Paul W. Barada
All right, it’s time for a show of hands. How many of you really thought the world was coming to an end this past Dec. 21 because an ancient Mayan calendar supposedly said so? Come on; hold up your hand if you were one of those who believed the world would end that day! Well, surprise, surprise! The world didn’t end after all. For those of you who were genuinely worried about what the Mayans supposedly predicted, I own this bridge that connects Manhattan to Brooklyn left to me by my great-great Aunt Theodosia, and I’m prepared to sell shares of ownership in it for just $100 per share. Make your checks out to “cash” and drop ‘em by the office by Jan. 31. Then, when you go to New York, you can point out the Brooklyn Bridge to your friends and proudly say, “I own part of that!” (I can also get you a great deal on shares of stock in a gold mine just discovered right outside Gings.)
Here’s what Mayan archaeologist David Stuart at the University of Texas had to say in a recent interview on the show “Morning Edition” on NPR, when asked if he thought the world would end Dec. 21. “Absolutely not. The Maya never, ever said anything about the world ending at any time, much less this year. So, it’s sort of bizarre to be living though this time right now, when so many people seem to be worked up.” Some people, for instance, supposedly maxed out their credit cards because they believed history, including their credit history, was coming to an end. People in Russia were stocking up on vodka. In China, close to a hundred people were arrested for spreading the rumor. A survey of over 16,000 people, taken by Reuters, disclosed that 10 percent of those interviewed were worried that the Mayan calendar might predict the end of the world.
During the interview with Stuart, he said much of the consternation has been generated because of, “an important cycle of the Mayan calendar which is turning over, called a baktun.” Stuart explained that each “baktun” represents 144,000 days or almost 400 years. The 13th “baktun,” and some believe it is the last one, of the Mayan calendar was going to come to an end on the date of this season’s winter solstice Dec. 21. Stuart also said, “It’s a big deal if you’re an ancient Maya astronomer priest. But apart from that, they didn’t say anything about what will be happening.” In an interesting example, Stuart compared the arrival of Dec. 21 to what happens to an odometer on a heavily driven car. “The years will simply click over. If the car’s odometer runs past its complement of numbers, you can still drive it.”
Some people, however, were happy about the prediction of the world’s end, especially those in Guatemala, which is the home of the Tikai Mayan temple. They were expecting approximately 200,000 tourists, according to the news agency Prensa Latina.
For those still concerned, Stuart calculates that the Mayan calendar still has at least 2,400 years to go. “I think in our culture, too, or maybe globally, humans like to come up with excuses, sometimes, just to freak out. I think the Maya have become an excuse for something a bit larger. … It’s a reflection of a lot of tension, a lot of anxiety in our society. And Lord knows, there are a lot of real problems out there. But this isn’t one of them. You know, the Mayan calendar is certainly not something we need to worry about.”
Some people are just gullible. Does anyone remember the group called Heaven’s Gate? It was a UFO religion-based group in San Diego who believed that by committing suicide they could reach what they believed was an alien spacecraft following the Comet Hale-Bopp. In all, 39 members of the group were found dead by police in March 1997. They believed the earth was about to be wiped clean and that the only chance for survival was to leave it immediately to get to the “Next Level.” They also believe that their physical bodies were only “vessels” meant to help their souls on their journey to the “Next Level.” Heaven’s Gate, or course, was nothing more than a very strange cult into which nearly 40 people had been drawn so completely that they were willing to commit suicide.
While all sorts of cults have been sprinkled throughout history, from witchcraft to the Branch Davidians, the belief that the world would end this past Dec. 21 because an ancient Mayan calendar seemed to say so, didn’t achieve cult status. But the mere fact that some people really thought the end was coming that day shows how gullible people can be. Most importantly, this latest Mayan calendar nonsense proves what P.T. Barnum, the 19th century’s premier showman, scam artist, and entertainer is supposed to have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
If anyone needs more convincing, they may be comforted to know that the Mayan calendar began Aug. 13, 3114 BC. “While few people can say what happened on that day, it’s doubtful that any of them would say it’s when the world suddenly sprang into being, along with a handy calendar,” Stuart said.
I frequently write about how important education is. This latest episode involving the Mayan calendar ought to be sufficient to demonstrate that education really is the key to cultivating a more questioning mind to, perhaps, not be led astray by purveyors of nonsensical theories P.T. Barnum would have loved.
That’s –30- for this week.