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 unrest, the 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.