Experts and cranks

A gentleman in New England prepared for January 1, 2000, by buying an entire encampment, on which he intended to set up a survivalist-cum-millennialist society geared toward protecting what he believed to be the American way of life once civilization came crashing down. They interviewed him a few days ago, sitting in his empty community center in his deserted fiefdom. His summation of the experience? He'd been duped, dammit, and he was going to find somebody to sue.

It's stories like that that make me wish the computers had all gone down.

Many of the folk opining that the Y2K "bug" was no big whoop tend to come off like Chris Rock at a heavyweight prizefight—lotta mouth, no muscle. The worst and first offenders, unfortunately, were the reporters assigned to the government command centers on December 31, people clearly annoyed that they were missing Dick Clark's "Rockin' New Year's" broadcast.

The cause has been taken up, though, by other folks, mainly folks who a year ago were convinced Y2K was mainly about their PCs not being able to play Solitaire properly on January 1, 2000. Since chaos did not ensue, they feel confident in asserting that there wasn't really a problem to begin with. My readers who work in tech support are familiar with the species: I-don't-understand-it-therefore-it's-a-stupid-subject Man, Homo blowhardiens.

And others are hanging their personal agendas off the Y2K peg: the US-as-Great-Satan crowd, the black-helicopter set, the people who see collusion in every unexpected event (even the happy ones). Incredibly to those of us who are better students of computer science than of human nature, people are angry and disappointed that everything turned out OK—that shit wasn't blowing up. We crave Armageddon, just as European Christians did 1,000 years ago—and with much less reason, considering that Europe 10 centuries ago was a hotbed of hunger, war, and pestilence. (They only needed one more horseman of the Apocalypse to collect the whole set.)

I tend to think that the mighty backlash is a reaction to the fact that, until New Year's Day, no one really knew what to expect—and just a few days later, we all knew. Mass-revealed truth is out of favor in this Age of the Expert, when everything from making music to cooking to evaluating political statements is considered more valid when done for us by professionals.

In this graceless age, the opposite of the expert is the crank—a person whose seems to have an immense amount of information on a particular topic, but is resting most of it on a shaky foundation of ideology or obsession. A crank knows a lot and yet has no idea what s/he is talking about. A crank is an amateur gone bad.

Of course we of the techish persuasion, many of whom spent New Year's sitting around offices (or watching C-SPAN) and bracing for impact, are not immune from being cranklike on certain topics. Star Trek, for instance—some of us, let's be honest, have tendencies toward obsessing on that modern-day myth cycle, worrying about minutiae of physics and philosophy and politics of Roddenbury's made-up myth cycle. Which makes the Y2K backlash just a little more poignant.

Because Y2K may be the last time humankind will have a compelling reason to pull together till the Federation makes first contact. And if there's no Federation—and by the way, there's no Federation—this may be the last time, period.

Quite frankly, we had a chance to experience that possible planetary destiny, and quite frankly, we're not worthy. It took billions of dollars and an immense amount of pressure to band the nations of the world together to fight a truly common enemy, one with no ideology or ethnicity or isms at all. But everyone did their little part and we indeed fought it—a railway system goes down in Mali, a recon satellite blinks offline for a few hours over New England, and one in four IT professionals surveyed since New Year's says s/he has seen problems ranging from trivial to significant, but overall we did fine.

And instead of congratulating ourselves and each other, we're now bitching that the bogeyman in the closet wasn't scary enough, that when we said we wanted everything to be all right what we really meant is that we wanted a little light-flickering thrill for ourselves and absolute fucking mayhem for some other poor assholes we could watch on CNN.

And so to the gentleman in New England, and to the other seekers of vicarious apocalypse, thanks a lot for ringing in the last year of the second millennium in such a way that proves that most of us are no better than humankind was at the end of the first one, or before. We have stepped into the future, and most of us don't belong.

 
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