|The end of the world
It seems that the world has been about to end for a very long time.
So far, of course, it has not happened. The aftermath can be awkward for those who have maxed their borrowings and celebrated in style. It can require some clever explaining of the cancellation or postponement of the last days.
1666, 1844, 1977, and 1994 saw predictions from the Christian world come and go. Science had its turn with the Y2K non-event. For the last dozen years or so, almost every alternate spirituality has been looking to 2012.
Predictions for 2012 so far have ranged from devastating weather phenomena to food wars in the wake of a financial crisis. As 2012 approached, predictions got more esoteric and less physical. Less the Earth Changes scale of disaster and more the spiritual transcendence of all beings kind of consciousness shift.
Our wired world now makes us aware of pretty much every major "act of God". Our brain's natural tendency to pay attention to signs and warnings of danger combined with this increased reporting of disasters does make it appear that the planet is getting restless. Polar reversal, threatening our magnetosphere, could mean we get grilled by the naked nuclear fires of our sun. Comets and asteroids look more and more dangerous the more we know about them.
Several obvious manmade disasters are also in the making. We poison the water table with fracking. We increase our intake of immunity-ruining poisons by genetically modifying plants to produce their own insecticides, or better tolerate those we spray. We cut our forests and poison our oceans. It could appear that we are, as a species, intent on a mass-suicide.
Our patriarchal social institutions and their underlying principles also seem threatened, or at least heading to possibly dramatic change. The gap between wealthy and poor has been increasing strongly. The degree of surveillance now in use is extreme and looks bound for totality. Honor, justice, equality and other principles of patriarchy have been revealed to be hollow, and could make one wonder if there was ever any substance in these notions.
These things give credibility to the doomsday/shift predictions. There is of course a possibility, perhaps even a likelihood, that a major earthquake, a solar storm or even a real or fake alien invasion could occur on 20 Dec 2012. There is a certainty that there will be wars, famines and death of many kinds. After all, such things are everyday phenomena.
It seems that the priests, which term now includes historians and scientists, have been doing this end-times thing for a long time. It is not a consistent factor, present in all religions in all times, but it is prevalent. Most cultures have end-times legends, usually coupled with a sense if imminence, of urgency.
In ancient India, with the cultural belief in reincarnation, most seekers could be content with an attitude of gradual progress, climbing the caste hierarchy lifetime by lifetime. Even tantrikas would question the logic of risking their incarnation-ranking by taking on practices that were powerful but risky.
End times stories were developed to shake students loose from their complacency. If the world is about to end, further incarnations will not be possible. If the change of an age is coming, accompanied by mass destruction, rushing at the current window of opportunity seems to make more sense.
Confession time. It is all the fault of tantric and similarly intentioned spiritual teachers, i.e. those teachers working closely and personally with their students toward their transcendence, not their improvement. Most gave such teachings in private, but they leaked out. Guides to the more regular seekers found them useful for getting students to pay attention, and those involved in the population-control/shepherding level of religion found them useful for increasing fear and encouraging compliance with doctrine.
It seems the world is stuck with them now. When 20 Dec 2012 has passed, something similar to the aftermath of the Great Disappointment will happen. Already dates out in the 2020's are being suggested.
What is happening?
We do, however, live in interesting times. One day, with 20/20 hindsight, it may well appear that we are living through some major planetary, cultural and individual changes.
Our weather is strange, perhaps stranger than it might be if we weren't burning coal and oil and releasing CFC's. In the short view we may be warming the planet up, in the longer view, it may look like we are enjoying a short gap of warmth between ice ages. Climate, being a thing that is statistically averaged over time, may be changing, but it is only ever just "what we expect", while weather remains "what we get".
Our population seems to be stabilizing. http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_the_good_news_of_the_decade.html There is a strong correlation between infant mortality and population growth. Basically, the more babies die, the more babies we make. Countries where babies' life expectancies are high make fewer children and start to decline in numbers. It looks likely that we will add near a billion people to the planet over the next generation and will then have a stable/gently declining population.
Financial management is approaching a singularity. Pretty soon, the world's financial system will be managed by just one organization, at which point its profit motive/justification will fall away due to the lack of actual competition. The same thing is happening with governments. More and more, governments manage populations in accordance with business interests, which are themselves becoming bigger, fewer and more interlinked.
The extreme differences between rich and poor are becoming more pronounced and social mobility has been severely reduced. The average American's future success has more to do now with being born rich than ever before. Mitigating this, the average person enjoys sanitation, transportation, physical comfort, tastes and flavors, entertainments, sanitation and health care that even kings could not aspire to, just a couple of hundred years ago.
Surveillance of the population is near total, and simultaneously, the range of beliefs and practices permitted also approaches totality. We may reach a point where everything is watched yet everything is allowed.
Patriarchy has revealed it's clay feet and is perhaps tumbling. Here and there, women of power are becoming more activistic, more willing to share their views. We may be seeing a shift from patriarchy to matriarchy, or just perhaps, an attempt at an integrated cooperation.
Governments, it has been said, justify their existence by external threat and maintain it through hydraulic despotism (control of a vital resource). As the world heads towards a single government, issues of justification and control will be increasingly questioned. Cyber-democracy may become a reality.
Space is becoming accessible, and there is lots of it. Recently, ways of getting around the light-speed limitation have been suggested and experiments have begun. Just a small start, like trying to make sparks when the final objective is a steam locomotive, but it is a start. Even without FTL capabilities, engineering pipe dreams of a space elevator and orbital habitats look more and more feasible with recently developed materials.
Children are increasingly raised by institutions, not families and communities. Simultaneously, smart phones and the internet make truly independent learning a possibility, perhaps making centralized schooling obsolete.
So what real threats are there?
The one I like is a threat to our existence. It goes thus:
In the near future, we will be able to make accurate computer models of humans living in a virtual world, like a full-function version of secondlife.com. We may use these to do ancestor-simulations, or to see alternates for our own lives or for amusement. The point is that these simulations of reality will be far more numerous than the "real" reality.
This makes the statistical likelihood of us being one of these simulations extremely high. Because entertainments tend to outnumber serious research, we are most likely to be an amusement. In the universe of amusement, pornography tends to dominate.
This means that the greatest danger to our existence is being switched off due to lack of interest. The most dangerous thing we can do therefore, is to live boring lives.
So, if you fear the end of all we know, please make sure that your life is as interesting as you can make it, particularly your sex life.
Have great sex today and save the world.