3.16.2011

The End of the World is Nigh

A man sat down next to me at the bar recently and introduced himself to the bartender as 'Scavenger'. Tattoos, heightened musculature and a pervasive cologne were more evident than any sign of intellect. I instantly thought of one of the possible near-futures that currently weave their threads through our reality, at least for those of us who choose to extrapolate beyond our own make-believe narratives. Perhaps incidentally, his name is evocative of a rather austere zone-scape of gasoline starvation and thirst, where rapaciousness and brutality rank above all else and the darkest caged secrets of human nature tirelessly besiege the cowering remnants of civilization. In other words, Mad Max could be coming to a universe near us, soon.

But will the end really take that form? I recently heard a worst-case-scenario narrative of current world events. One part 2012 paranoia and three parts loose interpretation of current events, the speaker delineates the details of our doom, the bulk of which, he claims, will take place in the next couple of years. Included in the next couple of years is the 21st day of December, 2012, which signifies the end of the fourth creation period of the world per the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the Mayans. Whether or not this date heralds the actual destruction of the world as we know it is a matter of some debate and has become part of a diverse and imaginative eschatology. The components of this series of apocalyptic predictions are as diverse as intergalactic 'alignments' and extrasolar objects colliding with either the Earth or the Sun and arguments like "timewave zero" which claim that an asymptotic increase in the complexity and interconnectedness of the the universe will result in a complete sea-change in said universe. The hysteria surrounding many other such cataclysms has occasioned many, including the progenitor of this You-Tube video, to use 2012 as fodder for hypersensational rants and other assorted lunacy. Despite the fact that many of these theories, especially the more pseudoscientific astronomical predictions, have been disproved by actual science, the Argument from Ignorance (the idea that if something cannot be disproved, it must be true) continues to dominate rather than reason: demagogy and the associated histrionics are far more compelling than the comparatively bland conclusions of dutiful but unadorned scientists.

In this age of internet soothsaying, dire prophetic tone goes a long way towards delaying incredulity at dubious claims. Including those made in the above-linked video, some assertions will always seem rather prescient: nuclear war still seems poised to lay waste to humanity at some point as weapons and technologies continue to proliferate, often in secrecy; the decentralized "Islamic caliphate" indeed exists in some form or other (or multiple forms, more likely) and certainly strongly impacts worldwide military strategy; catastrophic environmental conditions will almost certainly continue to alter the course of biological history (as they always have, but at a much greater rate). Strict adherence to this form of sophism ensures that at least a few thousand people will covet the bait and bite down on the hook. What has changed about this theatrical pursuit in the last 100 years?

The efficiency with which information is disseminated has certainly changed. From H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds to Richard Preston's Hot Zone, wider (and wider and wider and wider) availability and faster transfer of media has allowed such hoaxes and dramatizations to evolve quickly beyond small-time conjuring and legerdemain to more targeted hysteria and mass misinformation. Facebook and Twitter prove that we inhabit a new domain with respect to communication: their spontaneity trumps the more scripted domains of radio and television broadcasting and despite the often rustic colloquial dialogue, are extremely efficient methods for aligning large groups of people quickly. Add the video streaming of YouTube to the equation and the efficacy of the tool increases greatly. Look at Rebecca Black, a 13-year-old girl who performed this uniquely terrible pop song and within weeks had 60,000,000 (yes, really) views on YouTube. The rules have essentially changed: with smart phones this instantaneous form of information exchange becomes available anywhere and at any time.

The potential for inducing protests, riots, mass hysteria and chaos via internet is vast. The recent wildfire of protests across Northern Africa must hinge at least partially on connectivity. Organization becomes much more centralized for a much greater number of people and some sleight of hand should be enough to mask specific subversive intentions organized via Facebook. Virtually everyone who accesses information online has built up a certain level of immunity to many of these 'viral' techniques for spreading information, but a specifically targeted cause can be enough to provoke a response in even the most inured of internet denizens. Of course, something like an organized protest will probably be more potent than the random doomsday provocateur, but the potential remains for someone more convincing to take the reins.

Not that I'm exactly worried about this every day, but it certainly merits thought. What makes post-apocalyptic sci-fi so compelling? Even the worst movies and most pulpy novels contain the kernels of prescient ideas; with the state of our reality it isn't difficult to extrapolate the future of civilization to a grisly and bitter end. Other ideas have more far-reaching implications. Timewave Zero, for instance, as mentioned before, certainly isn't just the progeny of some random lunatic: Terence Mckenna was a diversely intelligent writer noted for his work on a number of different cutting-edge subjects. He may well have prefigured the current state of 'reality' with his ideas about information and the universe. It's difficult to choose sides absolutely on this issue and in the end, probably not worthwhile. Something is most certainly afoot with humanity and change is ever-present; whether or not a much more drastic form of change is in our near future is certainly a question that occupies some of my run-time and probably should do the same for anyone who meditates on what we're doing as a race. I find the swirl of fantasy surrounding this issue fascinating; information has become a sort of physical law at this point and with that comes a number of possibilities, some unexpected. Humanity, meanwhile, is swimming, sinking, surfing and hydro-engineering this flood tide and we will not emerge from our tasks unchanged.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, and I thought 'uniquely bad pop song' was an oxymoron.
    Great thoughts on a topic that is rarely discussed. Look forward to more.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Tomorrow is:
    "Friday, Friday
    Gotta get down on Friday
    Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend
    Friday, Friday
    Gettin’ down on Friday
    Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend...."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Rebecca Black has succeeded in ways she doesn't even yet understand and she didn't even write the lyrics or hire the weird random child molester guy who appears halfway through the video. We, we, we so excited/We so excited.

    ReplyDelete