"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The World Will End On December 21st

There is a rumor cycling through the Internet these days about the coming End Of The World on December 21, 2012.  Although there is no consistency to the reports on exactly how it will happen, there have been enough of these Doomsday scares to fertilize even the most blinkered imagination.  Most people believe in some extra-terrestrial calamity, like the giant renegade asteroid which will crash into New York City with the force of a trillion trillion mega-megatons of nuclear power.  This is the easiest to envisage because there have been so many movies about it,  and because it could happen.  An estimated 100,000 meteorites of any appreciable size make it through the atmosphere and land up on earth; and there have been some close calls.  There have been at least two brushes with huge asteroids heading our way in the past three years, and most of us feel it is just a matter of time.  We know about the asteroid which smashed into earth tens of millions of years ago, threw up so much dirt and dust that the sun’s rays were extinguished for decades, and the dinosaurs died out. It could happen to us.

Others, particularly those of a ‘progressive’ bent, believe that Armageddon will be man-made – a virus let loose from an experiment in a Defense Department laboratory that will quickly spread throughout the world.  No dearth of great movies about this scenario either. Dustin Hoffman was the hero in a recent one, and he not only saves the world but his true love, Rene Russo.  Kurt Vonnegut’s tales of Ice 9, fanciful and satirical as they were, come from the same man-made disaster pot.  Some scientist develops a substance that when dropped into North Korea’s lakes and rivers will freeze them up as tight as the Yukon in mid-winter; but he miscalculates, and the freezing goes from river to river, sea to sea, until the whole world’s water is frozen solid.

Still others believe that the end of the world will be not so cataclysmic.  Some powerful invading alien force will kill all earthlings but will leave the rest for their own needs.  In this scenario, they have pillaged and despoiled their own planet and need lebensraum.

Every so often a cartoon will show up in The New Yorker with a crazy-looking, bearded guy in a white robe, holding up a sign which says “Repent! The End of the World Is Nigh” with a funny in-joke about Wall Street.  

An article in BBC.com (Quentin Cooper 12.6.12) chronicles a bit of Doomsday history and offers some suggestions as to why we human beings persist in our beliefs that total catastrophe is just around the corner:

A Reuters poll earlier this year found that nearly one in four Americans and one in seven worldwide believe the world will end during their lifetime. In the UK the figure was less than one in 12.

Twenty-five percent of Americans believe that total catastrophe will occur soon, within the next few years. The Armageddon of flaming buildings, roiling waters, spewing volcanoes, raging seas, howling winds, murder, mayhem, and infinite chaos in say, 2030. 

It is not hard to fathom this, given the innumerable screeds I get sent about the end of the world as we know it because of Obama.  Conspiracy theories abounded during his first four years.  Some and the worst said that he was the Anti-Christ, the Devil incarnate who in a twist of Biblical prophecy had chosen to destroy God’s country once and for all.  Others were more eclectic (and creative), calling Obama the Anti-Christ and Siva, The Destroyer of the Universe.  This demonic creature would ravage the planet, starting with the United States, annihilate everything living thing, blast it back to the Stone Age and before, scorch it to its roots. 

Many of these Twenty-Five Percenters already have a Biblical basis for Armageddon. Here is one of my favorite passages:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:11-21).

The world is evil, goes this reading, and at some point God will be truly frustrated, angry, and seriously upset because His word was not obeyed.  This passage and others like it only hint at the pain and suffering that will come from a vengeful God. Quentin Cooper suggests another theory:

[I think that] this stems from our understandable difficulty grasping the walk-on part we all have amid the sprawling enormity of deep time. It is not easy to get our heads round the Earth having existed for billions of years, probably existing for millions if not billions more, and our own life in comparison – however long and fruitful – being an almost infinitesimally insignificant instant in the middle of it all. So fleeting and so far from either end of the story that many of us behave like individual black holes, mentally warping time to write ourselves into the grand finale. 

Hmm….A bit too esoteric for me.  A good chunk of The Twenty-Five Percenters don’t even believe that the world is that old, and think about the universe in much simpler terms.  The Garden of Eden is really pretty much recent history; and the very idea that most Americans have had even one metaphysical thought as they roll their carts down the aisles of Walmart is farfetched indeed.  Maybe we can ‘get our heads around’ the idea of black holes and ‘A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ but only in the movies.  To consider the concept that we are horribly small, insignificant, and alone in an unfeeling universe; and to embrace the idea of some big asteroid plummeting down on top of us as a validation of our worth and eternal nature, is, well, stretching it a bit.

I will give Cooper one thing, though.  Most of our love of creepy movies and being scared shitless by Jason or Freddie or by malignant, tormented souls back from Hell must have something to do with thoughts, however subliminal, about our own mortality.  Better to be beheaded and devoured by The Living Dead on the screen than get cancer or a heart attack. So the thought of total annihilation may reaffirm the fact that we are still alive; and may even be comforting because we will not face Death alone but alone with 3 billion other people.

I have never understood conspiracy theorists.  I have written extensively about this phenomenon (http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com/2012/10/conspiracy-theories.html) and have speculated along with psychologists and sociologists just why so many of us insistently want to believe irrationally.  No matter what the objective, vetted, peer-reviewed, historical evidence, we continue to believe unbelievable stories of world domination, insidious and unknown political operatives acting at the direction of great cabals of world dominators, and the Black Nationalism of our President.  Why is it more comforting or satisfying to believe in the irrational rather than the rational? What quirk in human nature leads us down this path? I wrote in the above-cited blog post:

The paranoid style, Hofstadter argued, was a result of ‘uncommonly angry minds’, whose judgment was somehow ‘distorted’. Following this vein, some scholars came to view conspiracy theories as a product of psychopathology, such as extreme paranoia, delusional ideation or narcissism… In this view, the delusional aspect of conspiratorial beliefs was thought to result in an incapacity for social or political action….

A belief in conspiracy theories is more likely to emerge among those who feel powerless, disadvantaged or voiceless, especially in the face of catastrophe. To use a contemporary example, believing that the 7/7 London bombings were perpetrated by the British or Israeli governments may be a means of making sense of turbulent social or political phenomena…

To the extent that conspiracy theories fill a need for certainty, it is thought they may gain more widespread acceptance when establishment or mainstream explanations contain erroneous information, discrepancies, or ambiguities. A conspiracy theory helps explain those ambiguities and provides a convenient alternative to living with uncertainty. Or that the human desire for explanations of all natural phenomena aids the conspiracist in the quest for public acceptance.

In my mind conspiracy theories and Doomsday scenarios are very much related.  They both cede the rational to the irrational and by so doing shore up a rather shaky worldview.

The fact that 25 percent of Americans but only 8 percent of Britons believe in an imminent Doomsday suggests that there is a cultural dimension to all this.  Europeans have always thought of us as wackos, and nothing ever surprises them.  American ‘exceptionalism’ has more to do with the Wild West, Hollywood trash, Las Vegas bimbos, and flying saucers than with political determinism.

So, let’s leave it at that.  Americans are wacko conspiracy theorists who will believe just about anything, so why not the flaming destruction of the world before the Toyota finally gives out.

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