2012: Tsunami of Stupidity
Why the latest apocalyptic cult is a silly scam.
Maybe those obsessed with making the world conform to rigid rationalities are the most vulnerable to the shambolic visions of mystics who can "explain" the anomalies and mysteries that elude their "Science of Detection." And, as always, consolation is likely to be a big factor in the swelling of 2012 superstition: The vastness of the cosmic event swiftly approaching (check your iPhone app for exact hours and minutes) will dwarf any petty sorrow and frustrations one experiences between now and then. (Isn't there something too ironic about the possessors of the apex of technological science consulting their Flintstones-era apocalyptic calendar of ignorance on the iPhone, that icon of intellect?)
Whatever the cause, I see a tidal wave of swill poised to overwhelm all media beginning with the November release of the 2012 film. (Possible ad slogan: "Will this be the last Christmas?")
It's hopeless; grit your teeth; it's coming whether you like it or not. And don't be surprised when you find the same people who sneer at creationism start talking about the prescience of the Mayan calendar-makers who, by the way, thought the world was flat and was created 4,000 ago. Some have already tried to correlate the calendar with the end-time prophecies of the Book of Revelation.
So, as a public service, if you do have to be polite to an otherwise rational friend who wonders about the coming 2012 apocalypse, here's a link you should send them: "The Astronomical Insignificance of Maya date 13.0.0" by Vincent H. Malmström, professor emeritus (geography) at Dartmouth College.
It leaves 2012 in shreds. Shreds and patches of pseudoscience starting way back with the Mayan "astronomers" themselves who fiddled with dates and calendrical cycles and logic. Malmström writes: "The world is recorded as having begun on a day numbered 4 in the sacred almanac, and one numbered 8 in the secular calendar which reveals at once that this date [Dec. 21, 2012] was derived from projecting each of the two time counts then in use, backwards in time." In other words, the Maya started from an end date they liked and fiddled with their calculations so that they ended up with different (and nonzero) starting dates.
The Maya have long been a source of mysticism to archaeologists who couldn't grok their language and to Northerners who came down to Central America to seek visions from psychedelic plants like yage (first William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg; later, Pinchbeck) with local shamans. The focus on the Mayan calendar has led to questions of when it really ended—was it Dec. 21, 2012, or some alternate or specific "Time of Troubles"? This is just one of the many unresolved issues that give 2012 a shaky foundation. Some people have wondered why, if the calendar ends on a certain date, you can't just turn the page on your Mayan wall calendar or buy a new stone tablet that starts the next day.
The question has been around since the '20s and '30s, when an archaeologist named John Thompson began writing about the calendar. In the latter part of the last century, the 2012 theory was taken up by Mayan calendar "prophet" José Argüelles (who now believes that UFOs are going to be involved) and then it gradually filtered into the easily excitable cortex of the New Age and of New Age "entrepreneurs"—let's call them—who knew that there was a buck to be made exploiting fear and superstition with a mystical twist.
Professor Malmström gently rubbishes recent western "expert" claims. The whole focus on the date, Dec. 21, 2012, he says, "is only true if one employs the discredited revised version of Thompson's calculation. ... [T]hey [the New Age hucksters] have chosen to disregard Thompson's own admonition against attempting to assign astronomical meaning to dates recorded by the Maya because, he argued, they were not true 'astronomers' but really 'astrologers' instead." He sums up his feelings by saying categorically: "That to suggest this date will have any meaning or importance to anyone but a historian of chronology is to embroider it with significance it was never intended to have." He is fairly harsh on the "shoddy 'research' " by self-proclaimed 2012 experts who have "sought to profit from 'science fiction.' "
It's pretty convincing, and I'd bet anyone who's a 2012 believer a steak dinner on Dec. 22, 2012, that it's all going to go the way of the Hale-Bopp comet (remember that?) and Y2K.
Why is this tsunami of stupidity so irritating to me? I think it has a lot to do with one of the more recent moronic convergences I found on some 2012 site. One that supposedly aligned the Maya's 2012 thing with the Hopi end-times prophecy. The best cultural explanation I found for this flowering of idiocy said that New Age fads like the Hopi prophecy and 2012 are a kind of cultural colonialism in which white people endow the minorities they have wiped out or repressed with mystical powers made more mysterious by their virtual vanishing.
But I have a personal connection to the Hopi prophecy: a sad episode in my past involving the prophecy and the flying-saucer con man who was exploiting it.
It was one of my early reporting junkets for the Village Voice. I had escaped from Taos, N.M., where I had spent a lot of time not interviewing Dennis Hopper at the ranch that D.H. Lawrence had once rented, and I loved the desert and desert hot springs. So I was traveling west, and I remember I stopped at a broken-down filling station while driving through the Hopi Reservation in Arizona and saw a sign for a strange rally. It seemed to be in support of a 101-year-old Hopi "prophet" who was claiming that UFOs were coming soon to fulfill the age-old Hopi prophecy and that everyone should show up to greet them at this rally.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.