“What’s to be scared of, if it’s unavoidable?”
Vladimir Putin, Dec 20, 2012
It did not end, and while there is much evidence to suggest our days are numbered (aren’t they always?), the earth is continuing its not so smooth existence. There might be a few out there who felt that the four horsemen should have come with their assortment of nasties, wreaking vengeance on human kind. But facts and wishes do not necessarily converge.
In the case of the Mayan calendar, it was a happy excuse to sell matches and goods in anticipation of the end. The tourist industry was boosted – at various chance locations. The ancient Mayans might well have been amused as people flocked to sites in the world that would be able to resist the promised apocalypse on December 21. One such place was the village of Bugarach at the foot of the French Pyrenees, a site which would, it was thought, be the site for a grand escape, courtesy of a UFO. Even the veteran thespian Gérard Depardieu, always a man to avoid temporal tax regimes, is rumoured have made his way there in the hope of capitalising on the chartered escape.
The Serbs have offered their own place of salvation – a “magic mountain” by the name of Mount Rtanj on the Bulgarian border. Electromagnetic waves are said to emanate from the pyramid-shaped structure. Those clever enough to advertise on “paranormal tourism” are reaping the rewards.
However advanced (and we can debate what indicators constitute an advanced society), fantasies of apocalypse will always have currency. How valuable that currency can be is quite something else. If one is reading The Telegraph, its value must be that of monopoly money, a caricature of finality. That is our great statement of doom – the apocalypse shall be blogged. “Mayan Apocalypse: the end of the world – live!” “We’ve had a pretty good innings ladies and gentlemen – cured all sorts of disease, created great art, invented the printing press, jazz and the X Factor, and generally had a good laugh. But time is up. The Mayans predicted it and most modern scientists agree” (Dec 21).
Individuals such as Russian strong man and professional bully Vladimir Putin decided to weigh into the discussion, coming up with his own prediction – the world will end, but in 4.5 billon years. His math proved to be bit shoddy – calculating the sun’s life cycle at 7 billion years, he proceeded to claim that, having already lived through 4.5 billion years, it had another 4.5 billion to continue. What’s two billion years in the scheme of things?
The Chinese authorities had far more earthly concerns, irritated by a cult group that was spreading “rumours” of the world’s instant demise. Between four to five hundred members of the Church of the Almighty God, founded by Zhao Weishan in central Henan province, were detained. According to the Xinhua news service, “The Qinghai police bureau stated that the police had stormed numerous centres belonging to the Almighty God cult, arresting more than 400 members and confiscating over 5,000 items including banners, DVDs, slogans, books, computers, speakers and cell phones.”
Stomp out rumours of fantastic annihilation seems to be the directive, and the communist authorities are not particularly thrilled about the prospects of a female Jesus Christ who just might save the world, however convincing Zhao might have been. Where corruption doth prosper, faith finds a way of wriggling through.
Others felt this was hardly an excuse not to have a party. Survival tips have been distributed. The Guardian was good enough to look at examples from literature in the hope that we might dip into a book or two before perishing, presumably on Kindle. As for The Day of the Triffids, “don’t look at the sky.” For The Road, antibiotics would have to be carried in abundance.
It is fitting then, to finish off on a note from the medical establishment, if psychoanalytical techniques fall into that particular ring of practice. A humourless William J. Spring, writing on the verge of World War II in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, “The idea that the world is coming to an end, or has already done so, is one which is frequently met in schizophrenics, particular in the early stages of the illness. This idea may take the form of fixed delusion or of an anxious obsession.” Six years after that date, those who had lived through the conflict could count their blessings. Now, wishing for the end of the world has becoming a padded luxury and middle class amusement.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org