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.