Sunday, December 16, 2012
Most people have probably heard about the most recent “end-of-the-world” predictions. According to some, the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world this coming Friday, 21/12/2012. Oh well, no need to mow the lawn then. Of course, those in the know assure us that the Mayan calendar predicts no such thing. And anyway, even if it did, why would we give it a second thought? What is this strange obsession that (some) people have with doomsday prophecies? Why do people, far from being terrified by them, actually appear to delight in them?
I have, in the past, mingled with whacky apocalyptics of the Christian variety. The end of the world fills these people with, well, for want of a more appropriate term “joy”. It isn’t really joy, of course. It is some strange, perverted, corrupt shadow of joy. But even people without any obvious religious convictions appear to be, on the one hand, extremely gullible when it comes to ancient or modern apocalyptic ravings; on the other hand, they seem almost perversely eager to see the world end.
Now, I am under no illusions that either the human world or the natural world is some kind of paradise or utopia. Both can be very dangerous. I am also under no illusions that life is easy. I have suffered from fairly severe depression at several periods in my life. As Annie Lennox once wrote and sang: “Dying is easy; it’s living that scares me to death.” Even so, I have never particularly looked forward to death; and I have never sought escape through the end of myself, or wanted to take the world down with me. What I have wanted, at those terrible times, was to be happy, not to be dead. Perhaps it helps that I don’t believe in any life beyond this one. This is it. This is what I have to work with. And I am going to do the best I can.
This world is both a wonderful and a terrible place. Human beings are capable of the committing the greatest cruelties and atrocities, and of showing the most amazing love and creating the most astonishing beauty. Sometimes the same person is capable of both. Perhaps all of us are. Of course there are problems in this world. Often they seem insurmountable. But I sometimes wonder: Do these apocalyptic calamities, that so seem to capture the human imagination, serve to distract us from the actual calamities that face us today? Do we use these calamities to relieve ourselves of responsibility for mowing the lawn? Perhaps it is easier to deal psychologically with imaginary threats to the planet, which are so obviously beyond our control, than with those more real and immediate threats that are very much within our purview.
Fortunately, although people seem to get excited about predictions of the end of the world, I doubt that most people take them terribly seriously. They do still mow their lawns. They continue to plan their activities for the weekend after the world has ceased to be. They continue to invest in the stock market. Perhaps the fascination is just an echo of our primitive fears in the face of a world we scarcely comprehend. And perhaps, alongside this, we would like to be relieved of the burden of responsibility. We are not responsible if someone or something else is ultimately in control and deciding the fate of the world.
Anyway, these kinds of apocalyptic ravings are always good for a laugh. They brighten an otherwise fairly mundane day.