The Long View 2005-01-05: Apocalypse; Asteroids; Demographics; Super Vixens

I remember emailing John Reilly regarding his speculation that the cityscapes in the Japanese zombie videogames/movies known as Resident Evil always look Canadian. He immediately confused me with someone else.

Apocalypse; Asteroids; Demographics; Super Vixens


What long-term political impact will the recent tsunami have on the eastern Indian Ocean area? God knows, but I am already seeing fractured references to the thesis of Michael Barkun's book, Disaster and the Millennium (1974). As the title suggests, the book argued that there is a correlation between disasters, particularly natural disasters, and millenarian movements, which sometimes take the form of revolutionary movements. The proposal probably has merit, but one should note how qualified the correlation is supposed to be:

Disaster is the cause of millennial movements as a last resort when the known order has failed. Disaster is a necessary but not sufficient cause. There must be: 1) several disasters; 2) traditional millenarian ideas; 3) a charismatic leader adapting these ideas to present circumstances; 4) an isolated and homogenous population in which the disasters occur. Cities are unlikely loci; these are all country movements. The ecstatic behavior common to these movements is "resocialization," not psychosis, and a means to continue "disaster utopia," since disasters are good for some, and frequently lead to a rebuilding of community: disaster "prefigures the millennium."

One should also note the delay: the movements that book discusses tend to appear ten or fifteen years after disaster undermines the existing order of things.

* * *

Speaking of the sociology of religion, I am giving some thought to attending the annual meeting in St. Paul this summer of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations. The topic is Civilizations, Religions and Human Survival, which dovetails nicely with both millenarianism and the Clash of Civilizations. I was actually invited to come do a stand-up Spengler routine. I can manage that, provided it's not a morning session.

My problem is that I don't really have an academic affiliation, so it is hard for me to justify the time and expense. (By the way, if any of you need an adjunct teacher in the New York area, please let me know.)

* * *

Probably all those disaster movies in the 1990s permanently linked tsunamis and asteroids in the public mind. Be that as it may, there is some evidence that they have actually been linked on several occasions well within historical time:

That’s the theory of this Australian geologist Ted Bryant. And his evidence is that tsunamis have hit this coastline every few centuries, he says. One washed over the Wollongong area in 1500 AD. It wasn't big enough to destroy civilisation like in the movies, but the film Deep Impact does give a feel for what happened 500 years ago... Ted’s certain all this happened in 1500 because he’s carbon-dated the tiny pieces of shell washed up by the big waves. But the next step his proof needs is evidence that 300-metre-wide chunks of that comet do fall down every few hundred years...And judging from Doug Revelle’s signals, meteors the size Ted needs arrive once every 120 years or so...And surprisingly, it's not that initial big splash that creates the tsunami. Rather, the impact shoots a jet of water kilometres into the air and as that jet falls down it gives birth to the deadly tsunami.

Every 120 years? 300 meters? Maybe an asteroid defense-system would not be a useless Chicken Little Machine after all.

* * *

For the most part, I tend to think that culture shapes technological development rather than vice versa. Cultures do what they do, and the important trends are rarely predicted and never controlled. So, I was not altogether surprised to see this story about the decline of artificial birth-control

At a time when the medical community has been heartened by a decline in risky sexual behavior by teenagers, a different problem has crept up: More adult women are forgoing birth control, a trend that has experts puzzled -- and alarmed about a potential rise in unintended pregnancies...the finding that the number of women who had sex in the previous three months but did not use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002.

John S. Santelli [is] a professor of population and family health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Even as he cheered the news that a growing number of teenagers are using contraception, Santelli wondered whether doctors are neglecting women.

"Maybe we're failing with women over 21," Santelli said.

Robert Heinlein once remarked that he had collected demographic projections for 40 years, and all of them turned out wrong.

* * *

Speaking of disasters, over the weekend I viewed the film Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The concept here was Night of the Living Dead meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the super vixen augmented by the same immortalizing virus that makes the dead so restless.

I am hooked on these Canadian horror films. The Stars-and-Stripes may flap from every flagpole, but the cityscapes still look like edited versions of Toronto (for some bizarre reason, the necropolis in this film was called "Raccoon City"). And no matter how much human flesh the extras consume, no one is ever very rude.

There is little point in criticizing the science in these films, but may I remark that it would take more than a five-kiloton bomb to blow up Toronto, no matter what animal the city is named after?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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