Y2K Godmen, and the bite of a toothless bug

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Ashwin Mahesh

Y2K Godmen, and the bite of a toothless bug

Remember Rajneesh? Bhagwan Rajneesh? If the name doesn't ring a bell with some of you, try to imagine this -- Harshad Mehta as your complete financial services provider, with a hotline to a 1-900 number thrown in -- and you'll be close enough. Suffice it to say that a quick search using a less-than-awesome search engine with a combination of illegal and unprintable keywords... you get the idea.

Perhaps I shouldn't get that started, especially considering that the fortress of his deep faith in Oregon is only a few hours drive from where I am. By now, much of my memory of him is hazy, and I can recall little more than the Rolls Royces of his devotion. He was my first godman, long before David Koresh and Chandraswami, and well before I'd heard of the laundry list of television prophets now ensconced in county jails. Perhaps such worthies are best forgotten, but it's something about those departed memories -- they keep coming back.

And so this morning, from the recesses of my mind, usually reserved to store best-forgotten facts and persons, out pops Rajneesh, along with Koresh, Asahara and countless others of his ilk. This time I was prompted by an ongoing chapter in the Book of Failed Doomsday Predictions. Stuffed in my mailbox was a flier from the loony fringe of the times, the Y2K Godmen, as I like to call them.

Many of you will be at least marginally familiar with this group. Usually, their literal reading of some scripture, combined with a hidden hotline to the Great Boss in the Sky, has prompted the (in their eyes) inescapable conclusion that the world is about to end on the eve of this millennium. The Millennium Bug, which we Indians have grown quite familiar with, is the cause celebre of this movement -- for in it, they allege, God has found a way to belittle our progress and remind us of His power, if the rumours are to be believed. And, according to their admonishing, unless we prepare to serve God in full measure, His judgement will surely come down on us with all the force an irresistible power can muster.

I won't browbeat the details of the particular religious quotes that have inspired this warning, for I have no scholarship to speak of on such matters. Still, if that interests you, read Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould's Questioning the Millennium, an interesting commentary on all the reasons for the human (read western) fascination with the big triple zero coming up. It is an amazing testament to the superfluous modernity of our times that Professor Gould is an accomplished and widely respected scholar of many things, the most controversial of which is his rationality!

Much of the stomping over the turn of the millennium is derived from fairly well-documented errors. The Julian and Gregorian calendars have had quite a storied past, and leave much room for debate. The most devastating of these errors, to millennial doomsayers, is that Dennis the Little's much-laboured efforts put the time of Christ's birth at 4 BC, which must call at least the nomenclature into question. Then, there's the rather more embarrassing oversight in celebrating early, stemming from the fact that there never was a 0 AD, so the millennium doesn't really end until December 2000.

Throw in a few other oddities, and pretty soon, you'll get a few years during which the fated moment could arrive anytime. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that premonitions of doom date back to the turn of the first century AD itself; the more recent events merely relate to a newer interpretation. Same wine, different bottle.

A few months ago, for example, over one hundred Taiwanese faithful gathered in a Dallas suburb waiting for their God's final judgement and the end of the world. As the expected Armageddon failed to materialise, the lead moron of this pack announced that he had not quite got it right, and advised his flock to move on. After the Heaven's Gate takeoff, the Swiss-French-Quebecois mass suicides, Waco, the Asahara poison gas club, and sundry other accounts from recent years, we should hardly be dismayed by the Chinese model.

Still, underlying the machinations of individual cults and self-anointed scholars of God's plan is a fairly demeaning reality about the human existence -- that it isn't the least bit difficult to find those who would adopt such a dizzying array of revealed truths and hold them dear. David Koresh and Chandraswami aren't really the pathetic stories of the day, the real horror lies in the following they are able to attract. Far too many people in the world are easily lulled into a vision of the world that completely contradicts the evidence of their senses.

Capitulating to fear of the unknown is bad enough without having those fears reinforced by economic considerations in day-to-day life. After a brief lull in the millennial din, computer companies and their insurance brethren are raising the noise level again, and keeping the spotlight on The Bug. Each day brings a new warning; today it is the Pentagon that is susceptible, tomorrow it will be Swiss banks, and the day after something else. Catastrophe made the cover of India Today recently, you might have noticed. Inevitably, panic buying will distort the normal functioning of the global economy, and cause some difficulties.

Still, a temporary glitch in computer systems should be no big deal, considering that life survived for eons with nary a computer. If we are about to be floored by a stupid glitch in some piece of plastic and metal that mankind has lived without for ages, it doesn't say much for the progress we have made. So a few things go awry, but how much worse could it be than the hundreds of day-to-day occurrences we have learned to look away from? That hasn't stopped the doomsayers from raising the flags -- meltdown is good business, after all, even in the technical world. And riding on the coat-tails of their dreadful predictions come the Y2K Godmen.

And, along with them, comes a familiar question through this litany of die-offs -- what makes a person so devoted to a particular view about the cosmic truths that (s)he would abandon all that is material and tangible and follow another individual to the ends of the earth and life itself? How many people think that life as we know it will end at the turn of the millennium? Don't laugh, you'd be horrified to include yourself in the same species if you knew the answer. Incidentally, does it strike you as odd that of the zillions of fakes floating around peddling various theories of God, the overwhelming majority, bordering on near-totality, are men? Hold on while I hide my face.

Back to my morning encounter with such junk-mail prophets of misery. Poring over bills, coupons, and several other unwanted things stuffed into the mailbox, I noticed the little pamphlet explaining why I should plan for God's upcoming judgement. For $20, the worthy letter-writer proclaimed, he would give me the inside scoop on the Grand Design, and a few samples of the details were included. The one that really threw me for a loop was this -- considering the rampant shortages of food that are likely to result from the collapse of information systems around the world, a minimum of 200 days supply of food and water is essential!

I don't have that much room in my house, so I'll have to take my chances. I tossed the flier aside and moved to my computer to check my other source of mail, and at the same time to see if the Dow or the Nasdaq had duly set its daily record. There was little action in either department, but the message boards, as always, had plenty on offer. On one of the various finance boards, a gent with the username MeOmniscient was expounding the virtues of investing in Today's Guaranteed Hot Stock. What can I say? If God is everywhere, too many bugs have the inside track.

-- Norm (nwo@hotmail.com), May 09, 1999


Judging from the bottom of the barrel quality of this piece, I'd say it was a slow day for good news on the y2k front, eh Norman?

-- a (a@a.a), May 09, 1999.

Doggone it, how many times do we have to say it: Will the last person out of the Y2K Disinformation Office PLEASE turn off the NORM machine??!!!! Now look, its been running all weekend, Mother's Day Weekend at that, and look at what silliness its posted. Someone is going to catch heck for this on Monday morning!

-- King of Spain (madrid@aol.com), May 09, 1999.

This should go on the poole web site - perfect!

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), May 09, 1999.

Ordinarily I don't comment on posts by Norm, or the so called polly trolls. But consider this. Norm's long post has a lot of good reasons why none of the proclaimed fears about Y2K may happen. He may be wrong, or he may be right. Who knows.

He talks about glitches we experience every day that are no big deal, and how those claiming to have the inside track by "the self-anointed scholars of God's plan" claim to be the only credible forecasters of the future. And how neither are indicators of what might actually happen. Those predicting the collpase of the Market by the end of 98' have been debunked, and this particular fool lost a bundle (by my modest standards) for listening to a religious nut (North), and I'm not even a believer, so that exposes me as the fool I am. But my excuse, for such a silly reaction to a forecaster of doom, is that I'm a product of depression era parents, who warned continually to always be prepared for the worst, a meme that has been ingrained in my psyche. And I do not think it was foolish advice.

I am prepared at my level of comfort which does not mean 200 days worth of food, an arsenal, or a bunker. I am preparing for self-sufficiency in order to mainly wean myself from the corporate tit which is ruining the planet that I love. But I'm of the school of thought that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Murphys Law???

But the point of my rant is this. If I were making all my decisions strictly on the amount of failures and predictions of problems that have so far taken place, dates that have come and gone, the Euro, etc., I would think I had joined the nutcase crowd. Happily, I've only made one bad decision, concerning stock, based on nutcase advice, and happily my self-sufficiency plan is based on a "want to" mentality for a better quality of life, than a "have to, or die" mentality based on doom predictions, or Godmen spreading their baloney.

If I were looking at the Y2K scenario, just based on present indicators, I would say that God was on the side of the Dow gurus, rather than the Godmen, and that he had also defected from the U.S. for the oil rich Mideast.

Frankly I think y2k will be bad, if for no other reason, than because every angry malcontent that has access to a computer, will be working his butt off to make sure a collapse does occur, and because our world situation is in such a mess. But if you read Norm's post from an unbiased point of view, it makes sense. Some of your responses don't. Wearing my flameproof, hot pink britches.

-- gilda (jess@listbot.com), May 10, 1999.

gilda, a lot of people are giving a lot of publicity to the lack of any big problems so far. But you need to consider that the problems that were conjectured don't even scratch the surface of most of the well established potential Y2K problems. All potential problems to date are strictily APPLICATION/FINANCIAL problems. These have nothing to do with hardware, operating systems, embedded processors, etc., which by anyone's definition are the BIG WORRIES with Y2K. Likewise, "tricks" abound when it comes to financial applications, such as being able to re-define a fiscal year to be longer than 12 months so as to gain extra time to solve the real problems.

Gawd, I'd love to see you mudwrestle in those hot pink britches....

-- King of Spain (madrid@aol.com), May 10, 1999.

Very good rebuttal King of Spain. Now that's what I call a response that a doubting person, or new person, would pay attention to. Also, I remember having computer problems with this Microsuck piece of junk, and twice it was declared fixed. It worked perfect at the shop, but when I got it home it was not fixed. And it's a fact that most companies can juggle things to appear to be a well run, functioning business. Anyway I'm prepared enough to feel all warm and fuzzy about my security buckets.

King, if I mudwrestled in any color of pants, you would have the laugh of your life.

-- gilda (jess@listbot.com), May 10, 1999.

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