6.08.2009

no need to go green: world to end in 2012

If the world is going to end on December 21, 2012, could I have a heads-up, please? I want to start spending our retirement savings.

It's so difficult for me to keep that money untouched anyway. I constantly think of how many trips I could take, where I could go. I wonder, will I live long enough to need this money? Because if I won't, I'm booking flights now.

Now I hear the world will end in a mere three and a half years. Not much point in having retirement savings, is it?

In case you haven't heard, yet another cottage industry has built up around the idea of The End Is Near. These latest End Is Near pronouncements revolve around the ancient Maya calendars, known as The Long Count.

The Maya, the dominant civilization of Mesoamerica (what is now Mexico and Central America) for more than a thousand years, were highly skilled astronomers and mathematicians. (They also had highly sophisticated agricultural systems, trading networks, architectural and engineering accomplishments... it's a long list.) Among their many achievements were several complex, highly accurate, interlocking calendars, around which Maya spiritual practices and culture was structured.

One of the calendars was called The Long Count. It began at the point the Maya dated the beginning of time (that is, the beginning of their civilization), and ended sometime far in the future. Modern translation of the Long Count calendar dates it as ending on December 21, 2012. So of course, people are making money selling books, movies, ads on websites and whatever else crying doom about the impending End Of The World.

Predicting doomsday is an ancient pastime in itself. Whether its Nostradamus or a spaceship coming to rescue the chosen, these doomsday scenarios come and go with astonishing regularity. For me the wonder is why people believe any of it. But believe it they do. At least until the predicted date passes, then it's on to the next thing.

These days, doomsday predictions are not just stupid, they're dangerous. If our planet and everyone on it is destined to be destroyed three years hence, then there's no need to take care of our Earth, is there? We can burn up all the fossil fuels, guzzle all the clean water, topple all the trees. In fact, we might as well consume everything with wild abandon. If there's no future, why not? It's enough to make me wonder if there's some connection between the climate change deniers and the 2012 crew.

I also find this particular doomsday scenario grossly offensive. Long-time wmtc readers may remember I have a fascination with all ancient cultures, but am especially drawn to the ancient civilizations of the Americas. I don't have an expert's knowledge of the Maya by any means, but I know enough to know there's a lot to know.

It's safe to assume that the people fueling the 2012 craze are not experts in Maya civilization. It's likely they've taken a cursory glance, cherry-picked a few factoids, then superimposed those facts (if indeed they used facts at all) onto our own time.

This is a dark version of "going native". Many modern people find solace or strength in ancient cultures, picking and choosing among the various perceived "wisdoms". Sometimes this hovers uncomfortably close to the the Nobel Savage stereotype: anything "native" and "ancient" is good. (Human sacrifice, anyone? Slavery? It ain't all about achieving balance with nature.) But I try not to be contemptuous, and to take a generous view. Many people are searching for guiding principles and philosophies, and we all travel different paths.

But the 2012 doomsday cult isn't a quest for knowledge. It's using another culture's knowledge to promote ignorance.

Plucking one fact out of a complex society's belief system, oversimplifying it, then simplistically applying that dilution to our own world, denigrates that ancient culture. It's a slightly more nuanced version of cigar-store Indians, Mammy and the inscrutable Chinaman.

12 comments:

James said...

The world will end in Dec. 2012 for the same reason that your car explodes when 9999999 ticks over to 0000000.

MSEH said...

This is so strange. About two hours ago I passed an end cap display of more than a few books, all about 2012 something. I hadn't heard about this (she peeks out from under the rock) and didn't stop to look more closely. Having just glanced at "Canada in 2020," I figured there was some future-oriented fascination wave that I had missed. Your post, I think, offers the explanation for the end cap!

John F said...

I worry about the Apocalypse. It's not actually coming, of course, but I worry about the actions of those who believe in it.

The Heaven's Gate UFO cultists are a good example. That apocalypse killed 39 deluded people. Thank goodness their beliefs didn't include taking nonmembers along for the ride on Hale-Bopp

L-girl said...

"The world will end in Dec. 2012 for the same reason that your car explodes when 9999999 ticks over to 0000000."

Yes! It's not as if the Mayan had Blackberries, or even desk calendars with paper refills. Their calendar had to end at some point.

MSEH, it's not quite rock-peeking territory. :) I think a lot of people are only hearing about it now.

John F, you're right. The beliefs alone are disturbing, but the actions based on them are downright dangerous and often lethal.

James said...

A few years it was the Planet X/Nibiru scare, in which, essentially, a delusional person managed to convince a lot of other people that a mysterious giant planet that nobody could see was going to destroy the world.

A number of people sold everything they owned -- including their houses, &c -- for next to nothing in anticipation of The End, only to find themselves homeless after nothing happened. The people behind promoting it are, of course, unrepentant, and have simply "re-evaluated" their info and decided that Nibiru is due back in 2012.

This classic Beyond the Fringe sketch captures the whole thing perfectly.

impudent strumpet said...

If anyone really believed it for real, someone would be selling apocalypse insurance that was willing to pay out generously if the apocalypse doesn't happen on the date predicted.

James said...

If anyone really believed it for real, someone would be selling apocalypse insurance that was willing to pay out generously if the apocalypse doesn't happen on the date predicted.

No-one would sell that, becuase it would always have to pay out.

On the other hand, people have sold insurance against alien abductions or your home being destroyed by Planet X. Those are very lucrative, since they never have to pay out.

Nigel Patel said...

No different than James Watt (Reagan Secretary of Interior) saying he was not at all worried about the environment because "The Rapture" was coming.

L-girl said...

Further to Nigel's comment, in Collapse, Jared Diamond makes the case that many of the US mining companies with horrendous environmental practices are owned by Christian fundamentalists who believe in "the Rapture," End Times and such.

A Conformer said...

There is a slight difference between the calendar ending and your examples above (at least as far as I know. My knowledge of Mayan mythology didn't always come from reliable sources, but I think it's generally close to "truth", if there is such a thing...). As it was explained to me, the Mayans (and subsequently, the Mexicas/Aztecs) believed time was divided into 5 eras, or suns, and that each sun had ended in destruction. The first sun in fire, the second in water (the big flood, anyone?), the third in wind, etc. Each time, a new sun was born. 2012 is the end of the 5th sun. I've heard various theories as to what that means, from star alignments, sunspots and other astronomical stuff (which I know next to nothing about) all the way to the opening up of chakras (of which I know even less).
I am in no way defending the doom prophecies, and I certainly don't believe the world will end then, but I just thought some expounding could be interesting.

James said...

I've heard various theories as to what that means, from star alignments, sunspots and other astronomical stuff (which I know next to nothing about)

One of my favourite "explanations" of why 2012 will be catastrophic is that the sun and the galactic centre will be aligned (as seen from the Earth), thereby causing a gravitational surge that will destroy the Earth.

And it's (partly) true. The sun and the galactic centre will be aligned. Just as they are every December...

L-girl said...

Hm, that is interesting, thanks Conformer. I wonder why I've never come across this in my Mayan research or reading.

If it's true, then yes, it is different than "the calendar has to end at some point". Naturally we still can't superimpose Maya mythology onto our own time, but it might mean that they did envision the known world ending at some point (thousands of years into the future).

I'm going to look around a bit more about it. If nothing else, it might be amusing. Some of those 2012 websites are unintentionally hilarious.