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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Apocalypse reset

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Everybody panic, the end of the world is back on again.
Mr Camping, who predicted that 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven on Saturday before the earth was destroyed, said he felt so terrible when his doomsday prediction did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife.
His independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions - some of it from donations made by followers - on more than 5000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.
But Mr Camping said that he had now realised the apocalypse would come five months after May 21, the original date he predicted. He had earlier said October 21 was when the globe would be consumed by a fireball.
No real surprise there since these doomsday types do have a bit of a mental block when it comes to events they've predicted with absolute certainty not actually happening. Far from being forced to concede that (a) they were mistaken and (b) now look like complete tits it's apparently not unusual for their belief to actually get stronger as a result of failed predictions.
Shouldn't the failure of a very precise prediction for which they had made extreme sacrifices have prompted disillusionment and disgust — not greater commitment?
Not according to Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance, which predicts that the more we have given and invested in a particular point of view, the less likely we will be to abandon it in the face of contrary evidence. It's the same cognitive process that kicks in when we are made to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our beliefs; in the face of that disharmony, we often change our beliefs to be congruent with our behaviors and self-perception.
That cognitive dissonance thing again, and as the article points out it's not new to doomsayers in general or Camping in particular. They get so emotionally, mentally and financially invested in their prophecies of disaster that letting go of them when they don't happen becomes very difficult. Easier to reset your belief a little and say you mistaken about the date than reboot your head completely and admit the whole idea was wrong from the start. This is Rapture v2.1.

So come October 22nd when we're all still here we can go back to worrying about the end of the world from warble gloaming instead, which is entirely different in that when predictions don't match the reality you have to change your model rather than abandon the overall theory. This is of course not at all the same as a religious nut saying he made an error on the detail but that the end is definitely nigh anyway. No, not even a little bit like it. Because these warnings come from the government, clearly impartial while still attempting to persuade us of the need for the carbon tax PM Gingery Dullard specifically ruled out before the election but which is now demanded by the Green tail waging the minority Labor government dog, and from the equally impartial Climate Commission, established by the aforementioned Gingery Dullard and headed by Tim Flannery. Not the remotest chance that their apocalypse is either overstated or will not materialise on schedule, or that they are as deeply invested in their conviction of the doom that we have wrought upon ourselves, meted out by an angry God Gaia, as Harold Camping is in his belief in his apocalypse, is there?

Dooooomed, but available to stand in for any catastrophists
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