END OF THE WORLD: "21" December 2012?????!?!?!?
So asked the spelling-challenged and punctuationally inventive teenager on Yahoo! Answers — that freewheeling forum of desperate questions, dumb advice, and comically wrong-headed misinformation. The "Mayan calender aparently said that," she continued, "but I'm only 15. I don't want to die early! Shall I just give up on all my school work 'cos theres no point!"
Sorry to say, "saskia," but you're right. You've got just three years, eight months, and 25 days left: enough time to get your driver's license, maybe, but forget about reaching drinking age. The end times do indeed commence on December 21, 2012. That's the "end date" of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar that's been ticking away silently for five millennia.
On that date, this fragile blue orb of ours will suddenly cease to be a very fun place to live. Interloping planets will victimize our solar system with gravitational chaos. The Earth's magnetic poles will go on the fritz. Our life-giving verdure will be baked to a crisp by the sun's violent radiation. Gargantuan tsunamis will flood the high Himalayas with crushing walls of cosmically sloshing seawater, earthquakes will cleave the ground, and six billion terrified earthlings will teem the streets and riot, driven mad with fear. And then . . . nothingness.
Actually, not really.
Every once in a while, Yahoo! Answers does offer up a grain of truth. Wrote one wise user in response to saskia's tremulous query: "It's not true. Relax and do your homework."
Many other people, however, have yet to get the message. Google "2012" and there are 233,000,000 hits. Try "2012 doomsday" or "2012 prophecy" or "2012 predictions" or "2012 end of the world" and you're flooded with results. On more than 600,000 Web sites — survive2012.com, 2012endofdays.org, december212012.com, etc. — discussion both eager and fearful rages about the astronomical, astrological, and religio-historic ramifications of the coming eschaton supposedly foreseen by Mayan mystics.
The fervor is pumped by ceaseless specials on the History Channel exploring the "disturbing prophecies" set to come true just three years hence. On YouTube, amateur documentaries of dubious scientific rigor proliferate. On Amazon, one can purchase dozens of books like 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and The Complete Idiot's Guide to 2012.
This coming November, 2012 — a big-budget popcorn flick directed by master of disaster Roland Emmerich — will open in theaters. Watch the trailer, in which those awesome tidal waves lay waste to a Buddhist monastery high on a Himalayan peak, at whowillsurvive2012.com. Or lose yourself in the film's spin-off promo sites: home page for the bogus Institute for Human Continuity or thisistheend.com, at which Woody Harrelson's crackpot survivalist character posts videos proffering his theories on pole reversal, Kukulcan, and the "Doomsday Vault" seed bank.
It's all a lot of fun. It just doesn't happen to be true.
There's no mystery as to why so many are flogging the 2012 apocalypse. After all, says Marc Zender, a Mayan expert who lectures in Harvard's archaeology department, "There's a lot more cash to be made with 2012, or end of the world, or 'harmonic convergence,' than with the more dry analysis."
What's interesting is why so many people seem to be buying into it so wholeheartedly. Millenarianism is nothing new, of course. Heck, barely a decade ago people were in full hair-on-fire panic about the catastrophic implications of Y2K — a harmless flipping of the seemingly self-perpetuating Gregorian calendar.
Why do we continue to work ourselves up about this stuff? Is apocalyptic anticipation hard-wired into humans? Do some people simply crave the excitement? Or do certain folks deal with the psychic stress of bad times — like, say, the ones we're currently muddling through — by looking for an "escape" on the horizon, by craving oblivion?
Comedian Patton Oswalt has a great bit about witnessing the apocalypse firsthand. The downside is obvious: a fiery, white-hot death. The upside? A table reserved in the "VIP section of eternity."
Everyone up there is like, "Hey, how'd you die?" And they're like, "Bus accident," and "How'd you die?" And they're like, "Fire ants." Then they go, "How'd you die, man?" "How'd I die? In the fucking apocalypse! Oh my God, it was awesome!"
Fun times! And, hey, it still could happen. But if so it's more likely to come about thanks to policy hangovers from the Bush administration than because of any Mayan prophecy.
"We have reams of things the Maya wrote about their calendar and considered significant," says Zender. "They don't talk about the 2012 date. It's not surprising, because it was so far off that it wouldn't have meant anything to them, really. There's no indication whatsoever, on any of the stone monuments or any of the texts, that 2012 was a matter of concern for them."
Okay, then. But some have posited that the switchover of the Long Count calendar presages not an end times, per se, but more of a spiritual upheaval — mass change in consciousness. Did the Mayans say anything about that?