Stories based on apocalyptic writings have found their way into mainstream culture over and over througout history. Lately, it seems, our interest in this concept has reached a fever pitch. Perhaps it's the idea of 2012, or our growing morbidity in film and media.
When I was a child there was an "end of the world" scare. My strongest memory of this was that my friend was taken out of school by his mother that day. I do not remember how the world was supposed to end, but nonetheless the event stuck with me. Since then I have seen doomsday prophecies and dates on the covers of tabloids countless times, and have heard numerous persons saying how the end is near, the world is only getting worse, God is coming back for us.
Where does this really come from? People have a clear desire and need to think that everything is about to end. Regardless of the manner and timing, it is common for people to consciously or subconciously desire such an event. Particularly that it happen in their own lifetimes. This need drives us out to see every apocalyptic movie and makes us want to read or learn about it.
There are a few possibilities as to what causes this need within us.
1. We want something exciting or amazing to happen in our lifetimes, and to be apart of it / play a major role. Let's face it, most people want to be heros, or identify with heros in fiction. Many people claim to be reincarnated versions of great figures in history, or that they were apart of or in a certain major historic event. (sinking of titanic, Hindenburg explosion, Pearl Harbor, etc) This shows what we already know, that humans have a deep seated need to feel important, respected, remembered.
2. We have a desire to stave off the inevitable. We may want to see doomsday not for the reason of enduring it or being the hero of it, but rather to see the story play out in favor of mankind. Many apocalyptic movies and stories have happy endings in which the apocalypse has either been averted or we have found a way to survive it somehow. (Fifth Element, 2012, even Austin Powers) This shows a need of mankind to know that we shall survive and persevere - even in the most impossible of events.
3. We are unhappy. This is, I think, the most likely (or most prevalent) cause of our obsession. We live in society as it is, we do as we should, we seek out the ideal lifestyle as dictated by society. I.E.: The American Dream (for most of my readers). I've scoffed at the idea before, and I'm going to do it again. The American Dream is, unfortunately, not the bill of goods we expected. We are young and we think that if we just have a decent job, nice house and a beautiful family that we can spend the best years of our lives happy and looking forward to little more than retirement with a healthy pension and grandkids. We work towards these very goals, but the truth of the matter is that this elusive peace simply doesn't exist. You cannot live within the confines of society and be a happy and satisfied human being. It is the system of our own design which has become the prison, the walls from which we cannot escape. We aren't forced to stay here, we trap ourselves here. People cry and moan that the government is doing all these things to keep us in line, or that capitalism is the culprit, or even blame the police for doing their jobs. Citizens of a society simultaneously complain about the system and know that they can't survive without it. It is a double edged sword, in that society protects us from many things while taking others away.
The reason that this ties into our love of an apocalypse and facination with armageddon is that deep down most people are desperate to cast off the rules and regulations of society, the need to work a job and clean a house. This way of life isn't what we need, yet we tell ourselves that it is. It is destroying our bodies, our hearts and our minds, and yet we are more afraid of losing this life than anything else. We cannot escape it willingly. We neither know how or have the will (for most people anyway) and we feel like the only way that we can find a better way of life is to have everything forcibly destroyed.
Then, in the aftermath those who are left can return to the earth, to live in harmony with it. No jobs, no homes, no permanence. The freedom to wander and just be, with our only daily concern being that of hunting and gathering food, and finding fresh water.
But, then there is the unfortunate reality... If such a thing were really to happen, we'd end up with a situation more like that illustrated in The Book of Eli. Man would randomly and mercilessly kill man for supplies, even for food. Heavily populated areas would be extremely dangerous, as outbreaks of riots, thefts, and murder would be very high. Even light population areas could prove dangerous. We would not have access to cars for very long, as we would run out of fuel quickly. Mass produced food would be gone as would most farming. We would be forced to either rely on what few left over supplies we could find or we would have to step away from civilization and learn to live off the land again. It would be very difficult for many people. There are many who haven't a clue how to procure their own food from nature, who might not even be able to recognize carrots growing in a field, becuase they only ever see the orange root and pay no attention to the actual plant. Many people wouldn't know how to hunt without a gun or pre-made bow. There are even those who might not be able to fish without having a mass produced fishing rod (and those who couldn't even do it with the device). Then there is constructing or finding shelters, getting clean water, lack of healthcare.
I think that humans can and would survive such an event, even in small numbers wide spread across the globe. Natural selection would come into play hard and fast, with those who are not skilled enough to create the tools they need and those who aren't healthy enough to endure such a lifestyle being the first to die out. Those who live on will need to be resourceful and strong, but they also have the potential of being more content than any of us today can hope to be.
They certainly won't have time to sit around and worry if the world is going to end someday soon.