Yearning for the apocalypse, part II

Last Friday, I asked the readers what they thought the source of the demand for apocalyptic stories was in our societies, and particularly whether there was anything new about the prevalence of apocalyptic stories.

As Michael Stanley and Ian pointed out, apocalyptic stories go back a long way and at least include the agricultural kingdoms of around 1000 BC, most particularly the Zoroastrians who preceded the 3 bible-related religions and thus share stories of hell and Judgment day. The Assyrians were into it before then apparently, though more in a spirit of ‘moral breakdown due to wayward youth’. Similarly, the Hindus and Germanic tribes had apocalyptic stories surrounding Kalki and Ragnarok so it would at first glance appear to be a common theme in agricultural societies as least.

Whether pre-agricultural societies have them was unclear. Julie Thomas says she hasn’t come across any in Aboriginal mythology, and I have not been able to find anything along those lines either (perhaps the Innuit?). But to be fair, no-one seems to be sure and its not easy to find out either because no hunter gatherer societies survive in their original form so it is hard to tell how ancient the stories we have been handed down about them really are. There appears more clarity about the idea that they have stories about ancient hardships (floods) and bad possibilities (evil spirits) but whether they had apocalyptic visions that would require penance on the part of the audience? Still hard to say.

Ideas about demand were varied. Ben mentioned that an apocalypse is basically a story-telling devise that overcomes free rider problems in that for everyone individually everything is at stake. It would then be every society that has public goods that would seem to give rise to them though this is in a sense more of a supply-side story. On the demand side there would then be some innate tendency to actually believe these things somewhat or at least to feel somewhat beholden to their logic if supplied by a whole group as the official reason to do something. One could summarise this by saying that it was incomplete power structures in which the demand for stories in which everyone is pivotal arises as a recognised means of coordinating on something.

Another option raised by Conrad and Ian again was that the demand came from an innate human inability to read true probabilities and an inability to arrive at reasonable theories about the world in which some things are plausible and others not (elephants yes, flying dragons no). Apocalyptic stories then have a role in that people’s irrationalities made them susceptible to them, after which it becomes a supply-side story as to which manipulator gets in first.

I must say there seems a lot of merit to this ‘we have an innate tendency to go along with anything’ answer. Hard to see why otherwise one story would end up foretelling the invasion of the aliens and another the emergence of flying birdmen. So surely some cognitive deficiencies are in the mix.

Of course there were also commentators peeved off that I would dare list their pet apocalypse as anything but a truly impending world disaster, paramount amongst which of course the climate change debate. Instances of indignant apocalypse yearners who react with great anger at people talking rationally about solutions were waved away as people reasonably outraged over whether or not one quotes current trends or trends predicted for the future. What can I say? I guess they should re-visit Al Gore’s video again and see whether they can maintain without blinking that there is no apocalyptic element to this debate.

I would also agree with Ian’s observation on this, which is that the apocalyptic are similar to the utopians in that “they too believe that they are the high priests of the righteous, doom-avoiding path, and tend to take a dim view of (and have rather nasty prescriptions for) the cynical. Both philosophies are, in my view, to be eschewed. They are but poor excuses for the expression of a nasty, authoritarian streak. After all, as Bertrand Russell (a nuclear doomsayer) said, “Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power”.” So true.

Another theory, put forward by the BBC commentator Quentin Cooper, is that the apocalypse is a story humans latch onto when they contemplate the enormity of time and the human insignificance of it all: it gives us the idea that we are the special generation, not merely one of millions of generations of animals but pivotal in world history. A way of feeling more important that we really are.

What I share with Cooper is the sense that the grandness of the apocalyptic story probably reflects the grandness of our imagination. A local flood simply would not cut it anymore and all-out destruction is needed to reflect our importance.

I do personally think there is another possibility though. From my history lessons I remember the stories of how in the middle ages people really would believe the end is nigh and this doom would hang like a sword of Damocles over everything. Planning ahead would be futile as the end of days could be tomorrow.

In contrast, the Dooms day stories of the Hindus, also a very long-run agricultural society is much more remote. Kalki the tenth avatar who will destroy everything is not due to come to earth for another 400,000 years or so. That really is a more benign version of the apocalypse, indeed almost irrelevant for any practical purposes. It is more a story of eternal cycles rather than of the final resolution coming soon.

So I do think there is something to the idea that the apocalypse is somewhat particular to particular societies. I think Julie Thomas is right about pointing out that the basic ‘stability’ story of the Aboriginals does not really allow Armageddons to emerge as an accepted story technique despite starting out with the same innate human tendencies and public good provisions inside small tribes. It probably also does not work well in societies where the mythology and daily experience is based on eternal cycles (of the moon, river, generations whatever) wherein there is neither progress nor regression. So I suspect the Chinese too are less afflicted by any of this. Still, in terms of actual dangers it is not fair to call the Hindus and Aboriginals any less dependent on volatile and uncertain systems than anyone else in other parts of history. So the answer that ‘we simply face more dangers’ is clearly not true. It would also be unfair to think of the Hindu societies as having had less supply and demand for public goods.

Hence I do accept the line that we should not confuse what is normal in the society we know so well for something innately human shared everywhere.

So if we proceed from the running hypothesis that the apocalypse is in fact particular to us, ie our Western society and is not a strong line of thought in all human societies at all, then I can ask the updated question: what is it about us that makes us so unusually open for these apocalyptic stories? If it is hence not an automatic outgrowth of our psychology but rather something that needs culturally specific dynamics to emerge, then what it is about our culture that makes us so unusually open to the idea that our Doom is nigh, whether through some breakdown in moral values, the end of the Climate as know it, the third coming of our Lord, or the nuclear winter.

Wrap-up on Wednesday.

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29 Responses to Yearning for the apocalypse, part II

  1. conrad says:

    “So I suspect the Chinese too are less afflicted by any of this.”

    I just asked a friend about this, so hopefully he’ll have an answer. However, even now I can tell you then when SARs was floating around in HK (and I was unlucky enough to be living there at the time), even once it became entirely clear that the chance of getting it was basically zero, or at least less than dieing from whatever floats in the air there every day, there was still mass paranoia and nothing else on the TV. It would be interesting to look at the extent that this raised the overall level of paranoia about germs, in which case you could see if there are any simple correlates to having these catastrophe fears. It is certainly the case that you still see bottles of hand disinfectant in many places that you didn’t see them before, so there is some overall effect on hygene.

    • Paul Frijters says:

      fair enough. Let us hear what your friend says. What I had in mind was more these ‘official’ apocalyptic stories of impending doom. You are certainly right that these collectivists can get all extreme about minor things. Japan last year was the same: still full of face-masks and disinfectants. Still, it is very immediate things and very direct actions as a result. I am guessing there is much less of this ‘god will soon come and judge you so turn your life around before he gets here’. It would be interesting to know if that is true though.

      • conrad says:

        Friend no 1. just replied (who is generally good for this sort of stuff), and he said:” none that i am aware of… i think the Chinese believe that everything are in cycles”, which suggests there is no obvious ones that come to everyone’s mind.

        However, apparently, according to some of the Buddhists, we’re pretty much already here:, and doomed to degenerate further!

      • conrad says:

        Just got a reply from Chinese friend #2 and his opinion is basically the same as the other one. In particular he says “…I am not sure if the Chinese believe in the end of the world thing ….. or they simply pray to different gods, hoping for a better reincarnation”

        So that is interesting, because it suggests that many Chinese are happy to believe in weird stuff (like reincarnation — you can see this all over China with little temples to gods etc.), but neither thinks end of the world stories are widely believed.

        • Paul Frijters says:

          thanks conrad. As you might have noticed, I have now taken these opinions as a basic piece of data on this puzzle. Until of course someone with even more insight into Chinese culture tells me the opposite! But Alan hasn’t told us yet that we are wrong about China and he is usually the first to argue with any strong statement on China he disagrees with so his silence is another sign your friends are right.

        • Alan says:

          Millenarianism has been huge in Chinese history. The Yellow Turbans destroyed the Han dynasty, although they did not succeed in replacing it. What they did do was bust power down to regional warlords and shatter the authority of the court. The Taiping would have done the same thing to the Qing but for foreign intervention.

          So no, Chinese don’t expect an end to the universe but they do go in for catastrophic transitions.

  2. Alan says:

    Most North American peoples had a series of numbered apocalypses. Interestingly, you get apocalyptic thinking, in its full sense, in both nomadic and sedentary peoples. The Navajo inhabited a Fifth World after 4 destructions. Ditto the Aztecs, who also faced a significant risk of the world ending every 52 years when the calendar round ticked over. About the only group in Central and North America who did not have an apocalyptic expectation were the Maya, but I am not going to dignify the Baktun 13 nonsense by commenting on it.

  3. Stephen Bounds says:

    Interesting article Paul … but I’m not convinced that our culture needs to be “unusually open to apocalyptic stories”. Can’t it simply be that they did arise, and now form part of our ancestral storytelling patterns?

    You might as well ask why people in mainland China were “unusually open” to adopting a tonal language.

    • Paul Frijters says:


      well, yes, that would be the default position if we can find no deeper commonality between the cultures that did adopt apocalyptic stories and those that did not. If what Alan is saying is true though, and I have every reason to believe him, then there is quite a spread of cultures with and without them. That gives quite a bit of data to look for a commonality.

  4. hc says:

    At the global level we won’t be around to observe the end of the world vision that is correct.

    The world’s population has surged from a billion to 7 billion in a flash. I think the Carter Doomsday Hypothesis is sensible. An external observer looking at planets like earth would be best advised to assume that their current huge human populations were rather nearer their terminal phases than earlier on. If he had to guess this would be the most sensible guess as a Bayesian.

    While sound I still think it is a good idea to try to extend the human epoch as much as possible by doing what we can to stop the destruction of the atmosphere we use to breathe, by trying to prevent nuclear and chemical weapons proliferation, by thinking hard about the types of physical experimentation we conduct and so on.

    I also think that assuming things will run amok is a nice alternative methodological stance for smug economists who might otherwise assume the planet’s economies will continue to grow at 2% forever irrespective of resource constraints and human myopia.

  5. Crispin Bennett says:

    @PF: given that you decode ‘alarmists’ views to result from some kind of individual/cultural subconscious drive rather than their manifest reasoning, perhaps you’d allow me to do the same for your meliorism. It looks to me like faith in human progress. The historical roots of such faith amongst secular folk are clear enough at least in outline (Enlightenment borrowings from Christianity, etc).

    This quasi-religious faith seems to be particularly strongly held by economists, visible at least in a line from Smith through Hayek. A reason I might suggest for this is that economics is a discipline which, with its history of priori reasoning and managerialist links, seems (admittedly from the perspective of someone with little economics education/reading) almost determinedly isolated from the natural sciences.

    So here’s an alternative, naturalistically-oriented, narrative: when a species exceeds the carrying-capacity of its environment, its numbers will decline unless it can migrate. If natural evolutionary processes, with no view to “human progress”, throw up, at a fortuitous moment in our planet’s geological history, a species with the cognitive flexibility to make the whole planet its environmental range, then when carrying capacity is exceeded, a decline in numbers will ensue. That’s manifestly where we’re at, or near, now.

    So, responses? Those who descry this distantly but still want to hold on to faith in Progress will tend to deny biological reality. This is where I’d place PF from reading the two articles here. He can’t deny climate change’s existence outright, so takes a moderate suburban tack: nothing to scare the children over, human progress is assured (as it must be), just a little tack port or starboard will do.

    An ‘optimistic’ biologically-realistic view might be the Tim Flannery approach, which is effectively to say that human consciousness creates a historically new biological entity: a kind of world-mind that can reflect on the planet’s processes and manage self-consciously what until now has been self-organised. Well, good luck with that.

    Or, ditching faith altogether: obviously human numbers will reduce, and it’s likely at this late stage to be a collapse. A managed decline might have been possible with advance planning (starting, say, 30 years ago), but no-one has yet come up with even one politically plausible route to this happening.

    Taking a naturalistic view of the human species, the ‘problem’ is not the scotching of the human progress narrative, but the likely suffering along the way (which is probably where the policy prescriptions should start, while understanding that a collapse in numbers cannot happen pleasantly) . Human progress is no more than an old story, not to be taken too seriously.

    • Paul Frijters says:


      of course the belief in progress and the associated ‘growth fetish’ is a very interesting cultural trait as well, and i fully buy your assertion that it is fairly new, though i would not link to any particular set of writers but rather the industrial revolution and the competition between nations.

      Your assertion that economists are particularly prone to the belief in progress is probably right as well. After all, we are in some sense the high priests of growth and society turns to us for advise how to get back to growth when we go without it for a while. Indeed, if growth fails to re-emerge then competitors emerge for that same role! Steve Keen is telling us to follow him rather than the other economists! So sure, there are all kinds of stories to tell about the growth fetish and how culturally specific it is. My very first blog posts 5 years ago were in fact on the topic so you may want to revisit them!

      Your turn: do you really think, like Harry seems to think, that humanity is heading towards a disaster that will entail a large-scale dying out of our species as the biological system corrects itself for the anomaly of an exploding human population? You will forgive me for saying so but I dont personally really see that catastrophe coming at all. Yes, i see climate change and all manner of problems associated with that, including massive loss of biodiversity. But large-scale dying off of humans in the next hundred years when we have all our combined genius at our disposal to engineer our way out of the worst consequences for ourselves? I am afraid that kind of Doomsday thinking does indeed go into my basket of yearning for the apocalypse….

      • Crispin Bennett says:

        Your turn: do you really think, like Harry seems to think, that humanity is heading towards a disaster

        I am not remotely confident of my ability to predict my own future, yet alone that of the world. To turn the question around a bit, though, I haven’t yet seen described even a single plausible route to heading off the multiple challenges our careless growth is throwing at the world. Argument from lack of imagination is no argument at all, of course. But to answer your question directly/personally: yes, whether it be via runaway global warming or nuclear proliferation, my guess would be that our world’s population will be dramatically cut back over the course of the coming 100-150 years.

        I don’t see this as a ‘disaster’ exactly though, because I don’t have a metaphysical or ethical commitment to growth/progress. We’re just one contingent species amongst many, with no destiny. Every dog has its day.

  6. Tim Macknay says:

    Of course there were also commentators peeved off that I would dare list their pet apocalypse as anything but a truly impending world disaster, paramount amongst which of course the climate change debate. Instances of indignant apocalypse yearners who react with great anger at people talking rationally about solutions were waved away as people reasonably outraged over whether or not one quotes current trends or trends predicted for the future. What can I say? I guess they should re-visit Al Gore’s video again and see whether they can maintain without blinking that there is no apocalyptic element to this debate.

    I can’t resist the bait – I have to respond to this one.

    Paul, there’s some serious self-serving disingenousness here on your part. I for one wouldn’t insist that there is “no apocalyptic element to this debate”, but that’s not the claim you made that I found objectionable.

    You implied that anyone who thinks emissions reduction is a rational policy objective is a doomsday cultist. Bear in mind that emissions reduction is a mainstream policy position, notwithstanding your own view of its probability of success.

    Your implication amounts to a wholesale dismissal of a wide range of rationally defensible positions on the climate change issue, many not far removed from your own, as the equivalent of fanatical delusions. And you’re surprised that pisses people off? Come on.

    On the broader topic, I tend to think that the apocalyptic thinking probably is stronger in Western culture than in other cultures, and this appears to be linked to the success of Christianity. Western apocalyptic movements, whatever their particular ideology, tend to follow the Christian pattern, and usually invoke the promise of a better world for the “elect” or the repentant, a group which generally constitutes the members of said movements. Hence the apparent enthusiasm of some people for these apocalypses.

    It is true that this pattern is evident, to some extent, among elements of the environmental movement. There are some environmentalists who believe in an inevitable, near-term apocalyptic collapse of industrial civilisation due to a combination of resource shortages and environmental problems, and who appear to have convinced themselves that a kind of low-tech, self-sufficient lifestyle will insulate them from it. That viewpoint clearly has similar elements to some millenarian Christian beliefs, with (arguably) modern technology and consumerism playing the role of ‘sin’, environmental damage standing in for ‘god’s wrath’, and adopting a hair-shirt lifestyle constituting ‘repentance’.

    However, to lazily conflate that kind of view with the mainstream view on climate change (which I would characterise as essentially that global warming poses a risk of a general decline in human welfare, and that the costs of adaptation are likely to exceed those of mitigation), is unreasonable. You may disagree with the mainstream assessment that mitigation is feasible and that the costs of adaptation will exceed its costs, but these are things on which reasonable people can disagree, without dismissing their antagonists as lunatics. This reductionist move appears to be something you only do with environmentalists – I haven’t noticed you pretending that all Christians are doomsday cultists, for example, even thoughsome obviously are. It strongly suggests that you have a rather non-rational bee in your bonnet when it comes to matters environmental.

    • Paul Frijters says:


      I did not actually have you in mind on that one. The Michael and cpb commentators were more in my mind then. As I already commented on previously in response to your response, I am happy to see you recognise there are apocalypse yearners amongst the climate activists. So no need to feel personally mentioned there.

      You accuse me of being disingenuous though. Let me take that seriously as a point of debate. You say I think anyone who believes in emission reductions as a viable strategy is a doomsday cultist. Not at all, and I hope I dont say that anywhere. I think they are all naive yes, and guilty of wishful thinking also. But that does not make all of them doomsday cultist. Where hence have I said that all climate activists are doomsday lunatics?

      The one strong opinion I have on the climate debate comes from my own area of expertise: the functioning of economic systems. From that I argue that our political systems and the free riding problems in organising world coalitions around emission reductions are so huge that it is naive and folly to put ones hope in that for it is a fool’s hope. Worse, I do think a fraction of the advocates has different motivations entirely: if you truly care about the environment you take the politics of it seriously and do not close your eyes to the realities of what is possible and what is not possible politically. If you close your eyes and simply keep shouting ‘disaster looming so follow me’ then how much do you really care about the environment and how much are you enjoying the doomsday spectacle?

      I am more than willing to pick on other groups I feel are being naive and unrealistic though. Just go through my previous blog posts.

      • Crispin Bennett says:

        if you truly care about the environment you take the politics of it seriously and do not close your eyes to the realities of what is possible and what is not possible politically. If you close your eyes and simply keep shouting ‘disaster looming so follow me’ then how much do you really care about the environment and how much are you enjoying the doomsday spectacle?

        This is a little unfair, as you’re ruling out political naiveté and hopelessness as contributors to doomsaying. Both seem more plausible in many cases than ‘not caring’ to me.

        I know several people studying specific ecosystems who are seeing the systems they love collapse with alarming speed. There’s not enough funding to collect the kinds of evidence required for meaningful action to be taken, so they often can’t make the kinds of case they’d need for their scientific expertise to be of political use (and anyway the relevant decision-making systems are frequently too entirely corrupted for much faith to be placed in them).

        If such people become Cassandras, it’s surely a humanly-understandable despairing response, however practically unhelpful?

        • Paul Frijters says:

          yes there is a role for despair and I well understand that people who see one species after another go extinct or see the destruction of their whole habitat will have a ‘something must be done’ reaction.
          But as a movement and particularly amongst its leaders, I find it hard to excuse political nativity. If you want to change the behaviour of whole societies you are in the business of politics and hence need to put in a real effort to truly understand politics. If you dont, the politicians will run rings around you and keep you docile with symbolic tinkering, as they have done for decades now when it concerns the climate change movement. One needs to recognise the hard choices that might have to be made and give up silly illusions, like the notion that there is a risk-free option. It is basically selfish to hang on to illusions when the climate is at stake.

          I for instance read the Senate Inquiry submissions to the policy on joining the European Carbon Trading scheme, of which it is entirely clear that it wont do much for total world emission as the Europeans are going to sell us spare emission rights which we are going to pretend are making a real impact whereas they in fact will not. I was amazed and appalled at the submissions of supposed green lobbies cheering this thing on. They seem to either not know or care that they are being flogged off with symbolic tinkering. I wont say they are yearning for the apocalypse but I would question the degree to which they really care about the problem in stead of just wanting to see a sacrifice made as recognition that there is a problem.

    • Paul Frijters says:

      ps are you game to comment on whether Crispin and Harry above are in the Doomsday camp? All this talk of biological systems correcting themselves of the scourge of humanity does rather sound fatalistic don’t you think?

      • Tim Macknay says:

        I do think the ‘biological self-correction’ stuff is definitely on the doomy side. The idea of “carrying capacity” is clearly highly elastic when it comes to humanity, so claims that we’re at or near it are simplistic and need to be taken with a grain of salt. That said, I think a contrast should be drawn between the identification of risks and future possibilities, and claims that they are inevitable. I think it’s prefectly reasonable be concerned about the risks associated with population growth and the long term sustainability of growth in food supply. I would characterise identifying risks of this kind, and proposals for avoiding them, as rational. Claiming that disaster is inevitable, on the other hand, is doomerism.

        • Crispin Bennett says:

          claims that we’re at or near it are simplistic and need to be taken with a grain of salt.

          Plans for infinite growth (including plans not specifying explicit growth limits, or criteria for such) are more simplistic still, as they rule out carrying capacity limits (biological law) by fiat. The only way I can come up with to explain the prevalence of such a physically-unrealistic notion is via some sort of motivated reasoning of the sort Paul is predicating of Doomsayers.

          Very roughly, the Enlightenment caught a ‘human uniqueness’ meme from Christendom, transferring the putative cause from God/Creation to Reason. Strongly Englightenment-influenced cultures haven’t really caught up (conatively and emotionally) with the full consequences of ‘disenchantment’. That is, we don’t really believe we’re part of the natural world. Infinite growth is a transcendent myth deriving from this.

          Acting on myths don’t necessarily result in doom. But they can do so if the physical realities they butt up against aren’t noticed by the relevant decision-makers in time.

        • Tim Macknay says:

          Crispin, I agree that the idea of infinite growth on a finite planet is untenable. But it’s a bit academic; the more immediate questions are where and when do the limits arrive. We’ve seen historically that those limits, with respect to human food production in particular, are very elastic.

          There are also good reasons to suppose that the human population won’t keep increasing as it has for the past century or so. Birth rates are dropping almost everywhere, which is why the UN is now predicting that global population is likely to peak at around 9 billion.

          Now it’s possible, of course, that global food production will not be able to increase sufficiently to feed 9 billion, but there is no good reason to suppose that this is the most likely outcome. It’s entirely possible that global population will peak and decline without a carrying capacity limit having been reached. From a human welfare point of view, this is clearly the most desirable outcome, and in my view what we should try to aim for.

          I also agree with you that Paul is being a little unfair with his “if you truly care” remark, which really translates as “if you truly care you would agree with me“, and has the subtext “I am so obviously right, that a contrary opinion can only be motivated by foolishness”. I appreciate that Paul’s view is predicated on his understanding of economic systems, and therefore has a degree of rational support, but nonetheless, his level of certainty still appears to me to be disproportionate to the justification, so I still can’t help suspecting there’s a bit of motivated reasoning involved. That motivation could well be the economist’s bias in favour of progress that Paul acknowledges.

  7. Tim Macknay says:

    Naturally I mean perfectly reasonable. Never having been a prefect myself, I don’t really know what is reasonably expected of one.

  8. Alan says:

    One of the things driving apocalypticism is cold, hard cash. There are many more nooks published and sold that fantasise about the end of the world next week then there are legitimate works by scholars. And it is so much more cost- and time-effective to fabricate a myth than actually getting into the hard research grind of understanding another culture.

    Probaly the nastiest example of the exploitive apocalypse is the Xhosa cattle-killing movement.

    Wikipedia is reasonable on Mexica eschatology.

  9. Tel says:

    Here’s my theory, that this is triggered by a special sort of cognitive dissonance that comes from the moral relativity between the politically privileged and unprivileged.

    Consider a medieval village. The local priest gives a sermon explaining why the church should have monopoly control over human reproduction, every farmer gets one wife, and they are stuck with her for life. It’s a difficult concept to get across but most of them seem to be willing to knuckle under, until one puts up his hand and says, “I have a big house, and plenty of food, there’s no logical reason why I couldn’t support two wives.”

    The priest doesn’t muck like dissent, and he needs something to put these rubes in their place, so he comes up with, “Ohhhh God will punish us all for such sin! Rain of fire from the sky! We will all get POX!”

    That seems to do the trick, the crowd goes home wide eyed and muttering, and they follow the church rules. Only a matter of time before they hear from their kids that the priest is fiddling the choir boys and the local lord has been banging the young maidens… then the muttering starts again, “This is bad, pox and fire and stuff, doom is upon us.

    Fast forward a lot of years and you have oil running out and political instability in the Middle East, but people love to drive their cars. What are we going to tell them?

    Priest 1: “Tell them it causes cancer!”

    Priest 2: “But everything causes cancer, they will just drive faster.”

    Priest 1: “Tell them the sky will fall on their heads!”

    Priest 2: “Really? Who would believe that?”

    Priest 1: “Tell them the Earth will slowly warm up and big storms will come!”

    Priest 2: “Hmmm, won’t those storms come anyhow? Ohh, now I see where this is going.”

    So people were told to consume less oil, and less electricity, and live simple lifestyles (but not too simple, lest Aggregate Demand should fall) and ride bicycles, and catch the train. Only a matter of time before emails get leaked and people start to notice delegates flying across the world in jet aircraft to their UN conferences, driving around in limos, living it up in fancy hotels. The mumbles start again, “Wait a minute, these guys aren’t serious, they can’t stop the warming thing, they aren’t even trying… doom is upon us.

    But there’s more.

    The great economists of the world want to get people onto the idea of paper money, and budgets and accounting. So the economic priests get together and explain it to the simpletons: “You need to accept the paper money, because some very clever people control the money supply and this guarantees you will always have a job. Now with this thing called a budget, you look at how much you earn and you spend the same as what you earn, this way everyone gets what’s fair. If you start doing things differently there will be teeerrrrible depression, and the economy will become unstable and wildly gyrate around the room! Only we have the mystic power of economic regulation.”

    The simpletons seem to accept this, so they work for paper money, and stick with their budget. Only a matter of time before it becomes apparent that government works by different rules — they print new money and can’t stick with a budget. That old muttering starts again, “Gyrations didn’t he say? Any minute now, kablowie.”

    Economic priest: “You poor fools. Government budgets are completely different to household budgets. Don’t you understand? Discipline for thee but not for me.”

    The simpletons don’t buy it, “Doooooom is upon us.

    • Tim Macknay says:

      Sounds kind of anti-intellectual.

      • Tel says:

        Intellect doesn’t bother me, but some of the scams it gets used for are rather sad.

        It does make perfect evolutionary sense that humans developed their big brains in order to outwit their fellow humans. I guess you can win a race by running very fast, or you can win by nobbling the other runners.

    • desipis says:

      Sounds a bit like any time there’s a discussion about government regulation, the libertarians trot out the old “omg communism, Stalin, millions dead! Doom is upon us!” argument.

      There’s also the way people will respond to news about the future they don’t like by labelling the message a ‘dooms sayer’ and claiming that if we listen to them then “Doom will be upon us!”

      • Tel says:

        Important distinction between mythology and dead bodies in the ground. We know that authoritarian central planning kills millions of people, because we did the experiment (several times over) and documented the results. Admittedly, we don’t know when it will happen again.

        “if voluntary birth reduction methods did not work a nation might have to resort to ‘the addition of a temporary sterilant to staple food or to the water supply” – June 1972 Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist and author of The Population Bomb.

        “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” – Margaret Sanger, (Founder of PLANNED PARENTHOOD) Women and the New Race.

        “In order to stabilize the world population, we need to eliminate 350,000 people a day. It is a horrible thing to say, but it’s just as bad not to say it.” – Jacques Cousteau, Nov 1991.

        “Right Now there are just way too many people on the planet. A total world population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels would be ideal.” – Ted Turner

        “The Earth has a cancer and the cancer is man” – 1974 Mankind at the Turning point – The 2nd report of the Club of Rome.

        But at least we know some very important people are giving this matter due consideration. I find that a great comfort, don’t you?

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