Doomsday Scares

After all the hype of Y2K died down in 2000 my husband and our friend joked that they would go into the city pretending catastrophe had occurred, wearing nothing but big cardboard signs saying “Repent! Y2K”.  It was funny, but it also spoke a truth.  Where are all these doomsayers the day after?  When the sun rises just as sure as it did the day before…  Can we get a refund on our wares they sold us? 

I didn’t stockpile any food for Y2K (I knew many people who did) but on New Year’s Eve I secretly filled my bathtub with water, just in case.  I remember the anger I felt at those who had built up the hype and tried to scare people.  I would hope that they were genuinely trying to help.  I would hope that it wasn’t for book or DVD sales.

The most recent “buzz” doomsday is 2012.  Once again there are countless books and documentaries being produced by self-proclaimed experts.  The problem is that doomsday prophets claim to have secret knowledge that the rest of us don’t have access to.  So there’s not really any way to prove them wrong.  Only time will tell.  Fortunately, time does tell.  There are many many failed doomsday predictions.   Just a few examples:

  • Sep 1186 Astronomer/Astrologer John of Toledo convinced almost all of Europe and Asia that a huge catastrophe was coming because of the planets uniting under the sign of Libra.  The people dug cellars & shelters but catastrophe didn’t strike. 
  • Feb 1524 A group of London Astrologers said the end of the world would start with a huge flood.  At least 20,000 left their homes in London but nothing happened. 
  • Oct 1533 Michael Stifel calculated that Doomsday would occur Oct 18, 1533.  His townspeople gave him a sound thrashing when it did not occur (that’s more like it!)
  • 1650 The year that Christopher Columbus predicted would be the end of the world. 
  • 1854 William Miller convinced as many as 100,000 people, the famous Millerites, that the world would end, eventually dissolving his following when it didn’t happen on the 2nd date he predicted.     
  • 1910 Many newspapers including the New York Times printed that Halley’s Comet could bathe the Earth in deadly toxic gases.  The news caused widespread panic until some reputed scientists explained the truth.   
  • 1999 Nostradamus wrote that the 7th month of 1999 the great king of terror would come from the sky.  Many of his devotees believed that this was his vision of Armageddon. 

Here are some books that prove we never (or, perhaps rarely) know what the future will hold: 

My favorite is called The Millenium Bug:  How to Survive the Coming Chaos by Michael S. Hyatt 005.16 HYA.  You might think that we should pull this book from our collection (and maybe we will), but my argument against pulling it is that it reminds me of the fear that can be caused from something false.  I can’t say what this author’s purpose was in writing this book.  He may have been trying to help.  But right on the cover are some of his predictions:  “Police and 911 are nowhere to be found…  The illusion of social stability is about to be shattered… and nothing can stop it.”  Those sound like scare tactics if there ever were any!  Is it really true that the entire police force would dissolve into thin air if the computers stopped working?  

But wait!  There’s more. 

The Book of Predictions by David Wallechinsky, Amy & Irving Wallace.  133.32 PEO.  Published 1980.  It’s amazing to me that only 30 years ago the following was predicted for 2010:

  • “Football coaches still direct their teams from the bench–but their teams consist of robots.”
  • “One million people are living permanently in space colonies.” 

And by 2020? 

  • “Nighttime will be eliminated from the earth.  Through the use of solar satellites, which store the sun’s rays, nights are fully illuminated.  People enjoy 24 hours of daylight.” 

Edgar Cayce:  The Sleeping Prophet by Jess Stearn.  Published 1967.  The most interesting claim I found in here was that the lost continent of Atlantis would rise out of the ocean by 1976. 

The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California by Curt Gentry.  Published 1968.  This is also based on Edgar Cayce’s predictions that CA was to have fallen into the ocean around 1969. 

The Story of Prophecy in the Life of Mankind by Henry James Forman.  Published 1940.  Including a “Complete Analysis of The Oracles of Nostradamus and their Bearing on Current and Coming Events.”  The only direct prediction I found in this book seemed to be saying that Paris was supposed to be burned to the ground in October of 1999. 

Here is an interesting website which has countless Armageddon predictions that never came to pass:

Now on to something more positive!  These three books have a refreshingly different perspective on predictions of the future:

A Millenium Primer: Timeless Truths and Delightful Diversions by Tim Clark and the editors of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.  303.99 MIL.  Clark has an essay in this book called Doomsday: It’s Always Just Ahead which talks about many different times in history that doomsdays have been predicted and of course, didn’t pan out. 

The End of the World Edited by Lewis H. Lapham.  909 END.  A collection of writings from many people throughout history who thought the world was ending.  My favorite part of this book is the chart of “End Times”, predictions for the End of the World, needless to say many of them have past. 

The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb 003.54 TAL.  This book argues against the tactics used by many future-predictors, namely finding predictions for events that have already passed.   

One last note:  OWL is currently renewing library cards for 2014.   

Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL and is currently humming It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine) by REM

3 thoughts on “Doomsday Scares

  1. That always gives me comfort…. knowing how wrong we humans are in our predictions even when we think we have all the best “evidence” to make our case. The one I always get a kick out of is that in the “old” movies, they envisioned that computers of the future would be huge! They envisioned them as these giants that would take up whole floors. The reality is that computers got smaller and smaller! Great blog!

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