Sunday, December 23, 2012

Humanity's Obsession with its Destruction

Fear is the most compelling form of folly.

What is it about the complete and utter destruction of mankind that causes most of us to react with such a uniform sense of paranoia? Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many people around the world were in full on, weaponized panic over the past week, because they were compelled the world was going to end on December 21, 2012. Well it didn't happen—as I had predicted in an earlier post about a similar prophecy that failed to materialize. However, our fear of our destruction has captured our imagination for decades. Just look at the video montage above taken from no less than seven (count them) different movies. Why?

Well, it has to do with our programming.

The Unbridled Power of Fear

Fear is simultaneously the strongest driver of our survival. It is because of fear why we're still alive. It is fear why we haven't already been wiped out by disease or predators (even though a well placed asteroid will certainly undo all of that). Fear is nature's way of saying very loudly and very clearly, "avoid danger!". So naturally, since we have become so adept at avoiding danger from all other sorts of natural threats, it is no surprise that we are absolutely terrified... no morbidly fascinated by danger that we cannot avoid. This is the root of our issue.

When nature threw large predators at us, we developed weapons—danger avoided. When nature threw disease at us, we developed medicine—danger avoided. When nature threw the elements at us, we invented clothing and shelter—danger avoided. When nature had major upheavals, we invented science to study the danger and articulate ways to avoid the danger. Look around you: Until the 1800's, there were only just under 2 billion of us on the planet. It's been 300 years. Now there's 7 billion of us. We've now become very good at avoiding danger.

It's no wonder we panic about danger we cannot avoid. We can't avoid the danger of a solar cataclysm—if our sun were to suddenly super nova. We cannot avoid the danger of an earthquake. We cannot avoid the danger of a deadly meteor strike. We can't avoid the danger of a marauding alien invasion or a wayward neutron star. We can't avoid the danger of a pandemic disease that annihilates most of humanity, turning it into into a horde of flesh eating zombies. We're obsessed with dangers we can't avoid, which is why we fantasize about them.

Our Morbid Fantasies

We love morbid fantasies for all the same reasons we have nightmares.
Why would we fantasize about our own destruction? Doesn't that seem a bit morbid? Well the truth is, our fantasies about the inextricable dangers in the universe are a part of the same danger avoidance system that causes us to have nightmares. We have nightmares for all the same reasons why we make total destruction movies like Earthquake (1974), Independence Day (1996), Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009) and most recently, Contagion (2011). We even have a very successful TV series about humanity's near annihilation by a reanimating disease, The Walking Dead (2010).

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Every fantasy about humanity's destruction plays out like a nightmare. It is always about us and it is always about how our humanity shines through the destruction. None of these fantasies end with humanity being completely annihilated. They always play out with a ray of hope amid the destruction. This is exactly how your nightmares also play out. Even if the scenario in your nightmare becomes too emotionally traumatic for you to bear, you eventually wake up to tremendous relief that it was only a dream—but something else happens as well:

Your resolve to live is reinvigorated.

This is why your nightmares about the death of someone close triggers concern about their well being when you wake up. You become more alert to any danger that may face that person or yourself, depending on the orientation of the dream. Disaster fantasies manifest themselves in exactly the same way, except that they're products of our conscious mind, actively finding a way to tell a story of survival amid the destruction. Think of disaster fantasies as cognitive simulations, the purpose of which is just preparation for that possibility.

This is why despite the fact that a zombie apocalypse is at best, good science fiction horror, there have been recent, real life preparations for just such an outcome by the US Department of Homeland Security. Why would the US government spend tax dollars recreating scenarios of a disaster scenario that (as far as we know) can only exist in science fiction? As ludicrous as it sounds, it's all a part of the danger avoidance system so deeply programmed into our psyche.

Unlike a zombie apocalypse however, a meteor strike is not science fiction. That kind of annihilation is real and has happened at least six times in the history of the earth. Think about that for a second. The Earth is estimated to be some six billion years old. Cataclysmic meteor strikes have wiped out all life on this planet six times already. This means that for all we know, humanity could have existed six times in the past. The destruction of a meteor strike however, is so complete, that it could have effectively erased all trace of such prior existence—six times.

Such a nightmarish annihilation scenario is not uncommon. For all we know, this might be the sixth time humanity has developed on this world. The universe is a shooting gallery of destruction and we simply have back row seats to all the action. Massive rocks fall into the earth's atmosphere all the time. Why, as if to insinuate that there is some credibility to the Mayan prophecy, a meteor about 120 feet wide drifted between the Earth and the moon on December 12, 2012 (the ominous date 12-12-2012 was just coincidence) at 140,000 miles out.

Had it hit us, we'd be in for quite a show.

But alas, it didn't. Therefore, disaster scenarios based on morbid fantasies about such occurrences are not irrational wastes of taxpayer dollars. There are real life programs in place to deal with such scenarios. The US Government's Near Earth Object (NEO) program is a real life government sponsored initiative that was designed to detect and eventually nudge deadly asteroids away from Earth orbit. All of humanity only exists on one world. We must protect it. But what does all this have to do with the Mayan Prophecy? Well, that's where it gets silly.

The Truth about the Mayan Calendar

All this much ado about an incomplete calendar... wow.
The Mayans were certainly well ahead of their time with respect to how organized they were with their count of the days. The Mayan calendar was probably one of the most sophisticated calendaring systems ever created, certainly well ahead of its time. Among the various calendars that the Mayans maintained, (they have one for the days, another for important events, etc.) there is one that tracks the Mayan long count. The long count is like our millennium, the only difference being ours is 1,000 years, while the Mayans' is just 400 years.

The Mayans call their long count a Bak'tun. Their religion states that the world is several Bak'tuns old. Additionally, while most civilizations only have current calendars, the Mayans were probably the first to have a calendar that extended well into the future. This is where all the trouble begins. The last Bak'tun the Mayans had documented ends on December 21, 2012.

After that, there is no more calendar documentation—probably because the Mayan time keepers were busy being exterminated by the conquistadors (you know the history of Central and South America, right?). Not only did the invading Europeans destroy the Mayan civilization at the time (16th Century Europeans have a long history of destroying old civilizations) but they also destroyed a lot of the Mayan documentation that existed. Why? Well, if you're familiar with the history, you know they were in search of the mythical golden city El Dorado.

...which turned out to be a hoax—but I digress.

So, did the Mayans predict that the world would end on December 21, 2012? Nope! That was the product of a bunch of hippies in the 1960's who interpreted the lack of any additional calendaring after the last documented Bak'tun to mean that's when the world would end. There is nowhere, in any surviving original Mayan documentation that prophesies the end of the world—none. Not one. We just have a proclivity for deferring to fear over understanding.

Deferring to fear over understanding

As I mentioned earlier, fear is the reason why we've survived this long. Danger avoidance is fundamental to our longevity as a species. Unfortunately, when we are faced with the option of heeding our fears or facing them, the natural instinct is to heed. This is why despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, people were completely on edge. NASA was flooded with calls. There were arrests of a doomsday cult in China. Hundreds of people booked out a Serbian mountain lodge to ride out the doomsday. Sales of Deep Earth bunkers skyrocketed.

Me? I laughed—hysterically.

Not only is it quintessential to our survival, but it can also be argued that fear is the most compelling form of folly. Evolutionarily speaking, I suppose it is better to be fearful and wrong than to be wrong to ignore our fear. However, while many of you were busy going nuts on December 21, 2012, do you know what modern day Mayans spent the day doing? Well, this:

Modern day Mayans Celebrating the new Bak'tun
Let me explain this for you: Remember how we discussed the Mayan Bak'tun, earlier? Well the descendants of the Mayans (pictured above) actually have their equivalent of a super New Year's day celebration at the beginning of every new Bak'tun. It was celebrated right across Central and South America where modern day Mayans still live. So tell me, doomsday believer:

Do you feel silly yet?

All this much ado about the Mayan apocalypse was simply because the Europeans interrupted the continuity of their civilization. Interestingly enough, aside from the Chinese, most of the people who were terrified of the possible doomsday were also Europeans. I suppose in some kind of clever poetic justice, all this paranoia  about the end of the world was the ancient Mayans' way of giving the descendants of ancient Europeans the finger. That was a good one.


Don't let fear over power your ability to think. That's why so many of you subscribe to religion (fear of going to hell), superstition (fear of being cursed), horoscopes (fear of an uncertain future) and the like. Fear is the reason why you solicit palm readings or use Ouija boards. Fear is the reason why some of you seek out fortune tellers and listen to Christian television evangelists. As soon as you recognize the capacity for stupidity that the primitive fear of a walking ape is capable of, you will be one step closer to being less of a truly primitive species.

But since you have such a proclivity for becoming frightened about the destruction of our world, let me give you a REAL prophecy to be frightful of. Remember our earlier discussion on the many ways in which our world could be destroyed? Well, if you think destruction by meteor strike was bad, then allow me to help you to crap your pants. Try destruction by Neutron star—which is far worse. This would not only destroy all of humanity, but the entire planet as well:

Do you think the Mayans could have predicted this? Rest assured: planets, nay, entire solar systems have been vapourised by neutron stars darting across the galaxy (or between galaxies). A destruction on this level is not just probable—it's inevitable. One day, perhaps 5 billion years from now, our Sun will explode and that will be the end of not just life on earth, but the planet itself. However, humanity may not even be around for such a cataclysmic event.

It is far more likely that we will either be wiped out by a fatal meteor strike, neutron star, zombie apocalypse  (or some other deadly pandemic) or nuclear world war long before then—likely many times over before then. The entirety of human history is barely 2 million years. The Earth is over 6 billion years old. Life on this planet has been rebooted many times before. It will be rebooted again. That's not some speculative scientific prophecy—that's a scientific fact.

E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

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