There are two types of people in the world: those who think the world is going to end today, and those who are reading this. Seriously, if you believed these were your last hours alive, would your final acts include reading an editorial? Even if you thought the end was going to come later in the day, say 5ish, you would more likely be running around trying to do last-minute things like hug your children and make sure everyone had on clean underwear.
So, congratulations on being one of the sane ones. But before you get on your high horse, remember that the madness about the Mayan Non-Apocalypse comes from a very human place: an understanding that there are things out there that have yet to be revealed to us.
The madness is fairly widespread. Chinese authorities have arrested more than 1,000 members of a doomsday cult for predicting the concomitant end of the Communist Party. In Russia, authorities have vainly tried to calm members of the public who are hoarding candles and vodka, and building bunkers. In France, the population of a small town has convinced itself that aliens are about to pop out of a local mountain and rescue them from the Earth’s destruction. In Canada, some people still believe there will be an NHL season.
It’s all very odd, but there is a very real reason people latch onto the notion of the end of the world. The word “apocalypse” gives us a clue. Its Greek root means “uncover” or “reveal;” it is the source of the name of the last book of the Bible, Revelation. For a number of religions, the great revelation and its variants involve the end of the world as we know it as punishment for our wicked ways (“wicked” usually defined as not being devoted enough to the tenets of the religion in question).
For many people, though, a taste for apocalypse is about wanting the two greatest mysteries – How did we get here? Why are we here? – revealed to us. Religion tells us of creation; science tells us of a big bang; Hollywood tells us of aliens. All we really know is that we don’t really know. Our human imaginations, meanwhile, tell us anything is possible. In some small and ironic way, every apocalypse that doesn’t come true leaves a lot of people feeling a little more alone in the universe.