It's December 22nd, 2012. For most of us, it's a day like any other. We open our facebook pages and twitter feeds, bracing ourselves for one last barrage of Mayan apocalypse memes, then go about our business, savoring the few blissful moments of sanity and circumspection before the next oddball cranks out his own spin on the rapture and the media once again over-reports on it.
But a few people are sincerely shocked. They emerge bleary-eyed from their bunkers and basements, probably thinking much the same thoughts as victims of every other doomsday hoax. A mixture of relief, embarrassment, and anger-- either at the shysters who swindled them or at themselves for getting caught up in the hype
Panic For Sale: All Your Money OBO
Fear is a marketplace-- an awful big one, in fact-- and like any marketplace, there are buyers and sellers. The sellers don't interest me much. I know what motivates them: greed, a desire for attention, or simply the joy of winding people up. Either way, their behaviour is, though often unethical, at least comprehensible.
Much more interesting (to me, at least) are the buyers. Folks who invest wholesale in the concept of global destruction, often spending their life savings on survival gear, elaborate parties, or simply getting the word out about the rapture.
Admittedly, some of this behaviour can be seen as a sort of semi-ironic kitsch, an excuse for extravagance masquerading as some Prospero-like end of the world jubilee. Supposed safe havens like Rtanj, Serbia and Bugarach, France played up their reputations as oases of calm in a sea of coming chaos, and though I'm sure some people bought it, many more were probably just having a good time.
But in the fervor sandwiched between every apocalyptic announcement and the alleged big day of which it warns, dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people fall prey to would-be soothsayers and opportunistic entrepreneurs eager to take their money in exchange for fleeting promises of safety, salvation, and even post-rapture pet care.
The so-called Mayan Doomsday is an especially interesting example of this phenomenon, for a number of reasons:
- It isn't based on the bible. Not all doomsday predictions stem from Christianity, but most of the "successful" ones (i.e. those that snag headlines and followers) use it to their advantage. Harold Camping constructed his narrative of global destruction on the Bible, a text so swollen with cultural significance that even the murkiest and most half-baked of its interpretations can carry a lot of weight for believers. Even the Heaven's Gate cult referenced Revelations in order to lend a little "credibility" to its movement.
- Mayans didn't buy it, so why should we? Most, if not all, of the people who freaked out about the supposed "Mayan Doomsday" don't subscribe to a Mesoamerican religion, don't even know anything about said religions, and would probably consider them sacrilegious if they did. Mayans themselves think the whole thing is pretty hilarious. You're making us look like chumps in front of the Mayans, guys. Knock it off.
- The "prophecy" the entire event is supposed to be based on is simply the result of a poor translation. The Mesoamerican Long Count Calender does note the conclusion of a b'ak'tun (or era) on December 21, 2012, but the majority of scholars consider this to be a transition point between b'ak'tuns, not a prediction of end times.
If the Mayan apocalypse has taught us anything, it's that critical thinking is seriously undertaught and undervalued. Until we make these skills a top priority in schools, these same claims are going to keep appearing and people are going to keep getting swindled.
Of course, a savvy, skeptical populous might actually start holding politicians accountable for things, so consider it a low priority in the elementary school curriculum.
In the New Year: an even bigger lie.