I came across an interesting interview with John W. Hoopes, anthropologist at the University of Kansas. In it, he approaches the 2012 phenomena from the anthropologic point of view. You can find the whole interview here. However, I want to point out four aspects, symbolised by four little quotes, which were especially interesting for me.
“I think a lot of the current generation of high school and college kids learn about archaeology through video gaming. They learn about it through Civilization and Tomb Raider.”
You shouldn’t get Hoopes wrong. It’s better to learn some things through video games than nothing at all. And I’m sure that video games can from time to time raise interest in history. But if someone tends to accept game content as actual history or if he stays limited to it, he doesn’t really have knowledge.
Learning about history from popculture alone doesn’t give the real impression. Popculture mixes facts with fiction and desires. TV shows and games have to be interesting first, not historically or factually exact. Yet, the most part of information about 2012 is popculture.
“If some of the 2012 theories seem like they were made up by people on drugs, it’s because they were.”
Please remember, that this is an anthropologist talking here. He doesn’t mean to insult or ridicule anyone. He’s just trying to make clear, from which cultural background these theories came. It was the 80’s, New Age, Jose Arguelles, completed with Lovecraftian elements like cycles of desctruction. “It’s been tied together with the Age of Aquarius, the legitimacy of prophecy, and visionary experiences” as Hoopes continues. All in all the theories would be interesting as a fiction. Yet nowadays for some people they are a spiritual reality and they have no idea about neither the facts nor the origin of this modern day myth.
“You can’t educate yourself simply by reading the web and watching the History Channel.”
This is a critical point, not only towards the 2012-phenomena, but towards almost everything. What do scholars do? What makes them have more knowledge than us? How can it be, that some people think they can easily make scholars the bad guys or the guys that know nothing really?
These questions seem to have two sets of answers:
(1) One set turns around the fact that the average person is often ignorant, not so much towards a topic, but towards his own ignorance (no, seriously, just read on).
(2) The other set is, that scholars approach a topic by reading and analyzing the original sources, not some concentrated (and therefore incomplete) website or narration, made spectacular for a TV show.
Let’s roll it up from behind. There is a difference between studying the original sources and interpretations of them. This is especially obvious with the 2012 topic. What do we know about it? There is one reference to that date in the original Maya sources: the Tortuguero Monument #6. We don’t know exactly what it says, as it is incomplete. It is however doubtable, that it contains a prophecy of some sort. The most famous prophecies, that we can find are derived from the Chilam Balam, a post-colonial document. It was written, after the Christian missionaries came and told the indigenous population, that the end of the world is near and that Jesus will come back soon. Regarding this fact, it’s understandable, why there are apocalyptic prophecies. The connection between apocalyptic prophecies and the 21st of December 2012 wasn’t established by scholars however. It is a mixture of facts, New Age and fiction.
This mixture is especially visible in the topic of Hunab Ku. The related article here on TCMAM is easily one of the most visited articles of this blog. It’s a simple search term that brings people here: hunab ku meaning. People want to know about it, because they’ve heard about it. Scholars don’t write about it, because it’s either not a phenomena of their field or everything important about it has already been written. It’s popculture, mythology. There is no use of writing about something like that for them. Hunab Ku is about a Maya God, that was probably introduced by Christian missionaries.
You know that now and can understand the background. The scholars have known it for a long time. Many people still don’t know about it and simply use and interpret the input they get from books that already hold doubtable interpretations. We find interpretations of interpretations of interpretations, which have no connection anymore to the real sources. They are just fiction and fantasy; yet some people develop a belief on their basis.
Furthermore we are ignorant towards our own ignorance. We are not aware of the gigantic gap of knowledge between us and the ones we would be, if we would read the original documents. If we would be aware of our ignorance, we would also realise, that we shouldn’t believe every interpretation that is out where. We realise, that we should be skeptical – of course also towards scholars, which are fallible human beings, too. Being skeptical would at least keep us from developing a spiritual movement from objectively false interpretations of incomplete sources.
“[Scientists] are not well prepared in terms of how it is that we talk to people who are interested in the spiritual aspects of this. I think that actually polarizes the dialogue sometimes. Scientists and academics end up being seen as the bad guys.”
It takes a lot of time and specialisation to deal with the original and authentic sources. Too much time for the average reader who is just interested in the topic, but has a job of his own. Skeptically reading many interpretations can be a good approach to this problem. Still the actual work of scientists and scholars would be far away from what the then educated reader needs. That is a serious problem, not only in this 2012 context. For many people the scientific community gives the impression of an ivory tower.
This problem is solvable and in fact gets approached by many scholars. You’ve seen the blog of Stephen Houston before. And there are more blogs of the same kind. They let the interested reader take part in their work. Then there are blogs like TCMAM, which try to rationally explore the facts.
A closer relationship and a transparent communication could avoid that many people establish a spiritual connection to some interpretations. As Hoopes correctly states: “There’s a lot there that’s similar to the beginnings of other religious traditions. [… 2012 i]s not treated as historical or scientific, but as spiritual.” Scientists are not the bad guys. And they are certainly also not claiming, that they know everything. They are not ignoring facts, in fact they only deal with such. The gap between the average reader and the scientific community is too big however for mutual identification. Both sides have to work towards bridging this gap, if it should really be about truth and not about myth.
There is a long way to go and we can be sure, that the 22nd of December 2012 won’t be the end of this movement. There will be explanations, recalculations of dates. It’s been always like that with unfounded, spiritual, mythological movements.