Apocalyptic Argument and the Anticipation of Catastrophe: The Prediction of Risk and the Risks of Prediction. STEPHEN D. O’LEARY. Argumentation 11: 293–313, 1997.
If an arguer crosses the line by offering a specific prediction or time boundary that falls within the life span of the audience, he or she is no longer speaking sub specie aeternitatis; the subject or stasis of the argument moves out of the realm of abstract hypotheticals, and begins to directly address the concerns of the living. At this point, the audience’s role expands beyond a judicial one, which involves weighing the claims of apocalyptic argument, to include a spectatorial one, governed by the logic of drama as laid out by Aristotle in the Poetics.
Those members of the audience who entertain the apocalyptic claim or grant it a higher probability status may therefore be propelled into making a decision by the fear of losing their chance for preparation and salvation, while those who have already accepted the apocalyptic message are likely to increase their level of commitment.
... setting of specific dates for the end of the world is more than a sensational tactic to gain the attentions of the audience; from Burke’s dramatistic perspective, date specificity represents the natural culmination or formal completion of apocalyptic argument with respect to the topos of time. If the claim of impending global catastrophe and redemption is accepted, whether uncritically or provisionally, the audience’s natural curiosity will cause it to expect a prediction with a high degree of specificity and saliency.
I propose that arguments that predict catastrophe, and the responses to such arguments, are shaped by permutations of the following significant factors and variables: 1) the sources of the arguer’s authority, whether rational, traditional, or charismatic in the Weberian sense; 2) the degree to which audiences are prone to shift between modes of legitimation by ascribing prophetic authority based on personal character or expertise in technical fields unrelated to the prediction; 3) the saliency of the predictions for a specific audience, considered as a function of the timespan of the predicted course of events in relation to the lifespan, attentions, and preoccupations of a given group; 4) the degree of anomic risk assumed by both arguers and audiences, considered in terms of both the magnitude of predicted consequences, and of willingness to admit errors in prediction or to accept the consequences of errors in judging the truth or falsehood of prediction; 5) the degrees of modality or conditionality admitted or attended to by the predictor and the audience.
By solving a detection problem, the prophet enables his audience to engage in solving a control problem, e.g. develop and implement a course of actions that might address the problem. Then, an ideal prophecy ( for the prophet) would be to forecast an event that the audience is capable of affecting ( prevent, mitigate, avoid altogether). Moreover, the prophecy should be conditional on the audience.
A bad prophecy would be to forecast a specific event that is outside of the audience's control, such as earthquake, rain, etc.
How would human immortality affect this thesis? First, we should probably assume that immortality means more than a simple absence of death. Rather, we should think that immortality is an infinite period of stability in one's physical health. Second, we should try to understand better what event would be considered a catastrophe by healthy person. Third, we should establish sources of authority in a society of immortals. Fourth, we should consider the strength of connections over time within such a society. Fifth, we need to think on the number of immortal societies as well as mobility characteristics for individuals ( related to 4).
Therefore, I hypothesize that with an increase in human lifespan prophecies related to potential damage to social fabric should increase, accompanied by decrease in prophecies concerning personal survival and health.