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What? No End In Sight?

On a day like today, when I woke up with my stomach in my throat, my bed in a sea of quease, and my bowels grumbling, for a moment I considered wishing Harold Camping were right.  But, despite his promises, urges, calculations, and – when the world didn’t end in May as predicted – recalculations, today wore on with no sign of Armageddon approaching.  That is, unless, of course, you count all the signs that are cumulatively screaming that the end of the world as we know it is near.  Folks in the camp who say we are on the brink of TEOTWAWKI, as it is known in those circles, point to the following as indicators the end is coming fast: growing political and social unrestthe end of cash currency, stark economic disparity, increased natural disasters such as earthquakes (I’m granting here that the increase of earthquakes in particular is debatable), Hitchcockian “crazy, hairy ants” invading broad swathes of the southern United States, and the ever present threat of zombies (in Hollywood, and on Cracked.com anyway – but seriously this does appear on the list of end times signs of at least some doomsdayer soothsayers).

The inclusion of zombies in the broader apocalypse conversation appears to stem from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s blog post in May 2011 (just days before May 21, Camping’s most advertised end-times target), “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse,” in which the CDC gave evacuation recommendations and other guidance for dealing with a natural disaster in the guise of what to do in the event of a zombie invasion.  The blog post was intended to garner attention to an otherwise (perceived) snooze fest of a topic — which it did, and crashed the site temporarily in the process.  The fact that this normally boringly straight-laced federal agency would seize on suspicion of an impending faux catastrophe and poke fun at the apocalyptic Paul Reveres, is a strong indicator that, even if you’re not a believer that the end is near, others are.  At the least, it sure feels like, as is said in that Buffalo Springfield song, “Something’s happening here.  What it is ain’t exactly clear.”  Or, as captured by a recent ironic Occupy Wall Street protestor and his hand-painted sign, “This is a sign.

So what do all these “signs” mean?  And if there really is no impending end ahead, why on earth does it feel so much like there is?  I could be the only one feeling like this, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise: witness the prepper/survivalist movement which seems to have grown out of post 9/11 fears of more terrorist attacks but in recent years has taken on a life of its own, at least in the blogosphere (case in point – each of the preceding word/s is linked to a different blog or article relating to the prepper/survivalist movement, with one in there just in case you want to friend the Facebook page dedicated to defeating zombies).

My guess is that all the hype is just practice for next year, when folks are really going to get bent out of shape about the more longstanding predictions that 12/21/12, where the Mayan calendar drops off, will usher in the Great Big End.  The 2012 prediction has been around much longer than the upstart Camping’s and his group Family Radio’s more recent threats, and since Hollywood has done nothing to assuage our fears (see, e.g., 2012, and a whole host of recent other cinematic what-if exploitations).  As we close out this year without any prophesied calamities setting in (other than the very real ones noted above), I’m betting that the growing swirl of doomsday rhetoric and sentiment, unhampered by global political and social rest, may all be just preface to the panic and disorder to be distributed in the fourteen months ahead.

As for these 2012 predictions, I believe that our fears have been collectively cast onto this quirk in human history that really doesn’t mean much.  Who knows why the Mayan calendar stops on 12/21/12?  It could be to test our faith in our own ability to carry on.  It could be an old Mayan joke, cast on unsuspecting heirs.  It’s possible the Mayans just got tired, and decided to take a little break and never got back to it.  If the Mayans were so smart, and were not just pulling a futuristic prank on us, and that date really represents the End, don’t you think they’d have given us a more of a heads-up on it?  I mean, at least they could’ve drawn a little fire and brimstone.  I admit that I have done no serious study of the matter (unless you count me being up tonight web-browsing serious) and that I do not have any background that gets me anywhere near expert status, but I do agree that, as some suspect, people have been reading way too much into this Mayan calendar matter.  I suspect that 12/21/12 will come and go like 05/21/11 without incidence other than a little egg on the face of some zealots.  (I recently read Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacey Schiff (Brown & Co. 2010), where I learned that ancient civilizations had to reset their calendars multiple times before getting it right, with varying resulting inconveniences, but none of them God’s wrath.)  Another viewpoint, that maybe I could get on board with, is that the end of the Mayan calendar has no apocalyptic consequences, per se, but that it might be a turning point in human history, much the way the birth of a white buffalo in Janesville, Wisconsin, in the 1990s was viewed by some Native American tribes and other people.

But the question remains, “why now?”  Why is it now that there is such a strong undercurrent of instability of the status quo.  Is it really coming from vague fear of what might happen with the Mayan calendar ending?  Is it really just the aftermath of unrestrained fear post 9/11?  Is it the real worry that we’re not going to be able to get ourselves out of the environmental messes we’ve put ourselves in?  Or is something more?  Is it, like the zombies that dance in the shadows of our fear and humor, other monsters of our own creation that are unpredictable and capable of taking on lives of their own?

Recently, I posted MIA: Mourning Jobs, a critique of Jobs’ failure to use his company’s power to create jobs in America and turn Apple into a paragon of social responsibility.  I wrote something in it that was ill-informed.  I commented, essentially, that technology had advanced and is advancing at such a dizzying pace that even technology itself can’t calculate that pace.  Since then, I have discovered Moore’s law, which, roughly stated, was the observation and prediction of Intel co-founder’s Gordon E. Moore, first appearing in print in Electronics Magazine in 1965, that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit (or computer chip) inexpensively will double every two years.   Embedded in the theory of course is the recognition that there must be a limit to the trend, since it requires that the transistors get smaller and smaller.  They won’t just disappear.  Intel’s website identifies Moore’s law as the driving factor of the semiconductor industry, which is echoed by others who understand Moore’s law to have been a self-fulfilling prophecy since, as companies anticipated that their competitors would develop technologies in pace with the predicted trend, they pushed to get there first.  It seems widely accepted that, because of Moore’s law, devices have become more powerful and smaller.  The fact that I was able to write this and you are able to read it is just one minor example of the power of technology.

While we may daily witness the awe-inspiring capacity of modern computing, what we don’t see is that transistors on an integrated circuit are now so small that it would take 2,000 of them stacked on top of each other to reach the thickness of a strand of human hair.  Having gotten to this smaller (or nano) scale may make it possible for Moore’s law to continue since the roadblock just described (you can only get so much smaller and smaller until eventually you disappear) presumes the regular world of physics applies.  Once you get to a nano scale, however, the world of quantum mechanics, with rules much different than those of classical physics, applies.  In this world, for example, quantum particles like electrons can pass through thin walls even though they might not be able to break through the barrier.  This is known as quantum tunneling and has posed a challenge for engineers.  Another leg of the presumption that Moore’s law is bound to end is that it presumes the use of the transistor and integrated circuit, essentially, as we know them.  Already, I suspect that geeky worker bees are busy looking for the next wave of technology that might extend the application of Moore’s law by replacing such units.  (See, also, Ray Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns).  And now we are smack in the world of scarily infinite possibilities.  The possibilities, of course, are about change.  And herein lies the fear.

The world is moving at such a dizzying pace, and shows no signs of slowing, that it appears some of the framework on which it is laid may need to change fundamentally, or even be overhauled, to accommodate the social, political and economic revolutions that are occurring.  This, my friends, is scary.  But change, too, is inevitable, and I have faith that it is within our means to guide that change for the greater good.  I have been a lucid dreamer virtually since I can remember.  Over a lifetime of talking to others on the subject of dreams, I recall someone once saying that death in dreams represents change.  Assuming this to be true, and there is a subconscious but not intellectual connection between change and death, it would be no wonder that these times leave so many people feeling like the end is near.

The white buffalo in Janesville was born just down the road from where I lived.  For weeks, I watched as people pulled up in their cars, vans and RVs from all across the country to witness the miracle, and be at the point where the crossroads appeared.  There were some people holding signs, encouraging each other to honor the miracle and to lead with peace.  When I was at Occupy Wall Street, I saw signs of love, and goodwill, along with the others telling people like me who make my living working for the big bad banks to jump out the window.  I’m hoping that we embrace the change we’re witnessing as an opportunity to take the high road, and not succumb to the stresses of modern times.

Well, I’d like to continue to wax poetic on the presence of the various predictions and interpretations, but I have to go nurse my flu and may only have three minutes remaining to post this anyway.  Count down, post commenced 9:50 p.m., ending 11:57 p.m.

Revel on, fellow revelers, wherever tomorrow takes you.

post script: 10/22/11, 3:42 a.m.  Welcome to the other side of fear.

7 responses to “What? No End In Sight?

  1. Love this post!
    “The earth disappeared. The universe didn’t seem to mind.” Someone said that, don’t remember who.
    Maybe animals would feel the same way if humans disappeared.

  2. Ralph ⋅

    A book I read back in the early 70’s, Relativity For The Million, had a little story. The Greek god Atlas held the Earth up, behind his neck. It was always wet and cold. As time passed people began to believe more and more in technology pretty much forgetting about the gods. One day Atlas decided to take the Earth from his neck and put it down. The most amazing thing happened. Nothing, nothing at all.

    At least in part, some of the end of the world stuff is being ‘kept alive’ because of the money it generates, both in physical merchandise sold and movies. As for it being a hoax, I wish I could remember the name of the science fiction movie where a few people go back it time to the dinosaurs. At the end, right before returning to the present, one character runs back into a cave and quickly draws the picture so often described as a caveman’s picture of an alien flying his space ship- as a hoax.

    The term ‘survivalist’ has been twisted into meaning someone who lives in a bomb shelter out in the woods running around with all kinds of guns waiting for the world to end. The new term to replace the corrupted ‘survivalist’ is now ‘prepper’. Before survivalist got corrupted both terms meant the same thing. Anyway, prepper has not been redefined from it’s original meaning of someone who is prepared. This is probably because the Red Cross, FEMA, and a number of government agencies are actively telling people they should be prepared in case of an emergency. Items including flashlights, spare batteries, extra food and water in the house, some form of first aid supplies, and a working radio or TV are officially endorsed. That message can be found on the internet, the sides of buses, and on phone booths.

    Of all the things these agencies say, being prepared is something everyone should do. Most people say why prepare, nothing will happen in NY City, or the government will take care of us if it does. Just follow the news and you will see for a large event it usually takes a few days or longer to get help on site, and the stores are usually emptied out well before that. The recommendation of having enough food and water in your home for at least 72 hours is because it usually takes at least that long for help to arrive. There’s something called ‘The Rule of Threes’- 3 minutes without air, or 3 days without water, or 3 weeks without food, will result in death.

    No, I don’t worry about 2012, and although it’s remotely possible I am not building a bomb shelter in case some invisible space object hits Earth. No, Mars’ orbit will not bring it between Earth and the moon, nor will all the planets aligning with distance galaxies send Earth into the sun. What I do worry about are big snowstorms, flooding rains, an epidemic gone wild, civil unrest, heat spells, and the dollar’s collapse. The first set of events are called science fiction while the second set is called news- there’s a difference and it makes sense to prepare for things which can actually happen

  3. Revel

    Hi Steve and Ralph, thank you both for your comments. Ralph, I think I have not yet heard such a clear and well-articulated explanation of the survivalist/prepper terminology as well as why people need to get past the notion that someone who is prepared is a loony just succumbing to fear. (I like your response so much I’ve posted it to both my FB pages – check it out on my Revel Gardener FB site). I told a friend recently that I didn’t like the phrase “you never know” because sometimes, in fact, you do know. It’s true, though, that there are always going to be some things that we don’t know about, that we can’t predict. I’ve been surprised before. I think it’s smart to prepare, in the event we’re surprised again, and this time about something that has life-threatening consequences (as noted above, flooding, and as I witnessed recently, earthquakes, etc.). If nothing else, at least it gives us the peace of mind knowing that we’ve at least done the responsible thing by taking some measures to prepare for the unpredictable. There is a question how much one should prepare, and at what point it becomes psychologically unhealthy to focus on it (ironic words to come from someone who keeps a blog subtitled “Gardening in the Age of Armageddon,” I realize). I like to think I’m pretty balanced about it.

    I save seeds. That’s largely out of my own interest in gardening and controlling my food source because I want to limit, even if to a minor degree, the pesticides that I ingest. Who know s the other reasons it would be smart to have seeds on hand, but it seems like a responsible thing to do. I am hoping that people in the appropriate positions are protecting our seeds as well, in the event of any global disaster that would affect the crops. I heard that Monsanto is doing so. Honestly, I don’t know whether anyone in the US Gov’t is doing so, but I certainly hope so (and to a greater extent than the Founding Fathers gardener in Monticello are doing, although I appreciate that work as well, more for cultural and historical reasons).

    I store water. We have the recommended amount of emergency water in the basement. As I think about how things are changing, water shortage is one of my most pressing concerns, because it seems like one of the most likely challenges that the next generations might face. It’s not one of those sudden, cataclysmic earth-getting-thrown-off-its-axis scenarios but is predictable, and it concerns me that I don’t see more being done to address it. Are my little gallon jugs of water in the basement going to address that bigger concern? Obviously not. But, having extra water anymore is as basic as keeping flashlights and batteries on hand. It just makes sense.

    Other things. There are some other minor ways we’re prepared. Nothing out of the ordinary. I have blankets and towels neatly stored and organized in my basement. First aid kits, etc. After 9/11, I did look into getting a gas mask. I knew at least one person (another attorney at the law firm where I worked, in fact) who actually bought one. I remember items like that were for sale in stores in the city, not just online. I never bought one but I did keep a box full of canned food and other emergency items in the back of my car for months. Eventually it ended up in the spare room upstairs until later still the box started wear apart by getting shoved around until I finally let all the items slowly get used or tossed.

    In some ways that box was symbolic of what happened to fear after 9/11. Of course there were those people and politicians who spoon fed us fear of terrorism and used it as a campaign tool (inspiring empty, jargony sayings such as “if you see something, say something” – unless you’re blind or closing your eyes, you’re always seeing something for pete’s sake!). But the notion of fear as it translated into preparation for one’s personal safety peaked immediately after 9/11, then began sliding down until eventually it fell of the chart in the years that followed. The seed was planted, though. We’d tasted what so many other people all around the world were born into and lived through their entire lives: the sense that we are not controllers of our destiny, and one day you can be walking along and someone will come out and shoot an uzi in your face or a building will fall on top of you. (This is not to say that 9/11 was the great equalizer. In the United States, It’s not the first concern of a woman who has just found out she conceived whether she will survive the labor – although women in the United States should be more concerned about that than most realize – or whether, when she gives birth, if that child will starve to death – or when we write something that’s unfavorable to political forces if we will live to see the next day).

    We (people born and raised in the United States) now had to think about personal safety in a way like never before. No longer were we the privileged few who could live peacefully and naively in our little bubble of safety. So when recent events have started to make us question whether our foundation is crumbling (global recession, widespread social and civil unrest), the feeling of uncertainty is all too familiar.

  4. Ralph ⋅

    On the subject of ‘prepping’, or being prepared, there is what Jack , the host at http://www.TheSurvivalPodcast has called ‘the normalcy bias’. Basically he says people get used to things always being there. You flip a switch, the lights go on. You open a faucet, water comes out. You go to the store, food’s on the shelf. You go to a gas station, you fill the car. The list goes on and on. You do these things hundreds if not thousands of times and you never give them a second thought. You take them for granted because they are always there- until one day they aren’t. Check out a story on water I just read at:

    http://www.preparednesspro.com/blog/zeroing-on-our-drinking-water-needs/

    Another interesting story from Scientific American magazine can be found at:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=facing-the-freshwater-crisis

    If anyone isn’t already keeping a few day’s worth of water in the house hopefully the above stories will make you think about it. Remember, 3 days without water and you’re no more. That’s not very long. The guideline is one gallon per day, per person as a minimum.

    As I’ve heard mentioned many times, you don’t expect a fire in your house, but you buy fire insurance. You don’t expect to get into an auto accident, but you buy (well, are forced to buy) car insurance. You don’t expect to get a flat tire, but you carry a spare tire. You don’t expect to get seriously ill, but you buy health insurance. You know you have to eat and drink water every day. Doesn’t it make sense to store a little extra in case something happens?

  5. Ralph ⋅

    Off the subject of water, preparing (prepping) can save you money. At least a few days of extra food should be kept in the house. The ultimate goal is to be able to live in reasonable comfort in your home without having to go out for anything for at least 3 days. The question that often comes up is what to keep. Some people buy freeze dried, MREs (military ‘meals ready to eat’), or other types of long term storage food. Keeping a little of that is OK, but it’s often more expensive than buying the same food fresh.

    An easier and cheaper approach can be used that will save you money. When shopping, if there’s something you buy that’s on sale buy one or 2 extras to keep. Don’t buy extras unless the item is on sale. Keep the extras as part of your ‘preps’. Yes, you will be spending more money up front, but if you follow food prices at all you will know the price of food keeps going up, not down. You are buying more at a lower price. As time goes by you will slowly stock extra of foods you eat. So, how will spending more save you money?

    Once you have a supply of extra food (preps) stored away you can use it to your advantage. Let’s say you go shopping and need to buy pasta, but pasta is not on sale that day. Don’t buy it! Use the pasta from your preps (which you bought on sale earlier). Next time you go shopping and pasta is on sale, buy enough to replace what you took from your preps, plus your normal purchase. If making a meal and you find you are missing one ingredient you may be able to go to your preps and use that rather than rushing off to the store. Maybe you just don’t feel like going shopping one day, use your preps- just remember to replace what you use. Preps can be dry goods, canned goods, or even frozen goods. One podcast said to look at your food preps as your own personal grocery store. When buying food for preps, another show says ‘Buy what you eat, eat what you buy’. These ideas came from, and more can be found at:

    http://thesurvivalmom.com/

    http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/

    • Revel

      I love this advice – maybe it’s my egocentric self that loves it b/c it is what I do already. I have some shelves in the basement that I use for “extras.” This is stuff that I buy double, triple, or even quadruple of, depending on the item, when it’s on steep sale. I make granola, and have a favorite kind that I use. It’s normally around $4.00/box but sometimes I catch it on sale for a little over a dollar. That’s when I check the “buy date,” and assuming it’s reasonable, stock away! It has definitely come in handy, especially for standard items like canned tomatoes, tuna, soup stock, etc. It also helps put the buyer more in control of their grocery bill, reminding me of a post from this summer (don’t have a catniption) which I may repost, given its timeliness, with (as you mention) the seemingly endless rise in food prices. Thanks for the links, too!

  6. Ralph ⋅

    I just got back to New York after getting stuck for an extra day out of town for a wedding. It took some doing to get a room extended one night past what was planned. Due to weather issues back east and airlines canceling flights, plus the Halloween weekend, the hotel was booked full. We managed to get the room extension, but there was nothing that could be done about the airlines. I found this heading on the CNN website:

    3 dead, over 2 million without power as snowstorm slams Northeast, Mid-Atlantic
    By the CNN Wire Staff
    updated 11:42 PM EST, Sat October 29, 2011

    Hopefully everyone came through the storm OK. Perhaps oddly, I wish I was home for the storm. Apparently my power went out twice. Events such as this provide a good reality check of how prepared we really are for the unexpected. Did you have to make a last minute dash to the store(s) to get any essential items? If so, make a list and try to add that to your ‘preps’ for next time. If you do any canning or have some stored food it may have been a good time to use it rather than go to the store. Visit an elderly or disabled neighbor to see if you can help them out. Even a flashlight can be a welcomed comfort if you’re stuck inside alone in the dark. Don’t forget, when the electric is off, so is the heat.

    Candles are a large cause of home fires according to the fire department. While they’re good to have around, try to avoid using them. Always use candles with extreme caution.

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