J.D. Luedi is a listener from Canada and contributing writer for Stimulatedboredom.com. Images and minor edits by Dana.
We as a species seem to have a perverse obsession with our own demise. We just went through the latest bout of speculation and apocolyptic frenzy, and I am assuming that if you are reading this you haven’t been wisked away (if you have, well I am surprised Dana’s website is recieved up there, what with the phallic references, homoerotic overtures and all…plus I think Dana mentions donkeys more than the Bible does.)
When I read about this 89 year old crack pot (who by the way also predicted armageddon in 1994), I went through my usual process of guffaw, mockery and general disdain for the human condition. The media attention became tedious within a couple hours, as I had to be reminded of this idiocy everynow and then by some vaccous talking head. This kind of pseudo-news irks me, and is one of the reasons I don’t watch the tv news cycle anymore.
The fact that this gets any coverage, beyond as a two minute human issues / quirky local news fluff piece, is beyond belief. I was bemused that while the BBC and Al Jazeera had no mention of the story on their front pages, its was the biggest story on CNN.com. Personally I don’t even bother with American news syndicates anymore, however I have noticed a degredation in the quality of journalism in general. Even on my preferred news sites such as BBC.com, I often come across typos, and other mistakes that would get me chastized by my professors, let alone which should appear in “professional” sources. Makes me realize why news sources don’t count as academic sources for research papers.
Apparently celebrity tweets are also now news worthy, and I honestly don’t care about Sheen’s internationally televised breakdown…for all we know Japan is being attacked by radioactive pufferfish, but the news seems to operate via some strange combination of hysterical blindness, OCD, and ADHD. Thanks journalism…bravely going where National Inquirer and People Magazine were last week. Also, why does the news now show these new fangled “viral videos” – usually after the majority of the population has already seen them on a far faster medium: the Internet.
The main point behind this piece was to talk about our obession with our own doom, but I wanted to draw the link that a lot of the hype and frenzy over modern panics is perpetuated by overbearing media attention. The media seems to create news rather than report it anymore. Coming back to this latest Rapture deadline, its just another cocktail of idiocy, fear and superstitution, which seems to repeatedly befuddle our minds, to the point where even learned people consider that such a topic merits a place in the national consciousness and debate.
I remember being pretty scared on New Year’s Eve 1999, when all the news was fearmongering us into thinking that Y2K was going to destroy civilization as we knew it. I (in retrospect naively) believed that what the man on the TV said was totally true, after all everyone I trusted seemed to defer to him, so I was fearing for my life. It was a pretty scary thing for a nine year old to go through. Yet the chims tolled and the kisses were exchanged and I didn’t find myself having to fashion crude implements and shelter out of garbage to shield myself from all the airplanes falling out of the sky. This experience made me realize that the magic box did not consistently pontificate infallible truths, rather, quiet often it merely extrapilated issues ad absurdum.
During my short time on this planet I have come across a constant slew of instances heralding the apocolypse. Despite the frequency of such claims I am still surprised that many people still seem immume to the innoculation against such hysteria provided by a general knowledge of history and common sense.
Since I have been around the news has told me that we are all going to die from either, monkey pox, swine flu, mad cow disease, SARS, bird flu, Africanized killer bees, E. coli, drug resistant TB, anthrax letters, some non-existant terrorist super-network, school shootings, the LHC creating black holes, dirty bombs, frozen airplane toilet waste….and those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. While some of these might have originated from legitimate problems, the level of hype is always exponentially larger and more dramatic than any real threat.
Not to mention we still got 2012 to look forward to, all because some Mayan calender has to flip its next stone tablet over to continue the next section…(you got to question its prescience, if it can’t even predict the simple and arguably more pressing notion of ‘white people = bad’…sure the world will end in 600 years but by all means go hug Spaniards).
Being a history nerd, I often come across similar panics, which only diminishes my opinion of modern doomsday predictions, and as I often find, many of the world’s problems and much of its stupidity, could be rectified if people knew their history. There have been innumerable people claiming revealed knowledge of the end times. An Assyrian tablet from 2800BC predicted the imminent demise of the world, due to “troublesome youth and people wishing to become literate.” In 1033, a thousand years after Jesus’ death, all of Europe panicked thinking the worst; nothing happened. Nostradamus predicted various apocolyptic instances. 1666 was seen by many, in part due to the Great Fire of London, as the final year.
Minister William Miller convinced over 100,000 people that armageddon was in 1843-1844. Albert Porta predicted in 1919 that a six planet enlightment would cause solar flares to destroy the earth. Similarily a seven planet alignment was said to do the same in 1982. Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the end times in 1874, 1881, 1914, 1920 just to name a few.
In the early 1900s the tail of a comet which the Earth was to pass through, was found to have cyanogen gas in it. People in New York started buying gas masks, planning comet parties (not dissimilar to many atheists today who held rapture after parties), and generally panicking. Plus I don’t even need to mention the famous Orsen Welles radio broadcast.
I doubt that this trend will end anytime soon, as it has been with us since our earliest origins. Such obsession seems to posess a strong memotic pervasiveness and resiliance, evolving from age to age. We first believed that lightning storms heralded the wrath of the gods, later it was more devasting natural disasters and eclipses and diseases. With new spheres of knowledge came new conspiracies; innoculations were poison, asteroids were going to destory us, deadly germs were everywhere etc. While individuals peddling the rapture seem to be redulant of an earlier age, illicting more disbelief in more people, many of these same people become transfixed with fear and wonder by news of the latest man-made engine of doom.
Such harbingers of destruction and woe are now cloaked in modern contrivances (and therefore more “credible” than gods or myths), such as pseudo-science, hackneyed truisms or commonplace scientific illiteracy, yet they often still envoke the same primal responses in us, as the angry rumblings of the thunder god also once did.