Apart from reading, I typically spend my free time watching and spiraling into the endless labyrinth of suggested videos on YouTube. One of my favorites to binge-watch is the educational channel started by the brother tandem of John and Hank Green called “Crash Course.” Their channel features diverse topics on history, philosophy, and the natural sciences which they present in a fun, engaging, and easy-to-understand way. It is my go-to channel whenever there’s a complex history or science topic I want to understand right away.
John Green, half of the Crash Course brothers, is an American content creator, podcaster, and the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, and Turtles All the Way Down, among others. The Anthropocene Reviewed, published in 2021, is his first nonfiction book. It is a collection of essays based on his podcast of the same name, where he reviews “different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.”
Naturally, as an anthropology and nonfiction geek, I didn’t want to let this book pass me by. Written in a fun and friendly language, the book discusses a wide array of things from people, nature, and cultures to dinosaurs, video games, books, and movies. If you want to delve into the things that make us who we are, then this book is for you. Here is why Filipinos should read The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green.
Crash course on history and literature
Living up to the “crash course” brand, The Anthropocene Reviewed is filled with historical references and literary quotes that John Green uses to relate to his life experiences, and to some extent, to the experiences of us all. Green’s profuse inclusion of quotes from the likes of Susan Sontag, Milan Kundera, William Faulkner, Alice Walker, John Berger, and Robert Frost to name a few, serves as an introduction to some of the renowned writers and activists. This does not only add to our knowledge of literature but also makes the book deeper in terms of its reflection on various aspects of our humanity. This also shows John Green’s wit in storytelling, where he makes stories more interesting without sacrificing their substance.
Fake news and delusions
One of the most important and relatable things I got from the book is how many of us are susceptible to believing the most ridiculous things on the internet. This is true not only in the US, where Green lives, but more so here in the Philippines.
But what makes this more disastrous for Filipinos is that we are among the top countries who spend the most time on social media, where most of the outright falsehood, deception, and disinformation on the internet happen. Our constant exposure to these lies insidiously erodes our capacity to make informed opinions and engage in truthful and fruitful discussions. Since we can no longer ascertain what’s true and what’s not, this in turn affects our ability to make sound decisions. And this has certainly been the case, especially in the past years.
However, our susceptibility to accept the lies we see on the internet can neither be solely blamed on the recent rise of internet usage nor on a single entity. The problem of fake news and disinformation is a multilayered one. Our miseducation has been around for so long, brought by the terrible state of our social institutions that withers away not only our quality of life but also our ability to think critically. The current social condition makes it ripe for us to fall for false promises of our leaders, who also fuel our delusions.
While it may sound hopeless, there’s an urgent need to hold the line and push back against this trend. We should continue to strive for truth by equipping ourselves with knowledge and skills to spot these lies and falsehoods. One way to do this is to be literate not only in the mere ability to read words, but more importantly, in the ability to contextualize and corroborate information before clicking the Share button.
Another one that we humans like to believe is that we are the most awesome creatures on the planet. We tend to think that we are above and have the dominion over all other species because we are humans—we have big brains; we can invent and can do a lot of fun things; we can maintain communities and big cities, and so on.
But our sense of entitlement of being the most important species is plainly just that: a sense of entitlement. It is not to say that human life doesn’t have any value—of course, it does. However, when viewed on a much grander scale, we are really not that important than we think we are. Come to think of it, the earliest ancestors of modern humans only appeared on the surface of the Earth a few hundred thousand years ago. If you put that in the perspective of a 24-hour history of Earth with 00:00 midnight as the starting point, our species arose only at around 23:59, a minute shy of the next day.
The irony of this 24-hour analogy is that we have been on this planet for a very short time yet we contribute the most to its destruction. And this is what John Green wants us to realize with his essays on the human-centered planet: that we are one with nature and not outside of it looking in; that we are temporary dwellers; and that Earth, and all the other species, will still be here even if we’re not. And that, for me, should not be a depressing idea but a humbling one.
Living our lives
Given that perspective, how do we now make sense of our existence? How do we live our lives? For the longest time, thinkers and philosophers have been trying to explain how and why we are here. While there’s no one way and that nobody should dictate how we live our lives, there are certainly some general guidelines for us to think about or follow.
Despite his criticisms on our human-centeredness, John Green also highlights several things that we can be proud of as humans. For example, humans, being a thinking species, have the capacity for wonder. We may have caused a lot of problems to our planet and other species but we also have the brain power to solve them, to make a positive impact, and to make meaningful relationships with fellow human beings. These are the essential things that give meaning to our life. We are here for one another. We are here to feel, to love, and to hope.
Hope for the future
We have come so far as a species. From our origins in the African savanna, we were able to build empires, civilizations, and metropolises. We have grown in numbers from a few hundred thousand to almost eight billion. We have explored, settled, and mapped out every continent of the world and now, we are on our way to sending people to Mars. Our journey has not been all smooth sailing though, as we have also experienced countless wars, famines, economic crashes, climate change, and pandemics. Nevertheless, we are still here and we still have a long way to go.
At present, we are constantly bombarded with new challenges, pressures, and impossible expectations in this highly capitalist social order. These have caused us to be more anxious, depressed, and lonely. Thus, looking forward, I sympathize with John Green’s sentiment and aspiration in trying to create a stable community in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured, and where everyone has the equal shot to flourish. May we find and define our meaning and purpose, and reach our full potential for ourselves and others. In the end, I hope we all win in life.
I give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars. ☁️