Monday, Dec. 15, 2008

Waiting for the World to End

By David Luhrssen
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Everything we thought we knew turned out wrong. Just a few years ago we knew a black man would never become President in our lifetime, that Wall Street was impregnable and Alan Greenspan infallible and, say what you want about those Republicans, at least they’re fiscally responsible. Everything reasonable has turned to bosh. Why then take that superior Wall Street Journal tone and scoff at the lore accumulating around the Mayan calendar, which runs out of days on the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) in the year we call 2012. Ideas that once were marginal are becoming mainstream. Could the Mayans have measured out the end of time? Or is their calendar just another Y2K?

Out now on DVD, the documentary 2012: Science or Superstition doesn’t devote time to the latter possibility. The assembled talking heads differ with each other over the details and argue over interpretation. They are as one in believing that the last leaf of the Mayan calendar signifies the end of an old chapter and the beginning of something new.

Who are these guys (and they all are guys)? They range from interesting and informed to kooky and cranky, professional academics speaking learnedly and “independent researchers” who should be stamped with a warning label. Some of the bigger names include Daniel Pinchbeck, an interesting GenX psychedelic explorer who authored a book on the calendar a few years back, and best-selling media guru/know-it-all-futurist Douglas Rushkoff. A few, such as Colgate University professor of astronomy and anthropology Anthony Avendi, are credentialed in their fields. Most are freelancers who have stumbled onto a topic whose fascination is archetypal. Nearly all societies and religions have imagined an end and a beginning, a new heaven and a new earth. For those who have lost faith in organized religion but not the primal pull of mystery, the Mayan calendar may be an Apocalypse worth waiting for.

Some of 2012’s speakers offer explanations for how things might change during that year, including an already apparent rise in solar storms (if nothing else they might disrupt global communications) and a peculiar stellar alignment set for that year. Of course, putting a deadline on a looming problem—possibly catastrophic if we refuse to rethink our relationship with nature and reinvent technology— may be a psychological way of preparing for disaster or even mobilizing in response. Global climate change could submerge islands and coastlines, desolate agriculture and make the enormous human population unsustainable. It could be a time of great trouble or an opportunity for renewal. 2012? Let’s hope we have a little more time.

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