"We were warned." That's the ominous tagline of the late 2009 disaster film staring John Cusack. The one in which earthquakes tear the world apart, tsunamis flood the planet, Los Angeles crumbles into the Pacific Ocean, and we all learn that the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar predicted the whole thing. We also learned that you don't need a coherent script when you're destroying the planet, but that's a separate post.
Now that it's actually 2012, the year in which those fictional events supposedly were to have taken place, you may be wondering: Is the Mayan calendar a real thing? Were we warned? Is 2012 the end of the world?
The answers, in order: Yes. No. And probably not.
Yes, there is such a thing as the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar, as mentioned in the movie. And yes, it does come to an end on the Winter Solstice of this year -- Dec. 21, 2012. Just like your desk calendar came to an end on Dec. 31, 2011. And just like your car's odometer will "come to an end" should you drive it all the way to 99,999.9 miles.
Only you know as well as I do that calendars and odometers don't "end." They reset and start over. Your car doesn't implode when the odometer resets. Time didn't end when the ball dropped on New Year's Eve. Numbers change, totals reset to zero, and we keep counting.
Though it's based on different intervals of time, the Mayan's Long Count Calendar isn't that different from modern calendars. Our calendars measure days, weeks, months, years and centuries, with our largest interval (for practical purposes) being a millennium, or one thousand years. The largest interval on the Long Count is called a b'ak'tun, which is around 144,000 days. The calendar resets each time it measures another b'ak'tun.
Though there is some disagreement on it, most Mayanist scholars date the starting point of this calendar back to Aug. 11, 3114 B.C. If this is accurate, then the calendar "resets" by reaching the 13th B'ak'tun on Dec. 21, 2012, at which point it rolls over and begins counting toward another milestone -- just like our calendars rolled over at the end of 2011 and began counting the days and weeks of 2012.
So what's the big deal? Why all the end-of-the-world stuff? According to ancient Mayan mythology, the world we're living in now wasn't our Creators' first try. They attempted to create the world three times prior to it, but each of these early attempts failed. Before beginning our now-successful world, the Creators destroyed the previous world at the 13th B'ak'tun.
The arrival of the 13th B'ak'tun on Dec. 21, 2012, means that our current world will have surpassed the "expiration date" of the previous world. So it's a significant occasion -- if you believe in the Mayanist creation narrative.
If you don't believe that our mythological Creators trashed three previous worlds before finally getting it right with this one, then the arrival of the 13th B'ak'tun on the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar should mean nothing to you.
But that hasn't stopped fear mongers, conspiracy theorists, New Age kooks and other apocalypse aficionados from hitching their doomsday wagons to Dec. 21, 2012, as a potential date for the end of the world. We praise the ancient Mayan culture for being advanced mathematicians and astronomers. Couldn't they maybe have been onto something with this end-of-the-calendar thing? Did they know something we didn't?
That's why a quick search of 2012 doomsday or Mayan apocalypse or something similar will result in a rainbow of fruity scenarios supposedly slated for Dec. 21 of this year, including an Earth-scorching supernova, catastrophic solar flares, alien invasion, asteroid collision, supervolcano eruption, a "dangerous" planetary alignment, nuclear Armageddon, the biblical apocalypse or the arrival of yet another Roland Emmerich disaster film.
If you believe the doomsayers, the transcendentally wise Mayans predicted it thousands of years ago, and created their ancient calendar to warn us. When the calendar ends, so does life as we know it. If you buy into their mythology, go ahead and freak out about our impending demise.
But if you don't, then feel free to relax. The world is no more likely to end in December than it was when Harold Camping predicted apocalypse for October of 2011, or when Marian Keech predicted the world's end in 1954, or when William Miller predicted the Rapture and Second Coming in 1844.
Humanity is obsessed with the end of the world. We predict it all the time. We are always wrong. The 2012 doomsayers will be wrong, too.
Jason Boyett is a writer, speaker and author of several books. His latest is "Pocket Guide to 2012: Your Once-in-a-Lifetime Guide to Not Completely Freaking Out," currently available on Kindle and Nook. Learn more at jasonboyett.com or follow Jason on Twitter @jasonboyett.