This month's Wired magazine (Sep 2012, p. 110) has a great article entitled "Apocalypse Not" that outlines the long, sad history of doom-mongers in U.S. culture. From the 100,000 Millerites of 1843 who took to the hills to await the end of the world, to the promised crash of airliners around the world from the Y2K bug, to the current Mayan calendar craze, those predicting the end of the world currently have a record of 0 for ... well, they have never been right yet. For the last 50 years, environmentalists have been especially prone to this kind of hysteria: from DDT, to smog, to acid rain, to CFCs and the ozone layer, every major threat to the world as we know it has proved a bust. Some were averted partly through regulation, but most simply ran their course as better, cleaner technologies emerged-- and in most cases, the original threat was vastly over-hyped.
James Thurber wrote the wildly funny anthology "My Life and Hard Times" about his childhood in Columbus, Ohio during the Great Depression. In it, he tells about the Get Ready Man, "a lank unkempt elderly gentleman with wild eyes and a deep voice who used to go about shouting at people through a megaphone to prepare for the end of the world. 'Get ready! Get read-y!' he would bellow, 'The Worllld is coming to an End!'" And in "The Day the Dam Broke", he tells how the city ran in panic from a rumored flood, only to return sheepishly to their homes when they found that reports of the dam having broken were completely unfounded.
Sometimes I think our industry is particularly prone to paranoia and hysteria. Every trade show, we see people earnestly assuring us that the whole planet is poisoned, and that the only safe course is to eat only foods that do not cast a shadow, and drink only distilled moonbeams (which of course they are happy to sell us). In reality, our bodies endure a lot every day, and some of the things we think are most "healthy" (like running marathons) are in fact very punishing. As the Roman playwright Terence said, "Moderation in all things."
As another example, I don't doubt that GMOs are inadequately tested, are foisted upon us by corporate greed, and may be hurting us on many levels, but I would be very surprised if informed consumers and voters continue to tolerate such abuses for very long. Market dynamics are constantly shifting, people are getting smarter, and they are learning to trust themselves more, and massive international corporations less. And that is A Good Thing. As Oprah says, when you know better, you do better.
Stress and worry are known contributors to poor health. Jesus said, "Which of you by all your worrying can add one hour to his life?" (Matt. 6:27) In fact, we now understand that all our worries only subtract hours. Love and laughter are, indeed, the best kind of medicine.
So as the end of the Mayan long calendar approaches on December 21, 2012, and the sun aligns with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in nearly 26,000 years, I have two thoughts. One, be grateful that you are smarter today, than you were yesterday. And two, in the inimitable words of Bobby McFerrrin: Don't Worry, Be Happy!