“Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love.”
– Sylvia Dee, “End of the World”
Worlds end all the time, you know.
It doesn’t take much. Usually it happens in the briefest of moments: it might be a phone call in the middle of the night, or the sight of a doctor’s face as he comes out of the operating room, or a sudden squeal of brakes—and a world ends. The rules of existence change. The circumstances we had taken for granted cease to exist. Our previous definitions of ourselves become suddenly obsolete. The person that was dies, and we find that we are now someone else, in a place no longer familiar.
It’s not always a tragedy that ends a world, of course. As any parent knows, an old world ends when a new child is born. A wedding, a graduation, a move to a new city: in each case, we leave an old world behind, shifting into a new one with eagerness and anticipation.
In the late ‘70s, I first encountered (thanks to Robert Anton Wilson’s book “Cosmic Trigger”) the notion that Something Big might be afoot for the year 2012. Wilson cited the work of the McKenna brothers, Dennis and Terence, who looked at the cycles of history (admittedly, under the influence of some pretty high-powered psychedelic drugs), and surmised that several of those cycles might peak at the same time, leading to rapid technological and evolutionary changes. Then the McKennas found out about the Mayan calendar... and well, you’ve probably heard at least some of the fallout. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Wikipedia’s page on the “2012 phenomenon” gives a good overview.)
The whole notion struck the 20-something me as—well, pretty cool. (“Hey, man, wait a minute—I was born in ‘56—and, like, in 2012, I will turn 56! Whoa! Is that, like, synchronicity or what??”) I couldn’t wait to see how the prophecy would play out.
So: here we are.
It seems fairly obvious that we are indeed standing at the threshold of something, but as Stephen Stills might say, “what it is ain’t exactly clear.” As I write, President Obama has just announced his intentions to scale back the size and scope of our military—but the possibility of war with Iran, which would have wide-ranging implications, seems to be increasing. Dictators have fallen—but others stand ready to take their places, and it is not at all assured that the “Arab Spring” will fully succeed. The threats to our environment are increasing, but so are awareness and resistance. The “Occupy” movement is growing, but the financial interests it opposes are retrenching. The 2012 elections in the United States might usher in a period of progressive dominance—or a reactionary backlash of a kind that has not been seen since the McCarthy Era, or perhaps even the Spanish Inquisition. Without question, in a year the world will be a radically different place, for good or for ill.
Let me ask you, then: which world, exactly, might be ending in 2012? And what kind of world will take its place? What will you do, this year, toward tipping this precarious balance in favor of justice, community, sustainability and peace?