A more realistic 2012 doomsday, and one more

Will there be a doomsday? Yes! Of course! It would be grossly improbable, in the mathematical sense, for anything with a non-zero probability to never happen, as long as you have the time, and there are a lot of non-zero doomsdays.

A doomsday may come in 2012, too, though not from the Nibiru people.

Except they might end the world, too, though not through them being right. Suppose (he said, grinning ghoulishly) they convince Oprah it might be a lark to give them a voice, and as a consequence some twenty million Americans decide they don’t need to plan for a life beyond December 2012, and actually need to do and spend all they ever will before then.

Wouldn’t even need to be a running-round, stabbing-people, sex-on-the-street autumn. Just millions of people overreaching… not applying for school… not looking for a new job… taking loans… spending their savings… ruining their health and reputation… and having, mostly, a jolly good time doing so.

And then failing to correct their trajectories when the end doesn’t come, because surely it’s delayed just a little bit more… because they’re invested in the idea, and not ready to admit they are in trouble. That’s how both true believers and ordinary people react, and what is knowledge anyway? Probably our decadent Western calendar didn’t quite gel with the astral perfectness of the mystic Mayan timecubematrix — best to wait until January first.

And so millions wait, each sure they’re alright as they’re the only one waiting, and in a normal world they’ll get back up in no time when they’re done playing. And so we’ll step into 2013 with a lot of people who are financially in the crapper, and not likely to recover anytime soon, as thanks to them it’s a normal world no more: and their effect is a crapload bigger than the sum of its parts. Cue a wee bit of upset, quickly channeled all over the world: because so very often when America leads, the world follows. So with movies; so with Big Macs; so with expectations of doomsday.

This kind of an expectation would be a insidious thing, too. You wouldn’t even notice it, really: just some people spending a lot of money, having a lot of heedless fun; maybe not even admitting to themselves what they are doing, and not doing. It wouldn’t look anything like a dangerous cult, and it wouldn’t even have an organization or a name. Just a percentage of people, everywhere, noticing at the end of 2012 that they don’t have money anymore, and they’ve squandered their ways of getting any more.

Cue unemployment, groaning safety nets, collapsing banks and overflowing soup kitchens, unrest, and rioting. A lot of people would be desperate and scared; and so there would be a rise in the usual unfriendly political parties that are for Law, Order and Truncheons. Also a new dawn in the purity of something or the other. Some of these would be people not accustomed to power, and they would be fools enough to not only spout the talk, but to walk the fatal walk, too. Worse still, these overpatriotic Law-n-Order types tend to be both xenophobic and infatuated with the supposed romanticism of the battlefield: the Foreigner did it, and our boys’ll show him! Thus war, somewhere; and eventually a war with enemies who aren’t pushovers, a war the generals of either side did not want. And then, finally, some idiot deciding his neighbors would look better if composed of boiling thermonuclear ash.

Cue a response. Cue avenging the revenge of the retribution of the payback for the punishment of the retaliation for the comeuppance and so on, ever escalating, ever more callous and general. Cue an ever-widening vortex of war, famine, pestilence, panic, uniforms, refugees, vigilantism, repression, revolt, revenge and death; and soon the world is all eaten up. A 2012 doomsday, for real!

Who needs a rogue planet when you have humanity?

* * *

That’s a nicely pessimistic start for the year — but hey, that’s not all this model works for. A lot of people seem to think that if a disaster strikes, mankind will pull together and co-operate and cope; we will be shaken out of our complacency and selfish greed and so on with a line that doesn’t describe the world I see in the news.

Imagine this: an asteroid falls into somewhere in Asia. Let us say Bangladesh. Let us assume a modest toll of one hundred million deaths.

Now, the optimistic scenario would be the entire world rushing in to help, holding nothing back, until all is made well. Would be nice, if it happened; but is not how my model of the world works.

Imagine this, instead: as India doesn’t want to be overrun by refugees, it closes its borders. As India is a largely Hindu nation, and Bangladesh is largely Muslim, this is naturally seen as an act of religiously motivated callousness. It does not help that a lot of the help to Bangladesh ignores the local cultural norms, which also angers people — not the people of Bangladesh, because frankly they have more pressing worries, but the pious Muslim people of Pakistan, who do not exactly have rosy relations with India to begin with. (Then someone throws a rock at an Indian doctor in the disaster zone…)

Imagine, then, an outbreak of several very nasty diseases from the cauldron that any area of prolonged disaster becomes. Diseases don’t respect national boundaries; and measures against an outbreak of this presumed magnitude involve a lot of military people. And as Azrael flies westward, disease control in the west of India, near the Pakistani border, will become a very risky business. Do you send in the soldiers to keep order and make sure the treatments get done, and so doing risk an Incident, when both of the involved parties have nuclear weapons? Or do you keep the military out, risking chaos (because panic is a human universal), a new hotspot for the disease, and then inevitably accusations that this is an Indian plot to infect the clean, healthy-living people of Pakistan, letting this foulness fester at their border?

And speaking of panic; add misinformation into the mix. Some people will be leery of Western medicine — though really, nowadays it is International medicine if it is anything — and will do one of three things. One, they will get sick, stick a candle in their ear, and die. Two, they will forcefully not accept a vaccination or any other preventive measure for themselves or their families, and will not seek treatment if they get sick. Three, they will leg it for the closest place that still seems safe. This is an excellent recipe for disaster in three parts. Soon there will be people that urgently want to vacation in Myanmar/Burma, Bhutan, Nepal and China, even; but a lot of poor people in cars or on foot are no nation’s most wished-for visitors. (And the more affluent will be even worse, because they can fly anywhere: read the first chapters of Max Brooks’s World War Z for a better picture of how panic spreads a disease. Also, for crazy awesome disaster porn.) Sooner or later, there will be a riot; and then there will be deaths. And if this happens on the India-China border, things will get ugly, and bloody.

While all this is going on, some very dire economic things that I don’t really know much of will no doubt happen; my understanding is that things would get tangled up very quickly, and would be felt all over the world very quickly. A look at Wikipedia shows Bangladesh is big in the garment industry; this grinding to a halt wouldn’t mean clothing shortages, but (because as I understand economics is an involved subject) your accountant uncle being fired for no obvious reason. And all the foreign investments into Bangladesh would be wiped off the face of the planet; those losses would be compensated for elsewhere. People dying half the world away seem a small thing when your own economy hiccups.

And charity and aid, anyway, need to accepted, not just given. But what organization would there be left? And, supposing the first responders would organize some interim structure, how would it handle the long weeks and months of the continuing disaster? What about arguments of just which law to follow, just who ruled? Discontent could boil into a civil war at worst, bandits and gangs at best. Then, in every human population there are assholes. So too among those that would be in a position to pad their own pockets, or favor their pet causes. Which leads, close by, to lynchings and intergroup violence, and in more distant places, to less and less willingness to give money.

Also, because I am an evil bastard, I suspect it would be difficult to get politicians to give more when they’ve already reaped that PR harvest; because selfish idiots have a vote, too. And while people are usually all for helping the needy, they’re all for only for sums that don’t affect their own lives: twenty euros off their own pocket, or a few million from their state; but ask for more, over and over again, and there will be excuses. There’s an ugly implication about the rarity of generosity in the slogans which say a pittance off you will immensely help someone far away — the implication that a pittance is all that it is reasonable to ask for.

Then imagine the tendency of people to suspect ulterior motives when simple incompetence and accident would suffice. There would be conspiracy theories; not the tame rash of JFK buffs, but something blind screaming willing to say just who are, collectively, the ones to blame, and willing to punish them. And everyone would be demonized by someone, for something: if not for active evil then for tardiness and standing by while people died. The shrillest would scream of asteroid attractor rays; the less ambitious ones of evils done under the shadow of response: AIDS needles, sexual abuse and other tabloid slurs. The accusations would be unimaginably bitter; the responses, even more so.

For further nightmares, imagine all the stupidities and foul-ups of the response to Haiti only a year ago, but magnified thousandfold. Almost literally, too, as the earthquake of January 2010 had a quarter million casualties, and I arbitrarily decided to kill a hundred million people here. Haiti had an immense surge of compassion; now, a year later, there isn’t all that much money or compassion left, and the rebuilding’s not even really began. (July, CNN: “It looks like the quake just happened yesterday.” September, the Apostolic Nuncio: over one million people living in camps, and the number is rising. October, Refugees International: Haiti “still living in a state of emergency, with a humanitarian response that appears paralysed.”) Imagine all this, except four hundred times bigger, radiating into neighbors with already hinky relations with their neighbors.

Then, ah, an ever-widening vortex of war, famine, pestilence, panic, uniforms, refugees, vigilantism, repression, revolt and death; and soon the world is all eaten up.

While Haiti was the 83rd most populous country in the world, Bangladesh is the seventh. Four of those bigger than it are almost neighbors (Pakistan, Indonesia, India, China) — and even those people not generally too nationalistic tend to think the choice is always between Their People and the Foreigners: favoring one over the other. If a few idiot bankers can make this much havoc, what do you think would be the global results of a war with a billion people marching to the tune of bloodthirsty insanity? The devastation in other spheres would equal that of the battlefield.

Imagine a modern war, even without nuclear weapons, where both sides have actual reserves, and enough resources to tell the international opinion to go sod off for a few months. Imagine bombers over the skyscrapers of New Delhi, missiles raining down into Islamabad while some twit holds his cameraphone high; imagine a cloud of drone planes raining bomblets into the wasteland of Hong Kong for the seventh consecutive day, while wards fill with victims in Dolce & Gabbana. Imagine a world where the war is not over there, but booming closer day by day.

Okay, it’s not John Lennon’s Imagine, but one can’t be an optimist all the time.

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