Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalypse not

Well, here we are, the day you've all been eagerly awaiting; December 21, 2012.  So far, nothing very apocalyptic has happened, as far as I can see from my limited perspective here in upstate New York.  Everything is pretty much cornfields and cow pastures, like it always has been.  The only thing of note is that my dog started barking at 2:30 AM, and when I got up to see what was bugging him it turned out that the emergency was that he had had a sudden uncontrollable urge to play tug-of-war with someone.  After I told him to put the damn rope toy down and go back to bed, he did, although he gave me a rather reproachful look as he did so.  I'm thinking that if the zombies come for me today, he's not going to intervene.

On the other hand, my lack of sleep means that we're going to have some serious Armageddon happening in my classroom today, if any of my students give me a hard time.

What's funny about all of this doomsaying is that the whole idea of the world ending (or being transformed, or whatever) didn't originate with the Mayans.  They Mayans knew the Long Count had cycles, and like every cycle, it started anew when the old one was done, like any good calendar does.  So the fact that the "13th b'ak'tun" supposedly ends today -- which the most skilled experts in Mayan language and culture don't even agree on -- doesn't mean we're about to be devoured by a black hole, or anything.  In fact, the first clue should be that the Mayans thought we'd already had twelve of the things, so you'd think someone would have said, "Hey, you know, if the world didn't end the first twelve times, it probably won't end this time."

But that's not how these people think, unfortunately.  The origins of the 2012 phenomena can be traced back to a few books and a lot of hallucinogenic drugs that were widely shared about in the 1970s.  José Argüelles' The Transformative Vision mentions 2012 as a "year of transformation," although it never mentions a date; the same is true of The Invisible Landscape, by noted wingnut and psychotropic drug enthusiast Terrence McKenna, who is living proof that when you screw around with your neurotransmitters, what you observe might be entertaining but it isn't necessarily real.

But in the 1980s, research by Robert J. Sharer and others into the Mayan language and calendar provided Argüelles and McKenna a finer brush with which to apply woo-woo principles to actual legitimate archaeology and linguistics, and they became convinced that December 21, 2012 was the day of days.  But it seemed a long time to wait, so they decided to arrange for an earlier transformative event to occur.  A sort of pre-apocalypse, as it were.  It was called the "Harmonic Convergence," and was scheduled for August 16, 1987.  A whole bunch of woo-woos showed up at Mount Shasta on August 16, and chanted and waved crystals about and did all sorts of other mystical stuff, but they all went home on the 17th when no converging, harmonic or otherwise, happened.

None of this discouraged Argüelles and McKenna, however, and they said that the really big stuff was going to happen... Today.  As in, right now.  Because the Mayans said so.  Never mind that when people talked to some actual, real Mayans, and asked them if the world was going to end because their calendar was going to run out, the Mayans said, "What do we look like, morons?  That's not how calendars work."

None of that has stopped the woo-woos from believing, nor has it stopped entrepreneurs from cashing in on their gullibility.  Tour companies sold out on excursions to Central America for the Fatal Week two years ago, just proving that there's no belief so ridiculous that some clever person can't exploit it to turn a quick buck.

Anyhow, it looks like December 21, 2012 will come and go without anything like what was predicted in the phenomenally bad movie 2012.  The Himalayan Mountains have not, last I heard, been washed away, and there have been no giant earthquakes, volcanoes, or other such cataclysms.  I'm guessing that we'll all wake up tomorrow and pretty much go about our business as usual.

Until, that is, the next forecast of doom, gloom, and/or global spiritual transformation.  You know there'll be another one.  Woo-woos just don't give up that easily.  It takes more than a 0% success record to discourage them.  It's a pity they can't turn this kind of persistence and dogged determination onto something that needs solving, like world hunger.  Because man, with that kind of single-mindedness, we'd have food to every starving child on the planet in no time flat.


  1. The people who actually traveled to one of the UFO pickup sites are fair game for mockery, right? Just trying to imagine how it goes there as time passes with no sign of either disaster or rescue. "Well, give it another hour. They probably just miscalculated a little."

  2. What I don't get is:

    Why does everyone give two shits what the Mayans think?
    (no offense to the Mayans)

    If somebody wrote a book that said that Ancient Rome predicted the return of Zeus to purge the world of humans, would anyone care, or even believe it to be plausible?

    What is it about the Mayans, specifically, that has people so gullible?

  3. The confluence of several factors gives the Mayans an unearned gloss of glamor and mysticism.
    1. They're a Native American people, which everyone knows makes them wiser and more in touch with the spirit world.
    2. They figured out how to pile stones on other stones longer ago than some other civilizations.
    3. Few records survive into the modern era, leaving more scope for imagination. The fewer records they left, the grander they must have been (which is why Atlantis is super extra grand).
    Ancient Egypt is in roughly the same category, but they wrote too much stuff down to have as much credibility as the Mayans.