Welcome to day one of the 14th b'ak'tun

Milk expiry: DEC 21 12. Caption: Well played, milk, well played.
Milk expiry: 2012.12.21. Caption: Well played, milk, well played.

Travelling today. On precious little sleep, too. My sleep schedule has been a complete shambles recently — been only getting a few hours of sleep a night, discontinuously, for at least a week. And I know I can’t sleep on planes, so today might be a bit rough.

I had previously blogged about how patently incorrect the whole idea of a doomsday on December 21, 2012 was. Now that the day has come and gone, and all those doomsayers are eating crow (or, more likely, shutting up for a month or so until the whole “we were wrong again about the apocalypse” blows over til the next big ridiculous prophecy comes along for them to latch onto), I wanted to say something about how horrid the meme and its counter-memes were.

How often had you heard that pithy phrase “if the Mayans could predict the future, there’d still be Mayans?” Funny, right?

Except, no Mayans ever attempted to predict the future, from what I can tell. The Mayan long count calendar, consisting of 144,000 days, has rolled over yesterday for the 13th time. Today, in Mayan calendar notation, is — the 14th b’ak’tun. No Mayan predictions as far as I can tell ever existed regarding the result of this 13th roll-over, specifically, despite how prolifically the meme of doomsday on this rollover spread. So, this is yet another instance of humankind thinking the universe really hates big round numbers for some inexplicable reason. Only this time, they blamed it on a long-dead civilization.

Except further, they aren’t long dead, either. They’re not the flourishing civilization they once were, but they’re not yet completely subsumed into the culture of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Imagine if you will thinking your car would blow up when it hits 100,000 miles, and then blaming Henry Ford for having himself predicted this. Then pretending the whole Ford family disappeared when Henry Ford did. Imagine how ridiculous that sounds, and that’s what you’re doing when you ascribe to the Mayans any doomsday predictions of this sort.

And then the snide remarks about how the Mayans lacked that ability to predict the future because Spanish conquistadores committed genocide on them. Those are just the icing on the self-congratulatory ethnocentrism we display in trying to counter the one horrible meme that travelled so well, with another horrible meme that’s apparently travelled less well. It’s a shame and a sin, honestly, and so unbecoming of us skeptics that we would jeer at the Mayans’ ability to predict the future when they may never have even said a damn thing about 2012 in the first place. They are an object lesson in having to take great care in greeting an egocentric and imperialist culture, and we in an egocentric and imperialist culture are sneering at them for some ideation of inferiority — that we created for them, and are using to besmirch their legacy

That irony isn’t lost on me.

Welcome to day one of the 14th b'ak'tun

8 thoughts on “Welcome to day one of the 14th b'ak'tun

  1. HP

    1) Thanks for pointing out that the Maya are not some mysterious vanished race. My city has actually welcomed a fairly large population of Maya immigrants in the last 15 years (mostly Guatemalan, but also from Chiapas/Oaxaca), and I see real, live Maya walking around nearly every day, adapting to life in the U.S. (True story: An acquaintance of mine, an immigrant from Chile, often volunteers to work with Latin@ immigrants. When asked to help with the influx of Maya, he pointed out to Social Services that they don’t really speak Spanish, and he doesn’t speak Mayan.) I think the skeptic community really dropped the ball here in not raising awareness of the ongoing political and social justice issues surrounding the contemporary Maya.

    2) I may be misremembering, but didn’t this whole 2012 apocalypse thing start back in the 1970s, when Terrance McKenna’s brother had a drug-induced epiphany while tripping on DMT, and McKenna worked out some kind of crazy GIGO computer program based on the Mayan calendar, cherry-picked historical events, and made-up spiritual cycles or something? I seem to remember this being a staple of Time-Life Mysteries – type documentaries and books back in the benighted pre-Internet, pre-cable days.

  2. 4

    Another imperial angle is the use (abuse) of archeological information and other people’s cultures by rich, white, New Agers. I lay the specific blame for this 2012 nonsense at the feet of Frank Waters and (especially) José Argüelles and Terence McKenna.
    Waters thought 2011 (yes) was going to be a big deal for human consciousness.
    Later, in the early ’90’s, McKenna was plugging his “Timewave Zero” computer program. I’m pretty sure it was in the pages of Mondo 2000. (Maybe that’s what you remember, HP.) He had “novelty” peaking in November 2012, but then nudged it when he heard the talk about the Winter Solstice being part of it.
    And Argüelles was behind the “Harmonic Convergence” in 1987. I remember some proponents saying back then that the “convergence” was the beginning of a 25-year period in which humankind would either choose the path of success or self-destruction. I wonder if those folks are now ready to tell us the result.
    Unfortunately, Waters, McKenna, and Argüelles are all dead.
    But they did sell books and stuff. Maybe the “2012” industry ended up more lucrative than dreamcatchers.

  3. 6

    The reasons above are why I simply told the scared people I know:
    “Hey, wanna ask the actual still-around Mayans what they think this all means? I mean, you did know that they’re still around, right?”

  4. HP

    Timewave Zero is indeed what I remember, Scr…Archivist #4. I still think your timeline is off. Wikipedia puts the first publication equating the end of the 13th Bakhtun with Timewave Zero in 1975.

    Which explains why I associate it with ridiculously oversized shirt collars.

    (Trying to format links on a iPad. I think it’s all screwed up.)

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