Save the Bugs! A Touchy-Feely Utopia in 2000
Silly liberals take on silly computer problem. Silliness ensues.

The Wall Street Journal, Friday, January 15, 1999

Decades ago, when bytes were scant, computer programmers decided to use two, rather than four, digits to represent years. Now, as the year 1900--ahem, make that 2000--approaches, we all have a great opportunity to get in touch with our feelings.

Wait, I can explain. Utne Reader's 120-page "Y2K Citizen's Action Guide" suggests a possible speech to use in leading a community rap session about the year 2000 problem. A sample: "Wow. I don't know how you are feeling, but I was _____ when I first heard about this issue. How are some of you feeling?"

Yes, it seems that new-age-granola liberalism, of which Utne Reader is the official magazine, has been spooked by the cyber-scare of the century, and--surprise!--the impending disaster confirms every last tenet of NAG liberalism. Until now, the loudest Y2K alarmists have been computer consultants who see opportunities to profit by hyping what may be nonexistent or exaggerated threats. The Utne guide is an example of ideological opportunism, of stirring up millennial panic in order to sell ideas and lifestyles rather than goods and services.

Y2K is something of an ideological inkblot; the prospect of catastrophe has a way of reconfirming one's beliefs. Thus the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who has a new video out called "A Christian's Guide to the Millennium Bug," declared in a recent sermon that "I see the Y2K computer crisis as a serious threat to world stability, world business, world peace and world prosperity, but a wide door of opportunity for the church." And self-described Luddite Kirkpatrick Sale told me yesterday that the Y2K scare reflects "a feeling that we have committed ourselves to machines that aren't reliable, and that they cause us a great many more problems than we have ever been told about."

But the Utne guide is a particularly impressive work, for both its breadth and its tendentiousness. It includes political essays, advice on "community organizing" and sections on "household and neighborhood preparedness," "personal preparedness" and even "inner preparedness."

Eric Utne, editor of the eponymous periodical, sets the communitarian tone in an essay called "I Am Because We Are." Mr. Utne bemoans the isolated state of modern life, in which, among other things, "lawbreakers are kept behind bars and the physically disabled and mentally ill are kept out of sight." Y2K, he exults, will change all that. "Something surprising and unexpected and quite wonderful is going to happen. We're going to get to know our neighbors. Possibly for the first time in our lives, we will begin to know what it means to live in a real community." Presumably, it means people in wheelchairs stand a good chance of getting mugged by psychotic felons.

My sarcasm suggests I'm in "denial," the first of five stages "people pass through . . . when trying to come to terms with Y2K," according to Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson of the Center for Visionary Leadership. In their chapter on "The Psychological Challenges of Y2K," they argue that it's crucial that we all reach the final stage, "acceptance and cooperation," as soon as possible--something that won't happen "if the current official policy of withholding information about the severity of potential disruptions continues." The alternative to denial? Paranoia.

If you're having trouble making it through the five stages, Utne offers a pair of--yes--consultants you can hire to help. These are psychological consultants, Doc Childre and Bruce Cryer of HeartMath LLC, a firm that "offers tools that you can use to manage your emotions and gain mental and intuitive clarity about what to do." Tools like "HeartMath®, Freeze-Frame®, intui-technology®, and Inner Quality Management®."

On a more practical note, Paloma O'Riley of the Cassandra Project outlines survivalist hints on how to stockpile food, prepare for medical emergencies and the like. But some of the dangers she emphasizes are surely based on ideology rather than common sense. Automobiles are the scourge of NAG liberals, and Ms. O'Riley takes seriously the notion that cars with onboard computers may cease to function next Jan. 1. This is plainly preposterous: Onboard computers are a recent innovation; they don't depend on 1960s-era Cobol software. Yet here is Ms. O'Riley's advice: "Start considering alternative transportation such as bicycles, low-tech motorcycles, low-tech cars. Of course, walking is a healthy alternative. If you live in a rural area, horses and carts may be an option." There you have Utneism reduced to its essence: NAGs nagging us to ride nags.

Mr. Sale, the technology critic, takes a more hardheaded view of the matter. "It may well be that neighbors will have to share things, will be forced to huddle around fires together to keep warm, but that would be only a temporary and very intangible community," he says. "Utne and that entire generation and populace that it speaks for do a great deal of talking about community and obviously have a great deal of longing for community. But the simple fact is that it doesn't exist any longer in America, and I don't see a disaster of this dimension being able to create it."

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