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Remember that the year began with mass animal deaths? It continued with revolution in the Middle East. And, poor Australia was hit with the wrath of the gods. (What did you guys do? Just kidding.) Now, we have catastrophic earthquakes – one after another – and a wicked tsunami. With all the political turmoil and natural disasters this year, it would appear as if the world is being ripped apart, socially and physically.

“Appear as if” are the important words to consider. It depends on the perspective you take.

People mostly get their news from the media. The media gives attention to unique things, stories that affect certain groups of people or important people. They don’t always cover events that affect A LOT of people if those people aren’t considered important (remote, poor, unknown).

Once a story is in the news, the topic becomes important. I’m calling this the Google Alert effect. If you set a Google news alert for “political unrest” or “earthquake” with regards to a particular location, you will see results from other locations because of the association with topic. Thus, it appears that there is a sudden increase in this kind of event. It’s because you are looking for it that you see it. That’s what I think happened with the flood of mass animal death stories earlier this year. A mass animal death in one part of the world suddenly becomes news if a similar event has just occurred somewhere else. We find more events when we are sensitized to them and specifically looking for them. It’s also behind the celebrity deaths in threes idea. When we notice two celebrity deaths, we wait for the third and then stop counting. We’ve fulfilled our expectation.

It’s happening in the news today. Japan has experienced an enormous, unique and horrific earthquake. It’s a megaquake that triggered an even more destructive tsunami. Years ago, we would not have been able to see the dramatic first hand home videos. But now mobile video devices are all over, transmitting immediately. I get Breaking News alerts about all the details of the event – from explosions and fires to aftershocks and the ever mounting death toll. It looks… dare I say it, apocalyptic.

Earlier this week, I noticed people with signs in the public square announcing “Judgement Day May 21, 2011″. Fresh in my mind is the instability in the Middle East, the destruction from the New Zealand quake and the billions of sardines (“carpet of death”) left floating in a California harbor. Related?

Only in the human mind.

That’s not to say there is not a legitimate correlation or domino effect occurring here. First, political action in one area certainly prompts action in another. Spurred on by what is seen in the media, we get a copycat effect. We already have a precarious economic condition so natural disasters cause world markets to react shakily to such events, prompting more worry and possible panic. The mass animal deaths were correlated to bad weather conditions around the world at the time. When someone reports a UFO, lots of people suddenly start looking up and notice unusual things. No surprises here.

It’s hard to watch world turmoil and not get frightened and attempt to make sense out of it. Chaos is disconcerting. So, people try to tie it all together somehow. They say it’s related to some outside natural force like magnetic pole shifts or supermoons *. Or, they say supernatural events are heralded such as the coming of Christ or that God is mad at whatever “immoral” thing the local populations did.

What can logical people do to quell this End Times wailing? I could tell nervous Twitterers that there is no logical basis to connect all these frightening world events because…

  • there are on average 50 recorded earthquakes a day – some WILL be huge;
  • we are having an unusual cold weather spell that caused animal deaths, or
  • it’s just human nature to connect the dots and make something from nothing.

Sadly, that’s not going to help. They will still nervously tweet others and spread the fear. My facts and probabilities won’t change how these pieces fit into their entrenched worldview. It sucks but it’s the truth. Don’t think of these people as stupid. They are just human. There are many, even skeptically minded people, who JUST can’t help but wonder whether this pattern means something. It’s how our brains work.

However, being the calm voice of reason also doesn’t hurt. There are those who look to sources of rationality to be soothed. They want to be told it’s not a big deal. You could tell them, “Nah, I don’t think its the end of the world. It’s not all related; we are just attuned to noticing catastrophes around the world at the moment and tying them together with a good story.”

Be a small comfort in the face of the throngs of doomsayers! If panic is contagious, so is calmness. We just have to be out there promoting it. See you on May 22. 2011…

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* The Supermoon idea is ludicrous. Stop getting science from astrologers and promoting wacky nonsense, you pathetic media outlets!!!

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