I have a hunch. (“Yeah, yeah” you’re thinking. But, if I may say so, my hunches are often pretty reliable.) Just because there was no great cataclysm on 12/21/12, the Mayans may not have been wrong.
We tend to think of the dreaded word ‘apocalypse’ as an ending (end of the world, i.e. asteroid hitting earth) but it is also a beginning. Condensed from good old Wikipedia:
An apocalypse, translated literally from Greek, is a disclosure of knowledge, hidden from humanity in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception. In religious contexts it is the ultimate victory of good over evil and the end of the present age, and that is the primary meaning of the term, one that dates to 1175.
I tend to be an optimist, but I was thinking recently that we certainly seem to be facing quite a number of existential threats (I don’t really need to list them). It’s easy to be discouraged by how - especially in America, the exceptional country indeed - every serious challenge is multiplied exponentially by needing to spend so much energy and time combating what can only be called irrational arguments. See birthers, creationists, climate change deniers, the NRA, House Republicans, et al.
At the same time, despite our historic level of wealth, so much of our pursuit of happiness seems not to lead to, well, happiness. If you doubt that we’re striving for the wrong things, see the film The Queen of Versailles. I’m not sure which is more disturbing, the crash-and-burn of the husband’s extreme wealth and influence or his once-beautiful wife’s compulsive shopping binges and overinflated fake boobs. They had more money than most of us can imagine. If they couldn’t buy happiness, sense, or good taste, then apparently those are not buyable things.
Take a look around the the sprawling strip-mall suburbs of America - or, for that matter, the prefab housing blocks on the outskirts of cities from Paris to Vladivostok, the violent favelas of Rio, the urban hubris of Dubai, etc - and ask yourself if we have the lost the touch for building proper human habitats. Yes, I could list plenty of positive examples as well, but the difference is that so many good cities and towns were designed in earlier generations, compared to the soul-crushing environments we seem to be churning out since roughly the mid-20th century.
Climate change is something we probably won’t get our heads around fully until it’s too late. Well, many of us do have our heads around it just fine, but effective collective action springing from unified consciousness is a long way off. For those looking to get involved, 350.org is doing great work. Climate change is like that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: the inert castle guards watch Sir Lancelot charging from the horizon, running at full speed but, strangely, never seeming to actually come any closer… until suddenly he’s right on top of them. Well, it’s like that scene except not funny.
Why mention all of this? To circle back to my hunch and the Mayans’ calendar-making, is the apocalypse here after all? Maybe, and maybe it’s about time. My (limited) understanding is that the Mayans were a pretty tuned-in lot, and thought of the future as having patterns, cycles. And that right around now we’d be at the end of a cycle. That doesn’t have to mean sudden cataclysm from above and/or below.
Put it this way: doesn’t it FEEL like we’re at the end of a cycle (see all of the above, add your own horseman)? Like what we’re doing isn’t working, the way we’re living isn’t sane and humane enough, what we actually want and need is not the same as what we’re dispiritedly but mightily striving for?
Again, I come back to the definition of 'apocalypse’, condensed further:
A disclosure of knowledge, hidden from humanity in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception. The ultimate victory of good over evil.
That actually sounds alright, just what we need to reignite our imaginations and our hearts. If we can achieve the twin goals of being semantically correct AND having a future worth having, I say bring on the apocalypse, now.
While we’re waiting for that, here’s another classic Monty Python scene to keep up your faith in humanity:
Happy New Year everyone!