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Pre-Millennial Tension, September 27, 1998 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: September 27, 1998
"Pre-Millennial Tension" [permalink]
    keywords: history, computers, tech
    soapbox #: 155
    written: September 27, 1998
    words: 1999

"Pre-Millennial Tension", an Essay

It's almost the new year, almost the big 1999, one year away from the midnight of the century, the new millennium. As much hype that I hear about this event through religious dooming soothsayers, the dreaded Y2K bug, the party of the century talk that gets around, the dawn of the new millennium never ceases to inspire awe inside me.

Think about it. And don't be cynical.

This small religion that developed just thousands of years ago, ignored at first, then feared, then rapidly accepted, convinced a whole part of the world that the world would come to an end in 1000AD. Worshippers looked up to the sky, predicting doom, others thought Hellfire would strike the earth and purify it of its sinful. The Day of Reckoning was upon them, and they were to be judged. It inspired terror and love, at the same time.

Now, 1000 years later, here we are, humankind. Have you ever watched Millennium, the show created by Chris Carter of X-Files fame? This show is amazing. What its whole deal is that there is a collection of prominent scientists, historians, and "gifted" people who've kept alive the tradition of the Millennium Group, who took it upon themselves to protect Man from his own destruction. Frank Black is one of the "gifted" who has used his talent to become a decorated, but also cast-out criminal profiler. Black has discovered that the Millennium Group is not about saving humanity from destroying itself in the appointed year, the year 2000, but instead solely wants to be the controlling party after the smoke has cleared. Its roots are Greek and Roman, but its soul is still strong in the year 2000. Black's wife dies as a result of the Millennium Group's mishaps, and he finds his daughter possesses his psychic gift as well. How are they different? He sees demons, she sees angels.

Millennium, its gothic lighting and atmosphere unsurpassed by other shows that attempt to copy it, excels with its religious plotlines. Religious zealots kidnap "chosen" children to save them when the flood comes, a secret sect of blonde, blue-eyed women struggle to stay alive from those who wish to kill them, technology-laden companies' CEOs see the destruction the Y2K bug will cause so they stockpile weapons and food for when the clock strikes 24:00.

Reminds me of a timeless classic. Hee hee.

How crazy is believing in Armageddon, really? Now, it's silly to talk about because religion has taken such a backseat to science and reason. I believe that right now, we're abusing reason because we see it as a perfect replacement for that corruptive, dirty "R" word. Sure, reason has long been taught, but only now has it reached society as a whole as a way of life...one must be logical and use science as the basis for belief and rational thinking. Eventually, we'll learn how to balance reason and religion.

But for those who believe in Judgment Day, are they really kooks for hoping for or dreading the day when the world ends? Personally, I feel one of the reasons religion and Millennium are so fascinating to me, even though I have no religious affiliations (or closet affiliations, I will add), is that I think it's a beautiful idea that there is a higher power in this world. I would like to think that humans are a little more than the most successful beings on this planet for the time being. I think human creativity can be tapped into most passionately through religion, or things which inspire the same reactions as religion. What if man really was the supreme being? What if there's a plane of existence out there where every soul was judged, where the guilty were finally caught, where the innocent were treated right? Ideal justice is what humans will always search for, and never quite reach. It's not in our nature to always be judicial and logical.

What if certain people were truly gifted with divine talents, and it was their task in life to find their calling and accomplish their goal? What if people actually knew that they had lived their whole twenty years in order to fulfill a task? Millennium covered this when one man was sent to Earth to protect a fallen angel from being murdered. John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany was excellently written about a boy whose every day practicing playing basketball, every action he performed in school, and every sign he saw pointed him towards the one day when he would save the lives of those around him (I recommend you read it, and I won't give you any more details).

I'm a bit of an idealist. Idealism leads to a disappointing dead end if you're expecting perfection, the same way science leads to an empty spiritual life. If you believe in something like love, you will be disappointed if you expect it to work out for everyone. Most of the time it will fail. You can get into debates about whether those who truly believe in love will find it, and that sort of thing... But the bottom line is that idealists admit that a lot of what they wish for will be unattainable. The interesting thing is that doesn't stop us from trying to better the world towards that goal, to maintain that idealistic idea.

I think it would be a fulfillment for those who live just lives to find out that the bad people, the people who cheat to get ahead, get punished later on. Granted, it's quite cruel as well to want a spiritual life to be true only to punish those who slapped you in the face, but there it is. We're selfish beings.

Where was I? Well, I'm not really religious, but I do wish that there was a war going on above the mortal realm, some sort of logic and reason for our living and for why our lives turn out the way they do. That's what I wish for, but what I believe is more like whatever happens just happens, and there's little sense looking for a reason for everything. Sometimes things happen for a reason, but for a reason more grounded in the things others have done which have caused this one random, irreproducible event to occur. Chaos theory is therefore very appealing to me.

I would like to believe there are aliens from other galaxies trying to contact us, or just watching us. I would like to believe in ghosts, lost spirits who are not ready to rest for good yet, or who were kept out of spiritual satiation for some odd reason or another. I would like to believe in magic, in Egyptian miracle-working, in the Greek gods, in the Force, in everything supernatural. I do believe events happen which cannot be explained except by categorizing them as mythical events, but I'm not sure if I can believe if it actually is a conscious supernatural force causing those events yet. But oh, to believe...

Now, moving onto a different area, which will tie in eventually... Since the advent of the computer, we've begun to rely more and more upon it over the few decades we've had it. The computer is now in a significant portion of homes across the world (although we lose sight of the fact that many people have never even made a phonecall yet), and it runs the world's banks and airports and security systems and the Internet. What if one event could crash all those computers simultaneously, a hacker's wet dream, and cause global confusion and distress, ruining the economic bonds and systems we've set up so rapidly in the past? What if planes were to crash, patients were to die, money was to be scattered across thousands of accounts (or even disappear altogether), the Internet were to crumble and stop transmitting information, and the immune hackers and physical looters were to be given a huge open door to invade our lives?

You know it as Y2K, the big bug that blah blah blah. I don't know how strongly you feel about the effects of this thing, but I'm honestly going to say that I don't know what will happen. I know people who are currently working on fixing Y2K problems for companies' systems, and they all say that the effects of the bug will extend well past the beginning of the year 2000, and that the effects could be extremely serious. Military security is mentioned.

Specialists vary in opinion, saying that very few things will happen or that whole systems will go down completely, or even worse, fuck up all the data they contain. The US government is printing up a lot of extra paper money in anticipation of the panic attack we'll face at the end of 1999. Global recession, survivalists stocking up supplies in their compounds, hackers gearing up for the big doggie door upgrade into the worldwide system. Some people defiantly consider themselves immune to it all, some even say they'll be happily playing Quake online when the new year rolls around.

What does the Y2K bug tell us? As some old guy said on 60 Minutes's report on the bug, the Y2K bug is simply human nature at work. As much as we try to make things perfect, to improve them to the point of complete robustness, we always make slight oversights which cause dramatic consequences. It is our nature to produce mistakes and errors which we had not seen in our future at the time because we were so busy indulging in our own ingenuity.

But computers are not supposed to fail. We're supposed to be able to rely on them to always work. They mechanically perform any operation we command them to do, without question. We've placed all our confidence and stock markets and information and secrets onto them, without wondering what could happen.

At a key point in human history when we have dismissed paper and religion for computers and reason, we find that computers have betrayed us because of our own mistakes.

What we blindly believed in so readily bites us in the ass, reminding us what our true purpose is. Do I believe in this? I think it would be neat if it were true, but I don't see it as a religious joining of two events. Coincidence itself is my best guess. However, it's a cool thing to think about. No matter how much trust we place in something, we must always keep in mind that one day it may turn on us, and we must be prepared. We must also accept that any time we try to create life, or artificial life in this case, that we are challenging the gods and we will be put in our place for it.

As the Millennium Group says, "This is who we are." "Hoc est qui sumus." Science and reason teach us to be skeptical of accepting things too easily, of having in faith without logic for it, but this time, logic has deluded us into thinking we were safe.

And with not much time remaining, we rush to fix the Y2K bug, and hope that whatever the worst-case scenarios are that they will not happen when the year 2000 greets us.

But not every computer network will have its fixes implemented by then, and so we are basically pawns of fate and luck at this point. How will the gods punish us for our subordination? What if other cultures' gods are the true gods, and they don't believe in a millennium? What if they don't exist at all? What will happen?

How will it happen in the end?


 
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