Having sauntered around the world enough to get to know these odd creatures called “humans” (who sometimes suspiciously resemble me) I no longer think our greatest fear is death; rather, I think it’s a combination of loss of meaning, insignificance, personal social failure and unacted potential.
People are — in my experience — generally OK with fatalism. If all is futile, or we are doomed, they can accept that; it’s out of their control, and they are not to blame. In many ways, they’re happier with futility because that way they have no responsibility to rise above circumstance. It just couldn’t be.
Correspondent to that idea, it seems to me that we deny our greatest fear, and this is why our society is able to accept death on all levels but politeness. One thing it has trouble with: our insignificance, as represented by the simple idea that the world keeps turning.
While we are in our heads, we are able to think that we are the larger party and that our vast minds enclose the world. To some degree this is true, since we are living through the memories of thought-objects constructed to portray external, physical objects; the continuity of natural cause/effect activity is broken up into tangible bits that we can handle like physical things, except in our minds.
Saturday came and went with no reports of the Rapture happening — as was predicted by one Christian group.
But from the Christian militia Hutaree to a preacher with a TV show out of Rochester Hills, the belief that Christ will return in the end of times is held by many in Michigan. For some of them, it’s a way to convince people to turn to God and live righteously. Overall, 79% of Christians in the U.S. believe Christ will return one day, according to a Pew survey. – Detroit Free Press
At the moment we confront mortality, we can comfort ourselves with the idea that it all disappears. The world bursts into flame and is gone as we pass into darkness. What makes us queasy however is the idea that with us gone, nothing changes except us; the world moves on, and we are insignificant.
This is why I say our greatest fear is not death, but insignificance. People are willing to gratefully believe that the world is being destroyed and they are transported to another place. They don’t mind the idea of an apocalypse, so long as their personal significance is preserved if even by their suffering.
We even extend this to history. Nietzsche wrote about the end of history as an end to events actually changing because people cared about ideas; in his view, the end was fatalists who ignored every event but their own drama. Francis Fukuyama carefully mis-read Nietzsche to make an ideal product for a liberal audience:
I argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the â€œend point of mankindâ€™s ideological evolutionâ€ and the â€œfinal form of human government,â€ and as such constituted the â€œend of history.â€ That is, while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions. This was not to say that todayâ€™s stable democracies, like the United States, France, or Switzerland, were not without injustice or serious social problems. But these problems were ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded, rather than of flaws in the principles themselves. While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on.
And yet what I suggested had come to an end was not the occurrence of events, even large and grave events, but History: that is, history understood as a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times. This understanding of History was most closely associated with the great German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. It was made part of our daily intellectual atmosphere by Karl Marx, who borrowed this concept of History from Hegel, and is implicit in our use of words like â€œprimitiveâ€ or â€œadvanced,â€ â€œtraditionalâ€ or â€œmodern,â€ when referring to different types of human societies. For both of these thinkers, there was a coherent development of human societies from simple tribal ones based on slavery and subsistence agriculture, through various theocracies, monarchies, and feudal aristocracies, up through modern liberal democracy and technologically driven capitalism. This evolutionary process was neither random nor unintelligible, even if it did not proceed in a straight line, and even if it was possible to question whether man was happier or better off as a result of historical â€œprogress.â€ – Marxists.org
In Fukuyamastan, history is defined by a long line of progress from chimpanzee-like hominin to modern human to modern human “enlightened” to pacifism, egalitarianism and even wealth distribution. For Fukuyama, the “end of history” consists of the modern world accepting liberal democracy and its underpinning values which I outlined in the previous sentence.
For the liberal, significance is found only in this great group activity called “progress,” where we cast aside nations, abilities, selves, nature and even our own souls in order to materially improve the lot of all humans equally. In constract, conservatives have an organic view of reality where significance is found in self-actualization, nature, family and culture.
In other words, the liberal and the apocalyptic Christian both reject life itself in favor of these artificial human social measurements like “progress” or “moralism,” which by being adopted demote physical, organic and cultural life to insignificance. What matters is this weird yardstick in the sky and/or secular dogma.
However, that ruler in the sky — whether secular or “religious” — seems to me to be an extension of self. The individual can say that he or she worked toward the goal of progress, and now conveniently either history has ended or the rapture has come, destroying anyone else having significance after that individual.
After me, nothing; when I die, the world burns.
What’s more, these kinds of apocalyptical prophecies have been around for 23 centuries since the Book of Daniel, he says, so are forcibly more than a media ploy.
One theory is that such precise predictions feed the human desire to know the unknown. It could simply be a way of trying to explain the world around us, or to give us hope, says DiTommaso: “Within its limitations, apocalypticism is very rational. It’s a world view that explains time, space, and human existence. It’s not science – it’s not universal or repeatable – but it does explain things.”
DiTommaso also says that sociological studies have shown that people who tend to enjoy an apocalyptic world view also seem to be the kinds of people who seek out explanations of the world: “They tend to be quite intelligent compared with the general population but they are looking for answers for how life is the way it is, and whether there is a purpose. Envisioning a better time past the evils of the world provides a very powerful way of understanding the world and all its problems.” Surprising as it may sound, even Isaac Newton spent a great deal of his career trying to decipher the prophesies of Daniel in the book of revelation. – New Scientist
This vision seems peculiar to people of a certain mental state. For example, here in Texas I am surrounded by literally millions of hardcore Christians of every ethnic and socioeconomic stripe, and very few of them talked about The Rapture as anything but a human construct.
In their view, as in mine, it’s blasphemy for humankind to pretend to read the mind of God. Religion is a matter of faith, not of projecting the self into the sky and claiming it an absolute certain truth that with the self dying, the world also ends. In addition, many suspect it is a deeply unhealthy view.
Let me introduce the rapturites to a personal hell — what could be their greatest fear:
Esteemed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) on Sunday, said that ancient Hindu scriptures Upanishads pointed to cyclical/non-ending nature of time through the principle of rebirth and karma.
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, says that world travels through infinite cycles of conception, ripening and desolation; thus resulting in the dismantled world to be reborn again. – Daily India
It makes more sense to think that the “apocalypse” refers to human civilizations dying from their own oblivion to reality.
Individuals perish, civilizations perish, even the human species may perish, but it is an uncountably large universe out there and it will carry on. That is its purpose: to perpetually evolve and carry on.
Maybe at some point it has a “big bang” apocalypse, but that only compresses and restarts its material nature, not necessarily the underlying acausal and immaterial ground from which it emerges. It is an alteration in matter and form, not a destruction of it.
We would all be healthier if we stopped trying to make the world a subset of our own egos, and started looking toward the continuity of life for inspiration — and a reminder that even beyond death, our actions have significance.