THERE IS NO QUESTION that each person alive today will ultimately die. Death, along with taxes, are two promises life always keeps. And how and in what ways that harsh reality – the reality that we are not immortal – affects our daily lives and shapes our motivations is a weighty inquiry worthy of neuroscience, psychological, and general scientific exploration. But the looming question that cannot be answered by science alone, that is the question of exactly how and exactly when we will each meet our Maker, is haunting enough to inspire even the most bizarre doomsday predictions.
If you have not yet heard that the world will end this month, then come out from under your rock and sit down because you are in for a surprise. According to Armageddonites, the world will end on December 21, 2012. Most believers are short on the Apocalypse’s details, but there appears to have been no possibility left out: some maintain that Earth will collide with an unknown planet within our solar system called Nibiru; others predict that intergalactic alignment will cause Earth to be sucked into a black hole; others still claim that human society will end from hyperinflation, World War, oil shortages, or zombies. (The Zombie Apocalypse, as any who can see the countless many mindless wanderers glued to their smart phones knows, is already well underway.)
The genesis of most this nonsense is thanks to the ancient Mayans. The Mayan calendar includes a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count that apparently comes to a close on December 21. For many with a proclivity for mysticism, this means the end of time. For others more familiar with a reasonable state of mind, the close of the Mayan calendar marks simply the cycle’s restart (much in the same way that our own calendar restarts with January 1 after December 31).
There seems no limit to the frenzy of people who have succumbed to these and other ongoing doomsday prophecies. Indeed, so frantic is Russia’s population – a people with supernatural leanings – that on November 30, 2012, according to the New York Times, Russia’s Minister of Emergency Situations was forced to explain to the country that he had access to “methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth,” and that he confirmed the world was not going to end in December.
Closer to home, there are equally many Washington State residents who are preparing for the End. Washington Preppers is an association organized under the American Preppers Network. It is a collection of residents who are preparing for (hence the coinage “preppers”) the worst. The roll call includes residents from Seattle, Kirkland, Woodinville, Tacoma, Renton, Vancouver, Lacey, Skagit County, Olympia, Yakima, Kennewick, Mason County, Port Orchard, Walla Walla, Grays Harbor, and more from across the Pacific Northwest into British Columbia.
These dedicated preppers regularly attend “meet-ups” across the State. (The Bellevue “meet-up,” for example, usually takes place at the Tully’s in Lincoln Square.) During their meetings, Washington Preppers discuss and learn survival skills such as couponing, winter gardening, seed saving, canning, goat, sheep and beekeeping, freeze dried food storage, waste handling, alternative energy sources, and defense expertise. Online discussion groups are even abuzz with unsettling concerns over ammunition prices. (What good seeds will be inside a black hole is beyond me.)
In the real world, the Universe’s final chapter will not be written this month, nor will mankind’s. The world and human civilization will still be around on December 22. But part of me actually hopes the Mayans are correct and that our end is near. Think about this: it is generally agreed within credible scientific communities that modern humans have been around for about 50,000 years (if you consider things such as art as a necessary quality of “modern humans”).
The Universe, by contrast, has existed for close to 14 billion years. So, modern humans have existed for only the tiniest of a fraction relative to the age of the Universe. The chance, therefore, that the apocalypse would actually occur during the lifetime of anyone alive today is so incredibly small that it would offend the circumstances to pass on the chance to witness doomsday if it were presented. If you must exit the stage, then why not take your curtain call along with all other existence?
All this aside, the more important question I think to answer is not how and why will our world end, but rather, how and why does our world exist at all? Why is there something rather than nothing? (Read Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story for an excellent survey of this same inquiry.) The question of our existence is a far more important one, and one far more relevant to our lives, than the question of humanity’s comprehensive demise.
Trent Latta is an attorney and Kirkland resident. He can be contacted at TrentLatta@gmail.com.