Laughing in the face of the end of civilisation

Last updated 12:00 22/12/2012

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OPINION: Whew! Today marks the end of the end-of-the-world hype.

Until the next time.

One day someone will be right, though that will be of little consolation to them, given they will never be recognised.

It could even be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is typically unafraid to tackle even the biggest questions.

Answering journalists at his annual press conference in Moscow, he says we are about halfway through the Sun's life cycle - leaving another 4.5 billion years before it flickers out.

The end of everything (even his presidency) is nothing to be afraid of, Mr Putin assured the nation with a straight face, because it's unavoidable.

In the meantime, there are other human forces at work that are equally inevitable.

Such as the willingness to give an apocalyptic spin to the discovery of an ancient calendar from the Mayan tribes in central America.

Etched into one heavily eroded Mayan monument unearthed in Mexico was a long-count calendar - covering 5125 years - that ran out in the early hours of this morning (December 21, in central American time).

Thanks to the internet and the media - after all, who doesn't love hearing about the biggest, and last, story of all time - it has taken on a life of its own.

In one, rational, view, it's hard to believe anyone could actually believe a random date on a piece of stone inscribed by an ancient tribe could herald Armageddon.

Even more so because scholars have found other Mayan inscriptions that go far beyond December 21 and say the the alleged doomsday text relates more to a change of Mayan deities than the end of time.

But in other ways it's not surprising that there are those who think a mountain in the south of France houses a UFO ready to save believers, or that a peak in Serbia or a village in Turkey offer safe havens to ride out the global meltdown.

Since the dawn of civilisation, there have always been those predicting the end of it. Some have predicted it more than once, such as California radio preacher Harold Camping, whose latest deadline was October 21 last year. His repeated failure became the news rather than anything cataclysmic.

Maybe doomsayers are voicing a wider expression of their own mortality.

In larger groups it has been attributed to a disillusionment with the state of the world, and a desire to create a better one.

That's a theme that has been seized on by many marking the Mayan calendar event, including our own city councillor Ruth Copeland, who talks cryptically of "the birth of a new understanding between people."

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Others are more cynical. Television weather presenters have had a ball with predictions about the chance of wind, rain or apocalypse, or forecasts of temperatures reaching 1100 degrees.

Some have taken to Twitter to confess their sins in 140 characters or less before the end, and good humour abounds, including the one about people making jokes like there's no tomorrow.

But some also suggest the worldwide focus on the world itself might have positive spinoffs for the environment, heralding the very change that the Maya foresaw thousands of years ago.

Spooky.

Or maybe they just came up with the longest running practical joke of all time.

- The Nelson Mail

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