Thursday, 20 December 2012


“This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang but a whimper.” - T.S. Eliot

If you believe the media, the end of the world is approaching. The Mayan calendar’s “long count” began on 13 August 3114 BC and will end tomorrow on 21 December 2012. This is of course the Mayan calendar equivalent of the dawn of their version of the “new millennium”, but for some doomsayers, the end of the long count signals the end of the world. This has been aided and abetted by disaster movies like “2012” and “Armageddon”. It is not surprising that around one in ten people worldwide think the world will end in 2012, while about 9% of Australians also think this is true.

I am happy to say that I have lived through about 60 End of World predictions so far, so this latest one will make it 61. You know you’re getting old when you have survived 60 end of world predictions…

The fascination with the 2012 doomsday, which has received a great deal of media attention and has captured people’s imagination, tells us that in the current state that the world is in, we are uncertain about our future and we manufacture scenarios that exteriorise these dreadful visions and our innermost fears. The good old familiar world as we used to know it is changing dramatically, so what better way to express it than by manufacturing a myth? Human nature as it is through the ages, i.e. not changing much, explains why people have felt the need to create myths not only about the creation of the world but also about the end of the world.

Belief that the world will end in 2012, although widespread, is another belief in the long list of similar apocalypse myths that we have invented.  Myth is a powerful device for people to relieve their anxieties and a tried and true method for catharsis through the ages. People express their fear about massive changes and uncertainty by developing myths that act as pressure release valves. Myth enables us to experience the world in a more intense, yet more bearable, way. We can defuse the precariousness of our existence through the construction of a myth that allows to vocalise our most dreaded phobias, and to visualise our worst nightmares. By constructing a myth, we are exorcising our demons.

So what will happen on December 22 when the world still exists? This world of today with all of its anxieties, fears, uncertainties and more real threats to our well-being and long-term survival. If we look at the past when prophecies have spectacularly and repeatedly failed, people continue to believe in the myth, and they latch their lapsed myth onto a another, more distant myth of doomsday. Another myth is newly and conveniently constructed, with numerous reasons invented to explain away the failure of the previous myth to deliver…

We have some more real threats to deal with than the Mayan “End of the World”: Climate change and global warming is changing our ecology and promises a more sinister, longer-term doom. The world economy is precarious, and the financial turmoil that has decimated Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and other economies worldwide shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Military conflict continues to rage in Afghanistan and the Middle East, there is ongoing civil unrest in Mali, the nations of the Arab Spring, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau. Communities are doing their best to recover and reconstruct following Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, Hurricane Sandy in the US, recent earthquakes in Japan, and other natural calamities, that seem to be occurring more frequently. The tragedy of last weekend’s school shooting in Connecticut has highlighted that there are enormous numbers of people around the world who are facing the festive season following losses that are almost too horrible to imagine.

What can we do as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, as humans to make the world a safer, better place? What can we collectively work at, in order to deal with perennial and long-lived problems that seem to be recalcitrant to decades of persistent efforts? Disease continues to cause death and suffering throughout the world. Doctors without Borders and numerous aid organisations around the world are doing their best to limit these problems, and yet they are met with mind-numbing resistance! The latest atrocity in Pakistan where health workers were killed or injured while trying to help people by organising polio vaccinations is horrific. The news of mass shootings from the USA that are regularly reported, and are illustrated graphically by the latest Connecticut incident bring about short-lived debates about gun control – the sickening thing being that gun sales increase after such incidents…

All that the financial crisis that threatens major world economies seems to do is stimulate policies that are further based on the support of multinational company profit-making and perpetuation of rich people’s greed. After each natural disaster, spending on prevention and relief measures is talked about, but money is channelled to other more “convenient” areas, like “defence” or “offence”, as the case may be, and whatever military threat can be manufactured in order to sell the arms made by the multinational companies. Drugs cause millions upon millions of deaths and misery worldwide and yet they are supported covertly by governments whose economies depend on the ill-gotten profits of drug trafficking.

Who needs a Mayan apocalypse, who needs an asteroid to destroy the earth? Who needs a big bang? Our earth, our civilisation, humanity itself is dying slowly and painfully with a whimper…

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