The 2012 Meme

A lot of people are starting to feel portents of doom centering around the mysterious goings-on in the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. Both positive and negative beliefs about the significance of the date are spreading very rapidly through our globalized culture.  Positive beliefs include the New Age interpretation that our planet and its people may experience a physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. On the negative side, some believe that the 2012 date marks the beginning of an apocalypse. Both camps are spreading their ideas through numerous books, TV documentaries, websites and discussion groups. There is now even a feature film about the topic.  Much has also been written about what the apperance of these beliefs says about the vulnerabilites of the human psyche.

While I don't have any particular attachment to the number or year 2012, I'm still fascinated by the symbolic power it has acquired.  What follows is my psychological assessment of what's going on.

"End of the World" or millenarian ideas usually have two components: a real underlying issue (that may or may not be consciously recognized) and a focusing symbol of some kind. The millenarian meme reaches full power when there is a threat that is real but only dimly perceived by most, and a symbol that has both logical and supernatural aspects. The logical aspect makes the symbol acceptable to our rational minds, and a religious or spiritual context always amplifies the power of symbols.

There have been two recent examples of "doomsday fever" that can help illuminate what's going on with 2012.

The nuclear holocaust fears around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis were founded on the real fear of a first strike triggering a global thermonuclear war. The focusing symbol was Communism, a quasi-religious system that was poorly understood in the west and was imbued with a Manichean aspect of pure evil.

The Y2K panic was founded on a real fear of widespread computer malfunctions in critical systems. The symbol was of course the year "00", which had both a logical component (we were all told how you couldn't get 4 numbers into a computer memory designed to hold only two), amplified by a deeply non-rational belief in the power of numbers, i.e. numerology.

The thing that prevented either of these psychic outbreaks from reaching full potential was the lack of an overt religious or spiritual connection to their driving symbols. Their power in the unconscious mind was mainly secular.

With this in mind, here's how I see the 2012 fever:

The real underlying threat driving this outbreak is the accelerating pace of ecological breakdown and climate change, the increasing instability of the world's economic system, rising cultural/religious tensions and the predictions of imminent Peak Oil and its potential impact on modern civilization. Most of the dire predictions of a near term peak in the global oil supply seem to cluster around 2012, the global economic collapse seems set to happen over the same time frame, predictions of global disruptions due to climate change are getting worse and the timing of their effects is drawing closer with every new report. Whether or not any of these effects actually manifest in the next two or three years, they all appear to have that potential and to be converging on that point in time. In the game of social frenzy, appearances are everything.

So those are the "real" factors contributing to our sense of unease. In the face of that, it's easy to see why the year 2012 has acquired such symbolic power. The timing is exactly right, there is a logical component to the symbol (the Mayan calendar is real) and it has a deep spiritual aspect as well. The end of the time cycle that is apparently tracked by the real calendar resonates deeply with ideas of "transformation through crisis" that are at the core of all mystical traditions.

These ideas are now entering the collective consciousness through various media, so even if people try to deny the accelerating physical changes in the world they are being subliminally shifted towards this awareness. The "2012 meme" fits into this situation perfectly, since it's in the right time frame and speaks to a great turning into a new, utterly unpredictable state. It has enormous psychic power as a result. Even if one discounted the spiritual dimension of the 2012 idea, it was inevitable that it would become an archetypal vision in this time of upheaval.

One other thing that's happening is that more and more people who recognize the possibility of an imminent collapse of modern civilization are responding with a turn to the spiritual. If hope cannot be found in physical or psychological materialism, it is always available in the spiritual dimension. We simply re-frame the problem so that a solution can be found. With its inherent spiritual component, the vision of a "2012 shift" is a natural component of this response.

It's going to be fascinating to watch this psychic fever build. I suspect it's going to be a lot more powerful than anything in recent history


November 14, 2009

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