Remember that the year began with mass animal deaths? It continued with revolution in the Middle East. And, poor Australia was hit with the wrath of the gods. (What did you guys do? Just kidding.) Now, we have catastrophic earthquakes – one after another – and a wicked tsunami. With all the political turmoil and natural disasters this year, it would appear as if the world is being ripped apart, socially and physically.

“Appear as if” are the important words to consider. It depends on the perspective you take.

People mostly get their news from the media. The media gives attention to unique things, stories that affect certain groups of people or important people. They don’t always cover events that affect A LOT of people if those people aren’t considered important (remote, poor, unknown).

Once a story is in the news, the topic becomes important. I’m calling this the Google Alert effect.

If you set a Google news alert for “political unrest” or “earthquake” with regards to a particular location, you will see results from other locations because of the association with topic. Thus, it appears that there is a sudden increase in this kind of event. It’s because you are looking for it that you see it. That’s what I think happened with the flood of mass animal death stories earlier this year. A mass animal death in one part of the world suddenly becomes news if a similar event has just occurred somewhere else. We find more events when we are sensitized to them and specifically looking for them. It’s also behind the celebrity deaths in threes idea. When we notice two celebrity deaths, we wait for the third and then stop counting. We’ve fulfilled our expectation.

It’s happening in the news today. Japan has experienced an enormous, unique and horrific earthquake. It’s a megaquake that triggered an even more destructive tsunami. Years ago, we would not have been able to see the dramatic first hand home videos. But now mobile video devices are all over, transmitting immediately. I get Breaking News alerts about all the details of the event – from explosions and fires to aftershocks and the ever mounting death toll. It looks… dare I say it, apocalyptic.

Earlier this week, I noticed people with signs in the public square announcing “Judgement Day May 21, 2011”. Fresh in my mind is the instability in the Middle East, the destruction from the New Zealand quake and the billions of sardines (“carpet of death”) left floating in a California harbor. Related?

Only in the human mind.

That’s not to say there is not a legitimate correlation or domino effect occurring here. First, political action in one area certainly prompts action in another. Spurred on by what is seen in the media, we get a copycat effect. We already have a precarious economic condition so natural disasters cause world markets to react shakily to such events, prompting more worry and possible panic. The mass animal deaths were correlated to bad weather conditions around the world at the time. When someone reports a UFO, lots of people suddenly start looking up and notice unusual things. No surprises here.

It’s hard to watch world turmoil and not get frightened and attempt to make sense out of it. Chaos is disconcerting. So, people try to tie it all together somehow. They say it’s related to some outside natural force like magnetic pole shifts or supermoons *. Or, they say supernatural events are heralded such as the coming of Christ or that God is mad at whatever “immoral” thing the local populations did.

What can logical people do to quell this End Times wailing? I could tell nervous Twitterers that there is no logical basis to connect all these frightening world events because…

  • there are on average 50 recorded earthquakes a day – some WILL be huge;
  • we are having an unusual cold weather spell that caused animal deaths, or
  • it’s just human nature to connect the dots and make something from nothing.

Sadly, that’s not going to help. They will still nervously tweet others and spread the fear. My facts and probabilities won’t change how these pieces fit into their entrenched worldview. It sucks but it’s the truth. Don’t think of these people as stupid. They are just human. There are many, even skeptically minded people, who JUST can’t help but wonder whether this pattern means something. It’s how our brains work.

However, being the calm voice of reason also doesn’t hurt. There are those who look to sources of rationality to be soothed. They want to be told it’s not a big deal. You could tell them, “Nah, I don’t think its the end of the world. It’s not all related; we are just attuned to noticing catastrophes around the world at the moment and tying them together with a good story.”

Be a small comfort in the face of the throngs of doomsayers! If panic is contagious, so is calmness. We just have to be out there promoting it. See you on May 22. 2011…


* The Supermoon idea is ludicrous. Stop getting science from astrologers and promoting wacky nonsense, you pathetic media outlets!!!

3 thoughts on “It “appears as if” the world is ending

  1. I used to live in Japan. I never got used to the earth quakes although my then-boyfriend never bothered to wake up unless it was above a magnitude of 3 (on the Richter-scale). I have spent the day getting pissed off with odd and quite frankly, weird comments here and there. Even some people I know from fb, that I’ve thought of as sensible people have run amok.

    It seems hard to get it across that a natural disaster is a natural disaster. It is highly unlikely that anything is/has been affection the rate of earth quakes. The effects of environmental changes are in-disputable, although it is not yet known to what extent and what drives specific changes in weather. There are scientists claiming that changes in weather is cyclical.

    Yet, earth quake is a geological event, well, seismic. Japan rests on the very edge of the ring of fire. You live with earth quakes whether you want to or not. Tsunamis come with earth-quakes.

    I eventually learned to take earth-quakes rather matter of factly. No one I met in Japan (during 4 yrs of residency) took it signs as earth was coming to an end.

    A good thing in Japan is that it is one of the foremost countries in earth-quake “safe” building codes and people are well educated in what to do in an earth quake. Of course, there’s only so much a building can take in terms of stress before it crumbles. So far it seems as if the tallest buildings in Tokyo has survived the test. However, the combination of good building codes (post 1981) and earth quake preparedness is essential to a higher number of survivors. Yet, the earth-quake in Kobe in 1995 claimed 6 000 lives, it was 6,9 in magnitude.
    This one is 8,9. The damages and the casualties will continue to increase. It was the first thing I thought of as I woke to the news early this morning. Then I went at trying to find friends scattered all over Japan.

    Thanks for your posts btw. I read them all with great appreciation.

  2. Good post. I don’t know why some people are surprised to discover that we live in a violent, uncertain, and dangerous reality. It has always been out there, waiting in your own front yard, you just never really look at until somthing shocks your into it.

  3. One of the wacko tweeters I used to follow for my blog was a huge fan of tweeting every earthquake that happened (courtesy of the USGS). Unfortunately she only became aware of the number of daily earthquakes after the Haitian quake in January 2010. Logic would dictate earthquakes happen all the time, she just suddenly became more aware of them…but no, she was convinced that earthquakes rarely happened before Haiti and now they were suddenly happening dozens of times a day, obviously symbolizing the coming of Christ. The combination of fear and ignorance is mind-blowing.

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