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Apocalypse Now?

On December 21, 2012, the end of the world is predicted by some. According to their calculations, which are based on the Mayan long-count calendar (and some serious mushrooms no doubt), the world will end in a cataclysmic event on or around that date. Or the magnetic poles will shift. Or the sun will burn us up. Or even a planet called Nibiru or Planet X will smash into us. Or we shall get sucked into a black hole. Or, of course, and more obviously, it could all just be ill-formed pseudo-science clap-trap. Undeterred, the Socialist Standard will take a quick look into the future to see if it's worth publishing any more issues, and it will start with the basis of the above theories, known as the Mayan (or 2012) Prophecy.

Mayan Civilisation

The Mayans were an advanced ancient civilisation with hierarchical government, trade and commerce and advanced building techniques which expressed themselves in large cities and many elaborate stone temples that are still here today. They also studied and paid great heed to astronomy and the configurations of the stars and planets, and worked out quite complex mathematical problems, including those related to the study of time. The Maya had worked out the solar year with better accuracy than the Europeans, even though the Mayan calendar was cruder, having exactly 365 days in each year, so that it was inaccurate by one day in every four years. By contrast, our present calendar is accurate to one day in every 3,275 years. It is the Mayan calendar, however, that has given rise to the 'end of world' predictions, as Wikipedia explains:

“December 2012 marks the conclusion of a b'ak'tun—a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Unlike the 52-year Calendar Round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20:

“20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k'atun, and 20 k'atuns (144,000 days or roughly 394 years) made up a b'ak'tun. Thus, the Mayan date of 8.3.2.10.15 represents 8 b'ak'tuns, 3 k'atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days.

“Additionally there is a strong tradition of ‘world ages’ in Mayan literature, but the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open to interpretation. According to the Popol Vuh, a compilation of the creation accounts of the K'iche' Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the gods first creating three failed worlds, followed by a successful fourth world in which humanity was placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b'ak'tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. The Long Count's ‘zero date’ was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. This means that the fourth world will also have reached the end of its 13th b'ak'tun, or Mayan date 13.0.0.0.0, on December 21, 2012.”

In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote: "the completion of a Great Period of 13 b'ak'tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya". In 1966, Michael D. Coe wrote in The Maya that "there is a suggestion ... that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b'ak'tun]. Thus ... our present universe would be annihilated in December 2012 when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion."

Thus began the idea that the world would end this December.  But it has little basis in any study of Mayan thought: “...there is nothing in the Maya or Aztec or ancient Mesoamerican prophecy to suggest that they prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012," said Mayanist scholar Mark Van Stone. "The notion of a ‘Great Cycle’ coming to an end is completely a modern invention."  Even the Maya themselves deny this ridiculous notion – Ricardo Cajas, president of the Colectivo de Organizaciones Indígenas de Guatemala, said the date “did not represent an end of humanity or fulfilment of the catastrophic prophecies.”

Socialist Perspective

So how does the above crackpotism affect socialists? Aside from the application of simple scientific method and research to prove the above as nonsense, it is interesting to see the reaction within capitalism to the rise of such theories. A short search of the internet will reveal a raft of sites supporting and furthering the doomsday predictions and all of them eventually link to solutions that involve the spending of money. Many offer survival kits from the simple $30 (£20) personal carry-packs to the extremes of $40,000 (£26,000) for a space in a communal shelter and upwards of $200,000 (£130,000) for one of your own with exclusive land. Apart from each having their own take on these mad end-of-world theories, most of these sites have scary countdown clocks to enhance the panic effect and make those dollar bills fall from wallets faster.  Ignoring the obvious fact that if the future is that bleak, you probably wouldn’t want to survive anyway, it seems that no-one is concerned with the thought that if any of the major scenarios predicted actually do occur, then dollars and, indeed, all money will become meaningless.

While large numbers of people are engaged in essentially harmless activities and spending money at the same time, they are not occupied with finding out about real alternatives to the current state of affairs. As socialists, we have a duty to point out that aside from the utterly unscientific basis of these insane predictions, the real problems exist in the here and now and that capitalism is incapable of solving them. Moreover, if a doomsday scenario did occur, you can be sure that the rich would only be concerned with protecting their own hides and that the global capitalist system would not leap to the rescue of the masses nor would it care.  Its only function is making profit, even if it results in its own destruction.  Proof positive of this assumption can be seen in capitalism’s weak and uncoordinated response to the threat of global warming – the system’s demand for profits always winning out over human need.

The world won't end in 2012. And capitalism won't end unless we work globally as socialists to counter this doomsday nonsense by concentrating our energies into building a truly global society based on free access for all. No-one can predict the precise nature of the future but our actions now can make that future much brighter for everyone.