I received a message from a former student and current acquaintance today asking me whether he ought to be worried about 2012, specifically because of concerns about the Mayan calendar. On one hand, I was a little disappointed that he would take this seriously at all, but not all that surprised given the way our minds work, the general level of superstition—including my own beloved ones—and the hype that the media gives to every worry.
So here was my response:
Well, for one thing, the Mayan calendar was cyclical. The fact that it ends is supposed to mean in fact that it just begins over, not that the world ends. For another thing, if we are to think of the Mayans as somehow prescient, they didn't foresee their own downfall or at least the general downfall of their culture, they didn't seem to foresee the much later coming of Europeans, etc. So, I'm not sure, even if they were predicting the end of the world—and they weren't—they really weren't the best at predicting the future, even the immediate future, so I'm not sure they should get much more credence than the Tarot readers on El Cajon Boulevard.