The Mayans, the ecological crisis and the end of the world: a little sanity please

It seems like a lot of people are going to extremes with regards to the Mayan predictions – and I mean the skeptics as well as the fanatics. Some are dismissive of the Mayans altogether, while others are taking a very literal and grossly overly simplistic view, and thinking the world will end on a specific day in the near future: December 21, 2012. The Mayans never said anything of the sort – and at the same time, they were also far too intelligent, thoughtful and sophisticated in their understanding of the cycles of time for us to dismiss them altogether.

The Mayan prophecies do not speak of the end of the world in a literal sense. The Mayans said that the world has ended four times before, so clearly, they are not talking about the end of the physical world, or even the end of the human species. They are talking about the end of a civilization – a social collapse, and the end of an era. And that is something we cannot so easily dismiss, because we have seen civilizations collapse in the past – Sumer, Easter Island, and the Mayan civilization itself, for example (the Mayan urban civilization, that is). (See Jared Diamond, Collapse, Ronald Wright, A Brief History of Progress, or Mathew Stein’s When Technology Fails.) We are also seeing our infrastructure beginning to crumble, while the environmental crisis is accelerating. Clearly, the collapse of our current civilization is not something far-fetched, but a clear and undeniable possibility – and we seem hell-bent on ensuring that it happens.

The Mayans were, furthermore, too subtle and sophisticated in their thinking with regards to the cycles or patterns of time to believe that things will come to an end in a single day, I would think. They mark the passage of time in great cycles of 500 years, and larger cycles of roughly 26,000 years. To think that the Mayans believed everything would end on a single day would seem to me like a gross over-simplification, and a serious misunderstanding. It would be akin to Christian fundamentalists taking an extremely literal reading of the Bible, and believing that the world was literally created in seven days.

I would say it would be unwise to be categorically dismissive of the BIble, just as it would be equally foolish and confused to take it on an overly simplistic or literalist reading or interpretation. The same is true for the predictions of the Maya and their rich and unparalleled calendrical knowledge and understanding of the cycles of time. We do have the intellectual capacity, one would hope, for something a little more refined and a little more subtle than a knee-jerk reaction to either reject and dismiss them out of hand, or to embrace them in a literalist and overly simplistic way.

What is likely is that the Mayans meant that December 21, 2012 would mark the beginning of the end for a certain civilization or world order – ours – and the beginning of its collapse and replacement by a new civilization. The changes that they predicted may come swiftly, but they are not likely to come all at once, in the span of a mere 24 hours. It is possible, but it is unlikely. But that doesn’t mean that the Mayans were wrong – it means we shouldn’t be so crude and sloppy in our thinking, or so presumptuous or arrogant.

Consider this. The Maya had predicted for centuries that on a given year, month and day, one cycle of 500 years would end, and another cycle of 500 years would begin. They said that on that day, the balance would shift from light being predominant, to darkness being predominant. This was a prediction that had been passed on for generations. Well, as it turned out, the prediction coincided to the day with the first conquistador stepping foot on the mainland – Cortez.

If we were to look at the last, say two thousand years of the history of the Americas, we would most certainly mark the arrival of the first conquistador on the mainland as the beginning of an entirely new and radically different era for all of the Americas. How did the Mayans foresee this great shift, and predict it for hundreds of years in advance? Surely we cannot look at this fact and then dismiss the Mayans. Somehow, they have made stunningly accurate predictions, and although we cannot understand how that was possible, it is proven beyond any doubt. To dismiss the Maya considering this, would simply be irrational in the face of the evidence.

Take acupuncture as another example: we don’t know how acupuncture works, and Western medicine is baffled by Traditional Chinese Medicine, which gave rise to acupuncture, but one thing we do know for certain: acupuncture works. It is the same with the Mayan predictions: we cannot understand how they could make such startling accurate predictions, but we know for certain that they have. Therefore, although we may not understand it, we cannot dismiss the predictions of the Maya when they have demonstrated such stunning accuracy in the past.

What is the scientific approach? The truly scientific approach would not be to say, well, nobody can predict the future, so the Mayan prophecies must be rubbish. No, the scientific approach would be to look at the actual evidence, and not make foregone conclusions. And what does the evidence say? The evidence says that somehow the Mayans were able to predict major shifts or bifurcation points, major junctures in time, with stunning accuracy. Just because this does not fit into our current theory or ideology does not mean it is wrong. The facts are the facts, and the scientific approach is not to dismiss the facts when they discomfortingly fail to conform to our theories, but to change our theory and our view to conform with the facts. Anything else is pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-scientific, and is pure bigotry and blind dogmatism and ideological fixation. The facts say that the Mayans were able to predict certain major changes in history, centuries before they happened. Our theories and our views obviously need modification. But more immediately, the facts require that we take an attitude towards the Mayan predictions which is one of curiosity and respect, and not derisive dismissiveness.

Consider another example: gravity. We know that gravity exists, and we know that it works, but scientists still don’t really understand how it works. But simply because we don’t know how gravity works doesn’t mean we say, well, gravity must not be real. Again (to belabour the point for the benefit of the chronically closed-minded and pseudo-scientific) the same is true for the Mayan predictions: we don’t know how they are possible, but we know that they were correct. Do you “believe” in gravity? No, nobody “believes” in gravity – you don’t have to: just drop an apple, or trip on the stairs, and it is proven. The broken nose and the bruised apple are proof enough. Belief has nothing to do with it. Believing or not believing in the Mayan prophecies is the same: they are proven accurate; and it is evidence, not belief, which is all that matters.

Furthermore, considering that not only the Maya, but also the Hopi, the Ojibwa, and many other native peoples have predicted essentially the same thing – that there would come a time when the people become wooden, and lose their natural feelings of empathy and compassion, caring and responsibility for one another and for the broader web of life, and that as a result, calamity would follow, and their civilization will collapse – and considering that is now obvious that we are fulfilling such predictions, it would seem very unwise to disregard their warnings. Complacency, now as always, is a much greater danger than is precaution. We don’t have to run screaming for the hills, but we do need to deal with our environmental crisis, or our civilization will surely collapse, exactly as predicted – maybe not in a single day, but over the course of the coming decades or years.

Consider the fact that other native elders are on record for having predicted, before the start of the first Persian Gulf War in Iraq, that it would be a horrible environmental disaster, as well as a humanitarian one: and they said they had had visions of a black rain falling from the sky. Well, what happened? Saddam Hussein’s troops set fire to the Kuwaiti oil wells when they retreated, and black rain fell across the region. How do we dismiss such proven predictions?

In fact, we should have listened, and prevented war with Iraq. Let those who have ears hear. Let those who have eyes see. The deaf blind will have to accept that they will continue to fall into ditches and injure themselves, for they are heedless, and cannot be guided or forewarned. Pity them for their stubbornness and ignorance.

Consider the most famous proven prediction of all, or certainly one of them. Months before the assassination of JFK, Jean Dixon repeatedly warned the White House that the president’s life was in danger. She particularly urged him not to travel to Texas during that period of time. How such things are known, we do not know – but we know that some people at least do have such fore-knowledge of events: knowledge which transcends mere perspicacity or ordinary foresight.

Consider the stories told for generations by a certain native tribe in Northern Canada about a certain lake, which they said was very evil, and which they warned the people to avoid at all costs, without exception. The native people living nearby had a prediction, a prophecy, that one day men would come and take stones from the lake, then they would use those stones, and a large bird would then fly and drop fire from the sky with material from those stones. That lake is now called Uranium Lake, and it was the site of the first uranium mined for the first nuclear weapons, and the first bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima. How is that for uncanny? If that does not send a shiver down your spine, or at least make you wonder, then as Einstein said, you are as good as dead.  How can we dismiss such fore-knowledge when it is proven beyond all doubt?

Or consider the prophecies of the Inca, which said that if the great white brother came from across the ocean carrying a cross, there would be trouble. Well, the first conquistadors came bearing crosses, and there certainly was trouble, and a lot of it.

Considering all of this and more – and this is just the briefest list of examples, and barely scratches the surface – to be dismissive of native prophecies is simply foolish, and also irrational and unscientific. We know they knew, even if we have no idea how that is possible. Our frankly racist and ethnocentric presumptions must fall in the face of the evidence. The simple fact is: prophecy works, or at least it certainly has at certain times in the past. Just as the Western medical establishment, with its severely flawed and out-dated biological-reductionist and mechanistic medical model has been forced to admit that acupuncture works, despite not being able to understand it, so too must all seriously scientific or even rational modern people admit that prophecy is real – whether that is baffling to us or not – and the Mayans in particular have proven their accuracy in these matters.

Considering the way we are undermining the basis of life on earth, and pushing our civilization to the point of collapse as a result, it would seem unwise, if not simply foolish to dismiss the Mayan predictions entirely. At the same time, to think that the world will end on a certain day this month, is in all likelihood foolish as well. The reality is somewhere in between, in all probability, and we had best heed the warnings of the Maya, and take care of our environment, or we will see, not the end of the world, but the end of the world as we know it, and the collapse of our civilization. And that may be closer than we think.

It is time for us to get it together, environmentally speaking, and make some very real and urgently needed changes now, or bear the consequences of our apathy and denial. This world order will most definitely end. But that will not be the end, but only a new beginning. And the sooner this predatory, anti-ecological, suicidal and grotesquely unjust order ends, the better.

Of course I could be wrong, and it is conceivable that the Mayans somehow foresaw a cataclysmic event that would happen on a certain day, which would wipe out our civilization – if not instantly, then over the months that follow – and many millions or billions of people with it. That would be horrific to contemplate, but it is possible – anything is possible. It is, however, extremely unlikely.

What is not unlikely however, and what is in fact absolutely certain, is that if we do not change course, we will continue to drive ourselves into the ground, through a simple lack of common sense and ecological wisdom, until our infrastructure collapses under the weight of a crisis we have created for ourselves, and our civilization itself collapses. If that happens, then billions of people will suffer greatly: and that will happen, unless we take bold and decisive action now, and without delay. But whether we see a crushing collapse of our current civilization, and have to scramble to survive afterward, and rebuild from scratch, starting with pre-industrial, medieval levels of technology, in small communities barely hanging on; or whether we make the bold moves to transform our present civilization before such a collapse, is entirely up to us.

There is no fate in this. It is a matter of choice. The power is in our hands. It is a matter now of whether we will boldly do what is obviously necessary, and make the needed changes swiftly and without delay, or whether we continue to drift on our present course until collapse hits.

We can still make a relatively peaceful transition to a new and better world, even though we will certainly have to weather a great storm of our own making which has already been set into motion; or, we can wait until change is forced upon us, in which case, the transition will be painful in the extreme.

It is our choice. Humanity will survive in either case. What is in our power to determine is how painful and traumatic, or how peaceful the transition is. But whether we make a major change, is not an option. We will do it willingly, or the environmental crisis will force it upon us.

Better to act freely, and with foresight, and now.

And you don’t have to be a prophet to see that.

December 17, 2012

3 Responses to “The Mayans, the ecological crisis and the end of the world: a little sanity please”

  1. […] The Mayans, the ecological crisis and the end of the world: a little sanity please […]

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