Reaching for the Apocalypse

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

The most intriguing, and hard to pin down, questions I've gotten from readers over the past few days have revolved around overblown crises, fear, and why news organizations (and the public) seem to <3 both those things. People cite SARS and the 2006 bird flu publicity blitz, and wonder why the media is so quick to turn into Marvin the Paranoid Android, jumping in every five seconds with, "So this is it, we're all going to die."

First off, it seems pretty clear to me that this phenomenon does happen. While there are some things the media gets unfairly beaten up over, this isn't one of them. As Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University's College of Communication and former editor of the Miami Herald told the Washington Post this week,

We [meaning the media] have a tendency to reach for the apocalyptic, but the apocalypse hasn't reached us yet."

Obviously, some of this has to do with the format of a modern 24-hour, non-stop news cycle. Unlike 30 years ago, when your news came in fits and spurts, it's now expected to be a continuous stream. But more information doesn't necessarily come along to fill that increased news hole.
If you're CNN, you've long ago committed yourself to the stream. It's a little late for Wolf Blitzer to glance down at his watch, shrug his shoulders, and say, "So that's all we know for today, folks. See ya in the morning." I think that the unconscious pressures served up by that dilemma have been the cause of EXTREME!News (WOOOooo! Rock n' Roll!) at least as often as any temple-fingered, evil-y cackling, calculated push for ratings.

But I've always thought this wasn't just a media thing. The feedback loop of positive ratings that tells CNN to keep freaking you the frack out isn't based only on them manipulating you into being captivated. As any fan of zombies can tell you, average people are going around offering a hand to the apocalypse at least as often as their heavily made-up TV news counterparts. So what gives? Why are we so fascinated with (and almost damn-near excited by) the prospect of civilization collapsing

For a good theory on that, I naturally had to turn to America's #1 Most Trusted News Source...and Philip Alcabes, a man who is surely feeling a strange mix of guilt and elation over the oddly fortuitous timing of his new book, Dread

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Philip Alcabes
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

I'm interested in y'all's thoughts on this.

For the record: I do not think swine, excuse me, H1N1 flu is just a toothless scare. This really is a virus with pandemic potential and, as has been said, you should be concerned...but not freaked out. I don't think there's a lot of point in "what ifing" this into the death of civilization.


  1. I look forward to catching it early. Getting the antibodies in it’s early strains will be better than trying to get the antibodies in the third, fourth or fifth generation strain. Those ones could REALLY kill you.

    First generation of the strain will be easier to develop a resistance to than later strains. This is the basic principle behind flu shot. They use an old strain, incubate it in an egg and give you a weakened version so you can develop an immunity.

    One way or another, we will ALL be getting this flu shot and this strain before next fall.

  2. I just got my copy of John Joseph Adams’ post-apocalyptic SF anthology “Wastelands”, which collects numerous post-apocalypse tales of dread, doom and survival psychology.

    I was just talking to a colleague about humans’ fascination with apocalyptic scenarios and fears, and he pointed out that Science Fiction didn’t give birth to stories of apocalypse – that every civilisation since the dawn of time (that we know of) has had both creation myths AND apocalypse myths.

    There’s plenty of speculation to be had about the causes of such a persistent social and psychological phenomenon. Personally? I think it’s just our innate awareness of the finity and mortality of everything. We know the world that we know can’t last forever, and part of us is always on the lookout for The Big Ending.

  3. I must say, I like the term “increased news hole.”

    So why do we love the apocalypse? Well. . . why do people go to scary movies? Why do we go to haunted houses? Why do we go on carnival rides that dangle death in front of us? Thrills thrills and more thrills. Maybe we need more thrills, or more real thrills, and so we plant ideas in our brains that “this is IT, we’re all gonna DIE!! WOO-HOOOO YEEEE-HAWWWW!”

    Or maybe we secretly WANT the world to end; I know after watching a bunch of talking heads on cable news I sure want it to just hurry up and end already.

  4. I just wish I knew who these people I keep hearing about freaking out *were*. No one I know of or read is freaking out as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps it’s limited to people who’re complete morons all the time, and therefore no one I’m interested in following.

    In which case, why should I be concerned or surprised they’re freaking out?

  5. I should note: Philip Alcabes gives bad interview. He has good thoughts. But you’ll have to look past his stage presence to see them.

  6. hee hee

    Philip Alcabes reminds me of Woody Allen. I could imagine Allen talking about fear and epidemics too – like the hypochondriac character in “Hannah & Her Sisters”.

  7. I’m a little nervous right now.

    I was in San Diego for a bit the other day, then returned to Nevada. I drove, but had to be around approximately 80 people in a classroom.

    Back home now, I’m sneezing and have extra mucous. Allergies? Not sure.

    Not that I’m a hypochondriac or anything (ha), but do we know yet the virus’ incubation period? And how fast do symptoms take to manifest themselves fully?

    Sheesh. *blows nose again*

  8. He reminds me of Bart’s little friend in the Simpsons.

    @1 I’m not a doctor or scientist, and what you plan will prolly have precious little to do with when you *actually* catch flu, but I think that diseases that cross the species barrier are usually more lethal initially, NOT later. A successful disease doesn’t kill most of its hosts, or else it ceases to have hosts. I am sure a thousand BB scientists will leap out and bite me if I am wrong, but I think the trend will be towards fewer fatalities as it adapts and not more. Otherwise, why didn’t the flu pandemicof 1918 simply keep on going until everyone was dead?

  9. I always just assumed it was vestigial psychological survival trait. We’re wired to take threats seriously, and have our internal context switcher chooses potentially threatening thoughts as having higher priority. I’m not certain it comes from a modern sense of anxiety over whether or not we have things too cushy- I think that if that anxiety exists, it stems from having an internal threat assessment reflex that is becoming unnecessary.

    I think you are right about the 24/7 news cycle- but it the shock-factor has probably always been something available to news as a means of grabbing attention. Images of acts of god and traumatized people are the meat and potatoes of news programming, and I think that this is true irregardless of whether or not you have to report on news an hour a day or 24 hours a day.

  10. “If it bleeds, it leads.” The media has a conflict of interest, since “compelling” journalism sells more ads. They’re also under pressure to keep things short rather than complete, for the same reason.

    And, alas, half the population is of below-average intelligence — by definition — and is going to accept that reporting uncritically.

    Is H1N1 an important news story? Sure. Am I particularly worried about it personally? No. Evidence right now seems to be that it isn’t _that_ much worse than most other influenza variants (which also kill a few people). The cytokene-storm hoopla was a guess about what might explain early statistics… which may not have been reliable in any case, since we know cases were going unreported.

    Serious concern? Sure. Definitely threatening to those who are still relying on primitive or no medical care. Definitely risk of significant economic impact at a time when we’ve already got enough economic malaise to worry about.

    Panic? Nah. I’m somewhere between confused, bemused, and disgusted that my local CVS is already sold out of el-cheapo filter masks. (Not that I’m interested in buying; I just heard them apologising to other customers.)

    My own pet peeve re public health: When did spitting on the sidewalk become socially acceptable again? Maybe we can use the H1N1 scare to justify cracking down on that bad practice.

  11. @ 8 – ALLEN:

    I would say that the shift in news reporting, though, has been from shock-factor to fear-factor.

    Trauma and misery has, as you say, always fuelled the TV news, but there’s been a definite trend towards trying to scare people, rather than just shock them or incite their sympathies.

    We’ve gone from “Oh dear” news to “Oh SHIT!” news.

    Talking of “Oh dear” news, here’s an excellent vid from Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe on just that:

  12. “My own pet peeve re public health: When did spitting on the sidewalk become socially acceptable again? Maybe we can use the H1N1 scare to justify cracking down on that bad practice.”

    A work colleague who had lived in Beijing for a couple of years (where spitting one the pavement is commonplace) said that when the SARS concern was at its highest, the Chinese government told everyone to stop spitting on the pavement, as it would risk the further spread of the disease.

    By and large, everyone stopped (one of the advantages of a centralised authoritarian government, no doubt).

    After the SARS fears blew over, everyone went back to spitting again.

    Not sure what the lesson is here. People like spitting, maybe?

  13. I suspect I may have already had it. My wife and I both got some gawdawful respiratory infection/flu/cold/whatever a couple of weeks ago – I spent several days coughing up greenish phlegm each morning when I got up. Between that and Kansas being one of the places they’ve found it, it’s certainly a distinct possibility.

  14. @#7
    Th spanish flu only kill 1% and they didn’t have our medical technology. This flu is not even killing 1% of the population. In confirmed cases, it is just like any other flu basically.

    Did you know that people die from the flu every year? Infants, old people, healthy people. It’s normal. This is only making news because it crossed species and people are panicking. If you build up your antibodies early on, you have a better chance as the virus mutates… and you can bet it will.

    But either way, the virus will be used to make the next generation of flu vaccines for the fall and you will most likely get vaccinated with this strain whether you know it or not.

  15. I think Philip Alcabas makes a fine argument for the psychology of how we view cataclysms in a modern context. But, as others have pointed out here, human concerns about the end of the world have been around since before historical records were kept. Indeed, the Hindu religion, whose existence predates historical record, has an eschatology within it.

    It most likely has its roots in our biological ancestors who, through painful evolution, learned that a food-rich location with fine weather can lull you into letting down your guard, which naturally means that you become part of the burrito bar when bigger predators happen into the area.

    So yes, as our technology improves more and more, those old instincts remain, telling us to not be lulled into complacency.

    While the H1N1 flu is certainly something worthy of notice, people simply must calm down and keep things in perspective. If you live in a place where you enjoy the luxury of reading BoingBoing daily (or whenever you please), then you live in a place where medical technology is almost certainly developed enough to help you survive an infection.

  16. The bottom line on Swine Flu is that it isn’t “Swine Smallpox” or “Swine Cancer”. It’s a flu. Healthy people will get a fever and already-sick people will need medical attention, but this is no different than any other flu.

    A lot of the hubbub, from my angle, seems to be coming from the people that the media is citing for information. Epidemiologists see this as a crisis. There’s a new flu strain and it’s spreading. However, for doctors and most of the sane world, each year’s flu strain comes and goes and maybe you catch it and maybe you dont.

    So far, 0 Americans have died from Swine Flu. Even if you just count the gasoline spent to drive reporters to hospitals to interview doctors, we can’t yet evaluate how much is spent on saving lives because you’d get “NaN” (division by 0) as a result.

    My advice? Leave me alone about the damn flu.

  17. Time once again to Do The Math:

    H1N1 Deaths This Year: 150
    Regular Flu Deaths This Year: 36,000

    Apocalypse FAIL!

  18. I think there is a common thread to the fast food post the other day, whereby the corporate entities in both industries have succeeded in targeting our primal urges; In this case, it would be information-gathering (intellectual hunter-gathering), spiked with survival issues, and amplified by the resources of the network.
    Whether on the internet or network news, our brains are tweaked into a modern variation of survival mode.

    The ‘relief’ aspect of survival mode is that it makes all other problems recede, at least temporarily. Who has time to worry about Afghanistan or the economy when a pandemic is at our door?

  19. @10 13STRONG
    Do you think that is because of a new susceptibility to that kind of imagery, or just an escalation of tactics between news agencies combined with a gradual desensitization to imaginary threats?

    If you look back at the media coverage of the vietnam war in america, that was some pretty graphic news as well.

  20. I’m with #3. We all love the idea of an apocalypse because it diverts our attention away from the fact that we all die ALONE. The news frenzy is just our collective attitudes toward death…with awesome tv news special effects.

    …increased news hole…heheheheh

  21. @technogeek #9:

    And, alas, half the population is of below-average intelligence — by definition

    Actually, half the population is of below-median intelligence. The average may be higher or lower than the median.

    @Joe MommaSan #12:

    I spent several days coughing up greenish phlegm each morning when I got up.

    If you’re coughing up greenish phlegm, see a doctor. They have pills for that now. Also, it’s unlikely to be the flu (although I suppose you can have both), and even if it were flu it wouldn’t necessarily be this one.

  22. Also: Who wants to be the person who sat on a potentially life-threatening bit of news rather than act on it? You can defend “It wasn’t as bad as we thought” (with “BECAUSE WE WARNED PEOPLE”) far better than you can defend “Eh, we didn’t think it would be a problem.”

    In other words, if the Little Boy who Cried Wolf had followed up with “Good work everyone, you scared it away! The sheep are safe!” he’d have got a medal.

  23. I think that we are fascinated by the idea of an apocalyptic event because contemplating such an event gives definition to our lives, and we crave this definition very much.

  24. You think this is bad? Wait until they spot the meteor.

    Get well, MOMMASAN, you don’t want to miss it.

    1. thanks for the philip alcabes article in american scholar. it was superinteresting to myself and mes proches. xoxox ~lt

  25. Love the article but I have one small silly complaint. As a long time fan of Douglas Adams and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I have to point out that it is in fact Arthur Dent, not Marvin who often declares “so this is it, we’re going to die”

  26. Finchypoo, on reconsideration, you’re right. I haven’t read any Hitchikers’ in a decade, sadly, and got my quotes confused.

    Speaking of: Please tell me I’m not the only one who thought of “Life, the Universe and Everything” during the final episode of Battlestar Galactica?

  27. @15

    Not that it invalidates your whole point, but there was one American death, a 23-month old infant in San Antonio.

  28. Pretty obvious to me why people, and Americans in particular, are enthralled by apocalyptic possibilities. I grew up among evangelic christians, reading, for instance, Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth, an exegesis of the Book of Revelation, and all the rest. For a large chunk of the population, the end times have been a-coming for centuries now, and none of them see that as a bad thing. It fills the pews, brings in the money, and can always be postponed, over and over.
    If anything, it is worse today. The end is not only desired, but some would be happy to “bring it on.” (cough – W – cough).
    But a worse corollary of this attitude can be seen in, for instance, the anti-evolution blitz of various groups. To them, certain things are unknowable, “irreducibly complex,” and so it must be “god’s work”. This is the “I give up” portion of christian theology. It is also pathetic.
    This “giving up” attitude is precisely the problem. If a problem is too big, let it be in god’s hands. But that doesn’t solve any problem very well.
    Stop believing in god for a while, and suddenly the issue becomes clear: these problems are our own — not god or the church or the aliens — and the solution is all ours as well.
    Letting apocalyptic thinking take over means abrogating our real responsibilities, as well as our real power. It means pretending to be children. It has to stop, at least as public policy and government action. Individuals can believe whatever the hell they want.
    The solutions we seek just take some complicated things like hard work, caring, and creativity.

    Well, that was rather a rant. But it seems true to me.

  29. #25 if you didn’t say it I was gonna. Now all that’s left for me is to sing “when you walk through a storm hold your head up high…”

  30. I love your Marvin the Paranoid Android comparison. It was amazing to see last night that the 24 hour rape and kidnap channel, aka Waistline News, aka the Nancy Grace channel, was actually talking about the flu instead of describing the rape of little girls.

    Oh and just in case anyone forgot (Hi Takuan! I know you’re invisibly out there!), I’m still loving my ‘hide all boingboing comments to prevent any concern towards random internet arguments’ stylish script! :-D

  31. Of course the media is concerned with ratings, but that’s only one side of the equation. We eat this up and ask for more.

    I think most people are subconsciously unhappy in life and unable to change this. Worldwide crises of any form are confirmation that this unhappiness is not inherent in the individual; there are greater inequalities in the community and the environment and the world.

    An apocalyptic event would be a free continue instead of a game over, a second chance at living life when most of us never got a first but inherited our parents’ problems. Sadly it seems we are incapable of stopping everything and starting over unless we are forced by mother nature and she has been fickle as ever.

  32. “I spent several days coughing up greenish phlegm each morning when I got up.”

    Not to dispense medical advice over the net, but my dad, a doctor, always said that if you’re coughing up green stuff, it’s probably a chest infection, and you need to see your doctor.

    Up to you, though, obviously!

  33. Sure is nice that comedy central is willing to play their logo animation advertisement at me, but region-locks the actual video.

  34. @30

    Yes… one confirmed american death so far. See #18 for more info. 36,000 flu deaths a year and this flu isn’t even close to that. Epic fail for a pandemic. Bubonic plague it ain’t

  35. The Hitch-hiker’s books are a weakened form of the drug. If you’d mainlined the original radio series into the centre of your brain, you’d hear Marvin’s line (in the marvellous voice of Stephen Moore, as augmented by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) as “Life? Don’t talk to me about life.”

  36. Scientists really need to get some “branding” smarts.

    “H1N1” is just not viral. “666 Porcine Pathogen” or somesuch, do some [i]real[/i] brainstorming, Poindexter.

  37. Writing as one who sometimes drinks from the well of panic, the essential root of my fear during those times is this thought, to be honest:

    No wonder I’m unhappy: the world is coming to its end!

    My Fears=Apocalypse

    That would explain the fear, anger, resentment, and exhaustion that I feel either as an American or more fundamentally as a human.

    And to believe, even in a panic, that the imminent end of humanity is the reason that I feel like shit takes the weight right off me, and puts the load right on the Apocalypse=God In Action.

    So then it’s not a matter of tending to the old wounds that cause me anxiety and sorrow; I’ve shirked that work because the world is ending and I’ve supposed that it needs an audience, if not a pew-fill of mourners like me.

    It is crazy: So I’m in therapy.

    But listen, the shame and anger over torture that licked at my feet last week still aches in me today, but now I am sure that my bellyache is an early symptom of the flu.

    I do think that America has reached the crisis of its illness, Bush and Cheney. We can take deep breaths when its fever finally breaks.

    Yipes, I can hear my therapist now, saying in words I’m putting into her mouth, “Take a deep breath yourself, you goofball.”

  38. Maggie, I know exactly what you mean about the finale of BSG, I thought that too. A small chuckle bubbled up inside me when I made the connection though kept secret to not disturb my completely engrossed BSG finale buddies. What an amazing show.

    Nelson, you are right, if one wants the definitive Hitchhikers the radio show is the way to go. I grew up on the books and lackluster yet satisfying BBC miniseries and only experienced the radio show later in my Adams fan hood. I’ve done the hard stuff but in the end I go back to a relaxing puff on the book once in awhile.

  39. I agree with Maggie that this is not “just a toothless scare” and I disagree with the naysayers here proclaiming apocalypse fail because the streets are not lined with bodies.

    One should be concerned but also one shouldn’t underestimate the exponential function.

  40. Wot the frak?? You can’t watch the clip outside of the US? I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize that the world is round.

  41. The thing that should worry us all is that if there is such a panic over a relatively feeble strain of flu, imagine what we’ll see when there is a genuine pandemic with people dropping dead weekly by the thousands.

  42. Hrmm, someone might find this relevant.
    1# thanks for some of the reading suggestions above… Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel seem to be appropriate in this context.
    2# if yer coughing the green stuff, yeah, its probably an infection. Get some antibiotics. I grew up w/ and as an asthmatic.

    Main Point… Now, I’m not really the dog in this fight, but I haven’t payed for cable television, or lived in an area that is urbanized enough to receive service for about a decade. I do it cause I like it. It’s for me.
    Where it is relevant here is the nature of the media and actual ‘catastrophe.’ Let me give an example.
    On the morning of September 11 I was running late to a campus job and stopped to fiddle with my radio alarm. I heard something odd on the radio. Turns out one of the Twin Towers had just collapsed. In this case I found out about an incident almost exactly as it was happening. Sans t.v. I then spent the rest of the day hanging out in the lab with my colleagues.
    Now about the flu? I heard some mention about something vague on a radio as I was driving. I came home and talked to someone, then looked it up online. I’m not terribly impressed with it as the apocolypse.
    The upshot of this, and why I think that it’s relevant and 24 hour news shows are not, is that when the really ‘bad’ happens… I mean King’s Stand, or zombies… you are gonna know. The reason why is because it’s gonna affect you. The heads on t.v. make their ballistically huge amount of money off the fact that they play up stuff that is never, ever, gonna affect you. Well, I didn’t mean to wax opinionated. But I think my point can be found valid.

  43. On the other hand, species-level threats occur on this world all the time (well, on an evolutionary scale) and yeah, sometimes animals do get wiped out by stuff like this.
    I’m not saying I’m really all that interested in this particular ‘threat,’ but it’s really interesting to me when people throw around words like “fear-mongering” whenever a potential scare is brought to light: this world is ALL ABOUT life and death struggles; we’ve just managed to be lucky and insulate ourselves from it relatively well for a fair amount of time. But keep in mind that practically every historically ‘successful’ or ‘advanced’ human society has ultimately met its complete and utter demise (except our current one… so far).
    What surprises me is that although global warming and energy problems have been on the news a fair bit recently, I very rarely see any of it accurately describe the scale of the problems that could truly arise from it. We’re talking no more food for 99% of humanity if things go badly.

    But I guess I’m probably about to be labeled a fear-monger, so go ahead, shoot.

  44. Maggie, you wrote:
    Why are we so fascinated with (and almost damn-near excited by) the prospect of civilization collapsing any….minute…now?

    Here’s some reasons (copied from my site):
    Virtually every religion predicts an end time, a time of turmoil and change. These religions include: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Zorastorism.

    Native American tribes and many other indigenous peoples from around the world also speak of an end time and a great many of them are saying that the time is now.

    The ancient Mayas were a people obsessed with time and the cycles of time. Their calendars are even more accurate than our own and their “long count” calendar teaches that the end of this age is 2012.

    We are witnessing massive die-offs all over the globe: seals, dolphins, bees, birds, fish, amphibians, bats, apes, whales, and scientists have recently reported: Earth In Midst Of Sixth Mass Extinction—50% Of All Species Disappearing.

    We are experiencing unprecedented Earth changes in the form of rising seas, extreme droughts, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, unusual weather, and earthquakes.

    Global warming makes the headlines on a daily basis. We are witnessing the rapid melting of glaciers around the world; including the polar ice caps of Earth, Mars and Pluto. And for the first time in recorded history the arctic is now traversable by sea.

    Finally, there is scientific evidence that this may all be leading to a catastrophic ice age and that it might be the Earth’s wobble (known as the ‘precession of the equinoxes’) that is responsible.

    According to Hindu traditions (as well as aboriginal teachings), the entire experience we are all having is really just a dream:

    “The cycle of births and deaths is from time immemorial caused by ignorance which displays itself as pleasure and pain and yet is only a dream and unreal.” —Tripura Rahasya XVII 24-26

  45. If you’re coughing up greenish phlegm, see a doctor. They have pills for that now.

    That they do, but unfortunately they don’t give them away for free. My wife got laid off from the Red Cross at the end of ’08. (donations were way down and they had to cut something) I got the axe from my job the end of February. So we don’t have insurance any more.

    Fortunately, the phlegm thing cleared up without the need for any pills. Most stuff does if you’re reasonably healthy otherwise – the pills just make it easier.

    The real issue is not so much the cost of the pills themselves – it’s the bribe I have to pay a doctor to write me a permission slip to buy what I need. I can scrape up the fifty bucks for the pills, but I can’t afford to pay someone a couple hundred bucks (minimum) to write me a script.

  46. I’ve been questioning my own tendency to always bring the world to the brink of disaster in my novels. I guess it’s about upping the stakes to make things interesting. (I, personally, have no care to read inwardly-focused stories about about self-destructive, alcoholic families, for instance.)

    But I think it’s also because we’re mortal creatures and the ultimate cause of our death is hidden to us… so we make stuff up.

    It’s the same as when I was a kid sitting in church and wanted the Apocalypse/Rapture/whatever to happen in my lifetime (as everyone back to the beginning was sure would happen in theirs) ’cause it was more interesting and imaginable than simply withering away in a home.

  47. Regarding rolling 24 hour news, and the choice of content made to fill the expanded “news hole”: the world is full of stories, there is plenty of news to fill the void but dramatic, apocalyptic news is relatively cheap and very EASY to produce. Stories about local issues, real people, other interesting stuff take time and effort (and inquisitive journalists) and are basically neither cost-effective or easy enough for news networks. I’ve worked in a number of 24-hour news operations and I have to say that the vast majority of journalists and producers are actually really very lazy, and they are not interested in FINDING stories, they want news that comes TO them. Like disasters, plagues, crime. Easy ways to fill 24 hours, and if you’re lucky they can re-generate themselves by feeding on the previous day’s story (through the hysteria that you created) and Bingo! your work is even easier.

    On a different tangent, in the past year I’ve found that I’ve accidentally ended up reading a number of apocalyptic novels (The Road, Girlfriend in a Coma, Random Acts of Senseless Violence, Night Work). I picked up several of them without knowing what the story arc was and found myself getting more and more depressed as I realised I’d done it again. Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something? Man, The Road is a depressing read.

    At #48, whilst it is true that “virtually every religion predicts an end time”, it is also true that NO religion predicts automobiles, planes or pepperoni pizza. I believe most (if not all) religions state that the sun revolves around the earth.

  48. @Maggie #29

    I was starting to think it was some sort of blogging technique – attribute an Arthur Dent quote to Marvin, or attribute Smoke on the Water to Led Zepplin – in order to get the comments flowing, or something, and was suitably impressed.

  49. I’m going to throw in my vote for, “most of the world belongs to some manner of apocalyptic cult.” When you think that the end of the world implies final judgment of those with whom you quarrel, it doesn’t sound so bad.

    As far as explaining the fascination among the non-religious, I guess maybe we’re just tired of listening to everyone else–or curious to see if we were wrong.

  50. @30/@37

    The one death was a Mexican baby brought over the border for better medical attention. The number of Americans dead is zero.

    On my drive in this morning, NPR broadcasted something along the lines of the following:

    “Experts say that this flu likely won’t sicken victims any worse than recurring seasonal flu, but the World Health Organization is preparing for a global pandemic.”

    In Seattle once, I was at a party and a guest locked a dog in a bedroom. It was a rental and no one had keys, so someone called the fire department to climb in the window. Dumb, yes. Well, 6 fire trucks showed up. When the whole party dumped into the street with keg cups in hand, the firemen weren’t shy to say that they’ll take any opportunity to mount up and roll out, partially because they need to keep their equipment primed for real emergencies, but mostly because they’re bored sitting around watching TV on a Saturday night.

    As I tried/failed to exude in my earlier post, this is mostly the same concept. When an epidemiologist sees a new virus, it’s a huge issue for them. Sort of like if an archaeologist hears of a beach comber finding a relic, they get totally blindsided and react like there’s nothing else going on in the world. The CDC, WHO, and hundreds of academic researchers are all talking up this flu as if it’s a crisis.

    No one flips out every October when your co-workers get sinus infections. No one closes a city for 2 weeks when baby gets a fever. People with immune deficiencies know (or don’t) how to handle flu season, and this is just another flu season.

    So, just like every newly discovered comet isn’t publicized as if it’s destined to collide with Earth, this virus isn’t going to kill any more people than the annual influenza strain.

  51. Star35, you mention that religions seem unaware that we rotate around a central star, but believe it or not, the ancient Mayans knew this and more intriguingly, ancient Hindu cosmology was not only was aware of this basic fact, but also states that we have companion star as well.

    And science admits that the majority of solar systems are actually binary, and yet for some unexplained reason, ours is not.

    And yet Hindu cosmology states that our solar system is indeed binary – and that our sister star is actually a dead star (a brown dwarf). Also their teachings state that it takes 26,000 years to complete one pass around our Sun (and it’s this star’s gravitational pull that is the true cause of the Earth’s wobble, i.e. precession.)

    I used to think that ancient civilizations knew very little, but in fact their seemingly nonsensical myths are actually allegories for profound spiritual insights. Insights that our left-brained, technology-driven society has lost touch with.

  52. I live in an uber-conservative area, where many people are buying another dozen guns, stockpiling food, and pointing out evidence of an imminent totalitarian takeover by the new administration. I realized in surprise, that they weren’t just funked out about losing the election, they were genuinely excited about the End of the World, which, they hope will be here real soon… I have thought about this at some length and have concluded, in short, that the End of the World (tomorrow) sounds a lot preferable to the real end — death — we will all actually face one day, sooner or later, and most likely, later.

Comments are closed.