I can understand why we almost believe that the Mayans were right to predict that the world will end on 12/12/2012 or 12/21/12 (whichever). I sort of get why people used to make those sandwich board signs that announced the end of the world. Sometimes the world seems to spin out of control, to lose its footings and to make us feel anxious and a bit unhinged. Lately the world has felt that way times ten. Maybe it started for us on 9/11, maybe it started with the turn of the millennium, but this is not just an American phenomenon. Everywhere we look there is turmoil and upheaval.
Go continent by continent and the whole planet seems to have gone haywire, nuts, offering no solace anywhere we look. Start in Antarctica where the ice is melting and the penguins are losing habitat, sources of food, and nesting grounds. This is an Antarctica where scientists who need medical care have had to go to rather extreme lengths to get the treatment they needed.
Africa has been breaking our hearts for a long, long time. Gangs have ravaged parts of Africa. Disease has had its way with Africa. Civil War has caused horror in Africa. Now the areas of North Africa that were once fairly stable have broken out of the authoritarian governments that have created big gaps between their rich and their poor and they are trying to form new structures which allow the people to govern themselves. We have called this the Arab Spring and it has spread beyond Northern Africa into Syria. Syria, we feel your pain. Your leader will not yield. He bombs his own people. Syrians must become refugees living as orphans in neighboring nations. Children are dying. And the war goes on and on. These Arab Spring nations that took such brave risks to win the right to create their own governments have not had such an easy time making this happen. And we have terrorists who see opportunity wherever there is unrest.
Asia takes in an enormous number of nations and many of these nations have been affected by internal strife, social change, or natural disaster. North Korea likes to be a sort of aggressive enigma, and even though its new young leader might hold out some promise for a less antagonistic relationship with the rest to the world, we publish material that pokes unnecessary fun at the leader of this scary nation, a “joke” which is culturally specific and which humiliates this young leader who needs to understand that the world would really like to count his country as a member of the world’s friendly nations. We are not getting along really well with Mr. Putin in Russia, although we operate as allies most of the time. China owns a large portion of our debt, has now become a major polluter, and has a long way to go in terms of human rights, so, although China is fairly stable and is growing right now, it may experience more instability down the line as the people become more affluent. Japan experienced that awful (and awful is the correct word here) earthquake/tsunami with massive death, destruction, and nuclear contamination. Even now the detritus of this disaster is floating eastward to pile up on the shores of Hawaii and eventually the west coast of the US. Southeast Asia has also experienced political unrest and was hit by a terrible tsunami. India had the bombing in Mumbai, a terrorist act. India also has its slums to deal with. Those slums represent India’s shame and India will have to come up with ways to end the desperation, hopelessness, pollution, and disease that are embodied in these slums. It goes on and on; I haven’t even mentioned Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran.
Australia – I don’t know anything really bad about Australia although two Australia DJ’s recently may have caused a suicide in London because of a prank, and there was some kind of extreme weather event in Australia this year, I believe.
Europe has partnered with America (unintentionally) to fall into a giant recession. They have lost some of their manufacturing to Asia and unemployment is high. They are having trouble with their “entitlements” and have gone through a long period of austerity making life difficult in many European nations. They are even more affected than we are by the upheavals of their neighbors. Europe has also had some extreme weather to deal with. What Europe has achieved is one of the few positive outcomes we can look to. They may not be out of recession; they may still have economic problems to face, but they have worked together because the European Union and the Euro have forced them to find ways to do that. In fact they were just given the Nobel Peace Prize.
South America has had to deal with several earthquakes, but South America has perhaps been one of the most trouble-free continents in this past year or two. Even so, Hugo Chavez, leader of Venezuela finds that his cancer is back and if he can no longer lead then the stability of that nation may be affected.
As for America, we have really had a rough time of it lately with our extreme weather, especially some very destructive hurricanes and frightening tornadoes, droughts in some places and heavy rains in others. Our weather and our economy have been quite unstable. Our government has been contentious with both politicians and citizens divided into two opposing camps. We don’t have enough jobs for people who need them and we seem to be losing our confidence. We are also worried about the insanity that seems to be dominating countries all around the world. Which brings us back where we started from: to the end of the world.
Of course I doubt the world will end on 12/12/12 or 12/21/12 or anytime soon. In fact scientists have said that the Mayan calendar was interpreted incorrectly, or they discovered more writing which changed their analysis about the prediction; I forget which one. We are probably just in an era when many elements of our existence on this wild planet are in transition. Economies are changing, governments are changing, religious bargains will have to be struck, new energy sources will have to be found or lifestyles will have to change. Just when the whole world wants to enjoy the comfortable lives Americans live, the resources to live that lifestyle may run out.
It is difficult to live in the midst of all this change and anxiety. We prefer security and a sense of comfort, peace and productivity. We definitely don’t have enough of these things that we crave right now. But we certainly can say that we live in interesting times. I hope next year gets a bit more boring and holds a few more of the certainties that give us pleasure and optimism. Please, settle down folks, we can’t control the weather, but everyone could soft pedal the power grabs for a while.