Tuesday, 16 September 2008

"Cheer up, it's not the end of the world!"

Yeah, it wasn’t funny the first hundred times I heard that either …

But doesn't it worry you that, maybe, one of these days someone's going to be right? Hideously, devastatingly right? No, me neither ...

That, apparently, is odd for a man who edits a magazine about that very subject.

Three issues of the official magazine of the apocalypse in and I'm becoming something of an authority on the subject ... a terrible boring authority ... yet you could never exactly call me a believer as such. I don't start to fret when oil prices go up, I remain unconvinced that George W Bush is the anti-Christ, I really think God has better things to do than dole out virgins to trigger-happy idiots. And yes, shock, horror, I don't believe in THE END OF THE WORLD.

Completing this circle of non-belief is 'most people', as it is they who now don't believe me. Chief amongst these is lawyer-turned-acerbic-TV-host and Bee Gee baiter Clive Anderson. I found this out while being interviewed for a BBC Radio Four show called The End is Nigh ... Again last year which, rather festively, was broadcast on New Year's Eve. It purported to examine the latest predictions of the end of the world and included interviews with apocalypticly-minded minds such as Gaia-theorist James Lovelock.

And me.

The questions were benign enough, but when all of my answers tended to slightly mock whatever theory we were talking about, Mr Anderson and his producer were a little bemused.
The problem is that I just don't believe. Sure, mankind isn't going to on forever, whether it's fire, ice, war or plague that wipes us out, but I certainly don't believe the one day I'll wake up and find that all the Christians have been hoovered off to heaven or that global warming will make this place completely uninhabitable. The end will come, but it'll either come before we can do anything about it, or it will be the long, slow twilight every race must suffer – bare in mind that 99% of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. There, that puts it into context, doesn’t it.

So how, asked Anderson, could I say I didn’t believe in the end of the world (other than when our sun gasps its last and destroys whatever is left of our home planet) when I edit and produce a magazine about it? Easy, say I, I just find the concept and its hold on the human psyche utterly, endlessly fascinating. Witness the reams of newsprint, the mountains of books and the endless number of webpages about this most timeless of concepts. Ever since mankind developed a sense of the future, he has had a sense of it coming to an end; as mortal beings we are only too aware of our impending death, yet we are ultimately powerless to change or delay it. Predicting it is a cunning way to try and exert some control, exercise some measure of influence over that dark day that awaits us all. Doesn't work, but that never stops people trying. Whether it's voices in their head, a feeling in your gut, an alignment of stars or the way your dog's entrails sit just so on the makeshift Stonehenge in your back garden, trying to second guess fate has been a favourite past time since time immemorial. But we just can't seem to get it right ...

And that’s where THE END IS NIGH! comes in. We seek to chart and preserve mankind’s on-going fascination with its own demise, examining the claims of those who would see us consumed by solar fire, dashed to pieces by flying rocks, obliterated by nuclear weapons or wiped out by a big bad bug. Where there is a hell-fire preacher predicting perpetual purgatory, you will find us. When a scientist looks up from his microscope or telescope eyepiece in horror, we will be there.
In the end, they cut me out of the programme, preferring instead to concentrate on the scientists and their pet theories.

Just as well really ...

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