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Apocalypse not now

WELL, SUMMER'S almost over, and once again the world has failed to destroy itself. I suppose it's been a run of good luck. The world didn't destroy itself last summer either.

I suppose that's disappointed some people. After all, every prognosticator with a pen and an attitude has spent the last two years spraying out a page a minute describing how the state of the world is spiraling inexorably downward into chaos and despair. And for a while there, it seemed they would be right.

Last summer, India and Pakistan detonated some nuclear weapons. This summer, it seemed they were determined to find some excuse to use them. Rebels allegedly armed and directed by the Pakistani government struck against India in the heart of the long-contested Kashmir province. While guns and artillery thundered in that area, professional worriers gnawed their fingers raw over the prospect of the two nations using their missiles to make a deadly overnight delivery.

Asia wasn't through playing with nukes, though. While Indians and Pakistanis killed each other in Kashmir, the Chinese boasted of their own nuclear capabilities, particularly their ownership of a neutron bomb. This so-called "capitalist's weapon" kills people with radiation, while leaving buildings and infrastructure largely intact. The Chinese seemed about to use this weapon, too. Taiwan's seeming movement towards a declaration of independence prompted military exercises and threats from the giant nation.

Even the silver clouds seemed to have a dark lining. Ehud Barak, who based his platform on getting the Palestinian peace process back on track, was elected to the Prime Minister's position in Israel. But his first efforts along these lines were not terribly effective, as what promised to be a simple request for a timetable revision turned into a deadlocked debacle. Of course, he was not at all helped by Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to launch an attack on Lebanon shortly before the government switched hands.

Asia and the Middle East weren't the only ill-treated areas. Many experts feel that with its rising tide of civil wars, Africa may soon be consumed entirely by armed conflict, with no place safe for civilians. And in South America, guerillas killed several civilians, including four children, when they attacked a small town in Colombia. And that's to say nothing of the deaths caused when they exploded a car bomb outside the offices of a special army anti-kidnapping unit, killing at least nine.

And the United States hasn't been left alone either. Atlanta has seen 20 people killed in mass murders just since July 12. Add that to the already high toll against America's nerves brought on by the shootings at high schools towards the end of the school year, and it's easy to see why a certain fear has arisen among the people of America, and of the rest of the world.

People have begun to fear death, both theirs and that of their loved ones. The impending change of millennium, and with it the fears of an apocalyptic malfunction in the layers of electronics that keep most first-world countries functioning, has begun to sow terror among even the most reasonable people in the world.

There's something to remember about all of this, though... something that many people have been painfully reticent about admitting. The truth about the next few months is that they are completely meaningless in and of themselves. Our calendar and our system of dating are made up--they are invented for the convenience and use of human beings. No month, and no year, has more importance than that given it by people.

We do face danger in the end of this millennium and the beginning of the next. But the danger, like the millennial dating system itself, resides entirely in the imaginations of human beings. If we give in to irrational fears about the end of the millennium, then the apocalypse may indeed occur. The primary danger of the end of the millennium will not be some predestined Ragnarok, but rather those idiots who believe that a dating system which has a flaw in its most basic assumptions (i.e. the times of Christ's birth and death) has any significance beyond its convenience as a signpost for historians.

You can be sure that the next few months will see more fear-mongering and apocalypse-crying than any other period in Earth's history. But giving in to despair is the only thing that might actually put us in danger. The world did not get destroyed this summer. And it won't get destroyed before next summer, either.

(Sparky Clarkson knows better than you, so sod off.)

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