Monday, August 23, 2010

Sky, Falling

I’ve never had much use for hobbies, unless you count worrying, which I’ve always considered more of an avocation. Whatever you call it, I’ve been practicing it for as long as I can remember, which give me a kind of precedence over the bandwagon jumpers who waited for the global economic meltdown before they started worrying in earnest. A piece by Michael Moyer in Scientific American takes a stab at explaining our talent for fretting over impending catastrophe: global famine, melting icecaps, economic disaster, Mayan doomsaying. Remember Y2K? Why all the apocalyptic dread? Try this:

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.


  1. How timely. The beginning of school always stressed out everyone in my household because that's when I'm busiest with work in the evenings, and the rest of them usually rely on me to provide some calm when they get home.

  2. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean about being the source of calm in the family. . .Oh wait, actually, I don't have the slightest idea what that's like.