A lot of scoffing was done after Dec. 21, when the apocalyptic vision of the Mayan calendar failed to fulfill the prophecy of world destruction. Some New Agers were seriously disappointed that the planet was not sucked into a black hole or T-boned by the planet Nibiru. There wasn't even an earthquake, volcano or tsunami to shake things up.
Given our morbid fascination with doomsday news, there is high entertainment value to pestilence, famine, murder, superstorms, war, etc. The letdown of the Mayan prediction was disappointing for news junkies, dark mystics, moralists and advertisers. Face it: Many feel that the world would be improved with a captivating cataclysm - as long as they are spared.
If you were a Mayan, the calendar prediction was late by about 1,100 years, as the Mayan civilization came to an end around A.D. 900. That's when the stone cities of their Central American empire were abandoned amid a mysterious decline that still has historians scratching their grizzled old heads.
For some, the Mayan prediction was damned accurate. Consider those unfortunates who happened to die on Dec. 21. Their world ended. Long live the Mayans!
Feeling smug because a soothsayer fails to materialize the truth might feel appropriate, but it's not altogether justified. The end of the world is a subjective thing. It depends on how one views the state of the world.
The world ends for people every day as their lives crumble when they lose their jobs or relationships, when they are scandalized, vilified, humiliated or otherwise ruined. The world ends with every species extinction. It ends as situations change, making the world a different place at any given time. There's no need for a Mayan apocalypse because the passing of time makes everything new and different. As one world ends, another begins.
Take Armageddon, the biblical rain of death and destruction precipitating from the heavens in a moment of rapture. If you lived in a jungle hamlet in Vietnam during the late 1960s and witnessed a napalm attack, Armageddon came via U.S. Air Force bombers and Dow Chemical.
Your world ends if you are struck by lightning, swept away by a tornado or rocketed by a drone attack. The end of the world is personalized when it happens to you or to those you know and love. The world ends, and sometimes it is televised.
Millions of Americans watched the end of the world as the Twin Towers crumbled into dust on 9/11. We entered a new world at that horrific moment. Other world-ending events came with the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the battle of Waterloo, with the birth of Adolph Hitler. If you had lived in Pompei when Vesuvius erupted and spread its smothering blanket of ash, the world ended not abruptly enough.
Looking at time in a metaphysical sense, every passing moment is the end ofone world and the beginning of another. The continuum of time is chopped up into vanishing points of reference that can get your head spinning if you give it too much thought. The cells of our bodies are replaced regularly over time, so we face not only the end of the world but the end of our physical selves in a regenerative sense.
Ask someone to define "the world," and you will get as many answers as the question is asked. We all live in different worlds that collide in space and time through an abstract clash of identities, precepts and judgments.
As to the planetary notion of the world as Earth, a spinning orb of rock, water and organic compounds, the world will never truly end. All matter transforms, even under the most destructive forces we know.
The popular idea that the Mayan calendar called for a fiery holocaust is simplistic mythology. What the Mayans meant for Dec. 21 was transformation, perhaps from an occurrence we might not yet understand, something that changed our world from that date far into the dim future.
Speaking personally, while the Mayan calendar might be your idea of a failed forecast, it's not Mayan.
Paul Andersen's column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.