Is the Maya Doomsday Theory Offensive?
As your Facebook feed might have reminded you, the 2012 doomsday countdown is upon us. And while most people consider the idea of the world actually ending on December 21 to be nothing more than a marketing strategy to sell beer, a punchline used to hide our pain over Twinkies' demise or an excuse to watch an eh John Cusack movie, they all cite the same source: the Maya calendar.
Too bad for the naysayers that the Maya consider this to be a time of celebration.
"The Maya calendar counted by cycles and they made ceremonies at the end of cycles," says Manuel Aguilar, a professor of the art and culture of Latin America at Cal State-Los Angeles. He adds that Dec. 21 marks the end of the 13th baktun (or group of 20 k'atun cycles, totaling 144,000 days) of the Maya Long-Form Calendar, which would be cause for celebration for the Maya.
"Someone created an idea like that when the cycle ends it will be the end of the Maya calendar, but in reality it's at the end of one more of the big cycles of time that the Maya counted," he says. "Someone here in the West in modern times saw that as an opportunity to interpret this in ways to make money."
So is it racist to use the Maya calendar as an opportunity to sell beer or make jokes about junk food?
"I don't know if I would call it racist, but offensive yes," says Aguilar. "We are using the Maya that was a very sophisticated culture of the past linked to our own abuse of the present. That is very superficial and very poor ... It was offensive in the '70s to tell that the Maya pyramids were built by UFOs because that means human beings are idiots who cannot do something like that. Linking the Maya to Twinkies and these types of things means that we are undervaluing these types of people. And the only thing they were saying is expressing their counting of time with cycles."
Aguilar points out that, given our fragile ecological system and countless wars, today's humans are doing a pretty good job of ending the world on our own without the need for a doomsday apocalypse. Instead, he says, think of this time as a chance to start afresh.
"This is the opportunity to change many ways that we have done in the past and try to start a better humanity, a better society taking advantage of these symbolic changes of time," he says. "We should be happy about it and see it as an opportunity to face the future with a new attitude because the way we are handling history is societal now."
We'll drink to that.