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Archive for May 2nd, 2009

http://malachi.podcastpeople.com/redirect/media/32300/malachi-o-doherty-32300mp3

“Snoring was nature’s guard dog. At the ancient campfire, the low rumble was probably a warning to all dangerous animals to stay away, for the man is never more bestial and appalling than when he is shuddering from deep in his throat up to his sinuses.  “

Barney

Barney

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It might be that most of us will survive swine flu and that the world in six months from now will not be greatly changed by it.  Or maybe the world will be more radically transformed by something we haven’t noticed. We did not, after all, seem to think global warming would bring us down when only a decade ago the great fear was of a new ice age.
But the notices on the trees and telegraph poles around us since we were children have said, ‘The End is Nigh’, and we tend to think that is about right.
I have lived in a fatalistic Hindu culture in which people believed there was nothing they could do to avert destiny and yet they had the paradoxical faith that life just goes on and on. It is we Christians and post Christians who live with the perpetual sense that the world is about to end.
And maybe it is. Philosophers like John Gray have made an unnervingly plausible case for pessimism about the immediate human future. I’m more with the irrepressible Steven Hawkings who tells us to prepare to seed new colonies among the stars, to sustain us in millions of years from now when we will have outlived this planet, our first stepping stone.
The superstitious expected the end of humankind to come with the turn of the millennium. A close reading of Nostradamous by writer Colin Wilson, suggested 1998 might be the year to keep your head down.
And though we didn’t fry under a thermonuclear blast or see the collapse of all our networks with the unleashing of Y2K, we did see – and continue to see – threats to our survival, coming at us like thundering bowls from God’s low swing. Either something is trying to finish us off, and just missing us every time so far, with Sars, Meteorites, Bird Flu, melting ice floes, or we are projecting a scary pattern onto random events.
A lot depends on how we perceive our vulnerability as a species. We might be eradicated by a super volcano; we came close to it once before. And who’s to say that Knocklayde won’t erupt again? But, for now, what may be hurting us more is our ingrained tendency to read all threats apocalyptically.
I was part of a drop-out generation in the 1970s which really did expect nuclear war. If you had asked any of my hairy friends of the time why they were smoking dope and not looking for a job, most would have said, ‘because there is no point’. The declared western strategy for dealing with a possible Russian invasion of Germany was a nuclear attack. And for the Russians to believe that the west would really do something so stupid, the ordinary population had to believe it too. You need propaganda to make a nuclear option plausible, and it’s message must be that you are prepared to lose your own population in order to win a war. It is an atrocity against the well being of the people on your own side.
We were trained then by our own cold warrior governments to expect the end of the world. This fitted very neatly with the religious culture of the west, and particularly with the new apocalyptic millennial evangelicalism. The irony about this new Christianity is that it was driven by men in slick suits who seem to be doing very well out of the world they wanted us all to get ready to wave goodbye to.
Pastor McConnell at Whitewell was preaching the imminent end of the world in the 1990s. I wonder how many of those who took him seriously had life insurance policies and long terms investment portfolios.
Swine flu seems to fit so neatly into our routine, and now tiresome, expectation of global calamity that some people are now finding that a reason to dismiss the warnings.
And some of the media are going over the top. The BBC on Wednesday was reporting ‘suspected cases detected’, as if straining to exaggerate the chance that someone with flu symptoms might give them the headline they were yearning to write.
Journalist Ben Goldacre has described in the Guardian how, in the interest of balance, numerous BBC programmes have been inviting him on as a swine flu sceptic.
The best balance of all right now would be the plain realistic understanding that new diseases come along from time to time and hit us hard – as did Aids. This might be one of them; it might not. Either way it doesn’t mean anything other than that we should be prepared to safeguard our wonderfully prolific, still-surviving selves, in the real hope that we do have a future.

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