According to many people the world was supposed to end today. Why did they think this? There are certainly many reasons. But I would like to suggest one reason, informed by existential philosophy, that is often overlooked: some people want to believe in doomsday prophecies because such prophecies remove freedom from life. The end of the world is determined: it must happen when it happens and everything in the universe necessarily leads up to it. Happily, this end was understood a long time ago by wise sages who could read the book of nature to the end! So our actions, which appear to be partially our responsibility, aren’t under our control: they are mere paragraphs in the book of fate that has been carefully deciphered by the wise.
People looking for an excuse to run from freedom will always turn to stories from imaginary books of fate to shield themselves from responsibility. The older the story the better! The weirder the better! The more it is beyond science and common sense the better! That way their excuses can remain intact, like conspiracy theories, without the burden of rational verification and without the fear of refutation.
It is now 7:00 pm Eastern time on 12/21/12 and the world hasn’t ended. It won’t end today. Isn’t that a good thing? But you know there will be many who, inwardly or outwardly, will say:
“What! It is not true? The world didn’t end?”
Isn’t that strange? Do they really want to die? Do they really have a death wish? Are they really that gullible and brainwashed? To be sure, there is no one answer for everyone. But I suspect it is less about stupid people wanting to die and more about cowardly people wanting to live in a world that is like death: a world in which everything is determined leaving no room for freedom, uncertainty, moral accountability, and anxiety.
Will any of these doomsday folks change their minds about doom in light of the world continuing? Perhaps. But many of those committed to avoiding the human condition will find a new excuse readily available. Don’t be surprised if you hear something like:
“Ah, it was just an error in the calculations made. Some wise man will redo them and you will see: the end will be coming…soon!”
And this way these cowards can talk about doom and enjoy the benefits of doom without really facing it.