Friday, December 21, 2012

The End and the Maya

Mayan Glyphs
Well midnight on December 20th happened, it is now December 21st, and the world has not ended.
For the last generation or so people have been aware the Mayans supposedly predicted that the world would come to an end  on midnight December 20th 2012. This myth as indicated elsewhere in  book after book in is fact completely bogus1. The Maya did not in fact expect the world to end in 2012 and in fact expected it to continue to exist well into the far, far far future.2

Meanwhile this mythos produced acres and acres of popular lore and nonsense. Go to any New Age or Occult section of any book store and you will find, although not for much longer I suspect, book after book about 2012. If you googled 2012 you would get acres and acres of websites talking about the end of the world and / or cosmic consciousness or other such drivel. I will spare you, the reader, any examples of this drek.
In terms of popular culture perhaps the ultimate example of 2012 influence was the movie 2012. Now Roland Emmerich is known for his over the top, utterly implausible, badly acted, films showing things blowing up real good. In this case what blows up is the world. The movie is a cliche ridden mess, but the effects as usual are impressive. Despite, or perhaps because of its many defects, the movie made great gobs of lucre.

Writer's of "alternative" ways of looking at history and culture needless to say have been pushing the idea that the "end of the world" was about to happen. Thus for quite sometime Graham Hancock, writer of pseudo-scientific drivel, has been touting the idea that some sort of "end of the world" would happen. But then we are talking about a guy who took the face on Mars seriously.3 In the last few years Hancock has been far less doctrine about the world ending, probably to prepare his fans for the let down when the world does not end. Since it didn't I guess there are a lot of disappointed fans of Hancock about.

Of course we get the occasional serious writer about the Maya who tried to cash in by creating a sort of literary frisson with the whole the Maya are predicting the end of the world. Thus Michael Coe a serious Archaeologist wrote in the Epilogue of the first and second editions of his book about the decipherment of Mayan Hieroglyphs that perhaps we won't survive 2012 and the world may come to a end. He obviously was being tongue in cheek but it played into the hands of the pseudo-scientists so the third edition doesn't have the Epilogue at all and no reference to the end of the world.4

Another effect as been a massive increase of tourism in the Mayan regions of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. In fact it appears on the order of 2-3 times the usual number of tourists. As such the whole 2012 nonsense has been of great and I hope permanent benefit to the Maya of those regions of Mesoamerica. No doubt the Maya regarded all the end of the world stuff as so much stuff and nonsense but so long as it was profitable it ain't so bad.

The popular view that the Maya where predicting the end of the world is quite simply wrong. So why were so many people willing to take this sort of belief seriously? Well the reasons boil to the human desire to find the world more "exciting" and thrilling than it actually is. Of course it is a special sort of excitement. It is not the excitement of learning how wondrous and difficult the world is, it is instead the desire the world be the fantasy world of the 5 year old.

The 5 year old has fantasy friends, thinks of fairy tales, dragons and magic powers and thinks of the world as basically magical because there is so much to understand which you don't understand. The sort of thinking that played into this "end of the world" fantasy is the desire to recapture the magic and wonder of the fantasy world of the 5 year old. It is an attempt to confirm that the world is indeed as magic filled and wondrous as the fantasies of a 5 year old.

This is combined with the fact it is difficult to recapture that sense of wonder as an adult. To know stuff requires work. Learning and understanding stuff takes effort to recapture the wonder that is the world. It is so much simpler to assume the world is place run by magic rather than understand that the Universe is at once prosaic and wondrous.

This is combined with the fact that the Maya are exotic, alien, other. They are mysterious so of course thought by some to be the holders of esoteric, "hidden" wisdom. Thus they were easy targets for woo merchants and purveyors of pseudo rubbish who wish to make splash and / or earn a buck. The Maya inhabitants of a jungle, who were obsessed with time. The fact that the Mayan script was for so long unreadable also helped to make anything to do with the Maya seem portentous and fascinating.

Another aspect of this is that so much of the apocalyptic thinking involved here is not in fact Mayan at all. It is instead the imposition of the Western tradition of millennial time and "last days", on Mayan beliefs. Thus the whole Western tradition as exemplified by the Book of Revelations which contemplates the destruction and modification of the Earth to history. Thus the conception of the Mayan end of the world is revamped to fit this apocalyptic scenario. Thus the Mayan doomsday that many were expecting today, (December 21, 2012), owes much more to Western Christian beliefs than too anything to do with Mayan beliefs. Thus believers in this can absorb a old Western mythos in a new guise and be reassured that the world fits this mythos.

Also, something I've referred to above is the simple greed and lust for fame of certain people who will  sensationalize, distort and out and out fabricate. The Maya have been prime victims of this sort of falsification. Thus rather than tell people the truth about Mayan beliefs we get from these people sensationalistic crap, because that is more lucrative.

The legion of people who have been boosting this crap is huge and I will spare the reader a list of the prurient products of these merchants of lies. What they have in common is a need to make money by deliberately creating crap. Thus they have run around for years creating this false story of doomsday. I hope that people are less dismissive of experts and the so called "orthodox" after this.

This large scale effort was aided by publishers who are out for a buck has been going on for well over a decade. One would hope that some people will learn a little about clear thinking after this. But I fear such hopes are in vain.

Meanwhile the Maya benefited from all those tourism dollars. So yeah it wasn't all bad.

1. See Here.

2. IBID.

3. See Here and Here.

4. Coe, Michael, Breaking the Maya Code, 1st and 2nd Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1990, 1999, 3rd Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 2011.


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