Power Fantasies - The strange appeal of the Y2K bug.

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Power Fantasies The strange appeal of the Y2K bug.

By Virginia Postrel Wouldn't it be great if civilization as we know it collapsed? A lot of people seem to think so. The Y2K bug has become the latest hope for many people with a grievance against contemporary society--and not just the head-for-the-hills survivalists. The problem is real enough, of course, and computer and embedded-chip users are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to make sure that when the calendar turns to 2000, their machines don't think it's the year 1900 and crash. But in the minds of many, the computer glitch isn't just a technical problem. It's a vehicle for reimagining, and potentially remaking, the world. Consider two publications I received earlier this year. The first is a supplement to the Utne Reader, a magazine for yuppie greens in touch with their feelings. The second is the January issue of Citizen, the magazine of Focus on the Family, James Dobson's religious right organization. Utne Reader and Focus on the Family have little in common. Culturally and politically, they are enemies. Yet the messages are remarkably similar: Don't withdraw from society out of fear of Y2K, the authors counsel. Survivalism isn't the answer. Be prepared to help in the coming chaos, and you and people who think like you will wind up on top. Y2K is just what we've been waiting for. It will simultaneously smite our enemies and demonstrate the power of our worldview. "Some are seeing the Y2K crisis as a social change opportunity," write Gordon Davidson and Corinne McLaughlin in the Utne supplement. "People who have been working their entire lives for political, social and cultural change immediately see its transformational potential....If there are breakdowns in the infrastructure of the modern world, the seeds that have been planted by all these movements are likely to see exponential growth." We can profit from the coming collapse. Along similar lines, Citizen writer Shaunti Christine Feldhahn suggests that Y2K could be just what evangelicals need to triumph over a secular America that makes them feel "scorned and battered." She writes, "Just as God has historically used times of crisis to touch and save hurting souls, He has also used turmoil to bring about change and accomplish His ultimate purposes. After all, many economists are predicting an unprecedented transfer of wealth and influence--from the unprepared to those who are not only prepared, but strategically positioned for Y2K.... Imagine how the professional world might change if every Christian business owner, government official and public-policy expert was not only prepared for Y2K, but looking for opportunities to help those around them." Neither publication shows much interest in treating the Y2K bug as a technical problem to be solved rather than a source of social transformation. Both suggest that seeking technical fixes is immature. The message throughout is that technological society is terribly brittle, and that America deserves disaster. Feldhahn cites as comforting a verse from Isaiah: "When my judgments are upon the land, then the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." And she's tolerant compared to the Utne writers. Many commentators have chalked up Y2K hysteria to "millennium fever," a replay of the apocalyptic religious fervors that swept Europe 1,000 years ago. I'm not so sure. The millennium angle is, I think, just an added bonus. If the same problem loomed for, say, 2005, we would see much the same response. Y2K hype taps our native discomfort with the realities of a dynamic, evolving social order. It elevates personal, local contact over the impersonality of the "extended order" of trade and technological networks. It suggests that we can wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. It thus fuels the imaginations of those alienated from contemporary society. Human beings do not naturally trust strangers, let alone distant, anonymous strangers. Yet our civilization depends on such trust. Our connections to far-flung strangers, through markets, professional networks, and technological ties, make us prosperous and resilient, able to reap the economic bounties and psychological satisfactions of specialization. But these networks of strangers also make us nervous. And there are plenty of social critics ready to advocate the atavistic impulses of solidarity and autarkic "self-reliance." The Utne crowd is dedicated (somewhat inconsistently) to an ideology of local self-sufficiency. They oppose trade and specialization and detest "networks" of like-minded people, preferring "communities" that happen to be thrown together geographically. They're none too fond of technology, making Y2K a dream come true. In this context, it's easy to understand why treating the Y2K bug as a technical problem has so little appeal: The glitch was created by anonymous computer specialists. How can we trust other anonymous specialists to solve it? Stocking up on food, water, and medicines gives us a sense of control, however false it may be. Relying on distant experts to do their jobs, by contrast, makes us feel vulnerable. The greatest appeal of Y2K, however, is the dream of starting from scratch. In this scenario, the more systems that collapse, the better. (Another reason not to encourage efforts at technical repairs.) We will have revolution forced on us. Instead of the slow, difficult process of winning converts to their worldviews, the Y2K apocalyptics foresee an easy victory, courtesy of technological breakdown. They will then be able to build the society they've always dreamed of. "If we begin our planning from `What's possible?' we will avoid attempts to patch together the old system, or to frantically re-create systems that have resulted in isolation and dissatisfaction," write Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers in the Utne booklet, arguing for Y2K "as an opportunity to re-create our communities and culture." All that has gone before will be swept away--no messy patches, no building on the past--in favor of a world redesigned according to an ideal blueprint. "Y2K," says Eric Utne, "is the excuse we've been waiting for to stop making so many compromises in how we know we should, and want to, live our lives. Y2K is our opportunity to stop our polluting and wasteful practices, and start living more sustainable, environmentally friendly lives." Buried in this cheery rhetoric is the vision of a "year zero," a new world built on catastrophe and ruled by the enlightened. What Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers glibly dismiss as "the old system" are the lives of millions of people with no particular zeal to "re-create" their culture or communities. The unglamorous truth is that the Y2K bug is a computer glitch--the costly product of long-ago decisions not to worry about the distant turn of the century. It is serious and expensive, and alarms that spur action to correct it are worthwhile. But it is not the end of the world. And if it were, we would all suffer greatly. Fantasies of a remade post-apocalypse world are just Mad Max with a happy face, tales to entertain would-be \bermenschen. We may like to imagine ourselves as heroes in a simpler world, but the world we actually inhabit is complex, its heroes the quotidian specialists who make its complexity both productive and frightening. Instead of lusting for the end of civilization, as though real lives were just a movie, we should cherish its achievements and seek to correct its errors--even if that means settling for a "technical fix" instead of social transformation.

-- Norm (nwo@hotmail.com), April 01, 1999


Computers don't care what you think, they don't care what I think, they don't care what those folks think, they don't care what Ed thinks, they don't care what Gary North thinks, they don't care what Bill Clinton thinks, they don't care what Koskinin thinks, they don't care what anyone thinks. This will play out on it's own, depending on what gets fixed in time. That is all that will matter.

Keep it up though, you're efforts at developing a free thought process are entertaining.

-- Uncle Deedah (oncebitten@twiceshy.com), April 01, 1999.

This is not Uncle Deedah. Unc misspells proper nouns, but never a pronoun or adjective.

-- Lisa (nope@I'll summon.him_though), April 01, 1999.

Noep, et's me. I doent get ouit much, aend I'm a terebil spelor. I can thinke tho.

-- Uncle Deedah (oncebitten@twiceshy.com), April 01, 1999.

Then give us a little of your famous (and unmistakeable) HTML, and respond to your e-mail.

-- Lisa (trap@snare.net), April 01, 1999.

< img src="http://www.talstar.com/cat/graphics/xb1/beer3.gif">

I just checked my mail, nobody loves me.

-- Uncle Deedah (oncebitten@twiceshy.com), April 01, 1999.

Seems that I've lost my touch, sorry.

-- Uncle Deedah (oncebitten@twiceshy.com), April 01, 1999.

Ooooooops, rechecked it, somebody cares afterall. Golly.

-- Uncle Deedah (oncebitten@twiceshy.com), April 01, 1999.


I am relatively new to this forum, and I never expected to answer to you. And I never thought I would get mad at a post. I am answering you as a very commen person who has no technical clue of alot of these issues. Am I not suppose to be one of the "newbies" you are trying to save?

If I thought for one moment you had any personal interest in mine or my families well being, I might read your thoughts with a more open view. When you display the posting antics you have today as you have in the past, I am telling you I no longer care to even attempt to understand what it is you are trying to say. At the very least you could use your own plain words to explain your opinions and give some good examples first hand.

You want to convence plain people? I went to that site that doomslayer mentioned yesterday. I won't even say what I saw there. You go to that site right now and look at those posts. Then, although I am sure you have already, you go to the archieve of this forum under the technical and computer headings. Then you tell me what impression was left with a person who just discovered these two sites yesterday? And I am telling you right now, I met over the Internet last night a lady from NJ who knew nothing about anything even related to y2k. And I gave her a list of balanced links, pro and con, that I have found over the last couple of months. I have NEVER tried to influence anyones opinion on anything that I feel they should weigh both sides and decide for themselves. I did not tell her my opinion at anyone time, and I did not mention food storage, religion or anything of that nature. I am sure my opinion was apparent in the way I said things, but I did try to avoid it. What was she looking for? Not how to can cheese, not how to shoot a gun. She was looking for information. Now tell me, what did she learn at that other site? Where was the understandable technical advice that will put her at ease. There was only one post that I found, and there may be others, that even remotely sounded thought out by the person hosting that site. He did however loose alot of credibility with me with some of his posts.

And just one final point I would like to make to you and all of those others trying to save me from storing to much rice. To answer to your post data, I have never agreed with the opinion of yuppies as a group or with fundamentalists as a group. What was I suppose to learn from that information exactly?

In addition, as a family we try to have as much control over our own destiny as possible. Is this bad? And you understand this...I AM A HERO. Not to you or anyone else besides my family. Just as my family are my heros. I don't want the end of anything as I know it, you know it, or anyone else thinks they know it. I took Red Cross first aid classes in case my child ever got hurt. And he has never gotten hurt. But taking those classes makes me a hero. I warn him to watch out for poisonious snakes when he heads out in the woods. I let him go, but I remind him. Thank God he has never gotten bitten. But reminding him makes me a hero. And I have enough rice and beans in my kitchen, and vitamins, and will get some other things so I know he is comfortable and warm next winter. And I sure hope I don't need them. But because I have them, that makes me a hero.

You need to rethink just exactly what it is you are trying to tell me.

-- Lilly (somewhere@some.level), April 01, 1999.

And one other thing to you Norm and others with varying view points from the main theme of this forum. Quite posting such long darn quotes that I spend my time reading and trying to understand, without adding some sort of plain spoken or pertenint information of your own at the end that may possibley teach me something. I don't mind reading posts from Mr. Decker. I don't necessarly agree with him, but I at least learn something.

-- Lilly (somewhere@some.level), April 01, 1999.


This article is just another example of some 30-something writer, who has to fill a page with print. Instead of verifying this y2k phenomena with facts, pro or con, they put a spin on it, ridiculing those of us, who, after much study, have come to recognize that _something_ may occur, and that it is better to be prepared than not.

If I could find someone who could prove to me with verifiable facts that all this y2k stuff was hooey, I would hang on their every word. Instead, after almost a year of studying this problem, all I can find is that, "Yes, there is a problem." Companies and governments would not be spending those kinds of capital expenditure non income productin dollars to remediate something that was not a problem. Senators and Congressmen taking testimony from individuals would not be concluding that there are difficulties ahead.

I don't think there is anyone on this board who actually, truely wants to change their lives, or who actually wants to contemplate anarchy and its ugly consequences. I sure as h*ll didn't. We've had to change all our plans, re-think everything, buy stuff we never would have bought...and likewise everybody else on this board.

Anybody who contemplates a shift from society as we know it today, to a kinder, gentler, smaller, less government, more feeling idealistic society because without-all-this-technology-we-will-simply-be-better-people has never been in a Costco on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

No, Norm. If you want to contribute something worthwhile to this board, then bring us facts to refute the Senate Reports, the reports of other experts in their fields.

Otherwise, all you are doing is defraying your own anxiety.

-- Mary (CAgdma@home.com), April 01, 1999.


So glad to see your tracks again. Place hasn't been the same without you.

As to the initial post: more Norm droppings. This time touchy- feely stuff, wouldn't-it-be-nice moronics just as bad as any Mad Max ravings at the other extreme of the spectrum. Waste of perfectly good electrons, too bad they killed trees for it too.

-- (li'ldog@stillontheporch.com), April 01, 1999.


Thank you.

Mr. Decker

-- Mr. Decker (kcdecker@worldnet.att.net), April 01, 1999.

One of the strange phenomenons of Y2K is that it brings out all the philosophical differences and similarities in folks. It is very difficult indeed to take a stance on Y2K without exposing the very root feelings we have about this society as we see it today. I'm sure about one thing, people are very concerned about the direction of this wonderful country we live in. Most of us really want to preserve the best we know of it, but are most concerned about the leadership, or lack of - something about "throwing the baby out with the.....".

Keep the faith!


-- Bob Walton (waltonb@kdsi.net), April 01, 1999.

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