Why Do We Love the Apocalypse?

It’s said (though not quite proven) that humans are the only living beings that are aware of their approaching deaths. Most of us know that we will die somehow, through natural or accidental means. This could be considered a positive or negative: a pro being that it helps us live life to the fullest, but a con being that it’s obviously quite depressing—and, more importantly, has unfortunately led us to develop impossibly stupid phrases such as “yolo.”

Nowadays, it’s obvious that this knowledge of our impending doom is affecting us more than ever, thanks to the growing post-apocalyptic and apocalyptic-themed fad in today’s society. With movies such as “2012” starring John Cusack and “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen, TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Doomsday Preppers,” and even teen fiction such as The Hunger Games trilogy, the end of the world has become a definite part of our culture. It wouldn’t be that weird, except for the blatant fact that we love it. We love talking about how the world would end, a life without an organized society, what we would do if we survived, who we would pick to be on our zombie-bashing team. We love that the world is “supposed” to end this December, and we are constantly hungry for more knowledge and scenarios—whether we believe it or not.

How did this all start in the first place? Why December 21st, 2012? No, the Mayans didn’t leave us a nice note on scented stationary warning us that we’ll all die that day—and contrary to popular belief, their calendar did not end that day, either. According to LiveScience writer Stephanie Pappas, this calendar, known as the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar or the Maya Long Count calendar, ends its 13th b’ak’tun on this day. A b’ak’tun is a unit of time used by the Mayans that amounted to 144,000 days, or approximately 394 years.

The reason all this matters is because of two inscriptions that were dug up in Mexico and Guatemala, respectively. These inscriptions, created by the Mayans, highlight December 21st, 2010 to be an important date. The first, according to Pappas, “refers to the coming of a god associated with cycle changes,” while the second tells of a king who was known as “the 13th b’ak’tun lord” (though, as Pappas mentions in her article, this was most likely a clever PR move meant to gather support for the king after he suffered a pretty impressive and humiliating loss in battle). The end of this b’ak’tun was then linked to a story about a planet called Nibiru colliding into Earth on this day—even though it was supposed to in May of 2003, except nothing happened, and the doomsday date was postponed like a pool party on a rainy day.

Here’s the kicker: neither of these texts mention any sort of an apocalypse. Despite NASA’s insistence that the end of the world won’t happen for a ridiculously long time, more rumors keep on coming. Sites like 2012apocalypse.net exist and are actively maintained, receiving thousands of hits each day. This site, started by John Scillitani to catalog his apocalypse research, contains a countless number of tidbits from all sorts of religions pointing towards the end of the world, including sun spots, scripture, the Age of Aquarius, and Nostradamus.

Plenty of others are taking the possibility of the apocalypse quite seriously. One man in China tried to build an ark because of these doomsday rumors. A company called Zombie Extermination, Research and Operations (Z.E.R.O.) has a “Zombie Preparedness Kit” for $24,000—and has actually sold several. There are even thousands of people preparing for the apocalypse in what they believe to be most sacred town in the world: Bugarach, a tiny, poor village of 200 people in France. Some rather strong believers actually believe aliens live under the mountain of Bugarach, and these aliens will be able to save them come December (naturally, the mayor of said town is not too terribly happy about this new development).

These people who are going above and beyond to prepare for the end might not exactly be considered “the norm,” but they certainly say something about our society. After all, they are going out of their way to figure out ways the apocalypse is real in their minds, since there is no true, direct evidence that the end of the world is near (hell, there are still 7 million Mayan people that exist on this planet, who laugh at the idea). It’s almost as if they want it to be real; then again, at this point it would be understandable if they do, since they’d look pretty stupid if it didn’t happen (i.e. Harold Camping and his “judgment day” last May). However, I digress—beyond embarrassment, there are some legitimate reasons why the apocalypse could mean something good to these people. Perhaps they envision a new world, a clean slate, where they could mold the new society (but only if they survive, which is why they might have high-tech bunkers in their backyards).

This very reason might also apply to why the less-extreme mainstream society is fascinated by the idea of the end of the world. With several billion people living on this planet, it’s hard to think that the world will ever change its ways. Though disturbing, an apocalypse would mean a wide-spread cleansing of the Earth—a complete and total revolution. How could we live without everyday society? What would it be like to be forced out of your everyday routine to create your own, without rules? We’re comfortable yet bored with our stagnant lives now, and though we complain about the government and everyday living, we feel there’s nothing we can do about it. An apocalypse would make people  feel as though they could make a difference, because there would be no one else around to step up.

Or, perhaps, an apocalypse might be proof to those with fading faith that there is, indeed, a higher power—something much larger beyond this planet. Whether that higher power is God, some sort of Earth-hating aliens, or simply fate, well, that’s up to the individual. Some just might want proof that something else out there exists, something strong enough to inspire an apocalypse.

Our society is complex. Sure, survival is probably one of the most important things to us, but as we work to put a roof over our heads, put food on the table, and provide overall security for our families, we entertain ourselves with the thought of all of our efforts being in vain as some giant meteor crashes into the Earth or some alien species takes over. We are a culture of oxy-morons. Perhaps it will always be impossible to truly understand why we love the apocalypse, but it will certainly be something present in our culture for decades to come—if we all survive the month, that is.

Photo Credit: NASA Blueshift. Photo used under Creative Commons license. 

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