The End of the World…again: Part II

As we wait for May 21st, 2011 and the End of the World we’ve got some time to look at another possible Apocalypse.

Personally, I’ve got nothing against Mayans.  I’ve only met a few, and since I was always a tourist and their job was to make me happy, I’m in no real position to judge.  However, I would think that, like every other human group, they’ve got their fair share of good people, regular folks and jerks.  I say all this because I’m about to treat them badly; I don’t want anyone to think it’s anything more than journalist license.

The Mayans are an ancient smarty-pants civilization, discovered in the late 70s, when low airfares, sandy beaches and new hotels combined to bring loads of tourists to a place called Cancun.  Before that, the Mayans weren’t really known beyond a tight knit circle of anthropologists, archaeologists and nerdy grad students.  Cancun and environs, popularly called the Mayan Riviera, soon became a must have all-you-can-drink young people’s destination.  When the spring break college kids sobered up, they went out on daytrips to see the Mayan ruins at Coba, Tulum and Chichen Itza.  Incredible examples of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture, they blew the young folks away – especially since their previous contact with native America consisted of the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians.  They discovered all manner of cool things about the Mayans — stuff like, their written language, sophisticated social structure, detailed astronomical observations and cruel treatment at the hand of the conquering Spanish.  The fact that their culture included human sacrifice — lots of it — and had already collapsed under its own weight, long before the Spanish ever got there, was kinda glossed over by the tour guides.  Anyway, the sophomores among us took this knowledge home and wildly misinterpreted most of it, while congratulating themselves on their escape from the confines of their parent’s Eurocentric view of the world.

The most easily accessible tidbit of tourism was the Mayan Calendar.  For a while, it was the souvenir du jour and adorned the walls of most dormitories and studio apartments north of the Rio Grande – for years — sometimes upside down.  It was — and still is — a talking point, even though, without the name, most people haven’t the foggiest idea what they’re looking at.  However, it remains tangible evidence that the tour guides were right: the Mayans were way cooler than the Greeks and Romans (who had no idea what day of the week it was) and that, in turn, justifies a healthy disrespect for one’s own cultural roots.

In actual fact, the Mayan calendar is a complicated, extremely accurate piece of equipment.  I defy anyone without knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, Mayan history and conceptual logic to figure it out.  Besides, that plaster of Paris reproduction sitting in my basement is only one part of the intricate system the Mayans used.  You can’t just look at it — like you can the Playboy calendar — find Tuesday and figure out which day is garbage day.  Why?  First of all, the Mayans took time seriously.  It wasn’t used for trivial things like when’s the long weekend?  Secondly, it’s based on the numbers 13 and 20 which were sacred to the Mayans (even though they have no relevance to measurable time.)  Thirdly, the solar year was a minor unit in Mayan time, not the be-all-end-all we believe it is.  Finally, and most importantly, the Mayans thought of time as circular not linear – that’s why the thing’s in a circle.  Give an ancient Mayan a timeline, our general graphic depiction of time, and he’d say “What the hell’s this?”

So what has all this got to do with the end of the world?  Lots!  Unlike western calendars which are infinity at both ends (an extremely complex concept, by the way) the Mayan calendar has a definite beginning (August 11, 3114 BCE) and a definite end — December 21, 2012.  And since we all know Mayans are Third World cool, with secret mystical knowledge of the universe, they must know something we don’t – like hey, folks, we ran out of time, so it must be the end of the world.  Thus, the Mayans — that uber-cool little civilization who couldn’t figure out why cutting virginal throats didn’t make it rain — are now the arbiters of human survival!  This is an absolutely boon to soothsayers, charlatans and rogues who now have an event to hang their shysterism on.  They no longer have to rely on sketchy Biblical prophecies, Uri Geller or Nostradamus.  They can hitch their books, magazines, blogs and Discovery Channel documentaries to an actual thing – the Mayan Calendar.  Plus, they have a prequalified customer base from all the misconstrued Mayan crap that has been floating around for thirty years or so.  It’s a license to fleece money.

However, before you give away the farm and spend the next year and a half in abject lechery and debauchery, waiting for the end, let me fill you in on one single, overwhelming fact that nobody seems to be mentioning.  You and I, and everybody else who’s seen Jurassic Park, know damn well that time did not begin on August 11th, 3114 BCE.  In fact, we have it on good authority that Lucy (Australopithcus) and her pals were walking (upright) across Ethiopia over 3 million years before that.  Obviously, something’s wrong here.  It’s like the biblical scholar James Ussher who’s calculations pinpointed the time of Creation as Sunday, October 23rd, 4004 BC – not likely.  If those super-smart Mayans were 100% wrong on one end of their calendar, what are the chances they got things right on the other end?  Again, not likely!

I’m no anthropologist, but I don’t think the Mayans were any smarter than the rest of us.  In fact, I think, given the circular nature of Mayan time, the end of their calendar doesn’t mean the end of time; it’ just a practical way to start over.  All the rest of this current hooplah is just New Age nonsense at its finest.  And I also have the feeling the present day Mayans are laughing themselves stupid at all the fuss their ancestors caused.

The End of the World…again

I have spent the last week in contemplative study.  I have consulted ancient texts — both real and imaginary.  I have plotted the patterns of the earth, noting physical disasters and weather-related phenomenon.  I have made some very complicated calculations.  I’ve thought about it really hard and will now make a bold prediction.  The world will NOT end on May 21, 2011.  Yes, that’s right; rejoice, dance, sing, go back to work, buy green bananas and carry on as if nothing happened – ‘cause nothing’s going to happen.  You have it on the best authority possible – me – the world is not going to poof out like an old candle next Saturday.  You’re safe — at least until next year when the Mayans come calling.  Before you think I’ve gone completely daffy you need some background information.

It seems the folks over at Family Radio, led by Harold Egbert Camping, have decided that May 21st, 2011 is Judgement Day.  You may have seen the billboards; they’re advertising it heavily.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Judgement Day, you’re doomed anyway so I wouldn’t worry about it, but in a nutshell, the faithful go to Heaven, the rest of us go to Hell.  It’s pretty much your standard, garden variety, run of the mill Apocalypse — the same one that’s been hanging over our head ever since Clopnoptra the Lazy wanted to impress the girls with his superior spiritual knowledge.  “End of the world, ladies.  Anything you want to do before it’s over?”  Regardless of whether Clopnoptra got laid or not, charlatans have been predicting our demise from that time forward.  Mostly we give it the “Yeah, yeah, right!” treatment and go about our business, but every once in a while one, of these clown’s ideas stick to our psyche.  I’m looking at you, Nostradamus.

According to his followers, Nostradamus is the Big Kahuna of all the predictor guys.  He foretold the rise and demise of Napoleon and Hitler, the death of Henry II and the Great Fire of London, among other things. The faithful point to several significant stanzas (which are not in chronological order, by the way) to back up their claims.  I fully understand that there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in my philosophy, and Nostradamus wrote some pretty cold-sweat, creepy stuff, way back when.  But I’ve read some of his writings (albeit in translation) and the guy’s all over the map.  The vast majority of what he wrote, which never gets quoted, is gibberish, open to wild interpretation.  He wrote so much open-ended nonsense that if you’re looking for something from Nostradamus you’re probably going to find it — somewhere.  For example, here’s a much quoted little ditty (again, in translation.)
“Songs, chants, and refrains of the slavish mob
Whilst the Princes and King are captive in prison
Shall be received in the future as oracles divine
By headless idiots deprived of judgement”
I’ve seen this interpreted as Nostradamus describing the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and some other revolution that hasn’t even happened yet – each one proof positive.  However, like most of the stuff he wrote, it could be today, could be tomorrow; it could be anything.  Basically, the faithful cherry pick what they like out of the text and read metaphor into the rest.

There’s also a thing that I just don’t understand, and nobody even tries to explain it.  Nostradamus lived in the 16th century.  He made his predictions to a crowd of God-fearing ignorant Christians.  Why didn’t they freak out and burn him for a witch?  In those days, the church ran for the torches if you said hi to the cat, so predicting the future must have been an Inquisition biggie — especially if Nostradamus was as accurate as everybody seems to think he was.  From what I know about history he shouldn’t have made it past the first confession.

Finally, the thing that kicks mega holes in the guy’s credibility is something the faithful aren’t actually quoting anymore.  In one of his many rambles, Nostradamus runs out an ironclad guarantee that Armageddon is going to take place in late autumn or early winter of 1999.  For those of you unfamiliar with Armageddon, it’s the end of the world.  Oops!  Unfortunately, we’re all still here, twelve years later and, from my point of view, Nostradamus is out of the predicting business.  It’s all there in black and white.

That’s how I can make such a confident, and soon to be, accurate prediction that the world is NOT going to end on May 21st, 2011.  If that hotshot Nostradamus can’t get it right what are the chances a Johnny-come-lately like Harold Egbert Camping has any inside information?  Besides, the sweet part is if I’m wrong, nobody’s going to be waiting around to say I told you so.

Wednesday: As we approach the end of time find out what the Mayan have to say about it.