As some of you may be aware, the 21st of December 2012 is subject to a mysterious and fearful prediction. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s nothing major- we’ll just suffer a little bit of apocalyptic devastation and the subsequent extinction of the human race. At least, allegedly.
This charmingly optimistic prophesy stems from the work of an ancient civilisation named the Mayans, a society at their zenith between 250-900 AD. A highly successful people, evidence suggests that the Mayans used highly developed language, art and architecture for the period in which they lived, but instead they are better remembered for their obsessive chronicling of time. The Mayans spent their time creating calendars that spanned thousands of years, from mythical history to the present day, mapping out the passing of time on Earth.
Except, not completely. Instead, the Mayan calendar abruptly stops on the 21st December 2012. Their thousand year chronicle simply ends. All of history apparently finishes.
Some of the more excitable among us have interpreted this as spelling death to us all, viewing this break in time as a sign of the Mayans’ farsighted vision of the end of humanity. Details of this coming apocalypse remain conveniently hazy however- conflicting accounts herald an impending collision between Earth and a comet, whilst others suggest that we will instead collide with an actual planet, named “Nibiru” or, somewhat sinisterly, “Planet X”. Some even go so far as to aver that the geomagnetic poles of our planet will switch, resulting in a huge solar flare that will consume our planet. And, as ever, some blame humanity’s demise on those pesky aliens, who can’t seem to stop probing the intellectual echelons of society before handily wiping their memories, leaving just enough cognitive function so that their victims can recount their tales to the media.
But wait! Don’t panic! There’s no need to grab your bath towel just yet, Arthur Dent. As is clearly visible, the Mayans’ prediction of global destruction seems a little dubious, and many scholars have pointed out that the Mayans’ finished calendar does not spell out the end of the world. The Mayans worked in cycles, and the 21st December just symbolises the end of one of these eras. In this sense, it is no different to the calendar that you or I own, which will end on the 31st December, only to start anew on the 1st January 2013. There’s no truly apocalyptic explanation as to why they picked a date so far in the future; perhaps the Mayans just got bored, ran out of writing resources, or just got distracted when the latest Angry Birds came out?
Anachronisms aside, there are plenty of other serious flaws in the idea of a coming apocalypse. NASA have thoroughly debunked all of the theories regarding planetary collisions, rightly pointing out that any impending planet would be visible by now. Likewise, any forthcoming alterations in geomagnetic poles would have been predicted long ago, and many academics believe such a shift would be entirely inconsequential. It is worth bearing in mind that most of the “Facts” relating to the apocalypse come from anonymous internet figures, and not credible scientists.
“If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye”.NASA Website
Nevertheless, people have already started to panic in their thousands. NASA has been forced to create their “Ask an Astrobiologist” website, which claims to have been asked 5000 questions about the Mayan doomsday. Likewise, there have already been reports of apocalypse-related suicides, with a cult of 100 people almost killing themselves before they were interrupted by police in Brazil. Ever the country of moderation and reserved judgement, the sale of bomb shelters in the USA has also risen. Even the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has produced an official statement in relation to the Mayan apocalypse, albeit in jest.
Ultimately, the highly unconvincing threat of the end of the world serves as a testament to the suggestibility and gullibility of the human race. People just seem to love apocalypse fever- we saw it during the millennium with “Y2k” conspiracies, and more recently upon the opening of the Large Hadron Collider, which spelled the end of the Earth for many of the same people who are currently panicking.
Whenever I’m faced with the prospect of impending doom, I always find solace in the words of a professor of the vlogger and author John Green:
“Always deny the apocalypse, John. You’ll usually be right, and when you’re wrong, no one will be left to say, ‘I told you so’”.