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Popular Doom

For the second time in 10 years, a major wave of doom prophesy has become very popular.  Like the Y2K predictions of disaster, the Mayan Endgame is based on the idea that the end of human-devised cycle is the end of everything – which is to say that we are the center of the universe.  What’s different this time is that the proposed failures that make up general doom and/or panic are more mystical.  Nevermind that not a single Mayan ever said that the end of their cycle is the end of time – they would have simply gone to the Cozumel Hallmark store and purchased a new calendar.  The end of the 5,125 year cycle proposed by a group most people never heard of is as good an excuse as any to end it all.  The question is – why is Doom so popular?

It’s not as though the End of Time is a new idea by any stretch.  A sense of Apocalyptic doom was common throughout the Middle Ages, but this theory generally waned into the Renaissance.  William Miller was a preacher who proposed that if each day in Genesis was really a year, the book of Daniel seemed to pin down 1843 as the Last Year for the wicked on this earth.  When that didn’t happen, a series of other dates were proposed that came and went until the “Adventists”, as they became known, settled on a date for the Apocalypse as “Soon”. Through terrible wars and the Cold War, the idea has been with us more or less constantly ever since.

Today, we have nearly constant airings of “The Nostradamus Effect” on the History Channel, a popular movie, and a lot of other nonsense feeding the idea that this time, we really mean it, the world might end if a few really bad things actually happen.  The Mayans have been tied to earthquakes, magnetic pole shifts, solar flares, asteroids, and a lot of other stuff that they probably never thought of.

But why is Doom so popular?  I have a few theories.

1)  We have it coming.
A lot of people have come to believe that we can, and probably will, destroy our planet one way or the other – through pollution or overpopulation or several other means.  This seems to be a simple variation on Miller’s “Vengeful God” theory, although it’s typically Nature rather than a Christian God with the get-back.  The general idea is that at some point it all snaps and our nasty li’l species finally gets what is coming to it.

2)  No one seems to know what’s going on.
When the economic crisis hit, there was one thing that all the experts stressed – that no one saw this coming.  While I’ve said many times that this is demonstrably false, I can’t help but wonder what effect this has had on people’s mental state when they wonder what is going on.  If nearly everyone pleads ignorance, who the Hell is actually in charge?  Does anyone know anything anymore?  The constant repetition that “We didn’t see it coming” was intended to somehow calm people probably only made things worse over the long haul.  What else is lurking in the shadows, unseen?

3)  The world really is ending – well, sort of. There’s a lot of change going on right now, most of it generational.  We have every reason to think that tomorrow won’t be just like today. That’s usually given a hopeful tint in popular media, but people tend to know what Picasso said – “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”  Times of great change often leave many people behind, which is to say that for a portion of the population the world, as they know it, really has ended.  Why not think about having it go out with a bang rather than a sigh?

Which of these do I think is correct?  There’s probably a bit of each of them at work as Doom continues to be very popular.  What I am sure of is that if we do manage to end it all there’s no reason to think that any one day is more likely than the others.  Doom is something that is with us all the time, always one step behind our faith in those who appear to be in charge of things.  Perhaps that faith is a bit thinner than it seems on the surface.

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15 thoughts on “Popular Doom

  1. I think a lot of it has to do with powerlessness. Roman Christians wished for deliverance from tyranny and I think feelings of powerlessness and deliverance still exist today.

  2. Back to the keyboard/ramparts. In “What hath God Wrought” a history of the U.S. in the 1800′s some of the land along the Erie canal was called burnt over land because change was occurring so fast. Out of that grew the Mormon movement. scholars can argue about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith but it probably was a very influential peace of work. Today Mormonism is a very fast growing sect/denomination spreading outwards but still regionally based.

  3. I agree that the feeling of powerlessness is the key. That’s probably what is behind the ‘we have it coming’, which I tend to agree with. But I’m still sick of how much the MSM focus on these things rather than real kinds of doom like the lack of jobs. That is where I think the helplessness comes from.

  4. Dan, you’re on to something. I wasn’t sure what to say about it, but we have a real tendency towards this “adventist” thinking. When it’s come around in waves like this, big things either happen or are in the process of happening (I’m not sure which yet).

    I like the idea of helplessness being the root of all this, too – it could explain all of my theories at the same time! I should have linked back to this post:

    Learned Helplessness

    Whatever it is, I’d really like to see actual “history” on the History Channel. I’m sick of all the doooooom.

  5. I agree with the powerlessness part. This is how people express it, I think. It’s really lame.

  6. I go with reason #2 – no one has any idea what they are talking about anymore. You get the feeling that anything can happen after a while & that gets pretty frightening.

  7. A book I read and reread many years ago was Surplus Powerlessness by Michael Lerner the founder publisher and editor of Tikkun magazine and Ramparts.
    A part of it I will always remember but now as I grow older I’ve changed and some of it has less resonance or cognizance
    for me. Once again I apologize for my sloppy writing.
    Now about those previous posts I think I have an idea what you’re after i.e. explanation, use of technology and circ. numbers but for a reader a link to 1 short paragraph or brief linked explanation of an idea would be better but I am just speaking for myself.

  8. As I am always a bit frustrated with my own telling so I’ll go to a source. Read/thanks Rodney Stark.
    “During periods of social crisis, the number of persons who receive “novel” revelations and the number willing to accept such revelations are maximized . J Smith grew up in a time of immense upheaval and disorder. His home was near the Erie canal also known as Satan’s sewer. Western new York was the most rapidly growing, transient, crime-ridden and socially disorganized area in the U.S. at the time and the area was so productive of revelations and new religions that it has prompted an extensive literature…During Muhammad’s boyhood there was an expectation that the Arabs too would soon have a prophet… In 50 A.D. Palestine seethed… Moses led people out of bondage.”
    Phillip Jenkins a prominent scholar writes there are really interesting religious happenings in China, India, Africa, that are flying under the radar. There is a part of Nigeria that is called Nollywood because of the profusion of filmmaking there. Where this will all lead I do not have the faintest idea but it may result in newer forms of governance.

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