Boredom and Craziness on the Day of the Rapture

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The web-enabled world seems to be pretty eager for an apocalypse right about now. I have been pretty astonished by how much attention people have paid to the latest Rapture prediction by serial Rapture predictor Harold Camping, scheduled to make landfall in the United States in about an hour and a half as of this writing.

Notably, the deadline has passed for most of the world without incident, and even though Camping and his flock surely believe that most of the eligible population lives in God's country, the United States of God-merica, they expect a full three percent of the world's population to float up into the sky today, and they're a bit behind schedule.

All of this, of course, is just practice for next year, and since the 2012 apocalypse won't arrive until December 21, we're in for a whole year of hysteria and tiresome Twitter jokes before we all return to business as usual.

That is, of course, unless life as we know it actually is over by then. World news does seem to be converging on some kind of dire zero point if you lean back in your chair and just let it all wash over you. To pattern-seeking apes like ourselves, it's tempting not to view the timing of these apocalyptic predictions as a coincidence.

The people who actually know anything about the Mayan calendar have been trying to tell us for years that we don't know what we're talking about, and this Camping guy has already misfired several times, but there's no stopping this meme. The people want their apocalypse.

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Few of us will be surprised when 6 p.m. rolls around in our time zone and no one poofs out of existence, a wisp of smoke trailing out of their high tops. Then we can cross October 21, 2011, the day Camping says the rest of us will be vaporized, off our calendars. But I'm sure Twitter will be just as freaked out on that day as it has been for the past week, and again when 2012 rolls around, because the human nervous system seems to be perfectly tuned for this sort of thing. Nothing brings us all together like a nice, superstitious fear of the end of the world.

We're yearning for a sea change of some kind, it seems. Here in the U.S., religious movements like Camping's, and the hipster earnestness they evoke in the rest of us, are the only unified expressions of this I can see. In Spain, people are striving for a new reality in a more concrete way, and we'll see how it turns out.

Anecdotally, a bizarrely high number of break-ups of serious relationships have taken place almost simultaneously in my circles. And here in Portland, Oregon, where the weather has recently turned from dreary to outrageously perfect, it seems to be a universal precept that it is perfectly acceptable to skip work en masse and just go play in the park.

However they're expressing it, it seems like lots of people are tired of the routine. The sentence you are currently reading was interrupted by a text message from an old friend that said "I am losing my way." Meanwhile, many devout Americans, some of whom uprooted their whole lives in preparation for this day, are praying to be literally removed from the Earth by their divine savior, not just at some indefinite time in the future, but today. Right now.

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The wired masses may not be wishing so openly and earnestly for salvation, but the amount of attention they've paid to this unremarkable prediction is astonishing for a crowd that's usually so fickle. I'd say that's an indication that End Times sentiment touches a nerve in a great many people beyond the small circle of true believers.

The most common kind of Rapture joke I've heard this week has been one I've made myself: "I hope the Rapture comes, so I don't have to do my laundry/pay the rent/finish my work/go to the dentist/cook dinner tonight." Dear Jesus, please save us from the trivia of our own lives.

Then there's the mirror image: "I hope the Rapture comes, so we can get really drunk/try dangerous drugs/have sex indiscriminately/loot people's houses/play rock and roll in the middle of the street and never have a boss again." If we're all going to hell in five months, we can abandon all pretenses and just do what feels good.

To varying degrees, the obsession with the End of Days seems driven in part by genuine hope/fear and in part by boring old ennui. Whatever forces are behind it, the yearning for transformation seems to be hitting everywhere at once right now. Will we act on it, or will the feeling pass?