Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What can we Learn from the Mayan Apocolypse Nonsense? Trust the Scholars, Next Time.

Some of us like to joke about the Mayan apocalypse conspiracy theories, but it's pretty serious to others.  There are people around the world who are seriously frightened, and one young girl even took her life amidst her own doomsday anxieties.  It could have all been avoided if our society was not too proud to ask for help.

What does the average person know about Mayans?  Not much.  But how to people react when faced with the notion that Mayans predicted the end of the world?  Unfortunately, hardly anyone had the idea to ask a historian about it.  Books have been publishing the truth about the Mayan calendar for decades, and even five minutes of casual research would have revealed this, but the masses chose panic and doomsaying.

This happened because no one will trust the people with knowledge.  Scholars spend their lives learning - only to have society ignore them when they are needed most.  For example, Dan Brown's 'DaVinci Code' books have left millions of people confused about religion, but a medievalist could set them straight and clear away their questions in a few minutes.  The mess caused by Brown's misinformation will confound people for decades because the authorities on religious history are never trusted with the one thing they are expected to do.

Roughly fifteen years ago, an ancient book known as the Gospel of Thomas was growing in popularity (for reasons still unknown).  People who never went to church proudly proclaimed that they believed in that book for spiritual reasons of some sort, boasting that it was better than the Bible.  Naturally, none of these people had read the Gospel of Thomas or asked any experts about it; if they had, they would have found out that, in it, Jesus says that women cannot go to Heaven "unless they are made to be like men."  Things like that caused enthusiasts of the Gospel of Thomas to cool down once they actually read the book.

It's time we started trusting the scholars.  Our society has tasked these people with a responsibility to maintain our knowledge of history, and when people are confused about the past these scholars shout out the truth to a world that won't listen to them.  Rather than getting our facts from news broadcasters and storytellers, let's get ourselves aligned with the experts.

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