For the uninitiated, existential risk is a broad term covering catastrophic events that could wipe out the human species. Some existential risk devotees agonize over nuclear wars, climate change, and virus outbreaks. Others, such as Schwall, put more energy into worrying about the potential downside of information technology. They fret about a super-powerful artificial intelligence run amok and hordes of killer nanobots. “There are a number of people who have knowledge in this field that estimate humanity’s chance at making it through this century at about 50 percent,” Schwall says. “Even if that number is way off and it’s one in a billion, that’s too high for me.”
Why, yes, there are people out there working to stave soff the end of humanity.
Canada’s Metro World sums up some recent failed end of the world predictions in this article—”Five doomsday prediction flops"—but, as regular readers know, they barely scratch the surface of failed apocalypse predictions.
It’s just because he’s in prison for raping little girls in forced “marriages,” but Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) ”prophet” Warren Jeffs is receiving visions of the end times.
According to a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, champion watchdog of hate groups on all the fringes, Jeffs is prophesying the end of the world.
In a series of eight biblically themed “revelations,” written between Aug. 18 and Nov. 12, Jeffs predicts widespread catastrophe and divine vengeance for a nation “fully ripening in iniquity.” Earthquakes will rock Arizona, tidal waves will smack Seattle, “melting fire” will roll across Idaho, and devastating storms will wreak havoc everywhere else, the convicted sex criminal predicts.
According to AP reports, the details of the so-called "Armageddon" virus—a version of influenza A(H1N5), a bird flu, that can be transmitted from person-to-person contact and has a human mortality rate of 60 percent—will be restricted by scientists.
The research, which was conducted in the Netherlands and the U.S. on a grant from the National Institutes of Health, was intended to discover ways to predict the mutation of influenza strains so that public health officials could prepare for epidemics. In addition to providing valuable information about mutation patterns, it also created a strain of the incredibly deadly bird flu.
The scary-sounding viruses are locked in high-security labs as researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison prepare to publish their findings in leading scientific journals. That’s the way scientists share their work so that their colleagues can build on it, perhaps creating better ways to monitor bird flu in the wild, for example.
But biosecurity advisers to the government recommended that the journals Science and Nature publish only the general discoveries, not the full blueprint for these man-made strains. Tuesday, the government announced that it agreed and made the request.
In statements, the two research teams say they’re making some changes, if reluctantly. The journals are mulling what to do, and the government didn’t say precisely what should be left out.
Or at least the beginning of the end: News from New Jersey is that the Camden radio station owned by Rev. Harold Camping’s Family Radio is being sold.
It would be a safe guess that, following his double-barrel prophetic failure (two dates in 2011 both passed without either the Rapture or Armageddon occurring) and the stroke Camping suffered, the rest of the Family Radio empire will be sold off as well.
Most sects and cults that suffer a major prophetic failure can survive it, but only if there is strong leadership that can respond. In some cases, an “adjustment” of prophecy is enough to salvage the organization. In others, such as the 1975 prophetic failure of Jehovah’s Witnesses, blaming the believers for the failure will turn their frustration and anger inward, thus keeping the organization afloat.
Yet the disenchantment that follows unfulfilled predictions of the kind made by Miller, Camping, and others has by no means diminished the public appetite for the Apocalypse. New Age adherents of the 2012 prophecy, which has created an Internet frenzy and a small publishing industry, believe the end of the ancient Mayan calendar, on December 21, 2012, will coincide with the end of the world. Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carlson’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), along with Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series, which has sold more than 35 million books, eagerly anticipate the imminent conveyance of believers to heaven, and Armageddon for everyone else. Why all the doom? Why the persistent predictions of volcanic eruptions, mega-earthquakes, tidal waves, new ice ages, the obliteration of life as we know it, and even the annihilation of the earth itself?
Apocalypse Obsession makes a good point, but not necessarily because a flu epidemic signals the end of the world. Rather, it’s a pretty good indicator of whether or not you’ve been exposed, which means you may get sick. Take precautions—get a flu shot (I already have), wash your hands frequently, stay away from people who are sick.
This is a really good time to remind everyone to prepare an emergency influenza kit, with acetaminophen, a thermometer, emergency numbers of friends who owe you favors and will run errands for you, and some of your favorite non-perishable food items.
Mine also contains a couple of DVDs—apocalyptic films, natch. I love watching the world end while I’m sniffling, sneezing, coughing, feverish and unable to sleep.
Apparently, some journalists haven’t just given a little thought to this; they’ve given a lot of thought to it.
How to report a world-ending crisis, such as a global epidemic of a deadly disease, an approaching, planet-detroying asteroid, or an alien invasion?
Well, like all good journalists, they had a conference about it. Or rather, it was a topic at this year’s News Foo Camp in Arizona.
At Jason Linkins’ Eat the Press blog over at HuffPo, he got a bit silly:
Will the live-tweets of our demise be hashtagged “#bang” or “#whimper?” Will Thomas Friedman have enough time to pen one more lamentation about our leaders’ inability to come together (“All President Obama had to do to secure the votes to make Torchwood operational was agree to a series of tax cuts on job creators, but in the end, his leadership was lacking.”). And should he live to see the Sunday after the cataclysm, will John McCain get booked on “Meet (What’s Left Of) The Press?”
We started by deciding which apocalypses to prepare for, eventually settling on alien invasion and global pandemic. (We decided that The Rapture, an event that wouldn’t change our lives all too much, was too entry-level to discuss.)
My question is, Why? Because despite one of the main characters of the Left Behind series, Buck Cameron, being supposedly the greatest investigative reporter who ever lived, in those novels by Rapture-specialist Tim LaHaye contain absolutely no actual reporting of the event.
At the New York Times media and advertising blog, Media Decoded, David Carr writes about how to handle an alien invasion apocalypse:
The aliens, natch, would hit the kill switch on the Internet, and our collective experience in other disasters — Hurricane Katrina or the Sept. 11 attacks — suggested that cellphone traffic would build until it tipped over the network, but perhaps text-messaging might squeak through. Otherwise, the media left to get the word out would include CB and ham radio, broadsheet newspapers, carrier pigeon (or little robot helicopters), or, taking a page from the Occupy Wall Streeters, the human microphone.
Ham radio was deemed to be the more durable and rugged platform, which is something to think about when everyone is focused on a different kind of wireless. But no matter what the means of transmission, there would be the delicate issue of who would be sent to interview the alien minister of war.
It is the story of how the end of civilization as we know it is brought about by Christmas. Every time I go to a mall in December (or November) I can’t help thinking “end times…end times…” It looks like a society gone wrong. It looks like a disaster. So I’ve taken that feeling to the extreme.
A fellow named Chris Sheldon has put together this wonderful timeline of apocalyptic predictions: A Brief History of the Apocalypse. Since he starts at 2800 BC, it’s pretty comprehensive; it’s also proof that, whatever the latest prediction, it’s probability of being true is pretty low.
“Well, traditional apocalypse narratives deal with the unfortunately all-too-likely scenarios of catastrophic war or catastrophic environmental change. They tend to overlook things like the Bloodwave, which is a giant tsunami of blood, which will consume much of the central part of the North American continent; the Omega Pulse, which is the giant electromagnetic pulse that wipes out every hard drive and every computer chip on the planet, except for a few outliers; the Dogstorm, the day when all dogs in North America abandon their owners to join together in a hundreds-of-miles-wide dog pack that ravages most of the American South; or, for that matter, the return of the 700 Ancient and Unspeakable Gods.”—John Hodgman, Expert, in an interview with Straight.com about his new book, That Is All.
Why don't you Beleive that these are the End times?
Mostly because every time has been the “end times” for someone. People end; time doesn’t.
Eventually, of course, the planet will be destroyed—there are many, many possible scenarios for that—but that’s not what most people mean by “end times.” They usually mean a specific, prophesied Armageddon; well, there’s not much evidence for that. Instead, what we have are plenty of prophecies and plenty of prophetic failures.
We’ve certainly seen the “zombie” scenario alter over time, from the Haitian-voodoo singular zombies to the rampaging zombies of Night of the Living Dead, and more recently to the epidemic scenario of most contemporary zombie tales (28 Days Later, The Walking Dead), which describe the spread of zombie-ness in epidemiological terms.
What A Journal of the Plague Year doesn’t have is zombies—at least not explicitly. Still, the numberless, suppurating victims are apt to behave like the undead at every turn, crowding the novel with “walking putrefied carcasses, whose breath was infectious and sweat poison.” These abject and degenerating bodies, disfigured by the “tokens” of disease that look like “small Knobs…of callous or Horn,” can turn on others, even running through the streets actively seeking to infect people impressed “with a kind of Rage, and a hatred against their own Kind,” as if the sickness itself were filled with an “evil Will” determined “to communicate it self.” Thus babies kill their mothers, and men tackle women in the street hoping to infect them with a deadly kiss. Others manage to dodge the disease, only to be disfigured by the weight of madness or grief.
It was built to withstand a nuclear attack during the Cold War, but this “cabin” has 2,000 square feet, nine floors, and enough space to secure you and your loved ones from pretty much any Armageddon scenario. This article from Digital Trends suggests it for the coming zombie apocalypse.
This article from the New York Observer says the owners want $1.76 million, but I’m sure they’d be willing to come down for cash.
Just when you thought we were done with the Mayan apocalypse...
… it drags you back in.
Yep, this report from MSNBC’s science and tech section suggests that deforestation led to drought, which eventually brought about the collapse of Mayan civilization. So it was an apocalypse, albeit one brought about by the Mayan culture’s unsustainable forestry practices.
In the case of the Mayans, how did relatively primitive farmers manage to affect the weather? When the Mayans cleared forests, they exposed land surface with a higher albedo, or reflectivity, than the dark-green forest canopy. This land surface reflected energy back into the atmosphere rather than absorbing it, lessening the amount of energy on the land surface available to do things like convect water vapor to form clouds and thus rain. The result, Cook said, was a decline in precipitation by 10 percent to 20 percent.
With less rain, the soil dried out, so any extra energy went to warming the surface rather than evaporating water. The result was a rise in surface temperature by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius). The lack of rainfall and boost in heat would have been bad news for a society whose survival depended on their farmlands.
In what may be the most intriguing—and dangerous—viral research ever, a group of scientist in the Netherlands have apparently designed a strain of the avian flu that has a 60 percent mortality rate for humans and that, unlike most avian flu viruses, can be passed by human-to-human contact.
"This study, from what I can tell, may be the most worrisome and controversial biological dual-use research that has occurred," said Michael Selgelid, the deputy director of the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University.
So aside from the question of whether to publish or not to publish the research on this “armageddon” virus, I’m waiting for the answer to this question: Who thought making an easily transmissable version of a virus with a 60 percent human mortality rate was a good idea?
He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god Bolon Yokte at the end of a 13th period of 400 years, known as Baktuns, on the equivalent of Dec. 21, 2012. Mayans considered 13 a sacred number. There’s nothing apocalyptic in the date, he said.
The text was carved about 1,300 years ago. The stone has cracked, which has made the end of the passage almost illegible.
Given the number of things that pop up from American conservative fundagelicals who think President Barack Obama is the antichrist, it’s interesting that blogger Goblinbooks got around to doing some historical research.
Above is an editorial cartoon from Punch, showing a horned Abe playing the trump card of Emancipation against the South. Anyone who took a US history class can probably remember seeing Lincoln portrayed as satanic. Below is a picture of him drafting the document that freed the slaves with a demon holding his inkwell.
Of course, presidents aren’t the only people pegged as the antichrist. From Slate:
American Presidents aren’t the only world leaders who have been accused of being the Antichrist. For centuries the figure most commonly thought to be the Antichrist has been the Pope. One accusation came from Bishop Arnulf of Reims, who in 991 described Pope John XV as the “Antichrist sitting in God’s temple and showing himself as God.” Even Pope John Paul II was called the Antichrist by a member of the European Parliament, who interrupted one of the pope’s 1988 speeches by waving a sign saying “Pope John Paul II—Antichrist” and shouting “I renounce you as the Antichrist!” Many evangelical churches and some other protestant Christians interpret the Antichrist to be the papacy itself. Representative Michele Bachmann belonged to one such demonination for years, but she left the church in July shortly after announcing her candidacy. Other authority figures suspected of being the Antichrist include Hitler, Gorbachev, and Henry Kissinger.
Goblinbooks’ answer to the question, Who was the first president to be called the antichrist?