All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. DayWe're approaching Y2k as I sit at my computer and hack this Rat out. Three days away from the turning over a big one on the calendar's odometer. As I wait, almost perfectly unprepared, for all the disasters that the really paranoid types (as opposed to my own mostly paranoid state) are sure will mark "the end of the world as we know it," it struck me that this could turn out a lot differently than we all expect.
On a cosmic, geological, or cultural level, Y2k is as arbitrary a disaster marker as a pothole sign on a New York City street. Year 1 wasn't declared until the sixth century, and that was based on a sloppy calculation made from biblical dates and the estimated origin of the Roman Empire. All of this makes the precision of this date something like a really sloppy statistical calculation, like an economic prediction. Even more foolish is the fact that we've decided that a date system invented by a religious leader of a cult that represents less than 5% of the world's population is some kind of benchmark for the entire universe. Europeans are nothing if not arrogant.
Then there are the nitpickers who claim there was no year zero, therefore, somehow that proves that the millennium doesn't actually start until 2001. And you're not really a teenager until age fourteen and you're not in your forties until you're 41, by that precise, but boring, logic. Let's get past all that by admitting that we're no longer a world controlled by events and religion and that we've "moved on" to digits and sophisticated stuff like computer glitches that can cause international calamities due to shortsighted programming and buggy operating systems. The world's odometer is about to roll up three zeros and that's what matters. No computer on this planet will give a flying damn about 2001, so why should we?
So, having resolved that important philosophical argument, I want to move on to the really important concept that just snapped into my mind after downing my usual late night Jack Daniels tranquilizer: what if the Twentieth Century doesn't want to go quietly into history?
Think about it. Of all the dumb things humans have animated and anthropomorphized, the century that produced the largest growth in human knowledge (by a factor of several bazillion, by my last count) ought to be at least as sentient as your average straight-ticket Republican voter. And if that brain-dead logic works for you, consider this; why would the Twentieth Century go out without a fight? Based on the amount of money put into defending our public utilities, communication systems, personal computers, IRS data, and VCR clocks that always flash 12:00, someone thinks Y2k is a serious danger to all the things humanity holds dear, or manages with a remote control device. Consider the possibility that there is a government conspiracy to keep us from finding out who is really in control of this planet's calendar.
So here's my scenario: January 1, 2000 arrives and all that Y2k programming turns out to be a waste of effort. All of the world's computers start the Twentieth Century over again, date-wise. After a few months of wrestling with the hopeless task of forcing the world's computers to admit to the year 2000, humanity gives up and starts the 1900's over again. After all, we are the generation that can't make change without instructions from a cash register, the dumbest of all computer systems. How could we ever hope to defeat the efforts of the really smart computers, like PIII's and Gameboys?
The downside is, for a couple of decades, all of the working class will be negative years old, sort of the reverse of vampires; the walking unborn. That will create a momentary ethical problem for the government, who may be accused of taxing . . . something less than fertilized eggs? A pre-gleam in a father's eye? Whatever. Governments can always find an excuse to tax their victims, so that won't be much more than a blip on the radar of the repeated century.
The upside will more than make up for this little ethical hitch; no one gets to retire for another 65 years. All those deadbeats currently hanging out in Florida and Arizona will be put back to work. The Social Security system will be "saved." Even the military and government employment retirees will be forced off of the public dole, most of them will have to work another eighty years to put in their "twenty." Think of the tax rebates this will produce!
Of course, the other possibility is that the "system" will simply choose to ignore anyone who is not yet "born." That would serve us Boomers right, since we once advocated not trusting anyone over thirty. That philosophy could be carried over into completely disregarding anyone over fifty, or some other totally arbitrary age (just like "thirty" was in the first 1960's). It wouldn't take more than a year or two of unemployment and digital non-existence for starvation and exposure to weed out the "unborn" and provide the planet with a clean slate for the second Twentieth Century.
The second and most importantly cool vision of a total Y2k meltdown is the possibility that the entire credit system might collapse under the weight of its own bloated and greedy butt. If any system in the world is going corruptly and ineptly into the Twenty-First Century, it's the IRS and other federal government agencies. The candidate voted "most likely to imitate the federal government" is the banking system. Here's a test: what's the interest due on a loan that won't be made for eighty years? (Hint: Excel provides you with Microsoft's infamous 'ERROR!' result for this sort of calculation.)
You can bet your sweet patootie that most of us have meticulously hoarded our banking records, in case our bank balances go into negative numbers on January 1. You can also bet the patootie and its connecting limbs that any errors recorded in the favor of banking patrons will widely welcomed without many moral qualms. The only public sector group disliked more than bankers are the bankers' trust fund babies.
Politically, a sure way to get elected in 2000/1900 will be to promote "Y2k debt forgiveness" to all those yuppies and guppies who have buried themselves in credit card debt and house payments. Add the liberal arts majors who are now paying off their college loans working as assistant managers in fast food joints and you have a landslide election triumph.
If you couple our burning desire to get something for nothing with the possible mortality allergy of our ole' friend, the Twentieth Century, and we might be living the past century all over again, number-wise. Too bad it's just a numerical illusion, I wouldn't mind being -48 again.
December (just barely) 1999