2012: Waiting for the Shoe to Drop

Nathan Smith

     For the past few years now the 2012 doomsday phenomenon has swept the world and gripped people’s imagination like a vice.  So many have raised theories, ranging from the scientific to the spiritual, all proposing end-day scenarios ranging from pure catastrophism and annihilationism to New Age cyclicism, with each idea finding some traction with at least a small group of people in the world.  But just what is to be said about these doomsday theories?  Is all of this just simple pop culture gone awry, or is there some veracity in what’s being said?  With 2011 having finally come to a close, these questions are piquing more and more at the backs of almost everyone’s minds.

     First, in order to better understand the topic, a quick lesson in New World culture and mythology is in order.  The entirety of the world’s favorite doomsday theories have centered on the winter solstice of this year: December 21, 2012.  This date is connected heavily with the long-count calendar of the Maya tribes of Native Americans.  The Maya were a culture which used to reside in Mesoamerica; today, after the conquests of the Europeans and the introduction of Christianity into Mexico during the Columbian Exchange, much of what once made up the Mayan empire has been destroyed and buried under Eurocentric culture and the works of well-meaning pastors and reverends.  However, of the few fragments of Mayan culture, what does survive is the long-count calendar.  The Maya were phenomenal astronomers, which gave them the ability to accurately tell time, so to speak.  The calendar begins on a date which would correspond to August 11, 3114 BCE on the Gregorian calendar today, and this particular day was so significant to the Maya because, according to post-Conquest texts such as the Popol Vuh, this was the day on which the gods first created the world.  Since this day in the fourth millennium before the common era, there have been a grand total of three “creations” and two “apocalypses.”  Unlike people of today, the Maya thought of time as cyclical, not linear, and thus they saw history as one round after another of construction, destruction and then reconstruction — the world has seen three constructions, and two destructions, with the third scheduled for December 21, 2012.  With this in mind, like so very many world cultures, the end is not actually an end, but a new beginning.

     However, oddly enough, despite the fact that the Maya were a rather different culture compared to the Eurocentric world today, with a very alien mythology, this has stopped few from adopting the doomsday as their own apocalyptic date.  The adoption is really more of a crime of convenience than anything; the winter solstice of 2012 is so close one can almost touch it, which means that such a close end-day can be marketed far more energetically than an apocalypse to come a hundred or more years from now.

     As mentioned above, the various conceptions of the 2012 doomsday have been rather colorful: today, there are several scenarios, ones as relatively rational as the planet impacting with some sort of celestial object, and others so bizarre even Ralph Waldo Emerson would be hard-pressed to decode them.

     What seems to be most popular, however, is a sort of “death from above” end.  Several have theorized that an asteroid impact could fit the bill, which is a highly probable end for Earth on any day of the year, really.  Between Mars and Jupiter are belts of massive asteroids, some of which may have spawned the killers of the dinosaurs themselves.  All that is necessary for an impact between the Earth and one of these mountain-sized rocks is a game of planetary orbits; should Jupiter or Mars shift in relation to each other in some unordinary way, thus manipulating the unique balance of this asteroid belt, a few rogue rocks could conceivably be thrown in the Earth’s direction, left for this pale blue dot’s own gravity-well to turn the world into a catcher’s mitt.

     Colliding with a black hole may be a little more difficult to spin.  The fact is that black holes are bad neighbors in the universe right from their births; a black hole is often formed from a violent supernova gone wrong, when a massive dying star cannot stand up against its own gravity and eventually collapses into an object of incalculable density and unknown construction.  The initial supernova, however, is the real slap to the face when it comes to nearby stars; any object within a 25 light year radius will feel the effects of the solar blast.  Unfortunately for most advocates of a black hole colliding with the Earth, the nearest star to our own that may go supernova is about 600 light years away, pretty far out of town, and even if such a star were to collapse into a black hole the orbit of the stars around the galactic center is so cyclical it would be rather inconceivable for a singularity to take a several hundred light year leap from its local space to our own just to pay our planet a visit.  A more likely scenario is a micro-singularity, essentially the iPod Nano version of black holes, colliding with our sun and soaking up all the energy of the star, leaving this planet without a vital fuel source for heat, plant production, and so on.

     One last collision theory revolves around the Babylonian and Sumerian Nibiru.  There once was a man named Zecharia Sitchin, who, like every average Joe, believed the world had been visited repeatedly throughout history by aliens.  In this vein, Sitchin interpreted several ancient Babylonian and Sumerian texts about a god named Nibiru, represented as a star or celestial object in the sky (a common Near Eastern image for gods and souls), as documenting a collision between the Earth and a planet named after this same god.  Sitchin and advocates of his theory postulate that the poems in question speak from experience, documenting an ancient historical event when this planet Nibiru nearly collided with the Earth and essentially left the inhabitants shaken up, with a subsequent “second-run” to occur in 2012, when Nibiru will actually collide with our planet.  Unfortunately for Mr. Sitchin, his theory is invalid for two reasons: firstly, there are no other cultures in the world to collaborate the story (when an entire planet nearly hits your own you can bet the whole block will be abuzz with gossip); and secondly, if such a catastrophe were to occur then ironically there would more than likely be no one left to recount the day’s events.

     While the majority of the 2012 theories are wildly unprecedented, some teetering on the brinks of insanity and foolishness, many have nonetheless been caught up in the whimsy of it all.  Oddly enough, humanity seems to hold a rather morbid fascination with its own end, and the more gruesome the better.  For the rest of us, however, 2012 is just another Y2K, and all that can really be done when it comes to people who refuse to listen to reason is to wait for the shoe to drop — come December 21, 2012, anticipate high frequencies of ridiculous behavior; come midnight of December 22, please don’t laugh too loudly at your friends.