The desire to treat terrible events as the harbinger of the end of civilization itself also has roots in another human trait: vanity.
We all believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species. Technology appears to have given us power over the atom, our genomes, the planet—with potentially dire consequences. This attitude may stem from nothing more than our desire to place ourselves at the center of the universe. . . Imagining the end of the world is nigh makes us feel special.
Fine, but what about more modest anxieties? Any real worrier knows that worrying about the end of the world is for amateurs. The truly accomplished worrier can work himself into a panic over something as simple as the nagging feeling that he may have left the coffee pot on at home. In its own way, that's just as vain (or at least as self-absorbed) as any doomsday premonition. When I was researching this piece, I kept encountering warnings about the health dangers of anxiety, about all the stress hormones settling in our tissues, waiting to do us in. What we should really be worried about, they seemed to be suggesting, was all that worrying.