There are only 11 days left before the New Year – and before we hurtle over the fiscal cliff. Only four more shopping days till Christmas.
Got your attention? Of course. Nothing concentrates the mind as much as a countdown. Once we get to the T-minus something-or-other stage, we really begin to focus on the tasks at hand.
For instance, we may not get the best deal from the economic solons in Washington, D.C., but they’ll grind out something. Why? Because they’re counting down.
We may not buy the best-considered presents for everyone on our list, but we’ll get them something, because when we hear that mental 3-2-1-0, we really get clicking and we get things done.
Of course, any well-laid plans for those two days are moot if the world ends tomorrow. And that’s what’s predicted based on some nutty – we think – interpretations of the Mayan Long Count calendar. It began calculating dates back in 3114 B.C. and supposedly presages the end of the world with the dawning of tomorrow’s winter solstice. That’s T minus 5,126 years. Talk about your long countdown.
Not the First End of the World
This is not the first time the world ended – or was on the launch pad to do so. Actually, it’s the second time this year. Radio mogul and self-proclaimed preacher Harold Camping predicted that the world would end on May 21, 2012. He was wrong. Nothing (much) happened. We survived.
Our world also didn’t end the other two times that Camping predicted it would, once in September 1994 and again in March 1995.
Of course Camping was just another adherent in a long line of end-of-the-world predictors going back – as far as we know – to the early days of the Bible. Similar prophecies went unfulfilled through the Middle Ages with the first Millennium scare; the Anabaptists of Munster also got it wrong in 1530. Then the trend visited the American heartland, where:
- William Miller and the Adventists in the 1840s foresaw doom.
- Charles Taze Russell’s Jehovah’s Witnesses in the early 20th century predicted the end.
- William Branham of the Pentecostals had doomsday clocked in for 1977. (Branham’s end came even earlier. He was killed by a drunk driver in 1965.)
No doubt, many of those apocalyptic proselytizers had sincere religious beliefs that inspired their prophecies and began their countdowns to earthly anomie. But could there have been another motive? At least in modern times?
Supposedly, Camping didn’t do too badly money-wise being such a Negative Nelly. Thousands of his followers emptied their bank accounts and sent him a whopping $120 million in fervent support, the last time before his last countdown fizzled. And then there’s Hal Lindsay, whose 1970s nonfiction book, the Late Great Planet Earth, sold millions of copies predicting the world’s end in 1988.
Armageddon Good for Business
It seems that Armageddon peddling, more than anything else, is simply a good business model. Today, hundreds of books, videos and websites predict all manner of destructive scenarios. We are threatened by:
- Galactic realignment
- Polar shifts
- Killer solar flares
- Runaway planets crashing into the earth
- Black holes
Yet, we somehow manage to find a way to survive the un-survivable – for a price.
And 2012 has been a particularly good year for the doomsday industry. Why? Because it had a countdown. Not only did book and video sales soar, but bulk supply sales climbed, freeze-dried meals went on back order, survival kits raced off the shelves, and shelters got built and stocked, as the countdown got closer to zero.
Of course, if you’re reading this post sometime on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, you’ll know that yet another countdown faded away into oblivion without marking a conclusive culmination of our earthly endeavors.
Such prognosticating failures rarely faze the faithful, though. No doubt some entrepreneurial soul, somewhere — one tinged with a pseudo-scientific bent, perhaps — will pick up the baton and calculate yet another day that the world will cease to exist. Give it less than a year.
Then the word will go out and more profit will be reeled in from the unthinking and the very afraid. For whether or not the world will actually ever end based on anyone’s countdown, there is one thing that holds true every minute of every day throughout the known universe – somewhere, another sucker is being born.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].