Newspaper writers and editors -- and especially copy editors (an inimical breed of their own) -- are a curmudgeonly, bitterly sardonic sort of creature, or at least I found them so during my short stint at newspaper work in the late 1970’s. I think this is simply because they are exposed to entirely too much “news,” and because no news is new news, nor is it very often news at all, but merely regurgitate matter that has already been around the block a few times. In short, it is the same news, re-masticated, re-digested and reproduced. It is like a daily, monthly, yearly diet of rice (something we know about here in Bali). You can throw in some colour, you can add a dash of texture, you can mix in a chicken or a pig or a pineapple, and give it a kick with a dollop of sambal, but ultimately and essentially it is still only rice, and rice, and more rice. It’s there, it happens, we consume and digest it -- and then it’s there all over again.
This is not the fault of the newspaper itself, or of its writers, editors and copy editors. It is the fault of . . . well, of the news. It bears such a strong resemblance to itself, you know? There is nothing new under the sun, Solomon said. What has been will be again, and what has been done will be done again.
Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.
The young, blissfully callow reporter will take a bit of monotony and think it the most marvellous thing. In a passion, in a fever, he does his research, he writes -- and when he gives his masterpiece of reporting to the editor, the editor sighs and grumbles and asks whether the piece can’t be given a twist of some kind. Can you make it sound like something new?
But of course he can’t, because it’s not. His article has already been written by every reporter who formerly sat at his desk.
It is because of this general malaise then, along with a coexistent hunger that will not relent -- for something fresh, untold, unprecedented -- that we have waited with bated breath on the arrival of 2012 and its promise of bringing along the end of the world as we know it. Now that would be news!
We used to joke at the paper, when someone was ill or gone away on vacation, that the world might end in the meantime, and he will have missed the story of the century. But now it’s no longer a joke -- for we are told by the ancient calendar of the Mayans, surely as wise and noble a source as one can find -- that the heavens and earth will surely pass away by December 21st of the year.
Of course we have heard similar predictions in the past; most recently, for instance, from Christian broadcaster, Harold Camping, who had slated the end first for May and then for October 2011. In case you weren’t paying attention (or have been sick or on vacation), this did not happen. Nor did it end back in 1989, when aliens were to come, and then Christ as well, and all true believers would rise on clouds of glory in heaven. Presumably, newspaper writers would have been left behind to record the event, collect interviews, and such-like. My girlfriend at the time believed this so fervently that she called me at midnight to say goodbye. Again, you will be aware by now that the prediction was premature.
In fact, there have been numerous predictions of doomsday among Christians, from the apostle Paul to the present day. But here is something different, unused, unworn -- the sacred word of the ancient Mayans. What else could add such authenticity to a prophecy than the mystery of the long-lost, primordial knowledge of a dead and buried civilization? What had they to gain by lying? And what have we to lose in believing?
American author Walker Percy once surmised that modern human beings are psychologically in need of a fairly certain faith in an impending doomsday. Under this condition, life is bearable. The drudgery, the struggle, the sadness and desperation are tempered and softened by the thought that tomorrow it might all end, not only for oneself (that, after all, is guaranteed), but communally and for all existence. The “bomb,” therefore, supplied hope for decades. No matter how hard life became, there was still hope of an escape, for tomorrow might well bring nuclear Armageddon.
Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking.
But then the cold war ended, and we had to look for hope elsewhere; and elsewhere was inward, and inward was spiritual, and spiritual turned extremist and extremist turned savage, so that we found ourselves ultimately in the shoes of mad Colonel Kurtz from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
How many times has the world been on the brink of extinction, only ultimately to disappoint? Already there are a number of spoilsports out there doing their best to refute the sacred promise. They say that the Mayans made no such prediction. They say that the hieroglyphics have been misread. They say that it’s all a ridiculous sham.
Well they may be right. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of our mutual demise may prove greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, I’m going to stick with the Mayans for the time being, and right up to December 21st. I figure they are as deserving of the chance to be right as anyone else has been. And besides that, it makes me feel safe, somehow.