May 5, 2000

The Political Downside to the Apocalypse

Stephen Bassett

Planets align and unalign.   The galaxy turns around a center composed of a nightmare.    In an outer portion of a spiral arm this planet swings along with its inhabitants in deep contemplation.

They contemplate the Drake equation with all its tight little variables attempting to calculate the prevalence of sentient life.  Recently a mainstream (he can get on Nightline) scientist endeavored to update that equation.   Paleontologist Peter Ward along with Astronomer Donald Brownlee published Rare Earth making the case for extreme rarity of life in the universe to the point of our uniqueness.   

It’s a message the top-tier talk venues, under siege by a host of UFO/ET researcher/activists for airtime, find quite attractive.  Ah, if only it were true, and all those deluded, sleep paralytic, obsessive, cult susceptive, sleep walking, hoaxers would then just go away and leave us alone.  Ward is doing the full circuit.  He’s killing coast to coast.

Deep within the Drake equation is one of its most provocative components, a variable which attempts to take into account the propensity of sentient life to turn the laws of physics on themselves and the biosphere they shepherd and wipe it out.  Apocalypse – wrath of God stuff; mayhem; dogs, cats sleeping together; total chaos.

Humans, of course, don’t have to participate.  The galaxy has a host of methods by which it can convert a budding Eden into so much cosmic flotsam.  Toasted, radiated, clobbered, pole flipped, flooded and frozen, or in a bad millennium, all of the above.  Another of Drake’s variables takes into account the Galaxy’s contribution.

These variables are legitimate.  The universe is a dangerous place, and somehow this fact is burned into our genetic engrams for we do so love to indulge apocalyptic expression.   It has been prevalent since recorded history, and all of our technological mastery can’t diminish its allure. 

You know the end is near, but did you know just how political that feeling is?

Being sentient has its drawbacks.  All that mental power keeps dishing up more than you really care to know about the past, the future, and most disconcertingly, your place in the present.   Non-sentient animals don’t have to put up with this. 

Forget riding a planetary spec through an expanding and possibly infinite universe.  Due to a lack of family planning going back to the flood, you now face life as one of six billion.  The library system is the size of the Roman Empire.  The lines at the supermarket show no signs of getting shorter.  You feel small, you feel a modicum of control over events, you are absolutely certain life is not fair - and you live in the U.S.

There is real pain in this world, real suffering.  If you were a fully telepathic being hovering about the planet, this suffering would rage in you like a fire in the brain.  Much of that pain has no cure, no respite.  It is a condition of a life in a place and it persists until the end.

The democratic system and the elevation of human rights to the level of constitutional law is intended to mitigate the realities of this world, and when embraced with sincerity and shorn of deceit, it helps.   But for individuals in their own place, it is meaning that makes sentience tolerable.  In a world of six billion, there is not enough meaning to go around.

Which brings us back to apocalypse.  It is the ultimate expression of equality.  In fire, in ice the world ends and all die together – rich and poor, black and white, beautiful and plain, smart and dumb, wise and unwise, female and male - a satisfying fantasy leveling of pain and joy into a singularity.   Liberty has been made moot and there is justice for all.

That is political expression of the highest order.  As the deadlines for this and that group’s endtime pass with no consequence, the skeptics feast on the obvious.  They have no interest in political interpretation.   They are in the business of being right.

Such interpretation, however, has significant lessons to teach.   At a time of information management, propaganda as art form, and of course, a global web of connected computers, apocalypse can be big medicine. You must beware its charm, its momentary respite. 

It is so simple really.  Why would someone struggle with the imperfections and inequities of this world when the end is so near?   To what purpose.   To accept the apocalyptic premise is to disempower oneself.   What better way for any center of control concerned about its cloaked station, then to leach into the stream of global discourse another endtime scenario.   The Rapture, earth changes, meteor impact extinction, CME kill shots, pole flips – all have some substance as science.   But as a means to quell new recruits into any activist scenario for change, it is sublimely Orwellian in its powers.

No finger is pointed here at any particular book or person or organization, only a cautionary reminder there is much greatness and meaning to be had in this life by anyone willing to seek a better world.    The siren song of “the end” may soothe the embittered spirit for a time.  It may be entertaining.  But it also may be the drug slipped into your coffee to keep you still while the devil romps.


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Copyright 2000 Stephen Bassett

"You know the end is near, but did you know just how political that feeling is?"