Happy New Year! And Welcome to the End of the World.

“A great science fiction detective story” – Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
Luck and Death at the Edge of the World

Days until the election: 179

Believe it or not there are still places on the Earth where there are no internet connections — such places certainly exist in the southern hemisphere, where I live — and over the holidays I was in just such a place, which should explain the absence of new posts on any of my blogs for a little while.

So now that I’m back in civilization: feliz año nuevo! But can 2012 be a happy new year? Isn’t this the year that the Mayan calendar ends and, with it, the world?

Well, the Mexican government is hedging its bets.  Just in case there isn’t a catastrophe that precludes Mexico (and everyone else) from having the very future that this blog is designed to contemplate, someone in the Mexican bureaucracy decided to cash in on all the tourists who might want to visit ground zero of the much-rumoured coming apocalypse.

Man, first Latin America got eco-tourism, where individuals who live their normal lives with the carbon footprint of a small village (mea culpa) come to gawk at the shrinking reserves of natural splendor.  Then here in Brazil we got favela bus tours — seriously.  Now vacationers are booking time off from their day jobs to visit the end of the world.

Visits to sites relevant to alleged Mayan doomsday predictions are being actively promoted and more than 50 million people are expected to visit Chiapas, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Campeche on end-of-the-world sightseeing tours.  That’s a pretty impressive number given that the entire country of Mexico sees about 22 million tourists in a typical year.

The less cynical version of the campaign to promote tourism in these areas goes something like this:  the Mexican government is keenly aware of the interest in the alleged impending cataclysm and is cunningly leveraging the millenial meme in order to generate interest in all things Mayan amongst a large number of people.  Once those good folk notice (later this year) that the world didn’t end after all, they might reflect on the fact that some of those Mayan artifacts they saw on their tour were pretty interesting. They might come to value Mexico’s history and culture and might even come back for another visit one day.

The more cynical version is, well, pretty obvious.

There are a lot of people who lack the a basic education in cosmology (yes, the Earth, the Sun, and the galactic centre will more or less align on December 21, 2012, but given that they do that every year it’s not likely to cause the Earth to blow up) not to mention education about the Maya (who never said that the world would end when their calendar clicked over, just as we don’t expect it to end on New Year’s Eve or the last day of a century).  Given that this lack of information has been liberally dosed with all kinds of made up crap and whipped into a frothy storm that just happens to centre on Mexico, one might as well — the cynical thinking goes — make as much money as possible from it.

Here is one of my favourite debunkers, Neil deGrasse Tyson giving us his two cents on the coming destruction.

And here’s Al Jazeera on the apocalypse as cash grab:

All that being said, who can blame Mexico for wanting to cash in on the phenomenon when Hollywood has already done such a good job of turning this particular end of the world into cash?

Roland Emmerich’s movie 2012 (conveniently released in 2009 so that we could all enjoy it before the world ended) made about $200 million — you can watch one of the trailers below.  If Mexico takes in just $4.00 per predicted tourist it should be able to match Emmerich (possibly with lower production costs), and I’m betting that they can do even better than that.

Personally, I predict that the world will not end in 2012, nor will it become notably better or worse.  Like most years, I suspect, we will muddle along just as we’ve been doing for the last 200,000 years or so, eating, loving, killing, chasing our dreams and realizing a few of them, making music and inventing new medicines, building stuff up and tearing stuff down — being born and dying.  And Mexico will have a bumper year for tourist dollars.

Then next year around this time I’ll return from a holiday in the wilderness again and wish you all a very happy 2013.

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