RITAM MITRA on doomsday conspiracies
Social media has been rampant over the last year or two, perpetuating the belief that the world is going to meet a catastrophic end this year. It could be simply put aside as a bit of fun and games due to conjecture – if it wasn’t for the fact that there have now been several cases of people committing suicide so as to avoid living through the “end of the world”.
The recent hype around 2012 began primarily with the release of the 2009 blockbuster film 2012. The movie was advertised using stealth marketing, which, while hugely successful, involved websites and TV advertisements from the fictional “Institute for Human Continuity”, calling on people to prepare for the end of the world. As is typical of stealth marketing, the campaign for 2012 made no mention of the movie itself, and as a result, many unknowing viewers went as far as to contact astronomers in panic.
The belief in the 2012 myth, however, has its roots in the ancient Mayan “Long Count” calendar, upon which the film was based. The Mayans called the current period the “Great Cycle”, a cycle which will end on the winter solstice this year – the longest night of the year. For the Northern Hemisphere, this falls on December 21. It is not, as many believe, the end of the Mayan calendar – it is simply the end of one of its cycles.
This will supposedly be the trigger for a series of catastrophic and unpredictable events – cities being thrown into the sea as a result of a sudden shift in the Earth’s mantle and crust; a reversal of the magnetisation of our poles, and even a collision with the planet ‘Nibiru’. It must be noted that Nibiru has never been seen or proven to exist – believers refer to it as an invisible planet.
However, the ancient Mayans actually believed it was a cause for huge celebration to have reached the end of a whole cycle. In the same way modern civilisations celebrate the end of the year and the ushering in of a new one on December 31, so too did Mayans believe reaching the end of a cycle was a great occasion – it is just that this cycle began on August 11, 3114 BC.
It was not just the ancient Mayan civilisation that believed the year 2012 would be a momentous one. In 1998, Kalki Bhagavan, the Indian guru, spoke about the year 2012 as a ‘deadline’ bringing about the end of ‘Kali Yuga’, or the last of the four stages (the previous three being Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga and Dvapara Yuga) that the world goes through, according to early Hindu texts. Kali Yuga is said to be a phase of spiritual degeneration in humanity, and is referred to as the “Dark Age”. However, even here there is conjecture – some religious figures believe Kali Yuga is already over, while others believe it is yet to begin.
Scientists have been inundated with queries on the subject for the last five years. Since 2007, NASA’s ‘Ask an Astrobiologist’ public outreach website has been asked over 5000 questions on the subject, including some from people asking whether they should kill themselves, their children or their pets. Sales of underground blast shelters have grown rapidly since 2009, and the mayor of the Brazilian city São Francisco de Paula mobilised his city to prepare for the date by stocking up on food and water. Similarly, in Corguinho, another Brazilian city, a colony is supposedly being built for survivors of the apocalypse.
Closer to home, one in ten Australians believe the world will end this year, with believers said to fall into two camps – one camp is full of catastrophists, who believe comets will rain down on the Earth in a brutal end to humanity. However, it is interesting that the larger group of Australian believers see it as the end of the world “as we know it” – the ushering in of a new age of enlightenment, a shift in human consciousness and perhaps a more tolerant, peaceful society. The poll was commissioned by Reuters, and involved 16,000 people in 21 countries. 20% of the Chinese and Turkish respondents believed the world would end, but only 4% of Indonesian respondents agreed.
Humanity has been perennially fascinated by the concept of predictions and prophecies. There were 42 failed doomsday predictions regarding the year 2000 alone, and Harold Camping recently made headlines for his several failed predictions regarding the end of the world, through which he generated massive revenue for his radio station in California . The only thing that has been proven certain is that we are uncertain about the future.
So what will happen on December 21, 2012? Probably not much!