Friday, April 04, 2008

Missing Y2K

I first heard about the Y2K Bug and survivalism about 10 years ago. According to the theory a programing glitch would cause all computers to fail on the first day of the new millennium. Since computers ran everything some speculated that this could lead to a catastrophic collapse of all technology, economy, government creating a new dark age in which modern people would be helpless without the services and structures that had sustained their lives. Many people I knew were preparing for the worst, stockpiling food, weapons, and supplies, making pacts to care for each other when safety suddenly became tenuous. I must admit on New Years Day 2000 I had a slight sense of disappointment. Nothing happened—the modern world had survived unscathed.

Perhaps the wildness and romanticism of being a 23 year-old made the collapse of everything seem more exciting than dreadful, but I don't think I was alone in being hopeful about the “end of the world as we know it.” While fear may have played a role, the overwhelming feeling I recall in people's voices when they spoke of the coming disaster was ecstatic anticipation. People were eager for the power grid to go down never to come on again.

I have recently become aware that expectations of modern society disintegrating are still alive and well. The newer theories for the coming collapse are more diverse (economic depression, oil running out, terrorist attack, global warming, bird flu, etc) but the final prediction is the same: The system becomes too unstable to continue. The store shelves and gas tanks go empty. The lights go out. The government stops working. Suddenly the world we knew is gone and won't be coming back. People are fascinated with the idea. There are hundreds of websites with information and debates on how to prepare for this. Hollywood has become caught up in survivalism in films such as “28 Days Later” and “I Am Legend

After seeing Y2K and 9/11 do little to disrupt the modern world, I am much more skeptical about the contention that our system is a house of cards awaiting the slightest tremor to send it to pieces. The secret wish that it would all fall apart, however, is not as easily banished from my mind. Is this just the destructive impulse to tear apart the world we inherited? It seems to me that this is essentially a hopeful rather than violent phenomenon. Survivalists don't want the world to end, they look forward to a new beginning.

Why would so many in the world's freest and richest nation eagerly dream of destitution and danger? It must be a symptom of fatal flaws in our culture when many of our strongest impulses and deepest hopes are for the implosion society. Has our culture been swept up in the current of building wealth and feeding appetites that it lost track of deeper but more subtle human needs? Has the technology that made everyone's lives easier ended up making us feel more isolated? Has the mass society of cars, computers, and cities distracted us from our sustaining relationships with each other, the earth, and God? Or perhaps the human mind is always that of hunter-gather which expects to find itself barely scraping out a living and living in a tiny tribe, and the world of modernity is just too much for it to bear—a dream from which we keep expecting to wake up?

In the end, I don't think that the doomsday predictions of the survivalists are very likely. For better or worse the modern system is stronger than it appears. I also don't believe that my romanticized expectations of living after a crash would be liberating like it was in my imagination. We may be stuck with the modern world, but we should examine it more critically. If the modern world isn't remedied to accommodate our ancient needs it may end up ruining us yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is very insightful. I sincerely hope you are right, but be semper paratus. By the way, thanks for not identifying me as one of the Y2K paranoids. Anybody want to buy 1000 rounds of 7.62 x 39 SKS/AK-47 ammo? - MLD