Note: This was written sometime in 1994, back when the whole Y2K nonsense was only making the rounds in the tech field. It hadn't yet become a sociological phenom.
Watch Out: Here Comes Big Bad 2000
"The greatest wave of millenarian excitement--one which swept through the whole of society--was precipitated by the most universal natural disaster of the Middle Ages, the Black Death."
Eeeeeeek! It's the year 2000! Something bad just HAS to happen, right? Maybe the environment will crap out once and for all! Maybe AIDS will wipe everyone out! Maybe a crazed Middle Eastern dictator will drop THE BOMB on us! AAAH! That's THREE things that can happen! At LEAST one is just BOUND to!
Run for hills, motherfuckers! And take your brats with you.
In brief, I've got some problems with the hegemony of apocalyptic doom that's been going around for the last, oh, say, 100 years. No matter who you talk to, it seems, everyone has at least one doom issue on their minds. Either it's the fucking Christians planning for HIS imminent return; or it's the jerk-offs who quote Nostradamus at length; or it's the h-bomb paranoids buying into the government's pitch for nuclear exclusion in the name of saving the world; or worst of all, it's the environmentalists screaming at you to save the earth by recycling your newspapers. YOU'RE ALL VICTIMS OF BLATANT MILLENARIANISM, YOU DUMB SHITS.
Stand back. Take a number. One at a time.
A couple months back, here in Philadelphia, billboards popped up proclaiming September, 1994 as judgment time. They gave an 800 number which turned out to be a Christian radio station in California. They wanted money. How shocking! Christians? God's People? Playing on your fears just to get your wallet open?
Check your history books. Look up a certain William Miller. In the 1830s, he convinced 50,000 people that the world would end in 1843, based on calculations made by cross-referencing Biblical clues, specifically Daniel 8:13,14 and Revelations 20:4-6. After 1843 passed uneventfully, Bill announced a corrected date of October 22, 1844. After this date, too, passed, most of his supporters got fucking smart and hit the road. One group of suckers, though, maintained that Miller was correct with the prediction, but instead of the end of the world (a premillenaristic prophecy), 1843 was really the beginning of the Judgment process, to end at an unspecified future date (a postmillenaristic assertion). This group is now called the Seventh Day Adventists. Ever hear of them? They're probably the largest group of postmillenarists in the world.
And they're not the only assholes out there. Look up Charles Taze Russell. He predicted October, 1914 as the end of the world, only to see that date pass uneventfully. His people hung with him, and continue to be on-the-ready for JC's grand entry. Today, Russellists are called Jehovah's Witnesses. Yeh, those fucks. Probably the largest group of premillenarists in the world.
But it's not all ancient history. Check out Edgar Whisenant's "On Borrowed Time." He predicted September 11-13, 1988, as the time of "rapture." Then he went for September 1, 1989, with an outside error of 1993. Tough luck, eh, Ed?
Of course it's nothing new. Go look into something called the Sibylline Oracles. Compiled sometime before the year 1000, they encouraged Christians to see themselves as "the Chosen People of the Lord--chosen both to prepare the way for and to inherit the Millennium." No shit. Do you know how much panic those writings caused during the approach of the Year 1000? Everywhere you turned, there was a new millenarist proclaiming the end of the world and the return of Christ. Yeh, that's right, 1000 fucking years ago. But don't take my word for it, go read The Year 1000 by Henri Focillon. It's the book that will shut your apocalyptic Christian trap.
So why 2000? Well, Christians point to the Bible for their evidence. Some acid trip nonsense about 1000 years of Christ and another 1000 years of heaven on earth. You want an original idea from me? Here it comes, and you better not steal it, or I'll sue your ass. Maybe--just maybe--ONE THOUSAND is the largest arbitrary number that the translators of the Bible could envision, eh? You know how you say "Man, I'd like a million dollars." Why 1 million? Why not 2 million? Or 1.38 million? Because it's the best large, round number to suit your needs. Hold on, all you geniuses, this idea goes beyond the simple round number theory of millenarianism. It's about paradigms. Example: Carl Sagan's "billions and billions" of stars. Why not "millions and millions?" Because a billion is closer to infinity? No. Because we can easily count a million stars; people can EASILY put a finite perception on a puny MILLION. "Millions and millions of stars" didn't carry the same punch as "billions" because we're jaded by the attainability of one million. So we got "billions." Similarly, I'd bet the house that if the Bible were translated today, fresh, that passage in Revelations would point to a Million-Year (or Billion-Year) Reign of Christ, because ONE THOUSAND YEARS would seem miniscule, considering there have been Chinese Dynasties that lasted longer. So we'd get ONE MILLION as the appropriately awesome number, and in the year 999,999 people would be shitting themselves silly.
This one's easy. Doesn't it occur to you that this jerk Nostradamus was himself nothing more than a victim of religious millenarianism? Why the fuck else would he place the end of the world at the very end of his own millennium? Why not 1793? 1845? Nope. Had to be close to 2000. Nostradamus was a religious man, kids. He read the Bible. And he fell for it, too.
We just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time: the end of the millennium. So stop producing TV shows about Nostradamus, will you? Just stop this kiddie-scaring crap.
You remember "The Day After?" That fucking movie scared the piss out of me as a kid. Nightmares for weeks. You know what that movie was, don't you? An easy way to approve a larger defense budget. And it's still the same way. North Korea might have nuclear weapons. Radical Middle Eastern countries might have nuclear weapons. So what? Listen, if WE didn't use OURS (and we were, I assure you, the most likely to have launched a first strike), and the Soviets never used THEIRS, you think the North Koreans are about to use the ones they MIGHT have? Of course not. And hell, even if they do, what the fuck are you going to do about it?
So the Pentagon keeps getting the cash to fund nuclear weapon development. More spy satellites are launched. And you sit in your house afraid of the end of the world. That's just plain dumb.
So you're not religious. You're not particularly political, and you're smart enough to not worry about nuclear bombs falling on the farmland. That Nostradamus crap never even gave you the shivers. But you really do think that this environmental issue needs to be addressed, right? Mother Earth is gasping for breath? The ozone layer? The landfills?!
Whatever you say. Sure, the planet is fucked. But you think that recycling your cans and newspapers for a couple years will solve the problem? Think Locally, Act Globally? HA! You and me ain't the problems, buddy (well, I might be one of the problems, actually.) It's humanity's consumption OVERALL. You've got a refrigerator? Whoops, big problem. You use batteries? Shit, they clog landfills. You drive a car? Man, that's a lot of pollution.
Of course it's not good for the environment. Big fucking surprise. But do you really think it's the end of the world? It's not. This planet is a lot bigger than us, and if wants us gone, then we're gone. Who knows what those pesky dinosaurs were up to? They might've been washing their fucking shorts in the oceans and dirtying up the water. Look what happened to them. Poof! Gone. Simple as that.
I'm not really taking issue with the idea that we're doing something wrong. Of course we are. WE'RE ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING WRONG. WE'RE HUMANS. But it's just like worrying about North Korea having the bomb--waste of time. When the world becomes inhospitable for human life, we'll pull up tent and hit the road. Or we'll learn to breath carbon monoxide. Or just peel off that annoying case of skin cancer and grow out of it, like acne. Christ, man, we'll adapt. Or die. And fuck the scenery; I don't spend much time outdoors anyway. And there's always Vu-Masters.
If it were the year
1234, or 6573, or 809145, we wouldn't be trying to save the environment.
I guarantee it. We'd still be dumping our old motor oil in the sewers.
Everything would still be made out of Styrofoam. When we found that hole
in the ozone layer, we'd've just put on stronger sunblock. We're stupid
and ignorant. It's our nature. If it weren't for a nice round number heading
our way, we wouldn't even notice the impending doom.
What's to Come
Remember the opening quote? Go back and read it. It's from Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1970, p.282). You know what that means? THINGS ARE GOING TO GET WORSE. In a few years, after every person in every country has seen AIDS kill their friends and family, the prophets will be everywhere. The religious zealots, the political paranoid freaks, and the Whole Earthers begging for environmental penance. In fact, they've already got their angles: God sent AIDS to punish; the government created AIDS; Mother Earth is using AIDS to thin the population. You've already heard them, and you're going to hear more. Shit, they've probably already got their pamphlets in storage.
JUST YOU WATCH. The End is Near. Or so they say.