Is the end in sight?
Just as we’re welcoming in another year, buoyant with signs the economy is improving, U.S troops at long last pulled from Iraq, and the NBA back on the court, now some doomsayers are predicting that 2012 may end up being our very last on planet earth?
You probably couldn’t help but notice that dozens of books and a number of Internet sites have been popping up like toasters lately, predicting the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012, based on the Mayan Long Calendar, which suggests that a cycle of more than 5,000 years will come to an end in the winter of this year.
The Maya calendar is a system of calendars used in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and in many modern communities in highland Guatemala] and in Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.
Maya used the Long Count calendar during a period typically referred to by historians as the Classic Period of their culture, which lasted from roughly 250–900 C.E.
According to Robert K. Sitler, writing in the Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, ``The December 21, 2012, date simply marks the last day of the current b’ak’tun cycle, a period of 144,000 days roughly equivalent to 394 years.’’ Sitler further argues that the 2012 has no real significance other than it marking a cyclical change in an ancient calendar.
So do any of these apocalyptic forecasts being tossed around have any validity? Probably not. But just to be on the safe side, I contacted a number of scholars, scientists, and astrologers to ask them if we should put much weight behind these calamitous predictions of the world coming to a screeching halt on December 21st of this year, based on a careful interpretation of the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar?
Here are some replies that came back.
• We want to believe that we're central to the story of time, but we're not.
The Mayans? Really? There's a persistent yearning for the universe to have some secret, yet decodable, plan that tells us what the future holds. It's no secret, though: there's no code. The future is what we make of it. Apocalypticism is simply a vehicle for justifying narcissism.
Drop me a line a year from now. Whether I'm here or not, the world will be.
-Richard E. Miller, Executive Director of the Plangere Culture Lab and Professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University
• The literalists will be wrong again. The world will not physically end on December 21, 2012. However, the ancient Maya as well as modern poets and philosophers who think metaphorically and figuratively have it right. The world as we know it ends and is renewed again with each passing day. That will happen on December 21, 2012 as well.
-John W. Hoopes, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Kansas and author of ``What You Should Know About 2012'' published in Psychology Today.
• The short answer to your question is No. Don't cash in your IRA. On December 21 2012 party like there is no tomorrow, then, when Tomorrow DOES come, get back to work! We have a lot to do.
-Mark Van Stone, Maya expert and professor of Art History at Southwestern College
• No, and I never have in all my 25 years of study of the Maya culture and the 2012 date. It is the marketplace and the media projecting ridiculous fear-mongering onto the date. The ancient Maya had no such conception attached to 2012.
-John Major Jenkins, visiting scholar at a number of colleges and universities, including The Institute of Maya Studies in Miami, The Esalen Institute, Naropa University, and author of ``The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History.''
• The Maya never said the world would end in 2012. It's not in the glyphs, in the codices, in the Popol Vuh, in the Chilam Balam books or any other historical Mayan source.
That said; with the current rate of species extinction, climate change, top-soil erosion, loss of tropical forest, global contamination, decline of coral reefs, etc.; the world we humans have known for over two hundred thousand years is indeed coming to an end.’’
-Robert Sitler, professor in the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures at Stetson University and author of the ``The Living Maya, Ancient Wisdom in the ERA of 2012''
• No, I don't see any validity in such predictions. The Mayans themselves didn't say much of anything about what they thought the significance of the end of the long count would be, or at least no written statements survive, and so much of what is said just consists of wild speculations. Any significant astrological alignments during this time frame that people try to point to as being relevant tend to be pretty unimpressive, and I get the sense that most of the time people are just projecting what they want to see into things. As a result of this, I tend to view the 2012 phenomenon as a generic form of millenarianism, and nothing more.
-Chris Brennan, practicing Astrologer from Denver, Colorado who maintains his own Web Site.
• In short, no. However, it is significant that groups and communities that have engaged in speculating in other apocalypses have jumped on to the 2012 bandwagon and have been grafting their philosophies and theologies onto this. Additionally, if we're talking about major environmental or astrophysical changes I've not encountered any colleagues in any of the relevant faculties here or elsewhere who are placing much credence in these claims. I've also heard from a very credible source (an academic specialist on 2012 writings) that the man responsible for reviving interest in this just mentioned the end of the calendar in a book he wrote in the 1960s and didn't think anything of it. Hence, he was actually quite surprised (and somewhat amused) that people decided to take this so seriously. I should also note that the scholars who follow Maya history and anthropology also don't follow the apocalypse line either. That, I think, is probably the most significant factor in interpreting whether the Mayans were predicting the end of time, etc.
- Dr Pete Lentini, Director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, in Australia
• I am often asked if I believe in 2012. The short answer is no, but I believe in the power of belief. While there is no firm evidence that the Maya believed anything special would happen on December 21 2012, and while there is no scientific evidence of some imminent earth-shattering solar or astronomical disaster, there is nevertheless a strong need in people to pin their dreams and anxieties on something tangible, and 2012 offers a powerful focus for this need."
-Joseph Gelfer, Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University and author of ``2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse''
• No, I don't. Calendars are arbitrary human constructions that use a wide variety of recurrent phenomena to keep track of time by counting (also using a variety of "counts"). There are many such calendars with many different systems of counting. The predictions about December 2012 are a little like the expectation that an (older) car that reads 99,999 miles on its 5-digit odometer will fall apart when one drives an additional mile and the odometer goes to zero. Why should it fall apart? On what conceivable grounds? This particular way of reckoning distance has nothing to do with the integrity of the car or the way it was maintained. Nor will the same model of car with 99,999 km on the odometer disintegrate sooner if one drives it 1 km more. Nor will the car last longer if one replaces the odometer with a 6-digit one. Simply put, the "so-called" end of an arbitrary "count" has nothing to do with the non-arbitrary structure of the world. Any calendar is like an odometer--it can be continued after it supposedly "ends," using the same principles that kept it going earlier. In other words, it does not really end (although one can stop using it and switch to another). And even if a calendar somehow could end, this would have nothing to do with the way the structure of the world. If, by some truly bizarre coincidence, on Dec. 21 2012 the sun goes supernova or a giant meteorite crashes into the earth, it will have nothing whatsoever to do with the calendar of any civilization, past or present.
-Michael H. Shank, Professor, History of Science and Integrated Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
January 5, 2012