End of the World: Why We're So Completely Obsessed With the Apocalypse


Three days, five hours, fifteen minutes and five seconds. It is 1:56 Korean time on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. I peer outside, no zombie Korean elementary school students yet. I type with one hand as I eat a delicious Margaret cookie with the other. Crumbs on my sweater, crumbs in my keyboard, I could care less. The countdown is not showing any signs of stopping … until it stops. 

December 21, 2012, looms on the horizon like the day you are expecting to do laundry. The socks are dwindling, the jeans are a little loose and you can’t help but feel like when it really comes time to do the laundry, you’ll just end up putting it off again.

Humans are creatures of models. The idea of apocalypse, or rapture, or just the end of something in general, all stems from our need to find beginning and ends in the world around us. Each individual person has a definitive beginning and a definitive end, the time in between is often devoted to thinking up all the ways everything else we see begins and will eventually end. Pointing to apocalypse after apocalypse is just one outlet for that desire.

The idea of the apocalypse on 12/21/12 first came into my peripherals on Cape Cod. I was at a friend’s family vacation house. It was night-time and I was chatting with more than a few hippies. As we sat on the porch engaging in various stream-of-consciousness topics from music to science to literature, one guy started going off about Niribu. And I mean going off. There we were, sitting and listening to this kid in a beanie tell us that an extra-solar planet with a huge orbit around the sun was going to come into the solar system and collide with Earth on 12/21/12.

It is strange what moments vividly stick with you. And even stranger, is this image of this shaggy-haired guy with a bit of chin stubble sitting in a heavily shadowed chair in the dim, overhead light of the porch telling me that a little world called Niribu was going to be the end of us all. Now, as I currently sit three days, 5 hours, 2 minutes, and 10 seconds away from Armageddon, he is all I can think about. 

The impending apocalypse on 12/21/12 is at the center of a number of different theories about Earth shattering or Earth altering events. The Mesoamerican calendar, more universally known as the Mayan long-count calendar, ends on that particular day. The end of the Mayan calendar, while possibly being no more different than the end of the Gregorian calendar which ends with us going out to buy a new calendar, also implies through ancient Mayan text that there will be a significant event coinciding with that day. Many “believers” take this to mean the end of the world. However, new age theorists have been pointing to the date as the culmination of a dramatic shift in global consciousness, perhaps coinciding with a shift in Earth’s magnetic poles that is set to take place. And who could leave out Nostradamus or the prophecies of the American Indians?

Then there is the case of Niribu, Elenin, or Planet X, or simply Neptune to this guy (I am not responsible for anyone ordering an escape pod). It is believed by many fringe astronomers that a large planet is going to come very close to Earth on 12/21/12, but strangely, it is a planet we cannot yet see in the night sky just three days, 4 hours, 30 minutes, and 20 seconds away from the event (Although, Captain Bill did a pretty good job a couple of years back). Melancholia comes to mind. Perhaps the recent close call with asteroid 4179 Toutatis last week will be close enough for my buddy down the Cape to claim Niribu was a reality.

It seems like 12/21/12 is a kind of Alamo for our modern end-of-the-world scenarios. Each impending doomsday scenario has passed without incident, so it seems like everyone has chosen to point to this one day. And hopefully, by raising enough awareness among people that something will happen, anything that happens will be taken as a sign that the prophesies were true. Sometimes, if enough people expect something to happen or wait to see if something does happen (even if they don’t believe it) then maybe they can believe it happened.

But, in the end, predicting an apocalypse is no different than having any other bleak, honest outlook on life. We are creatures that know our own beginning and end. Our deaths are one of the great certainties human beings have about the world we live in. When people project a hypothesis about the apocalypse, as I alluded to earlier, it is no different than pointing to any other point in the future and citing that as the end of life as we know it, it just might seem a bit more far out. In truth, our own personal end is the one thing we can be absolutely certain will happen at some point.

(I’m sorry; I don’t mean to sound so morbid around the holidays) 

As humans living with such limited time on Earth, it has been the mission of countless individuals to make our time worth while and one of the greatest pursuits we have ever undertaken as a race is the question of how we got here and when we will be gone. While thinking back on that beanie toting, grizzly-faced hippie down the Cape getting wild-eyed and frothy mouthed trying to convey his absolute certainty that Niribu will be the end of life as we know it, the reason he thinks about such things comes across nowhere near as far-fetched. He is a fellow human concerned with the big questions and who can blame him for finding truth in something, even if it is most certainly false? 

(Note: I have not spoken to this person in years, his view might have changed)

We are creatures of models. We believe in beginnings and ends and in the time between, we have an endless appetite for applying that model to everything else. So, as we approach three days, three hours, sixteen minutes and thirty-one seconds until the apocalypse, keep in mind that the idea of the end-of-the-world is not so far-fetched when taking our mortality into account. However, the ideas of the way the world will end are. Best thing to do is listen to NASA, enjoy the holidays, and make 2013 the best year possible.

I’m looking out the window again, it’s 4:04 in the afternoon and Niribu is nowhere to be seen.