You don’t need a weatherman. To know which way the wind blows. – Bob Dylan
Dear Reader: If, in fact, you are reading these words, then the much ballyhooed, Mayan Calendar predicted, internet
–hyped end of the world, on the 21st of December, fizzled out like a soaking wet skyrocket on New Year’s Eve.
Amidst all the pre-Apocalypse falderal, even NASA decided to inject a bit of cosmic reason into the unfolding drama. A press release declared soberly: “The prediction that the world will end four days before Christmas 2012 – potentially wreaking havoc with gift buying and travel plans – is a long-standing misconception.” There are apparently no planetary alignments, misalignments, threatening asteroid, meteor or comet trajectories that would give rise to the kind of cosmic mayhem foreseen by soothsayers of various and sundry stripes. Reason alone, of course, never stopped anyone from shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. After all, the fun lies precisely in provoking the stampede. And watching the bodies pile up.
As I write, the breaking news is full of images and eyewitness accounts of the latest sicko shooting in a sleepy small town in Connecticut. Early reports indicate that a self-anointed Rambo wannabe took it upon himself to kick start the apocalypse by suiting up as one of the Four Horsemen, locked and loaded, and rampaging through the local schoolyard. The international outpouring of grief at the senseless tragedy is completely justified. At the same time, somehow it gets way less coverage when the bodies pile up as a result of any number of the slower moving apocalyptic processes which are inexorably shaping the future of children far from the slaughter in Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The fact of the matter is that those who are sucked into the teeth of the slow motion meat grinder that is world history are seldom even aware of just what is in fact going on. And even less capable of doing much more than ‘duck and cover’ as the bullets ricochet, the shrapnel mauls the unfortunate or the shit hits the proverbial fan. Far easier to focus on some misinterpreted Mayan mumbo jumbo and fantasize about any number of renditions of the Big Bang theory of an apocalyptic finale than to delve into the complicated orchestration of political and economic chords which have changed the tune in the lives of millions.
Children growing up, for example, stranded in the formerly industrial heartland of the US, places like Detroit, where
vast swaths of the once thriving city resemble if anything, a post-apocalyptic landscape, simply have no idea that they’re in “the middle” of something. They don’t realize that the cold-hearted calculus of the globalized economy has left large swaths of landscape with a look: ‘the world is flattened’. (Apologies to Thomas Friedman)
As a ten year old observes in a novel I’m currently reading about kids living through hard times: “The Beginning of the End, can feel a lot like the middle, when you’re living through it.” Some of the more honest economists use the term ‘the new normal’ when talking about, say, the 50% rate of unemployment for young people in Spain. For any number of kids worldwide, ‘normal’ is to grow up in an area where the wand of the global economy has failed to work its magic, and the ‘new normal’ economy revolves around drugs, theft and increasingly sophisticated ‘adaptations’ to resource acquisition within the human ecology of their surroundings. The morality of survival takes precedence over other, perhaps more
And, hey, just what’s so special about the Maya anyway? Lets concede for a minute that they were smart enough to predict the end of our world. The historical record shows however, that they lacked the wherewithal to stave off or
change course in time to prevent their own demise. All the pyramids, astronomy and advanced cultural amenities in the world won’t save your butt when you overshoot your environmental support system. Current research on the Mayan demise indicates that deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices produced a fragile ecosystem, so that all it took was a drought to deliver the coup de grace.
Dozens of generations of kids then grew up playing in the shadows and living in the rubble of the vanishing architectural legacy left by their forgotten forbears. Accustomed to the ‘new normal’ in the wake of one version of apocalypse, life may have well been a much happier affair during the centuries-long interregnum until Spanish horsemen arrived on the scene, chomping at the bit to funnel New World resources into a nascent global economy and impose full spectrum dominance resting squarely on the terror tripod of ‘guns, germs and steel.’
Two salient facts are worth noting here. ‘Apocalypse’ is an apt description for the massive die off of the Amerindian population as a result of the European contact, conquest and occupation of the New World. Less widely known, but very interesting, is that the regrowth of tropical lowland forest in the Americas—you know, like when millions of farmers died—absorbed enough CO2 out of the atmosphere to be considered one of the causes of the Little Ice Age from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Although the thermometer went in the other direction from where we are currently headed, the effects on society provide a kind of barometer, or portent, for what happens in societies as the pressure rises due to climate change.
Climate disruption may well be the key to letting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse out of their stables for an extended romp through the fields, forests and cities of the future. Chronicles from Europe during the long-term decline in agricultural production of the Little Ice Age portray a scenario of famines, hypothermia, bread riots and “despotic leaders brutalizing an increasingly dispirited peasantry.” There was even an uptick in witch hunting, no doubt an example of that ingrained human tendency to find a fall guy, a scapegoat on whom to blame the sorry state of whatever affairs are currently out of whack.
In all likelihood the Maya were no more adept at predicting the future than we, as a ‘civilization’, were at predicting or preventing the gruesome massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut. Sadly enough, both stories have a way of capturing and diverting the attention span needed to read the weather, to ascertain ‘which way the wind blows’, to build shelter that withstands the storms to come and to rein in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse before they trample our collective future into the dust.
Tom Peifer is an ecological land use consultant with 18 years experience in Guanacaste. 2658-8018. firstname.lastname@example.org
El Centro Verde is dedicated to researching and promoting sustainable land use, permaculture and environmentally sound development. www.elcentroverde.org/
(A side note to the (possible) archeologist of the future, digging through the ruins of a printer’s office in what used to be San Jose, Costa Rica: If you are reading these words, then, in fact, the shit did indeed hit the fan a long time ago and the rest, as we once used to say, is history.)