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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Just Another End Of The World

by Alison Hudson

December 20, 2012

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Donate As I complete the revision of this blog post, it has already turned December 21st in some parts of the world. Unsurprisingly, we're all still here.

Not that anyone with even a scintilla of critical thinking skills thought otherwise. In fact, it seems that the whole Mayan Apocalypse thing is not something most people are getting seriously worked up over. For all its dire, ominous bluster, the Mayan Apocalypse has arrived more with a chuckle than anything else.

I'm not saying there aren't folks out there who believe, or who are preparing for the end; there are, just like there were true believers in 12/12/12, in Harold Camping's failed predictions last year, in Planet Nibiru crashing into Earth in 2003, and in every other apocalyptic prediction that's ever been made. But a few years ago it seemed like the Mayan Apocalypse had a little more momentum than these other predictions. Turns out it may have had a wider awareness, but that awareness didn't translate into belief.

Quite the opposite, in fact. The Internet has been awash in mocking comics, video parodies, image memes, and genuine skeptical articles about the Mayan Apocalypse (and hey, even a certain award-winning podcast made an episode about it). Apocalypse 2012 has pretty much become a running joke in my own Facebook feed. No one believes it, but everyone's having fun pretending it's true or making fun of those who still believe.

For all its pop culture popularity, the Mayan Apocalypse certainly didn't take hold with the seriousness that, say the Y2K Bug did back in 2000. I remember the real dread that year as January 31st approached. Governments invested in it; families prepared for it; businesses feared it. The college I worked for at the time put out memos detailing what they were doing to combat the Y2K Bug and what plans they had in place if there were problems ... or worse.

Heck, I remember being in a box store late in the evening of December 31, 1999. The new year had already turned in places like Australia, Japan, India, and Europe, and nothing had happened; power grids stayed on, jets didn't fall from the sky, computers didn't suddenly stop working. Disaster averted. Yet as I stood in the checkout line I saw the guy ahead of me checking out with bottled water, candles, and a first aid kit. "Just in case," he said sheepishly to the cashier as she rang him up.

So why didn't the Mayan Apocalypse, for all its cultural awareness, take hold the way Y2K did, or the way some past predictions have?

It wasn't real, for one thing; the Mayans never actually predicted any such thing. This truth was repeated early and often in books, magazines, blogs, and videos. But that hasn't stopped people from panicking before.

Another thing that may have stopped the Mayan Apocalypse from gaining a lot of real believers is its complete lack of connection to Christianity or one of the other major world religions. When Harold Camping made his infamous October 2011 prediction last year, he had a flock of religious faithful ready to take him at his word. So did the likes of Marshall Applewhite and Jim Jones. But no one worships the Mayans or their gods today; the best the Mayan Apocalypse ever had going for it was the appeal to ancient wisdom fallacy. That may sell a few movie tickets, but it's not going to translate into a lot of true believers.

And finally, the Internet has to be given some of the credit on this one. While the Internet has become an echo chamber for woo and other silly thinking, it's also become a place where skepticism can have a broader, more powerful impact. The fact is, the skeptical community really got the word out about this one, and they have been getting it out for several years now. While mainstream cable channels like the Discovery Channel continue to run lame "What If?" so-called-documentaries about it, the Internet has combined serious skepticism with the kind of mocking skepticism commonly seen on social networks and blogs to make true belief in the Mayan Apocalypse something really hard to sustain, or at least to defend publicly. It's been pushed to the insular fringe where it belongs.

So another end-of-the-world prediction has come and gone. It won't be the last; it never is. I'm sure we'll all be hearing about the next "definite" date of the end of all things by this time next year. Because there are two things that just never seem to end: the world, and predictions about its demise.

by Alison Hudson

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