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In my book, 2012:
Extinction or Utopia, I examined the question of 2012 and the whole
sad history of doomsday prophecies through history. Of course, the year has
come and gone so the book is a bit dated. However, it might still be useful
to examine just what the Mayans believed and our reactions to it as an exercise
in retrospection. Think of this as a "primer" page designed to bring
you up to speed on the entire issue of the Mayans and their bizarre calendar
and doomsday stuff in general. Of course, everything that follows was purely
my opinion, so take what I write here with a very large grain of salt. And,
as always, I'd love to hear your comments or questions concerning these issues.
- So what's
the story about 2012? Why is there so much interest in this date specifically?
It all seems to have started with the belief that, according to Mayan
teaching, the world will end on December 21st (or 23rd, depending on your
source), of 2012a date arrived upon based upon the fact that their calendar
ends its fifth 5,125 year cycle on that date. Such an abrupt ending, then,
is perceived by some to mean that the winter solstice of 2012 is the moment
when the Mayans believed the world will end or, more correctly, go through
a period of cataclysmic change. What sorts of "change" this will
entail is anybodies' guess, of course, but it is taken by many to be a harbinger
of disaster. Not surprisingly, then, that makes the date a major source of
worry for millions of people around the world.
- Is there
any validity to their claims? There is no hard "evidence" that
anything significant will occur on 12/21/12; the belief that it will be is
based purely on conjecture, superstition, and faith (as is has been the case
with every failed doomsday prophecy of the past). To get a better understanding
of how the Mayan calender works, click here.
- How did
2012 and the Mayan calendar come into our modern consciousness? The Mayan
"long count" calendar has been known to archeologists for decades,
but it never seemed to generate much interest until it was written about by
an art history and aesthetics professor from the University of Chicago named
José Argüelles. In his book, The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond
Technology, (first published in 1987), Argüelles writes that the
ancient Mayans, a preColumbian Native American culture that flourished for
nearly two thousand years in Central America before being supplanted by the
later Aztecs, had figured out through precise astronomical calculations that
the Earth (or, technically, the Earth's "fifth sun") would end at
the Winter solstice, December 21, 2012, at which point a new, sixth 5,125-year
cycle would begin. Now Argüelles, along with others, decided that when
this occurred, all the evils of the modern world-war, materialism, violence,
injustice, government abuse of power, etc.would end with the proverbial
bang, at which point the sixth Sun and the fifth Earth would dawn to a new
age of world peace. So convinced of this belief was he, in fact, that in August
of 1987 Argüelles initiated something called the "Harmonic Convergence"an
event that saw people from over the world (known as "lightbearers")
gather at various sacred sites and "mystical" places on the planetin
an effort to usher in a new era of peace and officially start the final 26-year
countdown to the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar in 2012.
- Do the modern
descendants of the Mayans believe this to be true? As far as I can determine,
modern Mayans find the whole thing a western misunderstanding of Mayan tradition
and, as such, a major irritant.
- But didn't
the French seer Nostradamus predict the end of the world for 2012? No.
Nostradamus never sets a date for doomsday in any of his writings. The closest
he comes to it in contained in a letter to a friend in which he stated that
his predictions covered thousands of years, out to the year 3797. However,
this was not a prediction that the world would end at that point, but simply
a statement about how far his projections would extend. The closest Nostradamus
comes to implying a major event occuring in contemporary times is contained
in Quatrain 72 (Century X) which suggests that some sort of war with a "Mongol-Lombard
king" will begin in September of 1999. Nothing appears to have happened
around that time that would seem to fulfil the prophecy, however.
- The famous
American seer Adgar Cayce predicted doomsday for around this time, didn't
he? Among the many prophecies Cayce made in terms of Earth changes were
his 1941 predictions that between 1958 and 1998 there would be a series of
dramatic earth changes that would result in "
many coastal regions caused by a drop in the landmass of about 30 feet combined
with a melting of both polar ice caps," as well as "
loss of much of England and Japan, the flooding of northern Europe, which
will happen very rapidly." In other prophecies, he foretold a shift
in Earth's magnetic pole in 2000 and of the destruction of Los Angeles, New
York, and San Francisco, as well as the emergence of a new land mass appearing
off the east coast of North America in 1968all of which, of course,
proved to be erroneous.
- Isn't believing
that the world might end in 2012 just a harmless pasttime? To most people,
it may be a joke, but there are a significant number of people out there who
take it very seriously. According to an Associated Press article (October
10, 2009) entitled Mayan Year 2012 Stirs Doomsday Theories, Cornell
University astronomer Ann Martin, who runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer"
Web site, says people are scared; "...we're getting e-mails from fourth-graders
who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin says. "We
had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn't live to see
them grow up." Such fears can result in all sort of irrational reactions,
from panic-buying and putting off future plans to something as serious as
suicide, especially in fantasy-prone personalities types.
- So why do
people believe in doomsday prophecies? There are a number of reasons why,
but probably the most common rationale has to do with our discomfort with
the uncertainties of life and the feeling that things are out of control on
our planet. We live in uncertain times, which breed feelings of fear and foreboding.
Doomsday scenarios, then, not only confirm this perception, but in an almost
contradictory way, then turns around and offers them hope that things aren't
always going to remain as chaotic as they appear and that there is a plan
and purpose behind all the insanity. To manyespecially those who embrace
Messianic end-times beliefsit gives a sense that someone, presumably
God, is in control and that He will ultimately rescue His creation and initiate
the paradise on Earth many so desperately crave. Doomsday prophecies, thenat
least those that promise some sort of utopian aftermathare the ultimate
"happy ending" and, for many people, a source of considerable hope
and comfort. Even if they must endure a period of tribulation, if heaven is
the end product, it is worth the price-or, at least, it is in many people's
minds. Unfortunately, it is also a type of belief system that is highly contagious
and capable of attracting large number of followers if perpetuated by people
who are particularly convincing.
Another reason some people are so attracted to doomsday beliefs is because
they frequently describe exciting and fantastic events that offer relief from
the monotony of life. In effect, they are escapist fantasya promise,
if you will, that the banalities of the world we inhabit are only temporary
and that they will one day be punctuated by a truly remarkable series of events.
Boredom is a powerful incentive to believe the unbelievable, if only as a
distraction from the ordinaryness of life.
Another incentive for embracing doomsday scenarios is the belief that one
gets from being privy to the futureto feeling that they are "in"
on some great cosmic secret. It's almost as if they and a select group of
"chosen ones" have been given a special opportunity to peek behind
the curtain of eternity as a reward for their intuitiveness and cleverness
in figuring the puzzle out. For people whose lives are a bit on the ordinary
side, such a faith structure brings color to their drab existence and inbues
it with a meaning and purpose it previously lacked.
This need to maintain the illusion of self-importance and infallibility often
makes such people impervious to being dissuaded from their beliefs, no matter
how many times their "prophet" of choice has been proven wrong or
how thoroughly the weight of evidence is stacked against them. Doomsday believers
frequently believe with a fanaticism bordering and often crossing the line
between faith and irrationality, making them particularly vulnerable to coersion
and manipulation, especially when their leader possesses an extraordinary
degree of charisma combined with an uncanny ability to convince others of
their claims. That combination, when merged with a niave willingness to suspend
disbelief and an unwavering allegience to their leader and/or belief system.
Faith is a wonderful thing when invested in something noble, but like a two-edged
sword, it can prove a deadly tool in the hands of the wrong person.
But perhaps the strongest reason of all why many people find themselves getting
sucked into believing in doomsday scenarios has to do, I think, with the fact
that many people simply lack the critical thinking skills so vital in determining
fact from fiction. Human beings often prefer to accept ideas on a purely intuitive
level rather than on a rational one and, as a result, embrace beliefs because
we too often "feel" something to be true. In this case, it is perception
that trumps reality, which is what makes people accept things as being "good"
or "bad" based not upon the facts but upon rhetoric and hyperbole,
thereby short circuiting the ability to determine truth with any degree of
accuracy or consistency. Additionally, most people do not possess the knowledge
base necessary to recognize a fallacious statement when they hear one. Most
people lack the historical or scientific knowledge necessary to recognize
the validity of a specific prediction or possess a context within which to
weigh the validity of a particular hypothesis. For example, how many have
ever taken the time to study failed prophecies of the past in an effort to
acquire some perspective on the subject, or really understand how likely our
planet is to be struck by a killer asteroid in their lifetime? And when it
comes to Bible-based end times prophecies, how many professing Christians
have ever read the Bible or studied the various competing theories held by
theologians throughout history in an effort to weigh the merits of each position?
Unfortunately, it takes work to see through the fallacies, suppositions, historical
innacuracies and just plain nonsense that are such a major element of end-times
scenarios, which is something most people have neither the time nor inclination
to pursue. As a result, most people lack a solid historical, scientific, or
rational basis upon which to form their opinions, which is what makes many
prone towards deferring to the opinions of othersespecially if they
consider them to be experts of some kind or to be endowed with a mantle of
spiritual authority. As such, if an environmentalist claims that the world
will run out of energy in twenty years or a televangelist enthuses about how
the headlines are demonstrating that Jesus could return at any time, many
believe them without questionoften without evidence to support their
claims or counter arguments being considered. In effect, we are often simply
too willing to accept people's words on things, which is always a dangerous
thing to do.
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