Jetsons. As my friend David and I slid through a hole in the fence, we found it was quite the opposite. Just a bunch of old steel buildings slowly turning to dust.
In the midst of this post-apocalyptic sprawl, the command to “SMASH THE STATE” (with the “A”s circled, in typical anarchist fashion) seemed kind of redundant. From where I stood, it looked like humanity—and whichever state governed it—had been soundly smashed for a hundred years.
Stairs were rusting away. Giant gears had tumbled from their axles to the earth below. Plants were sprouting through cracks in the cement, and a pond of goldfish had appeared in a drainage ditch. The land was taking back what we built on top of it.
Human extinction is something I like to think about, perhaps more than a healthy person should. In a thousand years, aliens will land on Earth and wonder who built all these damn football stadiums. The only artifacts of human creativity will be poorly drawn Sharpie phalluses, found like Lascaux paintings on the walls of middle school locker rooms. We will all be gone.
What struck me about this natural decay is that it was so peaceful. We humans like to pretend that the world without us is violent and crude. By building neat little eighteen-lane highways and installing sprinklers in our yards, we feel perversely gratified for returning the world to its natural order.
But this is just a silly lie we tell ourselves. I learned in high school physics that the cosmos flows inexorably towards disorder. The steady decay that humans fear is actually the default setting of our universe at rest. As I walked around Cementland, the only noises were my footsteps and the quiet rustle of leaves. Natural chaos is the most peaceful thing there is.
Which is why I’m beginning to feel strangely comfortable with the idea of human extinction. As David and I stepped out onto the warehouse roof, we looked up just in time to see a doe retreating over a nearby hill. We watched as her white tail disappeared in the tall grass. The saddest part about a post-human earth is that none of us will be around to see it.