Here in the United States, citizens are stumbling around in a zombie-like daze wondering when, if ever, our politicians are going to get their hands on some brains (and perhaps a spine as well) and get down to business solving the completely, totally, 100% self inflicted catastrophe we seem to be headed toward with the ‘fiscal cliff’ (here, I’ll admit I find the term ‘austerity bomb’ both more compelling as a phrase as well as more accurate as a description) debacle. Many of our national political leaders have acted in ways that were (one imagines unintentionally) hilarious, but even our president, with his characteristic dry wit, doesn’t have anything which quite compares to this.
Apparently the Australians are known for a dry, irreverent wit, which Prime Minster Julia Gillard put on display in a mock statement to the nation promoting a morning show program focused on the impending end of all things, predicted for the morning of 7 December. The big news is that apparently we missed it, here in the United States, because we woke up this morning and went about our days.
I will admit to being ever so slightly conflicted about humor like this. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the satire and am always reduced to giggles of joy whenever someone ups the ante on apocalyptic humor, as PM Gillard has managed to do here. And I think it must say something about the health of a political system when a national politician is able to step out from behind the screen of Very Serous National Leadership to have a bit of light-hearted fun. But I do worry about all the people who can’t, for any number of different reasons, tell the difference between reality and the fantasy. I would never argue that the topic ought to be verboten, my feeling about censorship is that more speech is better, and for every person running around with their hair on fire claiming that the earth is about to come to a violent end because of some swiftly approaching calamity, I think we ought to have a few others explaining that the 21st will come and go just like any other day, and in fact like every other predicted doomsday.
But I remain concerned nonetheless. It’s normal for us to be concerned about the future and fascinated by the idea of apocalypse. What I continue to be completely mystified by is the tenaciousness of irrational fears and a clinging to belief, especially so fundamentally pessimistic a belief, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Science can give us so much more information about how the world works, and the triumph of education is that more people have access to an unprecedented amount of that information, and yet we seem to be more, rather than less, susceptible to the lure of our worst fears. Clearly, we need more information, more discussion, and even more humor to draw attention to the fact that some people have, with a great deal of certainty and copious ‘evidence,’ always predicted the end of things for one reason or another. Those people have always been wrong. There is no reason to believe, and many, many, MANY reasons to be skeptical that this time is going to be any different.
In a side note, I now have Prime Minister Gillard to thank for introducing me to Tom and Alex and, in a roundabout way, to Ig Nobel prize winning scientist Karl Kruszelnicki, whose ground breaking and tireless research deserves to be celebrated!
And, in a related note, Tom and Alex reminded me of this, which is one of my favorite movie clips. As someone who has lived in Los Angeles, nothing makes me happier than watching it be burned, bombed, blown up and generally wrecked.