Concerning Wisdom—Old and New

“There is no such thing as ancient wisdom; it is always new.”
Thus Spake Aforista

Count on the Postfuturist Sage Aforista to say something strident, hyperbolic, and even untrue. Of course there is such a thing as ancient wisdom, and of course we all need to be mindful of it in this speed-of-light age of rampant newness—what Douglas Rushkoff has dubbed Present Shock. As the authors of a recently published novel exploring Mayan culture of a millennium ago, Pat and I would seem to be active proponents of ancient wisdom.

And yet …

Mayan-72Is Mayan Interface really about ancient wisdom at all? There are certainly aspects of indigenous culture that Pat and I extol. In my post of February 13, I wrote about our fascination with Mayan storytelling techniques. A related excerpt written in authentic Mayan fashion may be found in the current issue of SOL: English Writing in Mexico.

But readers looking for a quick and easy fixes based Mayan ancient wisdom will surely be disappointed by our book. Pakabtun’s fictional king Bohol Caan has no more of a grasp on certainty ca. 900 CE than epigrapher Lydia Rosenstrom does in 2012 CE. In our novels, Pat and I just don’t do certainty.

Just yesterday, Pat asked me if any of our novels even had “endings” to speak of. Could I think of just one that culminated in some final resolution, realization, or insight? No, I couldn’t. While I hope that all of our stories have satisfactory and satisfying denouements, Pat and I always leave our protagonists on the brink of fresh discoveries, as if another turn of the page will lead into an entirely new adventure. “And that’s essential,” Pat remarked.

One of my favorite twentieth-century plays is Bernard Shaw’s little-known The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles. In this 1934 extravaganza, an angel arrives, announcing that the Day of Judgment has come. This is not to be the noisy apocalypse of the Book of Revelation, the angel explains:

The Day of Judgment is not the end of the world, but the end of its childhood and the beginning of its responsibility.

According to the angel, there will be no reward or punishment, no heaven or hell—only the quiet vaporization of almost all of humanity:

The lives which have no use, no meaning, no purpose, will fade out. You will have to justify your existence or perish.

The play’s characters are understandably unsettled by this proclamation. How can anyone ever “justify” one’s existence? Whose life can assuredly be said to have use, meaning, and purpose? None of the characters can answer these questions, and one by one they vanish—accompanied, presumably, by most if not all of the human race.

Finally, only two people remain onstage: the priestess Prola and her husband, the priest Pra. Fully aware that their lives have been engaged in folly and futility, Prola and Pra expect to evaporate at any moment. But that moment never comes.

Flawed, failed, and seemingly useless as they are, Prola and Pra share the redemptive belief in the doctrine, “Let Life Come.” And this doctrine is, after all, merely a denial of all doctrines, of all beliefs.

Prola and Pra prevail through the Judgment, for together they grasp that “the future is to those who prefer surprise and wonder to security.” As Prola puts it,

Remember: we are in the Unexpected Isles; and in the Unexpected Isles all plans fail. So much the better: plans are only jigsaw puzzles: one gets tired of them long before one can piece them together. There are still a million lives beyond all the Utopias and the Millenniums and the rest of the jigsaw puzzles.… We are not here to fulfill prophecies and fit ourselves into puzzles, but to wrestle with life as it comes. And it never comes as we expect it to come.

So I suppose Aforista may be onto something after all. There are no endings in the world of Story. There is only wisdom’s perpetually unfolding newness.

Happy New B’ak’tun!

It’s New B’ak’tun Day! And no, it doesn’t appear that the world is coming to an end, nor have their been any verifiable reports of extraterrestrials showing up. For further details about such rather widespread misapprehensions, check out our post of October 18. Things seem to be shaping up much as Lydia Rosenstrom anticipated in our novel Mayan Interface:

On December 21, 2012, ancient Mayan sites will be overrun by earnest pilgrims, all of them expecting something extraordinary to happen on that collusion of the wheels of the Mayan calendar. All over the world, people are waiting for a force outside themselves to make things right somehow—either by bringing our world to an end or by transforming the whole of humankind. Well, some folks might experience something. Others might miss their best chance while they’re waiting. Some wouldn’t notice transformation if it up and bites them, because it doesn’t fit the story they’re fixed on. Some just expect transformation to be a one-time thing, so they’ll be stuck wherever they arrive that day.

Let’s not get stuck, shall we? Instead, let’s do something productive, even proactive. As we celebrate the arrival of, let’s reflect on the last cycle of 144,000 days. I think we can agree that the 13th B’ak’tun was a pretty rough patch. Today let’s think up resolutions to make the next 394 years a whole lot better for everybody.

Dream big. Don’t be shy. You’ve got 144,000 days to play with here. And don’t cop out with lame excuses, such as, “I don’t expect to be around that long.” How do you know? Back in the days following what was then called the “Great War” of 1914-18 (before anyone knew that a still greater war was to follow), the brothers Conrad and Franklyn Barnabas predicted that humankind couldn’t survive without the maturity acquired during vastly increased lifespans. So they decided to do something about it. “Our program,” explained brother Franklyn, “is only that the term of human life shall be extended to three hundred years.”

Ever since the Brothers Barnabas put their program into effect, there have been rumors of long-lived humans walking amongst us. How can you be absolutely sure that you’re not one of them? So forget about making resolutions for 2013. It’s time to start thinking about what you’ll do with the next three or four centuries.

Pat and I are eager to hear your resolutions for the New B’ak’tun.  I’ll start with my own modest entry. As the prophet once suggested, I intend to do my part to beat our assault weapons into wind turbines and our handguns into solar panels. That only seems reasonable, given “world enough, and time …”

Apocalypse and Rumors of Apocalypse

RUPERT GILES: It’s the end of the world.
SCOOBY GANG (in unison): Again??!!

Pat and I dearly loved the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For one thing, we could relate to the show’s perpetual threat of apocalypse. Just about every other week, poor Buffy had to wrangle the demon hordes of multiple hell dimensions, keeping them from rising up and overtaking the earth. Typically, her direst obstacle to saving the world was being grounded by her mother.

Pat and I have been married and writing together for a quarter of a century. Like Buffy, we’ve seen lots of apocalypses come and go, although most of them have fizzled out without the Slayer’s heroics. Back in the latter half of the twentieth century, nobody expected civilization to make it through the 90s. At the very least, America’s great coastal cities would be destroyed by earthquakes, and much of the country would be underwater. Then came the millennium itself, with technology promising more trouble than all twenty-two chapters the Book of Revelation put together. Remember that computer glitch that was supposed to plunge humanity back into the stone age?

And now we’ve got the so-called end of the Mayan calendar looming, just a couple of months away. As it happens, Pat and I have done some homework on the subject. We recently published our Living Now Book Award-winning novel Mayan Interface, which meditates on both ancient Mayan traditions and today’s headlong rush into cyberreality. The story is set this very year. And believe me, I’m not spoiling the plot in the least by revealing that it does not feature an apocalypse.

The whole end-of-the-world scenario stems from a widespread misinterpretation of the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Mayan calendar—specifically, the date, better known to most of us as December 21, 2012. It’s really the end of a cycle, not the end of the world. Mayan calendar dates for the future include one that’s still 41 octillion years away—a time that I, for one, have no idea how to even think about. Besides, the ancient Maya considered cyclical completions to be cause for celebration, not dread. A big party might be in order.

So the world is not going to end on December 21, 2012 …
… and people need to get ready for it.

Pat and I are alarmed at how unprepared the world is for this calendrical non-event. Human transformation is an everyday occurrence—or at least it needs to be. If people think they’ll be relieved of all responsibility to grow and learn by some cosmos-obliterating cataclysm, conscious evolution might stop dead in its tracks for a critical mass of human souls by the time the sun unexpectedly rises on December 22. And that’s a catastrophe worth worrying about.

Of course, New-Age-ish spins on this date predict something more benign—a kind of extraterrestrial intervention in human evolution. But as far as we’re concerned, this is scarcely less scary than the end-of-the-world scenario. It proposes that something out there is going to suddenly do our own job of personal and cultural transformation. Our very lethargy becomes a sort of solution to the world’s manifold problems.

Pat and I are not in the business of saving humankind from its own laziness. So what can we neofoxes do to keep this non-event from throwing a massive kink in the realization of human potential?

This may not sound like much, but …

 … we can tell Story.

As the protagonist of our novel puts it, stories “re-write the mind.”

And we think that Mayan Interface is a dandy Story to mark the end of the 13th b’ak’tun.