Wednesday 18 May 2011

On Eschatology

It was 1987 when someone I was at school with - I won't name him, but it's probably safe to say I remember his name with a greater certainty than he remembers mine - first told me about Nostradamus. Cue 13 years of grinding panic, naggingly always in the background of my thoughts even when it wasn't dominating the forefront. My first encounter with Millennial prophesies of doom had an indelible effect on my 7-year old mind.

I'd like to say it was the beginning of a lifelong fascination, but it'd be only half the story. It was actually the beginning of a life of dread, lived under some kind of unseeable Sword of Damocles. Because, for the best will in the world, for all my (decent) education and for all my (probably slightly above average) intelligence I am, at my most fundamental level, a credulous buffoon.

For me, endtime thinking is transformed into a series of new calculations. When a Russian woman (erroneously, it turned out) predicted the end of the world would occur on December 13th 1996, I became powerfully aware of the fact that I would never be able to be a truly happy human being until December 14th 1996. Then came after the solar eclipse in 1999, another hotspot. Then 1st January 2001. Then every single other one which has happened between then and now.

If you'd told the 7-year old idiot who was me in 1987 that, in 2011, there'd still be a world and there'd still be a 31-year old idiot me in it, it would have been a great weight off of my mind. I suppose it's this fundamental fear of the unknown which has coloured much of my life, which is not an uncommon human emotional response.

What the 7-year old me would not believe, however, is just how many more prophesies of doom, how many more target dates when I could then "relax and be happy" there'd have been between the Dreaded Year 2000 and today. Nor, having managed to make it past that crucial date, would 7-year old me believe how badly I could still be affected by every new prediction of doom. Here I am, a 31-year old with a degree in philosophy and 24 more years experience of all kinds of joy and pain behind me, still set into a frantic tailspin by whatever new shit maniacs can conjure up.

So, the latest line in the sand is The Rapture, due this Saturday and established by some phenomenally convoluted mathematics by a man who believes in the literal truth of The Bible -the world's most consistently self-contradictory book - and who has already wrongly predicted The End once before. Every cell of my rational being screams at me to leave it all to once side. And yet the animal instinct part of my brain which tells me to fear the dark won't ever be content until May 22nd. Then October 22nd, then December 22nd 2012, then the day after whatever other date anyone manages to "calculate" after that. Of course, I won't actually be happy after that, but at least I'll be able to realise I can't look to outside factors to explain why this might be.

I'm sure that people who consistently predict the end of it all find deep meaning in what they say, a tangible finishing line in a world that they perceive as being wicked, venal and out of control. All I would say to them is that life is already short enough. So on behalf of the innocent 7-year old children and credulous 31-year old idiots everywhere, just keep it under your fucking hat, eh?

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