Doomsday and the Calendar

Calendar SystemI recently helped celebrate my niece’s 17th birthday on Dec 12, 2012 and, as usual, found myself annoyed with any reference to the specialness of a particular day based on the numeric calendar configuration. As you might imagine; I made a nuisance of myself and alienated my mother, sister, niece, and people at nearby tables with my rants against such behavior.

I’ve had some time to think about why this sort of thing bothers me so much and I thought I’d try to explain my position in a rational, objectivist fashion.

Anytime we assign meaning to a date based on its numerical configuration we are essentially descending into barbarism. I know that sounds harsh but with the upcoming Mayan Doomsday predictions and recent memories of other such events I think it’s important for the rational people of the world to set a good example, even when it comes to things like 12/12/12.

Here’s my reasoning. All date systems are arbitrary segmenting of the calendar year into digestible chunks so that we can reference past and future events in a meaningful way. This is all based on the fact that the ball of rock and mud on which we live orbits around the big ball of gas we call the sun once every 365.25 times this same ball of rock and mud spins fully on its access. This spinning takes a period of time we call a day. The orbital period we choose to call a year.

We break this “year” down incrementally to help us reference past and future events. I’ll meet you for lunch on Thursday, Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, etc.

There are any number of systems used to make designations on the “calendar”. There is a Chinese Calendar, a Jewish Calendar, a Mayan Calendar, a Julian Calendar, a Gregorian Calendar, an International Fixed Calendar (my personal favorite), and others yet. Each of these is based on some sort of numerical system. Each of these numerical systems has coincidental days where certain numbers line up in notable fashion. The fact that these numbers line up has no meaning. It’s really important to understand this concept. The lining up of numbers has no meaning whatsoever.

As an example. The very second you are reading this sentence is exactly six seconds, six minutes, six hours, six days, six months, and six-hundred and sixty-six years after some time in the past. Every second of every day meets this formula. Every second of every day is exactly 1000 years after some time in the past.

Every day is exactly 12 days, 12 months, and 1012 years after some time in the past. It is just a numerical assignment that has … no meaning!

Calendars are often altered for various reasons and this means that even numerical coincidences are not really fully accurate anyway. When we switched from the Julian to Gregorian calendar 12 days were removed from the counting system. Thus any numerical coincidence is just that, a coincidence.

What if we used a six month sixty-day calendar? Or a four-month ninety-day calendar?

My main point here is that when normally rational and intelligent people assign meaning to something as meaningless as the numerical alignment of 12/12/12 they are promoting barbarism. They are lending credence to nonsensical doomsday predictions. It’s our duty as the rational to dispel this sort of thinking.

So, next time the calendar lines up in some sort of interesting numerical fashion take a moment to explain to anyone nearby, particularly children, how meaningless is this alignment. Instead explain the orbit of the earth around the sun and how various calendars attempt to quantify that and why. You may get a lot of people clucking at how “un-fun” you are and what a “stick-in-the-mud” you are but accept that criticism and know that you are a force of rational good in the world!

Tom Liberman

4 thoughts on “Doomsday and the Calendar

  1. I can speak only for myself, but I think it likely that we all just chalked it up to the idiosyncracies of our beloved son, brother and uncle. And yes, sometimes the forces of rational good do seem a little too humorless.

  2. I have been thinking about the comment I made above. Too facile. Too much from my motherly point of view. So – here’s more. Would the goal of combatting irrationality and “barbarism” be more likely accomplished if there was initial acknowledgment of the basically playful, humorous intent of the perpetrators? An acknowledgment that they weren’t seriously invested in any great and meaningful significance of the date but were just having fun with it? The explanation that could then follow would probably be less likely to fall on turned off ears. It is useful for children to recognize the coexistence of illogical pleasure and rational analysis. Kind of like the existence/non-existence of Santa Claus.

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