So here’s one of those biases that journalists are supposed to keep carefully tucked away in the backs of their minds: I’m kind of disgusted by doomsayers.
Preachers of apocalypse, almost invariably, are evangelists of over-simplified fairy tales. And they are purveyors of that most unattractive of social ailments, the Big Cop-ut.
A fairy tale is what you’re hearing whenever someone tells you that the earth is set to end on a certain date. A fairy tale is a warning that if we elect a certain political party, or pass a certain law, the Republic will come to a crashing end.
And yes, a fairy tale is when someone tells you that the Mississippi flooding is definitely part of global climate change.
Whenever someone reduces big stuff (the fate of the world, complicated science, complex political dealings) to something that fits on the back of a napkin — or a pamphlet handed out at a subway stop — it’s a fairy tale.
So here’s the first instruction for anyone reading this on May 22nd: You should thank the latest gaggle of apocalistas for educating you about the complex, unpredictable nature of life on earth.
Next time someone shoves a brochure in your hand and tells you to quit your job, thank them very kindly for trying to boil the world down into a nursery-room-level set of talking points, then get back to your life.
The second reason these people peeve me is because their world-view invites the Big Cop-out. That’s the way of thinking that goes something like this: “We’re all doomed, so I might as well do nothing.”
Is it going to reverse global warming for you to buy a more efficient car, or eat more local food. No, of course not.
In the same vein, it wasn’t going to end Jim Crow for one business owner in the South in the 1950s to open his doors to African Americans.
But little steps multiplied by billions of people really do matter.
All of us making small, generous contributions to our shared world make it livable, make it better, make it incrementally more hopeful and sustainable.
So here’s instruction number two: Next time someone tells you that any particular end-times scenario is about to play out, fight back by doing one cool, generous, positive thing.
Sure, you could go out and arm yourself and stock up your basement with a year’s worth of Evian water and wrap your children’s heads in lead foil. (Don’t ask…)
But wouldn’t you rather go down with a shovel in your hand? Wouldn’t you rather see the fireball rise while planting a tree or while cleaning up a park? Why not go up in smoke at a potluck dinner surrounded by your best friends?
Before I go, let me mention a final reason that doom-sayers creep me out: Life on earth is actually pretty hard for a lot of people and this kind of stuff makes a mockery of their struggles.
It’s a patently sad fact that most of these outbreaks of hysteria occur among people who are fairly well-off and fairly comfortable. If I had to simplify, I’d say that a lot of these True Believers are just sort of bored.
Getting up and going to work every day, and raising your kids, and paying your mortgage, that’s all sort of dreary when looked at from one point of view, especially if money’s tight and you’re not sure about your future prospects.
But set all that hum-drum daily stuff against the backdrop of Judgment Day and it begins to look a lot more melodramatic.
That’s why you don’t see the folks staring down the flooding Mississippi or braving the tornado outbreaks in the South standing in their yards with goofy home-made signs welcoming the Rapture.
Those are the real heroes, the people who are facing the real dramas, the real crises that our world often hurls our way.
They’re doing it with hope and faith and grit. And with that trait that most often helps us to push back the darkness: a sense of humor.
So here’s my final post-doomsday instruction: Next time someone asks you to donate to or volunteer for an organization that believes in the end of the world, give a little instead to a group that actually believes in saving the world.
An environmental group. A community rebuilding coalition. A church that’s building affordable housing. A political group that has real plans for a better America.
Yes, building stuff is a lot harder than sitting around waiting for that first Crack of Thunder. But in the end, it’s also a lot more satisfying.