True believers in Western religions, (i.e., a Judeo-Christian-Islamic worldview), have the ‘end of times’ Judgment day to worry about. Being a Taoist lets me off that hook. In fact, Eastern worldviews overall have no doomsday grand finale, and so offer a view much closer to natural processes.
All the same, I suspect a certain apocalyptic sense of life is something all humans feel, at least sub-cognitively. I see it manifested in various ways, and while not as literal as this recent “Judgment Day May 21” story, they are nevertheless common. .
For example, stock market crashes ‘foretell’ the end of the economy. The recent uptick in the extinction rate of species and global warming ‘foretell’ the end of the planet, as we know it. More recently we had the BP Gulf oil spill and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
These events easily impart doomsday emotions, that while serious events, are not terminal. More telling is how such events can trigger cataclysmic perceptions in people far removed in time and space from actual events, or non-events as in the case of Armageddon-like stories.
Believers in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic worldview and the Western worldview in general, may be especially vulnerable to apocalyptic scenarios. The Western model of creation is a one-time event. The beginning is over, whether it was a Big Bang or a God creation event. When is the end? A ‘beginning’ primes us for an ‘end’. To paraphrase chapter 2, The whole world recognizes the beginning as the beginning, yet this is only the end.
It’s not surprising that truly serious believers get anxious from time to time. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic end of life scenario with its heaven or hell finality is a similar model that matches the linear Western beginning – ending model.
Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, with their cyclic view of reality, offer those who share those beliefs a safer and gentler alternative. “Don’t freak out, you can redo life over better next time” works for the Buddhist and Hindu. The Tao Te Ching takes the cyclic view a step further by deflating the reality of the words. If, Thus Something and Nothing produce each other, [and] Before and after follow each other, as chapter 2 points out, how seriously can we take something, nothing, before and after? Chapter 56’s, Mysterious sameness tops this off by offering our mind a continuum of existence — a kind of immortality, so to speak. (See You are Immortal!)
What accounts for the apocalyptic sense all humans appear to share? Undoubtedly, knowledge of our own death lies at the heart of it. This knowledge must have been among the first long-term realities of which we were aware. Other social species mourn the loss of companions, but humans have an objective memory of this. We know there is an apparent end to every beginning, which makes life a much more serious affair. Knowing this, we could no longer merrily hunt and gather our days away. We realized we had to prepare, and so cognitively apply this fearsome model to many things we do. Perhaps our survival success as a species is partly due to this apprehension.
Given all this, it is odd how we fail to take action until after the fact. For instance, we don’t preparing adequately for earthquakes or our own health. Yet, we speed up through the intersection so as not to lose the yellow light. Perhaps we feel in the former that “it won’t happen to me”, and in the latter we feel an immediate impending loss.
Fear is a valuable survival asset and when lulled to sleep by a civilized false sense of security has consequences — as chapter 72 cautions, When the people lack a proper sense of awe, then some awful visitation will descend upon them.
Fear always lurks beneath the surface, but only guides our lives well when we feel it. (See also Fear rules)
On the other hand, improperly placed fear is a wasted asset. Thus, having the optimistic inclination, “it won’t happen to me” can be a healthy survival sense. This, along with general ‘laziness’ hinders us from wasting too much energy on imagined and unrealistic needs and fears. As that maxim puts it, ‘choose your battles wisely’. Of course, that’s the hitch. It is impossible to teach wisdom; it only is learned the hard way through one’s experience of making some bad choices, among other things.