he year 2000 came and went.If we ﬂash back for a moment,we’ll recall that in the lead-upto 2000, chaos was predicted toenvelop our computerized andelectriﬁed civilization. It wascalled Y2K: a simple ﬂaw incomputer software design wassupposed to bring about the end of the civilizedworld. Power stations, telecommunications, bankaccounts, billing processes were all supposed togrind to a halt or be thrown into a state of chaos.But it never happened. Instead, the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000 is best remem-bered for the stupendous displays of ﬁreworks inprincipal cities of the world, many of them televisedand shared with viewers in all nations. The specterof doomsday was a phantom.A decade later, where are we? Wars are beingfought in Iraq and Afghanistan using sophisticatedcomputerized weaponry. A languishing globaleconomy is desperately trying to revive itself. TheInternet is an indispensable part of life for themajority in the Western world and even for a con-siderable number of individuals in the developingworld. And we are being told about anotherapproaching doomsday.If we are to believe the latest hype, December21 or 23, 2012, is when the world will
come toa climactic end. This time the fear has been sparkedby an interpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar,furthered by numerous books and documentaries.And it has spawned, perhaps predictably, yetanother Hollywood disaster movie.The supposed cataclysm of 2012 may appearto be corroborated by some sources, ranging fromeconomics to science. That’s not to say that 2012 isnecessarily central to their concerns; in some cases,it’s just a convenient peg on which to hang their hatas they rally support for other pet theories.But does the Mayan calendar really speak of an end of the world, or is it just the end of one cal-endar cycle—a recurring event according toMayan reckoning? Those who have studied thecalendar and the culture that developed it dismissthe entire end-of-the-world prediction as a misin-terpretation of the data: they say that it doesn’tspeak of an end per se but of a new beginning.
(See“Mayan Mayhem: Is 2012 the End of the World?”at www.vision.org.)
Still, the Mayan calendar is not the only sourceof current apocalyptic angst. The words of Nostrad-amus also ﬁgure heavily into the latest prognostica-tions. In fact, an Internet search on “Nostradamus2012” yields nearly 1.5 million hits. Nostradamuswrote on religious themes; indeed, the 2012 themehas become a phenomenon for the New Agemovement and thus a religious event.But the 16th-century seer’s writings, recordedin quatrains, or poetry in four-line format, are ﬂexi-ble enough to support any of several apocalypticscenarios that are being put forward today. OneWeb site that provides resources and backgroundmaterial for those interested in 2012 offers this eval-uation of Nostradamus: “He is best known for hisbook
. . . . Many of his propheciesdealt with disaster such as plagues, earthquakes,wars, ﬂoods and the coming of three antichrists.However his predictions are vague and peopletend to apply his words to many situations.”It’s an appropriate comment. People have oftenused Nostradamus to bolster their own predictions,though so far his mystical verses have proved mostaccurate when superimposed onto past events.
So why are so many drawn in, or at least intrigued, byapocalyptic hype every time a new theory emerges?Average people of all descriptions tend to be at leastsomewhat interested in speculating about futureevents and the possible demise of civilization as weknow it. Banking on this inclination,
magazine(August 7, 2009) offered a chance to “choose yourown apocalypse.” Providing 144 scenarios, they
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