When your three-year checkbook calendar runs out, does that signal the end of the world? No? It's pretty much the same for the Mayan calendar and 2012.
In fact, the idea of a countdown to cataclysmic apocalypse is a Western, not Mayan idea, say some Mayans who are getting fed up with the hype. You can read more about their perspective in this AP article: "2012 Isn't the End of the World, Mayans Insist."
Another important thing to think about: The amount of money being raked in by woo-woo charlatans (and, now, big entertainment companies) who are all capitalizing off what amounts to willful misinterpretations of Mayan legends, traditions and science. My college anthropology professor (and expert in Central and South American archaeology) John Hoopes had some interesting thoughts on this...
I'd like to see more of the revenue from the hyping of 2012 mythology through books, movies, conferences, and websites go directly to the living descendants of the ancient Maya whose cultural heritage and intellectual property is being appropriated without their knowledge or consent for the financial benefit of non-Maya hucksters.
This raises a lot of questions about who owns traditional knowledge. I don't claim to have the answer, though. There are a lot of wrinkles and complications, including the good possibility that the living Maya probably have no legal standing when it comes to these issues. But I suspect it has much more to do with what's ethically responsible than with legal obligations.
I don't know that I know the best way to handle this, either. But, whether or not the living Maya should be paid for the use (or misuse) of their ancestors' ideas, I personally see a lot of racism at play in this story. Not the white hood sort of racism, sure. But I'm don't think I have a better word for what happens when the largely white and wealthy American New Age community co-opts and exoticises the traditions of a marginalized native people and then ignores those people when they say, "That's not what our traditions mean. Please stop misrepresenting us."
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.