The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Humanity only has three minutes left until Doomsday? That sounds about right.

On Tuesday, the people who keep the Doomsday Clock announced that they have — not adjusted it.

The clock is still set three minutes to midnight. The clock was previously set at 5 minutes to midnight until it moved up to 3 minutes this time last year, reflecting climate change trends.

I feel that I fundamentally understand the Doomsday Clock because I am a chronically late person, and so I know that “three minutes to midnight” is not a real number. No one is ever three minutes to anything. “Three minutes” is a number you come up with to allay people’s concerns that you have not yet left your apartment. I have often told people that I am three minutes away, because, like the Doomsday Clock, I am under the illusion that a specific number will put them at ease. “Three minutes!” I say, like I have counted it out with a precision that I have never applied to anything before in my life. “See you in three!”

I don’t think they believe me, but the point is not that they believe me. The point is to reassure them that I am coming and that soon after sending this cheery, optimistic, oddly specific text, I will get out of bed, get dressed, and begin to walk in their general direction.

Follow Alexandra Petri's opinionsFollow

That is how Doom is, I feel.

Doom is chronically late.

Doom has been confidently stating that it was Right About To Show for thousands of years now. Harold Camping made the mistake in 2011 of thinking that Doom meant it when Doom said it was RIGHT THERE and he and his followers all went ahead and sold their things and got their confetti and hats ready and hid behind the door — where they waited in vain for Doom to show.

I understand this. Once I held up a surprise party for something like an hour because I was the person responsible for telling everyone back at the apartment when the birthday person was going to show, and I kept sending them optimistic estimates like “three minutes!” (half an hour) and “we’re coming up the stairs right now!” (we are six blocks away). (Sorry, Tim, that you had to crouch in that closet for twenty minutes!)

Then again, no one has asked me to take on this role in party planning again, for which I am grateful. Sometimes we learn.

But not with Doom.

In 2012, Doom again made a convincing case that it was right there, ready to pop out, having positively committed to the Ancient Mayans that it would Absolutely Be Coming This Time And Could Not Miss It For The World — and — again, nothing. Doom has not even brushed its teeth yet.

Where Doom and I differ is that there is never a good reason to believe that Doom is NOT imminent. Look at the world around us! Surely this is a fallen world seconds away from the Great Chaos. (That this has been true for literally thousands of years does not stop it from continuing to be true today.) Look at climate change. Look at our relationship with Russia. Look at Donald Trump.

It is amazing how three minutes always seems just about right.