The modern idea that human civilization would collapse in 2012 supposedly goes back to another overextended American empire on its last legs, that of the Maya. But like so much wrong thinking now popular in today’s United States, this concept made its first impression on the nation’s nervous consciousness through the teevee screen. In Search Of, the syndicated paranormal program hosted by Leonard Nimoy, claimed that the Mesoamerican long count calendar came to an end on December 24, 2011. (That date has moved a year forward in today’s paranoid circles.) You are probably waiting for the “Ron Paul connection,” at this point, and it is this: According to Leonard Nimoy reading a script for a pseudoscience documentary series in 1977, the end of the Mayan calendar would bring a cataclysmic earthquake, the collapse of the dominant civilization, and the creation of an internationalist New World Order. Actual scholars of the ancient Mayan culture, however, believe the end of the calendar would bring not disaster, but a wonderful celebration. Who’s right? WHO WILL WIN?
The reason the 2012 phenomenon is so formidable is not exclusively because Americans are uneducated superstitious bigoted cretins who’ve been duped since the beginning of the republic and have only “learned things from the teevee” since the Reagan Era. 2012 sticks in our collective consciousness because the story of the Mayans resonates deeply in our own time of slow-motion calamity. The Mayan empire crumbled about 1,200 years ago, and its people were scattered as the Earth reclaimed a vast civilization built upon nationalism, war, torture, expansionism and spectacle.
Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is evidence that the Maya population exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna. Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Maya civilization. The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community. Newer research from 2011, with use of high-resolution climate models and new reconstructions of past landscapes, suggests that converting much of their forest land into cropland may have led to reduced evapotranspiration and thus rainfall, magnifying natural drought.
Too many people, a catastrophic Dust Bowl created by wanton scraping and cultivation of the wild lands, deforestation, endless war, climate change, epidemic disease, collapse of key trade routes, it’s all there today. But what might truly push 2012 into “2012” is that standard ingredient of toppled empires, the “peasant revolt.” Worldwide, the 99% is in revolt. Worldwide, and even in the United States. Imagine, a year ago, predicting the global revolutions that made 2011 the most interesting and consequential year in half a century.
Nothing proves the ubiquity of the uprising more than watching pundits argue its real beginning. Was it Tunisia in January or Wisconsin and Athens in February or Madrid and Barcelona in May? What about Israel in July, London in March, or London in August! Was Twitter the fuse, or was it Adbusters and Anonymous?
Revolutions are brewing in more than 80 countries today, and for every sad example of protests crushed in 2011 — throughout sub-Saharan Africa, in Tibet and throughout China — there are many examples of government and business on the run, from the crime-lord thug Putin to the criminal political lapdogs of the Koch Brothers.
“I wish it was the Sixties,” Thom Yorke whines on Radiohead’s The Bends, “I wish, I wish, I wish something would happen.” And then when it happened, in Zuccotti Park in September 2011, Radiohead was uptown taping an ironic television appearance complete with anti-corporate posturing. Called by thousands to come downtown and support the occupation, they instead told the Wall Street Journal they weren’t coming. This was the year when wishes began to come true, and those who wished falsely were exposed — whether they were comfortable English rock stars or millionaire golfers who rode to the White House on a wave of populist hope.
Apocalyptic movements only grow beyond the fanatics and cultists when the whole of human consciousness is tugged by the need to overturn the tables and make examples of the moneychangers. So at the Millennium, barely a decade behind us now, an unlikely mix of anti-globalization actions, religious prophecy, technophobia and a simmering disgust with the elite led to the cataclysms and duds of 1999-2000 — Y2K, Vicente Fox and Hugo Chavez, Falun Gong, the Battle of Seattle and the introduction of the Euro, and especially Bush v. Gore.
Subdued by official crime and state power, the bitterness and dissatisfaction and dull horror of American life seemed to manifest itself in the terror attacks of the next year, and for a little while that seemed to stun everyone into a dream state — a nightmare state — as the actual state took every opportunity to advance the empire, the resource wars, the degradation of humanity and nature.
And now, this … whatever “this” may turn out to be. 2012 may be an apocalypse or it may be a celebration, but what’s much more likely is it will be one outcome for the 1%, and another outcome for everyone else. Happy new year!