I’ve written four posts so far about the end of the world in 2012, the first was about the Mayan roots of the myth (it turned out its nothing to do with the Maya really), and the second, third and fourth posts looked at the different events that have been predicted to cause the end our world, from planet Nibiru to solar storms to polar shifts. A lot of them were nonsense, a few possible, but there is no reason to believe they would happen on the 21st of December 2012.
I’ve enjoyed writing these posts more than I thought I would, I learnt how the Mayan Long Count calendar works, and I’ve read some awe inspiring, and quite frankly fun ideas about how the world could end. However almost everything I’ve read was complete nonsense, and often strayed into the realms of the ridiculous.
But if all of this is nonsense, why are so many people worried about December 2012?
You might be thinking that no one could really takes this stuff seriously, that it’s a bit of fun, a pretty bad movie (my girlfriend loves it, bless her) but that its just a collections of silly stories. Sadly this isn’t the case, a lot of people have been fooled by the 2012 myth and are taking it very seriously indeed. The NASA website has a section called ‘Ask an Astobiologist’ where members of the public can post questions to be answered by a NASA scientist; so far they’ve received more than 5000 questions about 2012, including death threats for denying its reality, and emails from two teenagers who are considering committing suicide, and worst of all, two mothers who are contemplating killing themselves and their children rather than face the end of the world. A lot of people are frightened, angry and suspicious of anyone speaking against the 2012 myth. There’s even an official term for it, called ‘end-times anxiety’.
But why are people taking this 2012 nonsense seriously?
One of the main reasons I think is because there are so many people, books, TV shows, websites and blogs talking about the 2012 Apocalypse. Apparently there have been over 300 books published about 2012, each confidently explaining that their version of the myth is the right one, whilst TV channels like the History Channel have made a number of exploitative and overly-sensational 2012 ‘documentaries’ (see Doomsday 2012: The End of Days), and millions of 2012 websites and blogs have sprouted into existence; google ‘2012 end of the world’ I got almost 60 million results! 2012 has become very popular.
I think one of the biggest sources of worry about 2012 were the viral advertisements made for the 2012 Hollywood film. They were made with very slick-production values and can looked very convincing. They were released on sites like YouTube and didn’t even mention the 2012 film. I’m sure many people didn’t realise they were advertisements for the film and thought they were real. And that was the point of the virals; the idea was to get people talking about 2012, to get the idea in people’s heads, so that they’d be excited to see a 2012 film. I think it worked much more effectively than the filmmakers thought it would, check out some of the clips…
“The Mayan calendar predicts it, and modern science confirms…”, both of these statements sound convincing but are 100% false!
You can find loads of other 2012 clips on the internet, most not as convincing as these, but there are a lot. It gets worse too; I think the 2012 movie viral videos did a lot to get the myth started, but one famous interview with Michio Kaku helped to give the myth a lot of credibility and I think probably scared a lot of people. I like Michio Kaku, he’s a passionate scientist who specialises in cosmology and string-theory, and he’s a popular advocate for science, he has a number of TV shows, books and a podcasts that try to make science interesting and understandable to the public. However, Michio is not a solar scientist, and in 2009 he gave an interview on Fox News where he went a bit over the top and made some statements about the dangers of solar storms that were incorrect, such as the Sun’s magnetic field flipping in 2012 and releasing a ‘tsunami of radiation’ (this does not happen), and 2012 seeing much stronger activity than initially predicted (the opposite is true). I’m not sure why Michio Kaku gave this interview and where he got some of the crazy ideas from, but I’m sure it did a lot to help the 2012 myth.
Unfortunately Dr. Kaku is talking a fair amount of bunkum
I think there’s a bigger effect too, something more than the confusion created by each clip, book and website alone. I think that for some people, the more they see an idea and the more they feel other people believe in it, then the more real it becomes for them, no matter how ridiculous. The fact that the 2012 idea is becoming more popular may be enough to convince many people that it’s true. Something like “if it’s not true, then why is everyone talking about it?”
So why are there so many books, websites and TV shows devoted to 2012? Simple, because it’s a business. You can make money talking about 2012, and not just from films, books and TV, people are even selling all kinds of 2012 paraphernalia, from magic crystals to 2012 survival packs (how would a torch and bottled water help you survive the end of humanity anyway?) I used to work in marketing for beauty products, and I can tell you that if someone is trying to take your money then they’re probably bullshitting you, so if someone’s telling you to buy something because the world is ending, you can be confident they’re lying to you. I find it disgusting that so many people are willing to exploit the fears and ignorance of other people to make a buck. We all need to make a living, but these are awful people.
Another reason may be that we’ve been trained to accept religious authority and to believe in an Armageddon, so the 2012 myth feels instinctually believable. Many of us were brought up in religious cultures, and we were taught from a young age that a belief system didn’t need to have any proof, that as long as lots of people believed in it and that it had been around for a long time, then it should be accepted as truth without question. Many of these belief systems also predicted the eventual end of the world, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and lots of other religions have their own versions of the end of the world. Because of this, perhaps the 2012 myth fits in with ideas that many of us hold about the world, that ancient religious beliefs are still valid today, even those from other cultures, such as the Maya, and that the world could really end. Even if people don’t adhere to a particular religious faith, maybe our culture primes some of us to find ideas like the 2012 apocalypse believable.
Another important reason I think is mistrust of authority. Many people are suspicious of scientists and the government, and our society is rife with conspiracy theories. If someone from NASA or the government makes a statement that the 2012 apocalypse is nonsense, then many people mistrust this, some may even take it as proof of a cover-up by those in charge. I do think we should be suspicious of our Governments, as there are plenty of occasions that our politicians have misled and lied to us, I’m English and over the last few years’ lots of members of the UK parliament (like the US House of Representatives) have been found guilty of committing fraud with taxpayers money. Politicians are to be mistrusted and subject to as much scrutiny as possible.
However scientists are not the same. Some scientists do go bad, and are coerced into lying to the public when money is involved, but usually they are found-out and it’s a very small % of them. Most scientists are passionate about spreading the truth, after all no one becomes a scientist to get rich, they usually do it for the love of knowledge, and scientists actually make successful careers by proving other scientists wrong. A group of scientists almost never agree on anything, but when they do, you can be confident they’re right and that they’re not lying to you, and you won’t find one real scientist who supports the 2012 myths.
Another reason may be that the 2012 predictions are fun and exciting. This sounds a bit contradictory I know, that people would believe in, and be frightened by an idea just because they find it exciting. A simple explanation might be that people enjoy being scared, lots of us like rollercoaster’s’, bungee jumping and parachuting out of planes for the rush of adrenaline that fear can bring (not me though, I hate fun, I prefer the adrenaline rush that comes from drinking a cup of tea in the bath).
A slightly more complex idea might be that the idea of the end of the world is appealing because life can be pretty boring and I’m sure many people are unfulfilled by their daily routines. You get up too early in the morning, struggle through a dull and tiresome commute to get to work, were you perform arbitrary tasks to make other people rich, come home exhausted after the best part of the day has passed and try to get interested in making food before watching some derivate and soulless TV like ‘Pets do the craziest things’. You go to bed, then do it all over again, for another soul-crushing 40 years.
Ideas like the 2012 doomsday add a bit of spice to life; 2012 offers an end to a dull routine and a boring existence. I’m sure many people who know about the 2012 predictions, but don’t 100% believe in them are in this category, they think the end of the world probably won’t happen on the 21st of December 2012, but they feel its exciting to think there is a very small chance that something could happen, that maybe they won’t be waking up at 7:00am to go to the office every Monday for the next 40 years. But I think for some people this might go too far. The idea may be appealing to some level of their consciousness because it represents change to a routine and dull life, but at the same time they may also be terrified of the idea, for them its both appealing and also terrifying.
My final reason is that I think many people believe that humanity deserves to be punished. Religion is full of these kinds of ideas, that humanity is imperfect, that we do awful things; therefore we need a God to punish us for our sins. Some religious groups have even jumped on to the 2012 bandwagon, twisting it to fit their own beliefs about the end of the world and the Rapture. More contemporary versions of this idea focus on the environment and replace God with Mother Nature or Gaia. The idea is that as humanity has exploited the natural world, Mother Nature has been pushed out of balance and can only restore itself by destroying humanity, like some kind of natural defence mechanism for the planet. This quote from a Yahoo Answers poster shows exactly what I’m talking about:
If it happens, it happens. The human race is responsible for the greenhouse effect, shifting climates, water level rising and overall distruction to the world. It will be our own faults.
This isn’t how ecosystems work though, there are balancing mechanisms (called negative feedback loops) but there is no one purpose in Nature, there is no conscious Gaia that will return the environment to a healthy equilibrium, just a complex set of unthinking mechanistic processes. Gaia cannot rise up against humanity and crush us. This is an example of humans endowing the natural world with human qualities of revenge and justice, ideas that don’t exist in nature. If we are wiped out as a race it will not be because the Earth planned it.
So that’s my hypothesis, 2012 offers excitement, redemption for our guilt, is a great business opportunity and fits in with many of our existing religious beliefs. Oh, and some of those videos on YouTube are pretty convincing.
If you’ve read all of this then congratulations, I know it’s a long post. And if you think I’m wrong or that I’ve missed something then please leave me a comment.