Because of an early holiday deadline and a personal conflict, I’m writing this column several days before the end of the world some say was projected under the Mayan calendar. If you’re reading it, that’s a good sign we have once again survived a doomsday prediction and will enjoy another Christmas — unless you didn’t do any Christmas shopping in the belief that there was no point.
And if no one is reading this column, well, we had a good run.
The Mayan empire spread across much of Mexico and central America from at least 1000 B.C. to about 1520 A.D. The Mayans were a highly civilized people, even developing a writing system as well as a calendar. Although their great cities fell victim to the Spanish conquerers and other ills, the Mayan people and their culture survived.
The doomsday prediction goes back as far as the 1960s, when an archaeologist said the Mayan calendar ended in 2011 or 2012. According to a modern scholar, the archaeologist also said jokingly that meant the end of the world.
Even if it started as a joke, the Mayan calendar theory certainly has had more legs than any rational explanations, especially on television talk shows and other media. Radio Free Europe reports that panic buying has been taking place across Russia and the Ukraine, where people have been hoarding torches, matches, thermos flasks (for vodka?) and kerosene lamps. An end-of-the-world kit, first offered as a gag, has turned into a profitable business in Siberia.
I’m not ready to second-guess those people. I have a Mayan calendar, part of an art piece bought as a souvenir in the Yucatan a few years ago. At least the Mayan shopkeeper who sold it to me said it was. I can’t read much of it, but it has no "Made in China" label so I suspect it’s genuine. The Mayan calendar is circular, appearing to have no end.
Those who have assembled or bought end-of-the-world kits assume that they will have some chance of survival. If the Earth just blows up, they’re out of luck. But as most science fiction series and movies depict, life goes on for a select few. The popular "Revolution" series, for example, projects a world with no electricity ruled by ruthless citizen militias that subjugate less fortunate beings.
That’s only the end of the world as we know it. Life, such as it is, goes on for some people, especially members of the militia and the rebellious heroes of the series.
But let’s assume the Mayan theory, or some other doomsday prediction, should come true, what will we — meaning we in this United States — have accomplished as a people? We certainly have our share of follies and failures, but occasionally we should consider what we’ve done right.
If this were the end of our world, or even just the American "empire," I’d suggest we would be remembered for the following:
• Our forefathers rebelled against a despotic ruler and cast off their fetters, setting an example for countless democratic uprisings in the name of liberty around the world.
• They then established a democratic republic, which has been envied by many and a model for other democratic experiments.
• Our Constitution has stood the test of time as a living document that can be changed as needed to correct errors, adapt to changing conditions and expand the privileges of our citizens.
• The Bill of Rights, as attached to the Constitution, served to define for us the basic freedoms that all people should have, and with rare exceptions we’ve enforced these rights. Most remarkable and perhaps most important, we set out the principles of freedom of expression that allow us to criticize our government and its leaders without fear of retribution.
• Divided as a people over the issue of slavery, we fought a civil war and corrected the greatest stain on our history. And we recovered as a united nation, eventually recognizing that our freedoms extend to all citizens.
• Our celebrations of the birth of Jesus are the most elaborate, enthusiastic and extensive in the world. Even Americans who aren’t part of organized religion wish each other "Merry Christmas" and share in the magic of giving.
• Our agricultural, educational, economic and industrial systems have driven world markets, fed the hungry and fueled amazing technological advances. It’s no wonder that so many people want to better themselves and their families by coming to America.
• Our health and medical specialists have cured or reduced many terrible diseases, such as polio and yellow fever, generally improving our quality of life and extending our average life spans.
• We fought a horrible world war and stopped the advance of Nazism and fascism, then a "cold war" that proved the fallacies of communism.
• We successfully sent American astronauts to the moon and unmanned probes to Mars.
• We created and-or enhanced communications technology to the point that we can now send messages and images instantly from almost anyplace on Earth to any other place.
These are just a few of our greatest gifts to the world and to ourselves. We could do much more if given the time and God’s will.
Merry Christmas to all.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.