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Apocalypse Now & Then: Aunt Margaret and the Mayans

In Children and Family, Economy, Entertainment, Health, Media, National News, Opinion, Politics, psychology, Religion, Science, Senior Lifestyle, sociology, Technology, television, Uncategorized on November 26, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Case in point. The graphic is actually the AZTEC calendar, commonly misused to represent the Mayan version. Misinformation is only part of the problem with the doomsday scare.

By Gery L. Deer

People seem to have a bizarre, and sometimes irrational, fascination with the end of the world. So far, however, concerns about ominous apocalyptic events have been little more than the babblings of high-profile conspiracy nuts, money-grubbing religious fanatics and an over abundance of exaggerated media coverage. Still, the idea of impending doom must generate some money for someone because every few years, there’s a new disaster on the horizon.

In November of 1999, at the age of 91, my Great Aunt Margaret was still a smart woman, if not particularly personable to some, and she’d lost most of her eyesight to Glaucoma. A retired school teacher, she had spent more than three decades living alone in her old, block house at the foothills of the Appalachians, surrounded by other even more isolated senior citizens.

I was standing with her outside the house, watching my dad do something to her garage door, when I felt her frail, thin hand take my arm as she said, calmly, “Gery, what’s this about the world ending or everyone losing all their money because of a problem with all the computers?” Catching me somewhat off guard, I had to think for a moment on how to explain to her the Y-2-K issue in a way she’d understand, considering she knew nothing about computers. Her home still had a manual television and rotary telephone.

“Well,” I began, “old computers only allowed for two digit year notations in their programming so when they roll over from the year 1999 to 2000 on December 31st, they’ll think it’s 1900.” I went on to explain how some software would generate miscalculations but it really wouldn’t cause as big a problem as the media had blown it up to be. Satisfied with my understanding and explanation of the problem, she nodded and dismissed it. But for a time, she was frightened, actually scared she’d lose all her money and that the electricity and water to her home would stop flowing to her isolated home in the hills.

The idea that she and her elderly friends were so frightened by disinformation legitimized by a panic-loving media really angered me. A short time later, laying my technical and writing careers on the table, I published an editorial denouncing Y2K as little more than techno paranoia. As it turns out, unsurprisingly, I was right, but now we’re faced with a similar problem in the form of the Mayan calendar prophecy and other end of the world predictions set for December of this year.

Just like their Y2K counterparts, religious and survivalist extremists from all over the world are out there touting an imminent doomsday of Biblical proportions, stirring up baseless fear and panic. As the stories continue to be blown further out of proportion petrified people pointlessly buy everything from survival books to bomb shelters in an attempt to protect themselves. But experts say there is nothing to fear. The misunderstood Mayan prophecy is based on a calendar that restarts, marking a long period of time the way we might catalog a century or millennium.

Of course we could still fall victim to our own stupidity and blow ourselves up over petty arguments about who owns the world’s resources or whose god is the ‘real’ one. We’re human and we’ve been killing each other since the model was introduced so that’s not likely to stop. But the idea of a cataclysmic natural disaster destroying all life and civilization on earth is pretty far out. Is it impossible, no; staggeringly unlikely, yes.

In any case, if something that big happens there’s nothing that any of us can do about it. All the lunatics out in the woods with a few boxes of dried beef and lots of guns will be just as dead as the rest of us.

Sadly, my aunt passed away several years ago, well into her 90s. But, for all the other “Aunt Margarets” out there, frightened by all this apocalyptic nonsense, please count your blessings, sit back, relax and enjoy the holidays. I promise you, like I promised her; the world isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.