While I’ve been lucky enough to have missed anything like the French or Russian revolution and the First World War, my own lifetime has been peppered with quite a few millennial expectations. Growing up in the 1960s, through the media I was aware of the modern Brethren of the Free Spirit in places like Greenwich Village and Haight-Ashbury. I was also aware that something called the Age of Aquarius either was on its way or had already arrived (the jury is still out on this). Linked to this was the idea that the fabled lost continent of Atlantis – which I read about in comic books and fantasy paperbacks — was due to surface sometime in 1969. Both were heralds of a coming golden age, when “peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars.” By the early seventies such anticipations had fizzled, but in 1974 they were briefly revived when comet Kohoutek sparked new interest in apocalyptic beliefs. A Christian group called the Children of God — who, incidentally, advocated “revolutionary lovemaking” (read: promiscuity) — distributed leaflets announcing doomsday for January of that year, which my friends and I read with interest. Predictably, Kohoutek fizzled as well. That same year, the science writers John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann published The Jupiter Effect, a bestseller predicting the devastating results (earthquakes, tidal waves, etc.) of a curious alignment of the planets on one side of the sun. When the alignment took place and nothing happened, they wrote a second book, The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered, explaining what went wrong. Not surprisingly, this sequel didn’t sell as well.
There were other millennial dates too. Remember the solar eclipse of 1999 and Y2K, the millennium bug? But the most significant millennial date so far in my lifetime surely was 1987, the year of the Harmonic Convergence — another planetary alignment — which was seen as the kickoff for the most anticipated apocalyptic event in recent years, the year 2012.
Gary also points out that the 2012 meme includes two of the major responses of civilizations to periods of crisis:
In his Study of History, an account of the rise and fall of civilizations, the historian Arnold Toynbee argues that there are two stereotypical responses to what he calls a “time of troubles,” the crisis points that make or break a civilization. One is the “archaist,” a desire to return to some previous happy time or golden age. The other is the “futurist,” an urge to accelerate time and leap into a dazzling future. That both offerings are embraced today is, I think, clear. The belief that a saving grace may come from indigenous non-Western people untouched by modernity’s sins is part of a very popular “archaic revival.” Likewise, the trans- or posthumanism that sees salvation in some form of technological marriage between man and computer is equally fashionable. The 2012 scenario seems to partake of both camps: It proposes a return to the beliefs of an ancient civilization in order to make a leap into an unimaginable future. What both strategies share, however, is a desire to escape the present.
What do you think? Is Gary on the money here, or do you think that 2012 really is going to bring world-shaking changes? Head over to Seed for the full article.