Some of you will perhaps remember that the world ended in 2012. Or at least, it was supposed to. Due to the unfortunate crossover of a prediction in the Aztec ancient calendar and the release of a graphics-heavy, film-foretelling, environmental calamity (depending on your outlook, perhaps not so ridiculous), we all faced a year of unbearable, ever-building tension. Enthusiasts preaching ‘the end is nigh’ have always been around – we’ve all walked down the high street to the shouts of religious fundamentalists predicting a plague on all our houses unless we swiftly change our ways.
Some conspiracy theorists focus more on the misdemeanours of our leaders; some of the more incredible examples including “Bush did 9/11”, and the even more malevolent “birther” conspiracy, which tried to prove that President Barack Obama was not, in fact, a true American. So why, even in this supposedly enlightened age of reason and scientific progress, do conspiracy theories still abound? And even more worryingly, why do so many of us give them a fair hearing?
Perhaps too many of us are simply unsatisfied with our day to day reality. Human beings crave drama, the ability to extricate evil. We animate these qualities in a form we have permission to hate (see, for example, how we love to hate TV villains), and speculate about these qualities in those who work hard to seem morally trustworthy, such as our politicians. The grander the figure that can be tainted, the better; anything to ease the boredom and tedium of our nine-to-fives. Hence our addiction to such outrageous conspiracy theories predicting the end of the world.
From this spartan perspective, conspiracy theories fall under the same category of deplorable behaviour as celebrity culture, though this is not necessarily a bad thing. Literature, drama and human creativity have always sought to bring to life another reality – and it is no sin to fantasise. The concern is when people begin to blur fantasy with reality. Some thinkers have called this age of post-truth politics an ‘Endarkenment’- an undoing of the progress of hundreds of years of Enlightenment. This perhaps goes a little far, although there is undoubtedly some truth in the accusation that the internet has too often left us more confused than we were to start with.
In this age of hyper-information, fake news and clickbait, and a political environment that seems everyday to be more outrageous, it remains more important than ever to keep our heads straight. Perhaps the overwhelming smorgasbord of information, opinions and data that constitute the internet misleads people, rather than helping them find the truth. The sensationalism that dominates our news feeds lends itself to doomsday predictions, and if anything internet culture has enabled their spread, and made it harder for most of us to tell fact from fiction.
However, there is distant cause for optimism: does it not reflect well on us as a species that we are so mindful of our mortality? Would we not be even further in the wrong if we were to lazily assume that our world and our species were going to continue on until the end of time?
Whatever the case, it seems fairly clear that those preaching doomsday will be with us till the end of the world.
Image: Suye Xu