x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

If you're reading this, then the Mayans were wrong

If you're reading this, then the Mayans were wrong.

Illustration for Review section December 22, 2012 Credit: Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration for Review section December 22, 2012 Credit: Sarah Lazarovic for The National

See? The world didn't end.

Unless, of course, you believed in all the hype about the Mayan doomsday prediction and gave away all your belongings, told your boss what you really thought of him, then sat waiting for the end.

In that case, this morning you're probably wishing the world had ended.

We ought to know better by now. The boy who cried wolf has nothing on the people who have cried Armageddon over the years, whose convictions have been in inverse proportion to their accuracy.

Everyone still remembers the American radio preacher Harold Camping's prediction that the world would end on May 21, 2011, based on his application of numerology to the Bible. And, in particular, who could forget the combination of disappointment and disbelief on the faces of the true believers when the day passed with nothing worse than having a camera and microphone shoved in their faces on the most abjectly embarrassing moment of their lives.

The reality is that Camping was just among the latest in 150 similarly apocalyptic predictions and, notwithstanding the advent of Justin Bieber, Gangnam Style and the belief that leopard-print spandex is sartorially appropriate in public places, each time the world has continued in a doggedly uncataclysmic manner.

Records of this go back as far as 634BC, when some Romans were convinced the city would be destroyed on the 120th anniversary of its founding.

As often as not, these predictions have had eschatological origins, connected with Abrahamic religions' concept of the day of judgement.

But what does it say about humans that these end-of-days predictions have been becoming increasingly frequent? There were 16 such predictions for the year 2000, reflecting the innumeracy that saw many believe it was the start of the new millennium when the mundane reality was it was the final year of the previous one.

The focus for that year centred predictably on January 1, even though the start of the year in the Christian calendar is an entirely arbitrary construct.

These warnings ranged from the secular (devastation by the Y2K bug), to the historic (13th-century theologian Peter Olivi predicted Judgement Day in 2000) to the tragic (more than 700 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God committed suicide or were murdered by other members of this Ugandan sect when their prediction for apocalypse failed to eventuate).

It has continued in the years since, including the American television evangelist Pat Robertson's prediction that the world would definitely end on April 29, 2007. But since he'd made a similarly certain prediction for 1982, his claim failed to engender much concern.

Even the fictional doomsdays have become more frequent. All three of the Judgement Days in the Terminator movies have come and gone but, instead of Skynet becoming self-aware, the only devastation to occur has been to our wallets through the release of Apple's latest gadgetry.

There are also plenty of future predictions for global apocalypse, but most are depressingly similar to the previous efforts. The nearest one with any kind of veracity is that the sun will morph into a red giant, scorching and eventually swallowing the Earth. That is predicted to occur in roughly five billion years, so it's fairly safe to renew your subscription to The National for another year.

If that doesn't happen, the heat death of the universe will extinguish all life. But that's expected in roughly a trillion trillion trillion years.

As for the Mayan prophecy, one of the memes doing the rounds is that Nasa did indeed predict that late in the day yesterday, the sky would darken dramatically. This is a phenomenon the space agency describes as "night".

And, as another wit noted, if the Mayans had such good foresight as to predict the cataclysm at the end of their 5125-year long count calendar, why didn't they also predict the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors?