2012: Definately the End of the World as We Knew It
By Michael I. Niman ArtVoice 3/3/11
There’s been a lot of chatter for the last few years about the world ending in 2012. And this ain’t your run-of-the-mill, buy-some-guns-and-dried-food-and-head-for-the-hills sort of end of the world. Nope. This one has the whole planet imploding or exploding, reversing its poles, losing its atmosphere, getting peppered by moon-sized asteroids, or just burning up in a big house fire. Perhaps the sun will burn out, or maybe our whole universe will finally fall off of the head of the pin where’s it’s been rumored to have been residing since the big bang in some giant alternate universe.
With the calendar quickly turning the pages on 2011, should we be worried? I mean, yeah, this stuff is flaky, but no more so than Rand and Ron Paul reciting economic theory. It goes like this: The long count of the Mayan Calendar ends in December 2012, so the world must end, too.
But then there’s the Gregorian Calendar—the one that earthlings tend to use today. It ends every December 31, but we just pull it off the wall and replace it with a new one. We don’t really worry much except at the ends of centuries, when some of us horde more than the usual ration of dried food and ammo.
Now back to the Maya. I’ve lived among the Maya in Central America. They use the Gregorian Calendar as well these days. It’s just easier, I guess. Nobody there seems concerned that their ancient calendar, and hence, the world, will be ending. Some folks will still draw or carve the old calendars, and the occasional tourist who happens by will hopefully still buy them, in 2012 and beyond. So the world isn’t ending, at least not in a Hollywood-style global cataclysm.
The power of dreams
But it’s the end of the world as we know it, and, as REM put it 24 years ago, I feel fine. Here’s my logic. If anyone told me, even five years ago, that Egypt would be exporting democracy to the United States in 2011, I’d have written them off as nuts. Just as I would do if someone told me that the government would take over General Motors after years of the company losing money and make it profitable in the midst of a recession. We’re in uncharted territory now, where all conventional wisdom is tossed out the window.
Look at what’s happened in Egypt and Tunisia: These two nonviolent revolutions demonstrated new possibilities to the world, and it will never be the same again. Ancient, brutal, barbaric regimes can be brought down by singing, chanting, and hugging. Hence, anything is possible. That’s what we’re seeing in Wisconsin. And it’s what we’re about to see all over the United States. Repressive governments, and this includes their corporate masters, can only push people so far before their grip breaks. This pattern has replicated itself throughout history.
Two weeks ago I wrote about an “infovirus” that spread through the unregulated anarcho-democratic media of the Internet. As much as I’ve never liked “hope,” because it sets people up for disappointment or lulls them into false senses of security and hence, apathy, this infovirus spread hope, and with it, the power of dreams.
It is this ultimate weapon, the one that was inside of us all along, this power of dreams, that is ending the world as we knew it, and that’s okay. The world will end in 2012. But not our world.
Republicans aren’t all nuts
I don’t know how this ultimately will play out. Let’s look at Wisconsin. Folks there elected Republicans to fill the statehouse and governor’s mansion. This has happened before, and it didn’t end the world. In fact, it was Republicans like New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who built New York’s public university system, New York Senator Jacob Javits who created the National Endowment for the Arts, President Dwight Eisenhower who warned us about the military industrial complex, and Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield who was one of the earliest mainstream voices against the Vietnam War and in support of a nuclear weapons freeze. Even former New York Governor George Pataki sealed his legacy with landmark environmental legislation, expanding public holdings in New York’s Adirondack Park, originally enlarged and preserved by Republican Theodore Roosevelt.
Republicans have both a proud and shameful history. But they’ve never really proven themselves collectively insane before. So you can’t really fault the folks of Wisconsin for electing a bunch of them. Even today, Republicans aren’t all nuts—just the ones who get elected.
Wisconsin’s union-busting crusader, Governor Scott Walker, sealed his fate in history, not by being the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, as he fanaticizes, but instead because of his toxic mix of megalomania, hubris, and terminal stupidity. Whether talking to a Skyping gonzo journalist pretending to be his sponsor and master, David Koch, or just giving a press conference, Walker can’t help but lay his party’s whole rancid corporate agenda bare for all to see. It’s as if he were his own Wikileak.
The Republican plutocracy hit a perfect storm when Walker started to erupt just in time to share the world media stage with Hosni Mubarak. It was only natural that the Egyptian synergy of anger, outrage, hope, and dreams would jump the intercontinental divide. And like many end-of-the-world narratives, there was a tectonic shift in the continental plates, only it turned out this was a cultural and political shift, and the world kept spinning.
Neural revolution and Starbucks zombies
I keep using the term “viral” to describe how hope is spreading, but perhaps this isn’t the best word. By profession, I’m a media studies scholar. We use the term, which we borrowed from the advertising industry, which went agog in the 1990s at the prospect of free viral advertising, with infovirus-infected consumers filling Starbucks around the world like plague victims filled morgues. But what’s happening now takes this concept to another reality, and hence needs to go beyond the virus metaphor.
According to Buffalo musician and lscensed massage therapist Heather Conner, this new awakening isn’t a virus at all. Sh says it’s “neural.” This anarchic global communication web has linked us together as one complex organism, with ideas and experiences entering this system like excitable neurons, emitting electric signals into a massive neural network, or nervous system. Once there, as they digitally travel, they act as electrical impulses bridging synapses, or individuals, eventually forming a collective intelligence.
The difference is that a virus spreads in a one-way vector, replicating the original infection itself across a population. The longing to enter a cloned and branded Starbucks space is viral. Neural is different. Viruses have a blueprint, whereas neurons are raw energy with electrons moving in all directions, organically forming new ideas and emotions—constantly and endlessly. And unlike a virus, which invades the body from outside, neurons organically form within us, exciting us into action. And this would be real action, rather than a zombie walk into a Starbucks.
Nobody can see the future portended by the protests in Wisconsin's statehouse. (photo courtesy Cynthia H Photography)
Wisconsin’s Egyptian Sunday
So a revolution in Tunisia can reinvent itself for the Egyptian reality, then again for worker solidarity in Wisconsin, reproductive freedom in Kansas, and so on. On Tuesday of last week, an idea entered the network. On Saturday, as a result of that idea, Americans rallied in mass in every state capital in the country supporting the Wisconsin uprising.
This global neural network is new—communication has shrunk the world. It’s also accelerated everything about it. Ideas and emotions, good and bad, go global with an unprecedented immediacy. Revolutionaries in Iran buy pizzas online, to be delivered to demonstrators occupying the Wisconsin statehouse, who inspire students in London.
As a new organism, however, we lack mental or emotional development, and hence can be lulled into utopia or dystopia. A student in Libya snaps a cellphone photo and uploads it into our neural net, and instantly this experience becomes part of our collective conscious, along with a Wall Street analyst’s prognosis of the impact of Libyan liberation on oil futures, a Fox News misinformation feed from Indiana, BP lies from Louisiana, and an ecstatic cry of triumph from, perhaps, Algeria. We become excited by a mix of truth and lies, hope and propaganda.
Last Saturday, 100,000 people rallied for workers’ rights in Wisconsin. On Sunday, after most folks went home, Governor Walker ordered police to remove protesters who had been occupying the statehouse for two weeks. The police, perhaps acting on a neural inspiration that entered the network two weeks earlier in Egypt when the military refused to open fire on demonstrators in that country, refused Walker’s order. Score a victory for peaceful protest and the human conscious.
But the American corporate press mostly ignored this historic event, like they mostly ignored the massive rally a day earlier, blocking these neurons from entering the network. The alternative press jumped into the void, however, and slowly they’re spreading, perhaps as you’re reading this. As always, brain health takes a bit of work. We need to sort through the media stimuli, lest we poison ourselves all day on soft drinks, candy bars, pesticides, and rancid ideologies.
Everything feeds into this global communication network and we react instantly across the globe. Yes, 2012 will usher in a new chapter for humanity. The world as we knew it ended with the neural revolutions we’re seeing this year. What our new world becomes is totally up to us. Let’s not blow it.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.