If I had a crown for every lame article I've been subjected to regarding Y2K, I could buy a plate of dumplings.
No really, I could. And I would store these dumplings in my cellar, right beside the cot upon which I will spend New Years eve with a twelve-gauge and my wiener dog, Bessie, whom I may have to eat by February.
And if you think I'm anxious, you should hear my Uncle Ronnie, back home. If reports are to be believed, Americans are currently building bomb shelters at a rate not seen since the second year of the Kennedy Administration.
But is anybody surprised that panic over the millennium roach is most extreme in the United States of America? Not only is it the most religious nation on earth, it is the most comfort stricken.
Only in America can one imagine doomsday rhetoric being inspired by the loss of the remote control. Postmodern Spenglers have pointed to America as evidence of the 'Recline of the West', and I know of at least 150 million lazy self-satisfied Stateside f*cks that would agree with them.
But there is no need to get nasty. Basically we have a computer problem here. A potentially very large computer problem, one most feared by those with the most to lose.
A majority of these people live in America, of course, where a hefty percentage of the populations live lives of great ease. Yes, yes, quiet desperation and all that, but mostly great ease. An ease that has been cultivated with passion over the course of the American Century, an ease that has been measured out in countless Super Bowl sized bags of Doritos and countless hours of Laverne and Shirley re-runs. Somehow this vast GNP-generated Soft Machine has become wired to the hilt.
It is dependent upon a tangled web of integrated complex systems, all of which no doubt runs like tributaries into the guts of some Mother Brain deep within the bowels of the Pentagon. And for the first time since its creation, the smooth running of this Soft Machine is under threat. Which is especially dangerous in America, where nobody can remember a time before the Soft Machine.
Did such a time ever exist? Our memory seems to go back about as far as the first clear reception of Ed Sullivan: before that; static. In a generally unspoken calculus, the Soft Machine is equated with life itself. It is The American Way. Thus nuclear war is probably less horrific to many Americans than the scenario offered by widespread computer confusion. At least Atomic death offers quick, painless insolvency.
Even the outermost ring of suburbs would be reduced to molten ash. Only smelly fringers and farmers would be forced to deal with the hassles of getting the air-conditioner fixed on The Day After.
But Y2K is different. Urban creatures of affluence, including most of us over here, are for the first time threatened with widespread disruption, danger and uncertainty: in short, inconvenience. Drive-thru's will be backed up, ATM's clogged, heaters shut off, alarm systems downed, airports delayed, our precious savings accounts evaporated. Not exactly the stuff of apocalypse for your average Russian or Ugandan, but just about unthinkable for Joe Convenience.
But there is more to the current state of American panic than simple greed, fear and Softness. At the bottom floor of this nation of Pilgrims remains a viscous layer of good old-fashioned Protestant guilt. Deep down, Americans have known this day was coming, and have awaited this reckoning with a sense of inevitability.
From the middle-managementoid who buys the house in the country, to the soccer mom who annually upgrades her Sports Utility Vehicle to military standards of preparedness, the luckier denizens of the richest country on earth know they have it coming. They have benefited from the greatest party in history at the expense of almost everybody else, and are preparing to pay the piper.
Insofar as superstitious fundamentalists, dress this realization in the ancient garb of prophecy, they are simply showing some panache. Manifestations of guilt over the power and resources of the US are also apparent in the military. Despite assurances to Dan Rather Inc. that all is well and ready, US officials are drenching the cloistered corridors of power with sweat.
They awake at night racked with visions of a total defense grid meltdown, of Chinese warships taking everything from Taiwan to Hawaii, of Iraq successfully coordinating revolutions in Saudi Arabia and invading Israel, all as the US sits helpless banging on its trillion dollar toys, trying to get them working.
But all the computers will have X's for eyes and will be flashing 1900, which is apt enough, as America in that year was an outback of nascent banana republics with no navy and English envy.
The four-starred souls who have been so trigger happy these last several decades know that our power must wane as sure as it waxed. They also know three spheres of influence: Latin America, the Middle East and large parts of Asia - is pushing it. If only during the loneliest hours of midnight, these men have an appropriately historical sense of limits as well as an acute understanding of the circuitous path of the Geopolitical, if not the Cosmic, sh*t.
Together, the generals, the yuppies, the couch potatoes, the mall rats, the frat boys, the ambitious, the content - all of us who have grown to take the Soft Machine for granted - face the same prospect as so many of our brothers and sisters in the South: fear, uncertainty, chaos, hardship. In short, Inconvenience on a decidedly un-American scale. Assuming that the worst case scenarios are accurate: what of it? Should we huddle terrified in the cellar with our shoebox of hard currency and cases of SPAM?
I dare say that such a prospect is worse than death. It is unimaginative, it is cowardly, it is regressive. We should not fear the collapse of society as we know it, we should embrace it. We should eagerly pursue the possibility of renewal that lays before us. The great antihuman edifice that we have so tortuously built up this century is a barrier, one that requires us to imagine the space beyond it. Y2K perhaps gives us the chance to imagine this space and, more importantly, shape it.
As we continue to pursue profit at the expense of people, as we continue to churn out cars that destroy the atmosphere, as we continue to build nuclear weapons in the name of peace, as we do all of this and more, I ask: what could be more needed than a nice mean rupture in the Great Plastic Asshole that is the soul of the Modern World?
Y2K just might be the wallop to the ass that we need. It might shake us from our shortsighted obsession with our mobile phones, our stocks, our precious order which is no order at all, and make us see that this ship is steaming toward a glacier. If we took our faces out of our business pages and Powerbooks for one moment of silence and reflection, we might see that our values are ass-backward and our present society unworthy of survival.
Yes, we might see these things, and we might work towards changing the world and ourselves. But first someone will have to shut off our stupid machines, calm the buzz, and put us is our place. Our biggest enemies include our own arrogance and the distracting noise of this arrogance at work.
So let me go on record as saying that if Y2K did not exist, I would be urging my hacker friends to invent it. It, and some lemonade, for The Day After.