If you are reading this in the Flyer, I guess it's safe to say the Mayans were full of it. If they were such an intelligent civilization capable of accurately forecasting future events, where are they? They couldn't possibly have predicted the end of the world when their calendar stopped, because it only lasted 5,125 years. The Jews have already got them beat by 648 years, and still no one listens to us! But just let the ancient Mayan calendar come to an end, and the whole world goes crazy.
The Mayans are reputed to have created the world's most accurate calendar, but so what? I understand the Babylonians kept excellent time as well. I think what happened was that the Mayans were carving their great wheels with so many icons and glyphs, they finally ran out of room. What they needed was a congressman like Steve Cohen, and they could have gotten a new calender every year — autographed. There have been doomsday prophets since the dawn of man predicting the end of the world, but no one's nailed the date yet. So why is December 21, 2012, causing an international freak-out?
The History Channel fueled the fire by airing a two-hour documentary attempting to link the prophesies of Nostradamus to the Mayan apocalypse. The ancient seer may have talked about a certain Hister when discussing World War II, but his quatrains are so generic, they've been used to explain everything from dirigibles to donuts. A 2009 movie titled 2012 is in regular rotation on cable movie channels. It depicts, among tsunamis and firestorms, the destruction of Hollywood, which would have been considered biting the hand that feeds it had the film not made so much money.
The Left Behind flicks made a ton of cash too. According to one reputable poll, 22 percent of Americans believe the world will end in their lifetimes, and anytime you can get one out of five people to buy into pseudo-historical paranoid bullshit like that, it's worth a fortune.
Among the more insane information disseminated online were the rumors that an alien spaceship, which had been camouflaged by a mountain in the French Pyrenees until this moment, is the sole means of escape from the destruction, and a previously unknown planet named Nibiru will suddenly appear from behind the sun and crash into the Earth. Consequently, according to news reports, the French government has blocked further traffic from entering certain mountain villages during the solstice, so that residents might "live in peace."
Neo-hippies and New Age freaks have flocked to the ancient Mayan homeland in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula for the date. Hotels close to the ruins at Chichen Itza, near Cancun, have been booked for a year in advance, so spiritual tourists can gather near the pyramid for organized drum circles and ritual dancing.
A group called Birth 2012 is sponsoring 40 events around the world to launch a new global spiritual campaign. AP reporter Jack Chang quoted the movement's founder as saying, "We've activated this campaign for three days of love," making it sound vaguely like Woodstock. Either this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, or we've gone through all this hocum before. I once climbed the pyramid at Chichen Itza, and, though it was nice as pyramids go, with an ocean view, I felt no mystic crystal revelations. I have long grown tired of the phrase "been there, done that," but I think it just may apply here.
The hysteria spread as far as China, where at least two men built arks to survive the chaos. I would hate to be the guy who wakes up on December 22nd with the realization that he spent his life savings on a giant, homemade frigate that's sitting in the backyard.
Anthropologists have translated one Mayan carving to say that on the feared December 21st date, "Nine gods will descend from heaven to Earth." This would be a good trick, except that it might be the 1919 Chicago White Sox coming to play another game on the "field of dreams." The carving never said what the gods planned on doing once they arrived. But if they're going to launch a new era of kindness and they land in Mexico, they had better have papers if they plan to spread their message to this country.
The Mayan people made great contributions to the advancement of knowledge. They were peerless astronomers and among the first to use math in astronomical calculations. They discovered the concept of zero and created an advanced writing system. Mayan architecture and agriculture still influence today's world, as well as their discoveries in medicine. They did all this but failed to discover the wheel. And despite being advanced metallurgists, their weaponry was no match for the Spanish Conquistadors, who conquered them and sped the collapse of Mayan civilization in the 9th century. Only the ruins remain, but the Mayan calendar never mentioned that unfortunate occurrence.
Perhaps the cosmic purpose for the existence of the race was to give to mankind the gift of chocolate. In any case, we don't need the Mayans to forecast the destruction of civilization. We've created our own hell. The end of the world might be a step up. If you're still breathing, we're probably stuck with each other for a while, so we need to either discover a way to peacefully coexist or suffer the same fate as the Mayans. I'd never root for Armageddon, but we got it coming.
Randy Haspel writes the Born-Again Hippies blog, where a version of this column first appeared.