So, doomsday. While we cannot predict the form the collapse of civilization will take—pandemic, zombie apocalypse, children’s shows—all things are transient and it is certain that our era will eventually reach its end. And yet, that does not mean those who are left will be freed from the necessity of having an occupation.
What possible jobs could there be after the apocalypse?1 I am so glad you asked.
Person Who Is No Longer Alive
If there’s one occupation sure to be vibrant and growing as civilization implodes, it is “corpse.” Whether from famine, the lack of basic medication, or surprisingly violent teddy bears, many persons will transition to a non-metabolic lifestyle. The bad news is the pay is poor and the hours are long. The good news is the work is something you can successfully accomplish lying down.
It’s not clear that any living person survived the zombie apocalypse in the backstory of Tanith Lee’s 2014 novel Zircons May Be Mistaken. That does not mean that there are no longer any active entities. The five very different ghosts haunting a decaying stately mansion are beyond the ability of any flesh-eating undead to affect, for they no longer possess flesh. The scholar’s shade is the first to realize that zombies do not enjoy any immunity to ghosts. Each zombie is an empty shell the ghosts may slip on like an overcoat. The results are curiously life-affirming for a tale in which everyone is dead.
Librarians will not merely preserve the paper books2 that survive the firestorms, angry mobs, and unseen things from the zorth direction. They may well play a role disseminating the precious knowledge they’ve saved when society is once again ready to embrace its heritage.
The travelling Librarians in Sarah Gailey’s 2020 novel Upright Women Wanted roam from town to town, providing a carefully curated selection of books designed to avoid the ire of the oppressive patriarchal state… at least, that’s their official role. The Librarians follow a creed not beholden to the state, one they keep hidden from their supposed masters. For Esther, the Librarians seem to offer escape. To the Librarians, runaway Esther brings with her the peril of official attention that they might not survive.
Even in the absence of a formal government, people may still need to send messages to other people. As long as literacy survives, letters are a sustainably low-tech way to manage this. Someone will have to convey the messages. Thus, a rewarding, quite possibly respected, occupation for as long as one can dodge bandits.
Gordon Krantz, protagonist of David Brin’s 1982 novella The Postman, adopted a postal worker’s garb out of necessity. Bandits had stolen from Krantz most of his supplies, including his jacket and boots. The dead postal worker found inside a derelict mail truck provided replacements. Having adopted the uniform, Krantz found himself adopting the dead man’s job as well… playing a small but vital role in the rekindling of civilization.
Even the most miserable survivor of the most calamitous apocalypse will crave entertainment. Indeed, the worse the world is, the more the pitiful inhabitants may desire distraction from daily realities. A performer could well be valuable enough to convince their community to keep them from the cooking pot… at least as long as they remain sufficiently amusing.
Uncle Fluffy of Kurt Pankau’s 2022 Uncle Fluffy’s Post-Apocalyptic Sing-Along earns his living as an itinerate children’s entertainer. Wandering from compound to shanty town, Uncle Fluffy delights the kids of the inevitable hellscape which is to come while educating them with songs about such socially relevant subjects as childhood starvation, the dangers of infection in a post-antibiotics world, and why horny teens should never be left alone with each other. Ever.
If there is one thing the rapidly dwindling population of an increasingly horrible world will need, it is hope. Sufficiently charismatic people can turn their charm into a social movement, uplifting the spirits of those around them with the promise of better days to come (or at least the opportunity to abuse those who the messiah holds responsible for the current unpleasantness3).
The Twenty-Minute War and the pandemics that followed left a darkening world seeming doomed to poverty, ignorance, and brutality. Edgar Pangborn’s 1974 “The Children’s Crusade” is the tale of one Abraham, a saintly man who believed there could be a better world. The tale is told by one of the few survivors of Abraham’s crusade. Although Abraham himself soon perished (as such people do), his memory is revered by later republics and kingdoms… none of whom ever allow Abraham’s benevolent creed to affect social policy.
These are just a few of the abundant occupations available in the ruins of civilization. I did not even mention warlords, bandits, or the surprising abundant fetish-wear providers to which said warlords and bandits seem to have access in various post-apocalyptic movies.4 Perhaps I overlooked your favourite apocalyptic occupation. If so, please extol their virtues in comments below.