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Friday, 19 October 2012

The Doomsday Age?

Two items have come to my attention today. The first is a news item proclaiming that some 'big name movie stars' are rushing to sign up to a new film punted to 'prove' that the destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001 was a 'conspiracy' by the Bush Administration. One of the 'stars' claims he changed his mind on the official reports after his son showed him some 'new' evidence about the collapse of building 7. It seems the urge in Hollywood to believe their own illusional world exceeds any vesitiges they might have of common sense. As the saying is, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and they rush to prove it with their willingness to listen to any and every hair-brained doomsday merchant.

The second thing that caught my attention today is an article in Psychology Today entitled "This New Age of Anxiety." It touches on the plethora of movies rushed into creation immediately after the tragedy, perhaps the most pernicious being the Michael Moore manipulation of fact to create "Fahrenheit 911" which I note the BBC is still promoting as a "documentary." OK, so Moore and the BBC HATE G.W. Bush ut is this really an appropriate way to attack him? Through a tragedy and a deliberate act of terror?

Reading the article it struck me that we have a crazy situation. We live in an age of unprecedented access to knowledge and information, yet we seem to prefer to allow ourselves to be fed selective bits and to always bias toward believing the worst - and never doing a fact check. And, when we do, it is usually a "Google it" and pick the first article on the list if it agrees with or confirms our bias. In "This New Age of Anxiety" the author, Mathew J Edland MD, lists five common obsessive anxieties in our age: -

Political Anxiety
Economic Anxiety
Planetary Anxiety
Fear of the future, and
Information excess ...

Distrust of politicians has seen an explosion of growth in recent years, and with it a distrust of anything and everything a government tries to communicate. This is what drives the majority of people who refuse to accept that the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were destroyed by terrorist action. The really fanatic followers of that school of thought don't care how much they damage the credibility of their nation abroad, or how much ammunition they hand their very real enemies in the Middle East - as long as they can air their views and bring down the Washington government. It's a dangerous mindset, the same sort of mindset, ironically, found among those who join organisations like Al Qaeda.

For another group of followers of the "it couldn't have been a terrorist attack" school of thought, it is their own perception of the position of the US as the most democratic, most free, most powerful nation on earth that blinds them. One of these 'truthers' as they call themselves, states that he doubts 19 Saudi Arabians (Fact check, 15 were registered as Saudi Arabian, the remaining four carried Egyptian or UAE passports) could have attacked the most powerful nation on earth. According to him, 'some of these people didn't even know how to fly.' Again, I'm not all all sure where that one has come from since most appear to have at least taken flying lessons, and once an aircraft like this is airborne, turning, aiming and crashing is probably the easiest thing in the world. All you really need to know is how to either guide it by adjusting the instructions to the autopilot - or turn it off and use the yoke and rudder pedals. As usual, Hollywood is falling for its own hype and imaginations are now in high gear.

Economic anxiety is rampant. No one trusts banks, bankers or government Economics Minsiters any longer. Certainly not after the economic collapse of 2007-8. A lot of people now spend a lot of time worrying about their incomes, the security of their possessions or their homes and the possible future their children and grandchildren face. One could say, "it was ever thus" but there does seem to have been a massive upsurge in people taking extreme measures to secure their wealth. On the other end of the scale are those who have simply given up and make little effort at all.

Then there is that favourite - Planetary concern. I've certainly addressed this one often enough. Nature changes, it always has, and I've no doubt it always will. It has changed us through evolution and it is still changing us, even though we are now changing nature as well - and I'm NOT talking about climate here. We are certainly changing the environment. Every paved street increases rainwater run-off, every white painted roof changes the local rainfall pattern (True! A recent study shows that this measure REDUCES rainfall in an area by up to 16%). The truth is man has been changing nature since we first discovered how to grow crops to feed ourselves instead of having to push mammoths of cliffs and gather berries and nuts. What has changed since the beginning of the 20th Century is that the human population has exploded - particularly in those countries where the ecological balance is probably at its most delicate. One can understand this 'concern,' but, as the article I linked earlier points out, for some it has become almost a phobia. I would say that for many it has become a religion, just as the distrust of politicians has led some to turn 'proving' events like 9/11 were 'The Government trying to trick us' seems to have taken on the status of a Credo.

As for fear of the future, the problem appears to be how much we know about events and possible events. I would also suggest this is further fuelled by the "Fourth Estate's" penchant for sensational headlines. "Near miss by Massive Asteroid" screamed a recent headline. The sub headline reported that scientisits had calculated it might collide. What didn't become apparent until almost the end of the piece was that the calculations showed a one in heaven knows how many, chance of a collision occurring in several thousand years. Other similar 'dire predictions' include one from last year that the €uro had less than two months of life left to it. I have to say its a pretty lively corpse, but I've not seen any retraction of that headline. We are constantly bombarded with messages regarding 'safety,' suggesting we are all likely to be maimed or killed getting out of bed. Our children are constantly told they are in danger of sexual abuse and we are told there are threats of terrorism, Islamification and probably little green men from somewhere outlandish as well. No wonder some people tell their physicians they "Can't see a future."

The information age has its drawbacks. We get far to much information thrust at us, and the human brain isn't good at processing out the 'noise' I don't need to be worried about - especially when a lot of it is about potential threats. We are also not good at checking our facts. Often we half hear something, or here it, but then process it through our bias filters and arrive at something less than what was actually said. This is a major problem. Throw in the fact that most of our "fact checks" are now a quick check on "Mr Google" and the problem is compounded. Not everything on the internet is factual, nt everything is correct, and there is probably as much misinformation out there as fact.

I agree with Dr. Edland, we do live in a new Age of Anxiety. I'd love to say to some of the angst ridden Doomsayers I encounter from time to time  - "Get a life! Grow up, there are no monsters 'under the bed'" - but I'd probably be breaching their "human right" to be paranoid ...

I just hope this excessive anxiety streak and obsession with Doomsday passes soon. Unfortunately, I suspect we need to evolve out of it - and that probably means a whole new human species. Oops, I think I've just started a new phobia for some folk ...

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