I have to admit, I really enjoyed writing this piece and have enjoyed discussing it even more. Some follow-up comments are at the end.
I was listening to some REM yesterday when I began to wonder why it seems like every time I turn on the television, I am bombarded by end of the world programming- The Nostradamus Effect, Life after People, Lost book of Nostradamus....why not just tune in for a whole week of Armageddon programming as advertised by the History Channel ? Just can't get enough ? It is rumored that a television series based on the recent blockbuster 2012 is being considered as a replacement for Lost. I usually enjoy watching the History Channel, Discovery etc. with the kids because they have some pretty good shows that are a bit more educational than Sponge Bob or Ren and Stimpy- okay, maybe not Ren and Stimpy but you get my point.
Recent programming, however, makes me wonder if blocking both porn and the History Channel might not be a bad idea. My older son (age 9) has been pretty upset about the whole end of the world media blitz that we are being subjected to and he has every right to be so. After all, when you are 9, the prospect of being vaporized before you turn the ripe old age of 12 has to be pretty upsetting. It reminds me of another kid that was always worried about the end of the world- me. When I was my son's age, it wasn't television that pushed the whole end of the world agenda, it was a book "The Late Great Planet Earth" by Hal Lindsey that my father read and then rather absentmindedly decided to share with the whole family. Armageddon, nuclear war, revelation all mixed up into a potent cocktail that scared the living hell out of me. (I'm happy to note that my old friend Hal is still making a living peddling his bullshit as evidenced by his rather snazzy website. Despite the fact that he was completely and utterly wrong in his assertion that the world was going tits up in 1981, 2012 has breathed new life into his career from what it looks like.) Seeing my son so upset really pissed me off so I decided it was time to sit down and talk through what he was thinking.
While discussing our imminent demise at the hands of planet X, avenging angels or a return of the Smurfs, I taught my son about Occam's Razor "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem" which is a lovely little theory to apply to situations like this. What is more likely- a) The Mayans were able to predict the future and identify the exact date the world is going to end. b) The media has found out that pushing Armageddon sells lots of advertising so they are throwing together programming that supports this conclusion. Congratulations, if you chose "b" you are a rational human being. If you chose "a," please get back to work on your bomb shelter and tinfoil helmet.
What is it in the human mind that just loves predicting our fate ? I think eschatology, prophecy and all of that fun stuff is simply hardwired into our brains. I saw an interesting show the other night on PBS (actually Armageddon free, which was nice) where a scientist noted that we are only species that worries about the future. Zebras, for example, have been observed being attacked by a pride of lions, escaping and then nonchalantly munching grass 5 minutes later a short distance from the lions that chased them in the first place. Unlike the zebras, we constantly worry and obsess about the future- money, our jobs, our families, the economy, the weather, our kids etc. Add a pinch of special effects, a cup of Mayan prophecy that I don't think anyone has actually read, a dash of Nostradamus and the human brain starts accelerating into a brick wall.
Time to throw on the brakes. I think that the prospect of the world ending December 21st, 2012 holds some appeal, especially for those that are living miserable, unfulfilled and unhappy lives. A date certain for destruction somewhat alleviates us of the drudgery of getting up for work, dragging ourselves to our jobs, dealing with the boss and waiting for the next paycheck. What's more scary than December 21st, 2012 ? December 22nd, 2012 when you awake with an Armageddon party induced hangover, stare at the cold December sky and realize that making photocopies of your ass at work the day before probably wasn't the best idea.
"A-ha" you say, "you won't be laughing when you die on December 21st, 2012 !" Guess what cupcake, we are all going to die. I think that the avoidance of the subject of death in modern Western civilization has led to a generation of people that think they are going to live forever. I'm going to die, you're going to die, we're all going to die. "Strive diligently, for all things must pass" were the words of the Buddha and they are as relevant now as they were over 2000 years ago. I don't know if I'm going to kick off on December 21st, 2012...or maybe 2011...hey, I've got good genes I should at least reach 2050 unless I'm a total loser. Car wreck, heart attack, cancer, plane crash, who knows ? All I know is that I'm going to die at some point and I'm fine with that fact. Try meditating on that fact sometime. It makes life even better.
As the clock continues to tick down to December 21st, 2012, the media drumbeat goes on. The plethora of doomsday television shows and books continues to roll off the assembly lines, proving once again that nothing sells as well as potential disaster. You can take your pick of 2012 theories- magnetic pole shifts, mysterious planets slamming into earth, asteroids, demons, UFO's and somebody out there will sell you their theory on it and how to survive it.
Here's my theory and I'm not charging you a thing for it- it's bullshit, pure and simple. I'm beginning to think that this mania is tied to our fat and lazy existence here in the U.S. I seriously doubt that hungry people in Africa are agonizing over this or citizens in not so fun places like Iran or North Korea are worried that Planet X is going to slam into us in a couple of years. Our easy consumer driven lifestyle has created a demand for artificial fears- since we no longer have the primal fight/flee response sitting in Starbucks, we now have to replace the lion chasing us with maniacal theories to scare ourselves and remind us of our own mortality.
I would like to propose a bet with any 2012 proponent out there to put their money where their mouth is. I will pay them $ 100 cash money, right now, on the wager that nothing will happen in 2012. In return, if nothing happens, they will pay me $ 200 on January 1st, 2013. If you are completely sold on 2012, this is a no brainer- you get to enjoy $ 100 during your final days on earth, and know that it's a sucker bet for me since neither one of us is going to be around to collect my winnings when it all comes to a crashing end. Terms and conditions apply, subject to approval by my legal staff.
So come on people, are you gonna get your $ 100 and party like its 2011 ?
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