This website has been around so long that we have a delicious little archive of eschatological paranoia in our lame-o forums about Y2K and the 2012 “Mayan apocalypse.” The general sense that the world is very doomed very soon has been weighing heavily on the minds of our handful of forum-goers for years. This is partially in response, I think, to the general malaise that infects us all in this strange, lonely world we’ve built for ourselves where we’ve taken “if it bleeds it leads” to profoundly new levels. When the FBI fucked over the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in 1993, we had to watch the whole thing from afar, from the government’s point of view. When a psychopath shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, we got to stream live video shot by the victims inside the building.
So who can blame us for being obsessed about the end days? Though, after 2012, the apocalypse has become a bit vague. Now we don’t really put a date to it. There’s no looming thing like “Pope Theodore S. Logan the 3rd said in 1107 AD that the world would end on May 14th, 2021, at approximately 11:02am.”
Maybe we’ve learned our lesson when it comes to fixed dates. It’s bad for business when May 15th, 2021 rolls around and everyone wants a refund on the wildly expensive anti-Triffid guns you sold them. Or…maybe not. Because there is actually a specific date for the next apocalypse – 2045 – and the people who believe in that one will surprise you. It’s an apocalypse that the wealthy intelligentsia believe in. The same people who shape just about every aspect of our lives.
Y2K and the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse (the actual date for that was December 21st), though, were poor people’s apocalypses. They revolved around the core concepts of “losing our stuff” and devolving into a simpler people. Perhaps they represented a collective desire to escape the fractured culture and overwhelming craziness of the Digital Age. A secret desire to live a life without pop-up ads.
With Y2K, computers would shut down and we’d all find ourselves living Tyler Durden’s dream from Fight Club —
In the world I see – you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.
Y2K, for all the paranoia and craziness, was a strangely hopeful apocalypse. For every person stockpiling water and supplies, there was another who pined for the coming Amish lifestyle to which we’d have to adapt. (In many ways – Fight Club is a strange example of modern fin de siècle literature, encompassing the weird combination of boredom, pessimism, and technological and social paranoia that filled the literature of the 1890s. The same sort of stuff that inspired Wells’ Time Traveler and Verne’s Captain Nemo to bitterly leave their lives (and, to a degree, their Humanity) behind.)
And, of course, it came and went and nothing happened, which anybody with even half a brain knew and understood long before the date rolled around. Now, the origin of the Millennium Bug theory is controversial, and still debated today, so take this with a grain of salt, but…
The Y2K problem made its debut in 1984 with the book Computers in Crisis which sold poorly and discussed a problem that was already on people’s minds and being addressed. The book garnered a strong and devoted cult following which popularized the more apocalyptic aspects of what could happen on the long-ago, dial-up proto-internet. This popularization was enough for the authors to sell the reprint rights to mega-publisher McGraw-Hill in the early 90s, where the repackaged book was now sold as The Year 2000 Computing Crisis.
The result: Mass hysteria and nearly half a trillion dollars (!) spent in shoring up Big Business, financial, and government concerns. Everyone got in on the big cash-in, from publishers (between 1995 and 1999, tens of millions of Y2K nonfiction titles were released, many by the mainstream publishing houses, creating a cash surplus that they would ride through the harder days ahead for printed books) to expensive insurance policies for small businesses that might be impacted by the Bug. Jerry Falwell said it would be the Biblical apocalypse, and please send checks to the usual address. He wasn’t alone among the religious groups, either. There was money to be made on the apocalypse whether it was selling God or Firestarter kits.
Y2K was the most profiteering apocalypse of our time. And, no matter how you want to debate it (whether it was true or false), it really does all boil down to a couple of yahoos trying to sell their fringe book and a big publisher’s ability to correctly identify a niche.
The 2012 Mayan Apocalypse has even more dubious origins. The Mayans had this ridiculous “long count calendar” that covered over 5000 years, ending roughly around December 21st, 2012.
The first problem here is that we don’t really understand all that much about the Mayans so there’s plenty of room for two-bit hacks to say stuff like, you know, they worshipped ancient astronauts. And the hoi polloi buy that shit hook, line, and sinker because it’s kind of cool. I’d much rather hear about ancient astronauts as opposed to your exhaustive, decades-long study about ancient crop rotation practices. Yawn, motherfucker.
Those who do study the Maya knew one simple fact – when the long count calendar ended the Mayans would do the same thing you do at the end of each month – they’d flip the page over to the next month. In fact, the long count calendar in question wasn’t the first one! It was preceded by another long count calendar which, when it came to an end, simply flipped over to the one that ended in 2012. So, tra-la-la.
The 2012 apocalypse rests on the shoulders of archeologist Michael D. Coe whose sole interpretation, in 1966, was that the end of the long count meant Armageddon. Every one of his peers were quick to note that nowhere in all that we know about the Maya is there any mention of the end of the world.
Coe’s misinterpretation is just one offhand comment in his still very popular book on the Maya. Probably unfair to blame him entirely. His work was taken wildly out of context by a series of hack authors in the 90s who linked Coe’s one statement with everything from allegedly Mayan influenced southwest American Indian myths of the apocalypse to a “galactic alignment,” which was anything from the Earth passing through a beam of god-light or some shit from the center of the galaxy, to an alignment with an apparently sentient black hole, to an allegedly provable mass extinction cycle (using creative interpretations of the fossil record). And all that stuff is just the sane interpretations.
The upshot, once again, was that paranoia was out of control and everyone cashed in. Not only were the new agers trying to sell books but, once the 2012 fears entered the mainstream, we saw a repeat of Y2K with hundreds of millions spent against the coming apocalypse (this time personal money, in the form of an uptick in funding cultists, building shelters, and stockpiling) and insurance schemes running rampant. And a bad John Cusack movie.
And, once again, nothing happened. Which anyone with half a brain knew.
So here we are. The next apocalypse is 2045 and we’re not freaking out about it. Which seems odd. I’m talking about the Technological Singularity which, very simply stated, is when we create a self-aware artificial intelligence and immediately become obsolete meat sacks. The AI procreates wildly and, soon enough, the human race becomes what the horse and buggy became to the automobile.
With thousands upon thousands of man-hours and billions and billions of dollars being spent by corporations such as Google to create an artificial intelligence, many of our leading scientists figure that we’ll succeed with this endeavor sometime in the 2040s (with 2045 being a fair enough year to settle on for the purposes of establishing a quick go-to date for the apocalypse).
This apocalypse says that the AI will either see Humanity as a threat or, simply, raw materials to be repurposed. Either way, we’ll all be melted down and turned into candles and furniture.
The “Technological Singularity” was popularized in the 1990s by a sci-fi writer-cum-prophet (sound familiar?) whose work (among the work of many others) has inspired a sort of pseudo-religion called Singularitarianism.
This sci-fi guy, though, was merely building on fear-of-AI stuff that has haunted the scientific community as far back as the 1960s. Fear of the Singularity has been around for just as long or longer than the Y2K and 2012 madness. It is, arguably, born of the same sort of apocalyptic visions that the late Cold War inspired. The Singularity and the homicidal AI theory, is something that directly influenced writers like Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, and movies like Terminator. So there’s no doubt that this is in our general consciousness and not a thought experiment by the brains in Silicon Valley.
But not everyone who fears this 2045 apocalypse is a fringe weirdo. There are people who actively spend large portions of their lives to try to either stop the Singularity or develop safeguards against it. People like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and a surprisingly large host of Nobel-laureate scientists. i.e., some of our smartest minds are devoting their finances and energy to averting cataclysm in the 2040s and are 100% convinced that this is the shit that will take us all down. Not a pandemic, not a bomb, not a natural disaster. It’ll be fucking Skynet, day one, deciding Humanity is a virus.
These powerful movers and shakers all donate hundreds of millions a year to organizations, think tanks, and individuals who are all trying to develop containment and control protocols for a technology that doesn’t exist.
Even Obama is worried about it! https://www.wired.com/2016/10/president-obama-mit-joi-ito-interview/ Though his concern is, at least, a bit more rational. Skynet will only kill poor people is what I think he’s getting at in that linked interview.
So my concern is: We were all in a tizzy about Y2K and 2012 and those two events were purely imaginary and foisted on us by corporations and cultists who saw and took advantage of an opportunity. But we are not in a tizzy about 2045 even though our greatest minds are deeply and cripplingly concerned about it and talk about it to the press and in their social media feeds almost constantly.
Why is that? Is it because it’s not being sold to us? Do we only fear the apocalypse if we can buy something that tells us specifically to fear the apocalypse?
Skynet? Do you have an answ—-