Friday, May 13, 2011

The World Ends October 21. Followed By The Next 10,000 Years

[Sorry, Blogger wasn't working for a long time yesterday, and today I had things to do.]

According to Harold Camping of Family Radio Ministry in Oakland, California as reported in the Baptist Press:
the rapture will occur on May 21, 2011 and God will destroy the world 153 days later on October 21.
But while the Baptists don’t disagree with the idea of the end times coming (after all, their members helped keep the Left Behind series on the best seller lists), they just don’t date it May 21, 2011. 

Ralph Tone at the Baptist Press continues:

Should we join the movement? Probably not. Biblical teaching can be an inconvenient truth to those who would set a month, day and year to Christ's return.

Jesus left no doubt about the futility of playing the dating game when he told his disciples three times in Matthew 24 not to go there:

-- "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36).

-- "Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42).

-- "The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him" (Matthew 24:44b).

But that’s not their only objection.  It seems Camping doesn’t like organized religion at all.  Tone continues:
Somewhat lost in the hoopla over doomsday dates is Family Radio's more sinister teaching that Christians should not be part of a local church. Yes, you read right. Family Radio is not local church friendly.

The tract further states, "The Holy Spirit has abandoned all churches (and) those still following any church on May 21, 2011 are not saved"

The Next 10,000 Years

Across the Bay from Camping’s headquarters, The Long Now Foundation is building a 10,000 year clock.  They are concerned that the world has lost its sense of the future.  Michael Chabon, in an essay (pdf) linked on The Long Now website, talks about how tangible,  exciting, and worth living for, the future recently was.  But now the future seems to no longer exist.  Chabon writes it had been a long time since he'd given any thought to the world ten thousand years off.
At one time I was a frequent visitor to that imaginary mental locale. And I don’t mean merely that I regularly encountered “the Future” in the pages of science fiction novels or comic books, or when watching a TV show like The Jetsons (1962) or a movie like Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). The story of the Future was told to me, when I was growing up, not just by popular art and media but by public and domestic architecture, industrial design, school textbooks, theme parks, and by public institutions from museums to government agencies. I heard the story of the Future when I looked at the space-ranger profile of the Studebaker Avanti, at Tomorrowland through the portholes of the Disneyland monorail, in the tumbling plastic counters of my father’s Seth Thomas Speed Read clock. I can remember writing a report in sixth grade on hydroponics; if you had tried to tell me then that by 2005 we would still be growing our vegetables in dirt, you would have broken my heart.
It wasn't all good - lots of the images were negative:
Sometimes the Future could be a total downer. If nuclear holocaust didn’t wipe everything out, then humanity would be enslaved to computers, by the ineluctable syllogisms of “the Machine.” My childhood dished up a series of grim cinematic prognostications best exemplified by the Hestonian trilogy that began with the first Planet of the Apes (1968) and continued through The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973). Images of future dystopia were rife in rock albums of the day, as on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs (1974) and Rush’s 2112 (1976), and the futures presented by seventies writers of science fiction such as John Brunner tended to be unremittingly or wryly bleak.

So, what happened to the future?
I don’t know what happened to the Future. It’s as if we lost our ability, or our will, to envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too- distant date. Or maybe we stopped talking about the Future around the time that, with its microchips and its twenty-four-hour news cycles, it arrived. Some days when you pick up the newspaper it seems to have been co-written by J. G. Ballard, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick. Human sexual reproduction without male genetic material, digital viruses, identity theft, robot firefighters and minesweepers, weather control, pharmaceutical mood engineering, rapid species extinction, US Presidents controlled by little boxes mounted between their shoulder blades, air-conditioned empires in the Arabian desert, transnational corporatocracy, reality television—some days it feels as if the imagined future of the mid-twentieth century was a kind of checklist, one from which we have been too busy ticking off items to bother with extending it. Meanwhile, the dwindling number of items remaining on that list— interplanetary colonization, sentient computers, quasi-immortality of consciousness through brain-download or transplant, a global government (fascist or enlightened)— have been represented and re-represented so many hundreds of times in films, novels and on television that they have come to seem, paradoxically, already attained, already known, lived with, and left behind. Past, in other words.
Most telling is his comparison of his childhood notion of the future and his son's.
If you ask my eight-year-old about the Future, he pretty much thinks the world is going to end, and that’s it. Most likely global warming, he says—floods, storms, desertification—but the possibility of viral pandemic, meteor impact, or some kind of nuclear exchange is not alien to his view of the days to come. Maybe not tomorrow, or a year from now. The kid is more than capable of generating a full head of optimistic steam about next week, next vacation, his tenth birthday. It’s only the world a hundred years on that leaves his hopes a blank. My son seems to take the end of everything, of all human endeavor and creation, for granted. He sees himself as living on the last page, if not in the last paragraph, of a long, strange and bewildering book.
He wrote all this after hearing about the 10,000 year clock being designed by the Long Now Foundation.  
The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and Library projects , as well as to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.

*The zero in front of 1996 above is in recognition of the need for five digits when you talk about 10,000 years. 

So, why does this matter?  Stewart Brand, one of The Long Now Foundation founders (and 40 years ago of the Whole Earth Catalogs) writes:
Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where 'long-term' is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth. 
The mechanism is a 10,000 year clock and the myth . . . Well, the myth isn't so clearly spelled out, but it seems to be grounded on replacing "today's 'faster/cheaper' mind set" with  "'slower/better' thinking."

I grew up in a household where money wasn't spent carelessly (in the literal sense of taking care to think about why one was spending money).   The idea was to buy things of quality that last - my grandfather's pocket watch, for example, which was purchased probably before 1920, still works.   I posted in December 2007 about all this and how our consumer society has created a story about how we need to buy and throw away constantly.  This is tied to our daily economic reports, which, on the one hand, complain that Americans don't save enough and are falling deeper in to debt, but, on the other hand, that we aren't spending enough to keep the economy going.

The 10,000 year clock is a visible symbol of thinking further out.  This kind of thinking isn't new.  Europeans planned medieval cathedrals which took up to 100 years to complete, knowing they might never see the finished buildings.   Some North American Native peoples believed that decisions should consider the implications for the next seven generations so that one's descendants inherit a healthy land.

Few if any of our national and state or family decisions consider anything near that.  The clock project is an attempt to recapture a different way of thinking about time.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to think about how the span constituting the future has itself changed over the past 10,000 or 100,000 years.

    100,000 years ago, I can't imagine our ancestors thought often beyond being fed today.

    10,000 years ago, at the early dawn of agriculture, perhaps they planned and hoped for the planting "season"

    So while, yes, it seems our horizons are shrinking as of late, is that true for society as a whole, or true for a few thinkers in an ivory tower, or could it be that this is but a nostalgic thought of a golden age of futurism which never actually occurred?


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