Lessons From the Ages for 2013, Part 1

Brand Spanking New
Brand Spankin’ New (Zony Mash)

Well, here we are in the brand-spankin’ new year of 2013, with all of its rich possibilities before us, as well as all of the potential problems and risks.

The Mayan calendar was, of course, the subject of much discussion in 2012, especially so as the year wound down. Some used it to predict ‘the end of the world as we know it’, and others claimed it was about a huge leap in human consciousness and an entry into a glorious new age. I would argue that both of these statements are true…in some sense, but not as either a cataclysmic ending, nor a brilliant new beginning with a dramatic and immediate end to the evils that occur in the material world.

What we do know is that the Mayan calendar has completed its cycle. Dec. 21, 2012 marked the end of the “Long Count” calendar, a calendar system used by the Mayan civilization of Central America.

Things do end. And new beginnings are possible each and every day.

We have a tendency sometimes to fall under the illusion that our world is stable, and that the living arrangements we live under have a solid footing and are pretty much here to stay. And the more material possessions we accrue, we feel both more secure and more attached.

…it is not thinkable among us that our public institutions should collapse and we must engage in deception and self-deception about our alienation…Ultimately, we are incapable of facing our own death. All these denials about endings are necessary…because it is too costly to face and embrace them. It would suggest that we are not in charge, that things will not forever stay the manageable way they are, and that things will not finally work out.
– Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

In our heart of hearts, however, we all know that nothing lasts forever. “No epoch is finally privileged,” Ken Wilber has written. “We are all tomorrow’s food. The process continues. And Spirit is found in the process itself, not in any particular epoch or time or place.”

One of the “funnies” circulating on the internet recently was this image:

mayan-cookie

Some have pointed out that the image on the left is not actually the Mayan calendar, but is instead the Aztec calendar – the Aztec civilization came after that of the Mayan.

humor-mayan-calendar-aztec-oreo-cookie

Now, after having the laugh about the similarity of the Oreo cookie to the circular calendar, and after correctly identifying the calendar images, another thought came to me.

The Oreo Cookie actually is a tolerably good representation of our current consumer culture.  The Oreo has come to be known as the world’s favorite cookie, and is made by Nabisco, a division of Kraft Foods, Inc.  (which recently changed its name to Mondelēz International, Inc.)

Kraft is an international foods conglomerate, known for its highly processed and chemically laden foodstuffs, such as Oscar Mayar hotdogs, Velveeta Cheesefoods, as well as Oreo cookies.

And our consumer culture has an unhealthy addiction, which tends to devour as quickly as possible.  And so we have the Kooky Cookie Calendar as a reminder of where we are.  Consuming our resources at an ever expanding rate.

oreo_cookie

And the Mayans? Well, they do have a few lessons for us. More about that in Part 2.  Until then, this quote from James Howard Kunstler, written in 2007 (before the burst of the housing bubble):

The key to understanding the challenge we face is admitting that we have to comprehensively make other arrangements for all the normal activities of everyday life…

If you really want to understand the U.S. public’s penchant for wishful thinking, consider this: We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period. This dilemma now entails a powerful psychology of previous investment, which is prompting us to defend our misinvestments desperately, or, at least, preventing us from letting go of our assumptions about their future value. Compounding the disaster is the unfortunate fact that the manic construction of ever more futureless suburbs (a.k.a. the “housing bubble”) has insidiously replaced manufacturing as the basis of our economy.

Meanwhile, the outsourcing of manufacturing to other nations has spurred the development of a “global economy,” which media opinion-leaders such as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (author of The World Is Flat) say is a permanent state of affairs that we had better get used to. It is probably more accurate to say that the global economy is a set of transient economic relations that have come about because of two fundamental (and transient) conditions: a half century of relative peace between great powers and a half century of cheap and abundant fossil-fuel energy. These two mutually dependent conditions are now liable to come to an end as the great powers enter a bitter contest over the world’s remaining energy resources, and the world is actually apt to become a lot larger and less flat as these economic relations unravel.

– James Howard Kunstler, Making Other Arrangements

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