PORCH READING - Minor Inconveniences, End Of Time

(01/21/2012)

Rick Poling's Porch Stories

By Rick Poling
Executive Director
Calhoun County Committee on Aging
rpoling@cccoa-wv.org

Our 2012 will no doubt be saturated with minor inconveniences (hopefully kept in mental and emotional perspective to remain “minor” rather than becoming the all-too-often artificially escalated goliaths that steal our joy), but the two most pervading will likely be the barrages of media preceding the elections in November and the increasingly forecasted “end of time” in December.

“What?” you say; “another end of time prediction? Haven’t we had a zillion of those before?”

A resounding “yes” to both questions. The current “end of time” prediction gaining the most traction and media-play is the so-called “Mayan Prophecy,” supposedly forecasting mankind’s doom on December 21, 2012. And upon what basis? Primarily because a calendar created by the Maya civilization in Central America hundreds of years ago ends on December 21, 2012.

Hmmmm . . . my computer’s calendar can only be advanced to (and thereby ends on) December 31, 2099. Does that mean the Microsoft tribe in Redmond, Washington believes that the world will be non-existent after that date? Or, could it simply be that they have not yet felt a need to create a more far-reaching calendar such a long time in advance?

I’m going with the latter. For both the Mayans and “the Microsofts.” Eighty-seven years is plenty of time for Microsoft to someday increase the range of its calendar when it deems necessary in the future, and at least five hundred years would have been ample time for the Mayans to do the same (the written calendar from which the prophecy stems was seized by the Spanish from the Maya in the 1500’s). In fact, the present-day Mayans in Central America (the Maya did not die out in the 16th Century, they only ceased having their own self-governed cities and regions after being partially massacred and “Christianized” by the invading Spaniards) have at least tacitly done so by foreseeing events in the future far beyond 2012 and by observing, in part, the very same calendar that we use in the United States.

As with most things, it all seems clearer when placed in context. The Maya Civilization was established as early as 2600BC, and thrived until the arrival of the Spanish in Central America in the early 1500’s. They are known for their fully developed and extraordinary art, architecture, mathematical systems, and advancement of astronomy. Of particular interest and note to the whole Mayan Prophecy question, they utilized a complex and highly accurate calendar known as the “Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar” which had cycles lasting 5,125 years. The 5,125 year cycle in existence as of the time of the fall of the Mayan civilization ends on December 21, 2012.

We know this almost by chance, as the libraries and writings of the Mayans were destroyed by the conquering Spanish and Catholic Church officials as part of the effort to convert and Christianize the Mayans in the 1500’s. Much later, it was discovered that three of the “books” of the Mayans, each known as a “codex,” had somehow survived the destruction (some say a young Catholic monk, feeling pangs of conscience from participating in the destruction of the Maya’s writings, protected the few that he could safely conceal and carried them to Europe on a return voyage). One of those, The Dresden Codex, contains astronomical almanacs and tables of incredible accuracy, which in part contain predictions of planetary eclipses and astronomical events that have, with the passage of time, proven to be precisely true. As it became more fully translated during the 20th century, the Dresden Codex unlocked a wealth of knowledge regarding the advancements of the Maya during the height of their civilization, and it, in conjunction with the resulting translations of inscriptions on Mayan structures, have given rise to the so-called Mayan Prophecy that the world as we know it will end on December 21, 2012.

The only trouble is, most Mayan scholars overwhelmingly agree that no such “Prophecy” factually exists. "For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle," says Sandra Noble, Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. The 2012 Prophecy, she has written, is "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in." Another monumental problem for the Mayan Prophecy proponents is the vast and far-reaching range of “TIME” as envisioned by the Mayans. Under their concept of time, December 21, 2012 will simply mark the end of the fourth age (each “age” being 5,125 years). There had been three ages before this one, and each one successfully transitioned into the next. Why then, would the fourth age not be expected to likewise successfully transition into the fifth?

An even stickier “time problem” for the Prophecy proponents is the fact that inscriptions found on Mayan structures refer to anticipated human events at points in time far beyond the year 2012, such as a reference to a date equivalent to October 21, 4772 on a temple in Palenque, and a date that’s 41 octillion (that’s 27 zeros!) years in the future on a structure at Coba. How could the recording of those future dates be reconciled with any notion of the cessation of time in 2012?

Perhaps the Mayan 2012 Prophecy thrives so robustly because one of the basic tenants of modern human nature in our economic and media-driven world often seems to be: “never let a pesky thing like the truth or the facts get in the way of a good story.” And you have to admit, it is indeed “a good story.”

“End of time” prophecies have always been good stories, and there have been many that captured human attention and sometimes even resulted in people making drastic decisions to sell or give away their possessions, to build shelters and store up large quantities of food and water, or to even commit suicide (such as the Heaven’s Gate suicides of 39 people in 1997). And, surprisingly, even though the Bible quite clearly states in Matthew 24:36 that "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven" as to when the earth will pass away, many of the end-of-time prophecies have been emphatically advanced by ministers and teachers of the Bible (such as Pat Robertson’s “by the end of 1982” prophecy, Ronald Weinland’s “by the fall of 2008,” William Miller’s “March 21, 1844” (from which “The Millerites” sprang), etc.

There have been literally thousands of end-of-time prophecies through the years. But . . . we’re still here. And, the odds are fantastically high that we’ll still be here on December 22, 2012. And, for many, it will be reminiscent of the morning of January 1, 2000, when the world inhaled deeply and proclaimed that the widely and wildly feared “Y2K” had been a hoax after all.

Yes, the Mayan Prophecy babble will be a minor inconvenience that will increasingly persist as the year progresses, but so will another American phenomenon that is utterly inescapable: American politics. It is simply impossible to get away from printed media or the talking heads on television or radio that incessantly and adamantly proclaim or protest polarizing political positions and perspectives. These days, we even have entire networks (some say “posing” as “news networks”) that spectacularly succeed in conditioning their listeners to adopt a desired mindset one way or another, often seeding their listeners with buzz-words and catch phrases that are then semi-robotically repeated over and over by their faithful fold of followers. Context is a frequent fatality, intentionally ignored in a technological era that should facilitate keeping comments and events in their original context like no era ever before.

We are spun by a never-ending bombardment of fifteen-second-time-bites designed to mold our thoughts and capture our votes. And, rest assured: in politics as in prophecies, pesky things like the truth or the facts will never get in the way of a good story.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH: “One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.” Robert Fulghum


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