Ted Daniels, Ph. D.
Director, Millennium Watch Institute
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


"Great Disappointment"
Saturday, January 1, 2000

Historians use this phrase to describe the collapse of the Millerite movement after not one but two predictions of the Second Coming failed to materialize in 1843 and '44. Someone on an email list I follow wrote apologies for having predicted the collapse of civilization in the Y2K bug. He concluded by saying "Now I know for sure this is a living hell."

There's no pain like being wrong in public. But it's unnecessary. Y2K Was one of the most successful prophecies on record. This prophet's unnecessary anguish arises from his failure to perceive that Y2K demonstrates the little-known category of the self-negating prophecy: it cancels itself, provokes its own untruth, in a structural reversal of the better-known self-fulfilling prophecy.

Noah is the model of the prophetic failure. Yes, things turned out exactly as he predicted, but the point was that people were supposed to listen and change their behavior, forestalling the dreaded outcome. Noah failed in his mission, while the Y2K prophets succeeded in theirs. They urged us to change our ways and spend untold billions on consultants and software. We did, and we are saved. Hallelujah.

Many other prophets, when their predictions have failed to materialize on schedule, have claimed this ultimate victory. They then can say "Whoa, that was close! But we prayed extra hard and got G_d to postpone his wrath. And are you grateful? No, you just keep on laughing."

Now we are left to wonder. Was Y2K actual, or was it the man behind the curtain talking? Unless someone put aside an untouched original mainframe or two, to ride out the rollover and start up tomorrow, we'll never know.

Ted Daniels is director of the Millennium Watch Institute in Philadelphia and author of A Doomsday Reader from NYU Press.

Ted Daniels, Ph. D.
Director, Millennium Watch Institute
(That's "channel one" not channel ell.")
Editor of A DOOMSDAY READER from NYU Press
PO Box 34021, Philadelphia, PA 19101-4021