If you thought we were all done with millennial panics and numerically significant dates for another thousand years or so, think again. Mac Tonnies looks a short way ahead to December 2012, the much-touted end of the Fifth Sun of the Mayan calendar, and wonders whether we’re doomed as a species to perpetually rebuild such temporal milestones.
On December 21st, 2012, the world ends – and begins anew, like a PC rebooted after yet another Windows software patch. Or at least that’s the general idea. Like the Y2K phenomenon before it, the 2012 meme is only fractionally tolerant of agnosticism: either one accepts that Earth will undergo some vaguely defined transformation or one does not.
I take a cautious middle ground, choosing to view the end of time (or, rather, the ancient Mayans’ conception of it) as a useful temporal rallying point, a juncture not unlike a hyperlink leading to some dodgy – if tantalizing – FTP site. Regardless of one’s predisposition for blissful New Age certainties (a territory investigated with rigor in Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl), the idea of the future as a palpable location, complete with its own native ecology, exerts a stubborn appeal. For better or worse, 2012 functions as a temporal touchstone in a world reeling from events that seem irreconcilable with causality.
And lest one argues that the idea of a sudden leap in human consciousness is the exclusive domain of credulous wannabe archaeologists, one only has to refer to the extrapolations of Ray Kurzweil, whose notion of an imminent technological Singularity is not without its own share of psycho-spiritual implications. All in all, I can think of much stranger things than the abrupt emergence of a new form of being – and while I doubt such a thing will occur on a specific date (however meticulously calculated) neither can I entirely exclude the possibility.
Maybe my willingness to entertain the prospect that the 2012 meme might be valid (at least on some level) is my conviction that our present perceptual framework requires nothing less than a massive overhaul if we’re to carry on as a species. In that sense, at least, I can back up my personal fears with those of any number of futurists and scientists. Stephen Hawking, for example, proposes that humanity is fated to extinction unless we bravely begin the colonization of space. Closer to home, Jim Kunstler envisions the Western world stumbling through the endgame of a “long emergency” which we refused to heed for fear of rousing ourselves from so many reassuring delusions.
Considering the myriad perils littering our path, the desire for some external catalyst to assist our slow awakening is well-nigh irresistible. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Mayans had foreseen our dilemma and, in essence, spawned the 2012 meme to serve as a timely reminder? Perhaps our future history has been tagged with the calendrical equivalent of an Internet pop-up ad, in which case we can only hope that the product being advertised bodes well for the continuity of intelligence.
The most likely scenario, of course, is that 2012 comes and goes, unremarked and duly forgotten as we forge ahead into the depths of the new century. What then? Sensing a void on our horizon, will we always labor under the comforting shadow of one “2012” or another?
If the first step in creating a future is nurturing the capacity to envision it, then the forthcoming 2012 – alternately interpreted as both awakening and apocalypse – harbors potential that we’ve only begun to tap.
Mac Tonnies is an author/essayist whose futuristic fiction and speculative essays have appeared in many print and online publications. He’s the author of Illumined Black, a collection of science fiction short-stories, and After the Martian Apocalypse (Paraview Pocket Books, 2004). Mac maintains Posthuman Blues, a widely read blog devoted to emerging technologies and paranormal phenomena, and is a member of the Society for Planetary SETI Research. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he writes, reads and surfs the Net. He is currently at work on a new book.
[Loving the Alien column header image credited to RedMonkeyVirus]