Why be modest? Predicting the future is easy.
There’s something in human nature that loves to believe there’s a Grand Plan, a fixed order in the universe that if only we can uncover we will know what awaits. The human brain hates uncertainty and ambiguity. We want simple stories and easy promises.
The New Year is a time not only for regrets about how much we’ve eaten over the holidays and for empty promises about being better next year, but it’s also a time for prophesy. Tech folk prophesy gadgets to come, historians predict social upheaval, and over-sugared children foretell tears before bedtime.
Who doesn’t love a good prophesy?
And so, step forward the age-old figure of the Sooth-Sayer.
This person, or (if sufficiently lost to history) civilization, becomes renowned for their amazing (no, really, amazing!!) ability to predict events hundreds or even thousands of years into the future.
While the more reasonable among us might wonder, “How could anyone living in a time when they didn’t even know enough to boil water before drinking, or to wash their hands before touching food, have the ability to foresee events in a future that would be totally beyond their comprehension?” we must reply Pish and Pshaw. We must cast aside any semblance of reason and enter a world of pure ignorant credulity. For when we know practically nothing whatsoever, we are liberated to believe anything at all.
Having thus entered a world of complete naïveté we can now summon the spirit of Nostradamus, who informs us thus (albeit in a somewhat clumsy translation):
“The heavenly dart will stretch its course / Death in the speaking, a great achievement / The proud nation brought low by the stone in the tree / Rumours of a monstrous human, bring purge, then expiation.”
Well, obviously, this can only mean the greatest war crime in history: the nuclear bombs dropped by the USA onto unarmed civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Or, perhaps, it could in fact mean anything at all and therefore nothing at all. But for some reason a great many people convince themselves it must be a stunningly accurate predication.
Another “amazingly accurate prediction” from the same source:
“The ancient task will be completed / From on high, evil will fall onto the great man / A dead innocent will be accused of the deed / The guilty one will remain in the mist.”
Aren’t we absolutely amazed at how precise and specific this prediction is? Of course it must mean the Kennedy assassination in Dallas in 1963! All the details are there: the grassy knoll, the book depository, the, um, ah…. Oh dear.
We could continue to poke holes in the supposed prophesies of Nostradamus until, well, until we run out of prophesies, actually. But instead of being unkind to poor old Nostro, lets turn the clock back even further to another perennial favorite: the prognosticative capabilities of the ancient Mayans.
Mayan culture was more or less contemporaneous with the early phase of Classical Greek culture half a world away, but we have far less remaining of the Mayan civilization than we do of its Greek and Roman equivalents and so there is a far greater opportunity for us to indulge in imaginative fancies.
Very few people today would claim that the Oracle at Delphi was an infallible source of wondrous prophesies about events in our own time, simply because we know a lot about the Oracle and in particular the cold-read type of oracular technique that was employed. This amounted to, in essence, saying things like “there will be a great battle and the one who thought victory would be theirs shall be defeated.”
In other words: the Oracle used precisely the same simple trick used today by frauds like Tarot card readers and ten-cent fortune tellers. Give a human an ambiguous statement and they’ll mis-remember it so as to make it fit with whatever event actually transpires. Conversely, they’ll interpret it to fit some event that occurred in the past, as in: “you have suffered a loss in your life.” For the person who lost a family member some time ago this seems amazingly specific, just as it does to someone who misplaced their car keys the previous week and had to buy a replacement set from the dealer. But really of course it’s just an empty trick.
As noted earlier, if we don’t know anything at all and if we’re very credulous (which, sadly, seems to be the condition under which most people operate) then we can be fed any old nonsense and we’ll reliably work ourselves up into a frenzy. This happened recently, when a great many credulous folk convinced themselves that the world would come to an end in 2012.
Why? Well, it’s a bit embarrassing, actually. The Mayans had a crude calendar based on the idea that 144,000 days was a decent sort of interval to adopt. At the end of each 144,000 day cycle the calendar would reset and begin all over again. That day was called a baktun. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear but almost certainly have something to do with an airport book or a nonsense horoscope in some trashy magazine, someone decided that the baktun ending in 2012 was the final one, the last ever, and that must mean….. (dramatic pause, fanfare of synthesized trumpets): The End Of The World!!
Now one would like to imagine that upon making this infantile proclamation, everyone within earshot would fall about laughing. But no. What actually happened was that millions of people worked themselves up into a wonderful lather of fear. Russians stockpiled vodka, US citizens stockpiled ammunition. In China, bizarrely, a terrified Mayan-prophesy-fearing mob attacked a group of school children.
Worse yet, academics who actually study Mayan artifacts pointed out that the current baktun has at least another 2,400 years to run. So 2012 wasn’t even the year in which the 144,000 day cycle will conclude.
So people were doing the equivalent of getting worried about a lack of Christmas presents on 18th August.
All in all, this doesn’t speak well of the intellectual abilities of homo sapiens.
It seems we are doomed forever to be ignorant and credulous. I personally recall talking to a middle-aged white collar professional back in 1992 and hearing her tell me all about the Celestine Prophecy. She was apparently unable to detect the difference between a cheap work of fiction and a genuine historical artifact. Later I’d experience the same phenomenon when people would blather on about the DaVinci Code books.
It seems that for many folk, authenticity is conveyed merely by typeset. Presumably Times New Roman is more authoritative than Dingbats, but no doubt there are those who’d prepare for the End Of Days if they saw it scrawled on the back of a chewing gum wrapper.
All this ignorant credulity does, however, open up wonderful market opportunities. I am therefore offering, for the bargain give-away price of only $29.99, Allan’s Almanac of Things to Come, guaranteed* 100% accurate for the next thousand years.
In it you’ll find such sure-fire prophesies as:
When frogs leap from their pond and clouds cover the skies the unexpected shall arise and the expected shall be missing.
Woe will befall the nation that formerly thought itself blessed, and the years that follow will bring great changes.
Words wills scatter in all directions and a Leader will arise and Great Events shall follow.
Birds shall fly, and some people will travel to a place they have not been before.
When discord is uncovered, disease will run throughout the land, and things that were found shall be lost again.
During all days that end in ‘y’ the words of humankind shall be as many, but many words shall have no meaning.
As you can tell from this small sample, my Almanac is packed chock-full of wisdom and foretelling. So don’t hesitate! Make your purchase today. Just go to www.bogusprophesiesforyou.com to order your copy now.
Bound in hide from our herd of free-range Nauga, the Almanac makes a great paper-weight and in addition can be used to bludgeon your friends if they express the slightest hint of skepticism regarding its prophetic contents.
This is the book to own for the next thousand years! I can tell you with absolute confidence because it’s been foretold!
*Not guaranteed in any way