Y2K Apocalypse; Forget New Hampshire

| 11 Nov 2014 | 09:52

    Doom and gloom alone is not the point of this kind of prophecy, though there is usually plenty of it to be found there. Apocalyptic prophecy is distinct from mere prediction and lesser warnings because it describes a world-transforming catastrophe that can only be averted by conversion: a dramatic change in human nature, or at least in our behavior. Like all warnings, it suggests the awful things that will happen to those who ignore it, and the rewards that await those who heed. The point is not the catastrophe but its avoidance. The prophet promises salvation, not destruction.

    The direst Y2K scenarios meet these criteria. We can avert this hideous fate, they warn, if we infuse large, nay, enormous, amounts of cash into the computer industry and especially its regiments of consultants. This has been done, and we are assured that we have found salvation: there will be no general collapse. Our conversion has borne fruit.

    Maintaining the status quo, with possible minor interruptions, is good enough for most of us. Survivalists, perhaps truer believers than the rest of us, want to go further. They seek a personal and global level of redemption, following the truest dictates of this, the world's best-known capitalist apocalypse, and possibly its first. For survivalists apocalypse is not complete without the return to paradise, a state of original innocence and freedom from the constraints of sinful civilization. The ultimate point of apocalyptic fantasy is to save the world, to make it moral.

    Survivalists, too, buy stuff in pursuit of market salvation. But buying just anything will not do; they have to get the right stuff, moral stuff. Searching the Web for sources of correct survival stuff rather quickly becomes a nostalgic exercise for anyone old enough to remember the Whole Earth Catalogs. They also sought to inspire us to live more humbly, in greater self-sufficiency and at greater peace with what they presumed to be our true nature. To choose a survivalist webpage nearly at random, Humanity on the Pollen Path makes it clear that dietary correctness is part of the new millennium. You will need lots of bean sprouts in your brave new world, and soybeans will become a dietary staple.

    Rightness in this context is partly a matter of utility, of what will serve, but it also involves a peculiar capitalist morality. Survivalists crave not just life but a level of comfort to go with it. Most insist on some source of electric power, for instance. Solar and wind power are "better" than fossil fuel generation, but if the latter is all that's practical, then it will have to do. Doing indefinitely without is not an option, even though many survivalists crave to live pollution-free.

    As in all apocalypses, geography is an important issue. Only certain places offer sanctuary from the horrors of apocalyptic retribution that purifies the world and makes it a fit abode for the saints of survival. "Secret Government Study Reveals Massive Y2K Problems in American Cities," warns the Pollen Path website. A season in the wilderness is part of the prophet's job description, since wickedness, like pollution, thrives in crowds. Urban survival is pretty much out of the question.

    As you light out for the territory you should know about seers like Laurie Adele Toye and Gordon-Michael Scallion (www.matrixinstitute.com/store/index.html)?they prophesy colossal "Earth Changes" due to rend the planet in earthquakes, flooding and an obscure but dire pole shift at any moment, and can steer you well away from their worst effects. For a price; this is a capitalist apocalypse, after all. Y2K is a sort of target of opportunity for these wrenching changes they expect as the planet itself becomes a moral player in its own redemption, ridding believers of the wicked and ill-informed that make it hell. A good source for these and other predicted hazard maps is the Blast Shelter site (members.aol.com/rafleet/hazmaps.htm).

    The changes have little or nothing to do with Y2K except time: any minute now. All good prophecy is vague but urgent on this point. But a safe room in your current house won't see you through. You must be prepared to build yourself an "alternative house." There are all kinds of these. My personal favorite is the "earthship"; it's made of used tires and tin cans . It's an effective bit of spin: "earthship" sounds a lot nicer than "dump," you must admit.

    If you're starting to get the idea that what we're looking at is moral consumption, you're not far wrong. Conversion is the point of salvation, after all.

    And once you have your shelter set up and provisioned, there will be time to think of life's finer things. One survivalist lonely-heart is well ahead of the game. He wrote to the misc.survivalism newsgroup looking for "young and pretty women" unsure of their survival skills who crave an "earth sheltered, sandbagged home...fully stocked with pinto beans and rice, as well as condoms, guns and ammo." He is willing to provide "entertainment, such as shooting prairie dogs and field stripping my rifles," not to mention "sex with a...misunderstood 43 year old survivalist with a big belly and small penis." There are limits: he has pinto beans for no more than five women. Take a number.

    Ted Daniels, PhD, is director of the Millennium Watch Institute and author of A Doomsday Reader (NYU Press).

    Forget New Hampshire by Dan Kennedy On a freezing November night in 1973, three buddies from the Boy Scouts and I were hurtling through the New Hampshire mountains along the Kancamagus Hwy. I forget who was driving, but I do know he was the only one who wasn't buzzed on Maximus Super, an odious brew popular with the high school set because it was cheap?and reputed to contain more than the standard amount of alcohol.

    We pulled into North Conway, a little town that then catered mostly to skiers and hikers, shortly before midnight. A youth hostel where we had planned to stay was closed, so we forced our way in and made ourselves at home. As I recall, the next morning we cleaned it up and left some money. We were scouts, after all. Then it was off to a hungover hike through the snow up Whiteface, and over the Tripyramids the next day.

    There was something primal about New Hampshire then, which may be why its dentally challenged inhabitants were accorded a special role in choosing the president of the United States. The myth went something like this: no candidate could be said to have been adequately tested until he had walked among the flinty, skeptical folks of the Frozen North, greeting voters in twos and fours and listening to their uneducated but commonsense wisdom. The quintessential New Hampshire moments: 1972, when Ed Muskie blew the Democratic nomination by railing (and, legend has it, crying, although he later claimed he was wiping melted snow off his face) outside the office of the archconservative Manchester Union Leader, which had attacked the candidate and his wife; and 1980, when Ronald Reagan offed George Bush by intoning at a debate, "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green." (The guy's name was Breen, not Green. And, no, I no longer have any idea what that was all about.)

    The New Hampshire myth was bullshit, but it was comforting bullshit, for it helped disguise that the system rewarded not the best-qualified candidates but, rather, hyperambitious outsiders who were willing to camp out in the state for two years and suck up to the rustics. Exhibit A: the earnest but hapless Jimmy Carter.

    Well, New Hampshire has changed a lot since then. North Conway today is a miles-long strip of outlet stores and fast-food joints and traffic jams, its downtown punctuated by precious little storefronts where you can get a high-priced latte. The southern part of the state, where people actually live, has transmogrified into an extension of the Boston media market. The Boston Globe is now New Hampshire's second-biggest paper, after the Union Leader.

    Indeed, if there was one institution that had seemed impervious to change, it was the Union Leader. As recently as 1996, its endorsement of the loathsome Pat Buchanan made the difference in his narrow victory over Bob Dole. (That Dole recovered and won the Republican nomination is evidence of New Hampshire's increasing irrelevance.) But now even the Union Leader is going mainstream.

    Last spring, Nackey Scripps Loeb?whose infamous husband, William Loeb, owned the paper from 1946 until his death in 1981?retired as publisher, turning over the reins to Union Leader lifer Joe McQuaid. McQuaid is as retrograde as they come, but he's also smart enough to realize that attracting the Volvo-and-soccer crowd meant moving beyond the legacy of William Loeb, a virulent hater who once, in a single editorial, squeezed in references to "Kissinger the Kike," "the Jew, Sulzberger" and "Martin Agronsky, another Jew." Within weeks of McQuaid's ascension, editorial-page editor Richard Lessner, a Vince Foster conspiracist, was gone?voluntarily, supposedly, except that instead of returning to Arizona, as he had claimed he was just dying to do, he signed on instead with Gary Bauer's campaign.

    Lessner's replacement: Bernadette Malone Connolly, a 26-year-old former assistant to Robert Novak who's written for The Weekly Standard and the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review. A tall, blonde and personable Staten Island native who'd been based in Washington for five years, she's an unlikely inheritor of Loeb's mantle. It's not that she's not conservative. We're talking, after all, about someone who listens to Ayn Rand on tape during her daily commute. Her husband, Mike Connolly, is Henry Hyde's press secretary, and her mother-in-law's brother is Pat Buchanan, whom she wouldn't talk about when I interviewed her recently. Malone Connolly's anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-tax editorials thus far are boilerplate, but she'll get better. Far more important from McQuaid's point of view is that when New Hampshire viewers tune in the local talking-head shows, they see not some crank comparing Bill Clinton to Aaron Burr, as Lessner once did, but, rather, an attractive, articulate young woman. Maybe they'll even take out a subscription.

    Old habits die hard, though. So the Union Leader surprised few when it endorsed the ridiculous Steve Forbes, drooling over his flat-tax plan and anti-choice position while conceding that he is a "geek," which the dictionary defines as a circus performer who bites the heads off live chickens. The endorsement was penned by Joe McQuaid himself, although Malone Connolly told me she was delighted. "There was really no other possibility in my mind," she said, displaying either admirable loyalty to her employer or a disturbing lack of imagination.

    Come Feb. 1, though, it's not going to matter, just as New Hampshire no longer matters. In 1992 Clinton became the first candidate in decades to lose New Hampshire and win the White House. This time, there's a chance that both George W. Bush and Al Gore will lose in New Hampshire?but even if they do, it's still a good bet that one of them will be the next president.

    I still hike in the White Mountains, but what made New Hampshire special a quarter-century ago is long gone. So, too, with its primary. A recent Dartmouth College study showed that most New Hampshire residents make up their minds the same way as the rest of us: by watching television. In other words, what was once a comforting myth is now just a pathetic fraud. Which is why there's a good chance that come mid-February, when the presidential candidates are long gone and the snow is hip deep and the big issue at the Union Leader is how the city council should redevelop the riverfront, Bernadette Malone Connolly is going to wonder why the hell she ever left Washington.

    Dan Kennedy is the media critic for the Boston Phoenix. His "Media Files" can be found at http://www.shore.net/~dkennedy/phoenix.html.