Fear and dread: Why we worry about Y2K

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Fear and dread: Why we worry about Y2K

Tuesday, December 28, 1999



The big Y2K, the year 2000, the beginning of the end, the apocalypse, Armageddon, the violent end to the Big Bang start.

Well, maybe, maybe not.

Regardless, we seem more obsessed with The End than usual -- witness the glut of end-of-the-world movies and a doomsdayesque preoccupation with all things Y2K.

Who can say why?

Well, maybe Rodney Stark, a sociology professor at the University of Washington who's an expert in apocalyptic studies.

Stark says this cultural interest in disaster theories springs from two factors.

To start with, Stark says, our society is safe -- perhaps too safe.

Without much risk or threat around, people may see danger in even the most inconsequential event.

"We're moving very rapidly towards a no-risk world," he says. "I think that's the real end-of-the-line sort of problem we're having as a culture."

Stark is old school. He says he knows kids who have "never been punched in the mouth, never gone to a funeral, never seen a body and don't expect ever to have to take any risks."

This does not impress him as an indicator for a safe, healthy society. Indeed, Stark thinks it has turned us into whimpering sissies.

"To coin a phrase, I think we're turning into chicken----s," he says, leaning in to make his point.

He says when he was a kid, no one could get people interested in the idea that in the next 10,000 years things were going to end.

"Hell, they were trying to deal with next week," Stark says. "And they all figured the world would end sometime."

He says that created incentive to lead a decent life. A good life was "the vaccine for the end of the world."

Stark also says he doesn't think many people are concerned about the end of the world as the new millennium approaches.

But that's only if you don't count all those folks influenced by what he calls "pseudo-science" -- the people who believe the sun is going to explode or implode in our lifetime, that the hole in the ozone layer will expand so much that we'll all die of skin cancer, or that Earth will explode in some intergalactic collision.

"We're not talking about the Bible," he says. "We are talking about people who are very strong of faith, but they're not of religion. They believe that stuff, uncritically, and with an extraordinary close-mindedness."

Stark says that no scientific evidence seems to sway these believers in doom from natural causes.

"It's silly, but it sure has been a good living for some people," he says with a shrug.

"I can guess what one of the next hustles is gonna be," he says, perhaps echoing a couple of recent disaster movies.

"They're gonna scare the hell out of us over meteors. And so we have to build some big rocket to go blow these damn things up.

"So, I'd invest in rocket companies. I mean it."

-- Uncle Bob (UNCLB0B@AOL.COM), December 28, 1999


I was going to scoff but something occurred to me: If you grow up in a household where your parents/grandparents survived something horrible -- the depression, the death camps, etc. -- you might develop a kind of weird envy of hard times. Not knowing how you would have acted in those circumstances leaves a knawing curiousity, & a sense of having never been tested by life.

We're soft, we're spoiled, we've never been tested, we know nothing about life... etc. etc. Maybe the test is coming. Maybe we'll all find out what kinds of people we really are. Maybe we'll fail the test.

I know, this is adolescent stuff, but many of us ARE adolescents, even in middle age.

-- last minute (amateur@psy.chiatry), December 28, 1999.

Last minute,

Speak for yourself

-- (had@enuff.already), December 28, 1999.

Last Minute, If that's really how you feel there are plenty of ways to fix it.

Start a business in the former USSR. Join the Peace Corps. Join the Red Cross disaster team during hurricane season. Go camping in the Rockies during your January vacation. Become a cop or a fireman.

There are many ways left to challenge yourself in this world.

-- Michelle (c@ntdo.it), December 28, 1999.

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