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Apocalypse Now, Not Later

This last weekend, the various headlines of a particular story didn’t so much as drift into the realm of my usually vaguely-defined awareness, as it seized and consumed all of my attention. The fact that it was splashed across the front pages of news outlets of multiple countries alone wasn’t what surprised me – after all, Osama’s death was made pretty public. It was the fact that a religious doomsday story made it to an otherwise usually secular Australia.

It is hard to ignore the tone adopted by the Australian press on Harold Camping’s prediction that the end of the world would happen on 21st May 2011, which was mostly less-than-subtle brow raising, polite incredulity, and the good old “nudge nudge, wink wink”. Yet behind the sensation, sensation, sensation! lurked what I felt to be an undercurrent of nervous jocularity.

How dramatic human beings are as a species, that all prophesies of the end of times would involve a huge display of some sort – that our departure would not be without fuss and fanfare. How deceitful!

I personally believe that a much scarier idea for human beings to contemplate, compared to an apocalyptic Doomsday, is that there will be no Judgment Day at all. A quiet departure, like a fading away, is what humans find inconceivable.

Beyond the psychology of people needing an explanation, or hope for redemption, beyond the (pseudo)sciences of number-crunching on the basis of Biblical dates, or statistical likelihoods, lies the very simple kernel of egocentric truth – that our storytelling centres around, well, us.

It begins with us, and so too, shall it end, with us.

I think this holds true even among those of us who are not theists, and claim to not feel swindled out of a story of Creation. Looking at the countless number of stories told in books, or more recently films, how many stories with the theme of the End, do not involve a tale of crisis, or disaster on a grand scale?

Granted, there are some among us who refuse to entertain ideas of an end, period (post-Apocalypse, anyone?). Yet when invited to perform this thought experiment hypothetically, how many can claim to break beyond the boundaries of general thinking and fantasize an unspectacular fizzling out over a great, big bang?

So here is how I see it – we, who are the storytellers, must remember just as much that we are also the characters of the story, and when all is said and done, we are the only ones to whom the story is being told. And it just wouldn’t make a good story if the ending went something like “the world just went on as it always did, and was soon forgotten by the rest of the Universe; chaotic to its own residents but so quietly insignificant to the rest of Creation that no one really noticed when it finally ceased to be, the end.”

Do I want a good story? Hell, yes. Most of us are willing to suspend all notions of common sense and logic while watching a Hollywood film or a Grimm brothers’ fairytale, purely for the sake of enhancing the story. So as long as I understand that these prophesies have a specific function in the fabric of human history – that is, the story-telling – then I say, bring on the Grand Finale.

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