Summary: Newsweek article, resulting Aztlan posts, exchange with David Freidel, the Church of God spin on the Newsweek piece
back to Update2012.com
1. The Newsweek piece on 2012
The update for May involves a mainstream news outlet, Newsweek, contacting me for a story they were doing on 2012. Web editor and writer Lisa Miller contacted me by phone. I explained to her the various facets of the Maya calendar, my work, the state of the discussion in academia and how our culture is projecting doomsday into 2012 when the Maya had no such concept. The main idea that I've been trying to get across to journalists and documentary producers for over a decade is that The Maya concept of time is cyclic, and within such a paradigm cycle endings are conceived as times of transformation and renewal. The conversation seemed to go well. The piece came out in mid-May, and I was not at all suprised at the simplistic treatment of 2012 and the distorted treatment I received, stemming from the fact that the only quote from me that she reported was "read my book, look at the bibliography." Here it is:
"2012: A Y2K for the New Age" by Lisa Miller
From the Newsweek magazine issue dated May 18, 2009: http://www.newsweek.com/id/195688
Below the title, we find an unaccredited quote from my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012: "'Around 2012, a large chapter of human history will be coming to an end, and a new phase of human growth will commence."
Without the proper surrounding context, it sounds like this is the kind of definitive statement that I criticize as misleading, coming from writers (who I've called "predictators") who make declarative assertions as if they know for sure "what's going to happen." The proper context also can't be glimpsed in the slightly longer quote of the same phrase that appears, properly credited, in the body of the article: "Around the year we call 2012 ... a large chapter in human history will be coming to an end. All the values and assumptions of the previous World Age will expire, and a new phase of human growth will commence." Now, I was writing this having already laid out the premise that the Maya had, as evidenced in the Popol Vuh, a World Age concept. Having already laid out the conceptual connection between the 13-Baktun cycle of the Long Count (which ends on December 21, 2012) and the doctrine of World Ages (in which one 13-baktun cycle would equal one World Age), I then sought to describe how 2012 would have been viewed by the Maya themselves, within the paradigm of transformation at the cycle ending already established in the Popol Vuh. The disappointing thing about the article is that I explained all of this to Ms. Miller in our phone conversation. The resulting distortion of my intention could perhaps be ascribed to journalistic concision rather than intent.
In reponse to the quote from my book of 1998, Miller then quotes (at length) Maya scholar David Freidel, who "recently agreed to speak at a New Age conference on 2012, he says, mainly because he wanted to deprive Jenkins of the opportunity." Friedel told Miller: "I immediately said yes so I could get to the podium before the charlatans do." Freidel apparently succeeded in preventing my appearance in order to deliver a power point presentation which he later sent to me, and which I found to be riddled with misunderstandings of what my work is about, as well as factually incorrect assessments of Geoff Stray's work, the galactic alignment, and other things essential to clarity in the 2012 discussion. He confirmed that he did indeed intend to identify me as a charlatan, because he believed I was proselytizing the doctrine of astrological causality to the unsuspecting masses. Freidel was apparently unaware that my early book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (1992/1994) began with a chapter that exposed the fallacy of causality as an explanation for astrologya position that I have maintained before and since that time. A full review of Friedel's slide-show presentation will eventually be provided below.
Miller countered Friedel with something I did indeed say to her in our phone interview, in regard to scholars who criticize my work as being uninformed: "Jenkins defends himself against accusations that he's a fraud, saying, 'Read my book, look at the bibliography.'" I was referring to the extensive source material that factored into my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, the bibliography for which is posted online: http://Alignment2012.com/bibbb.htm. My stated goal, since my earliest writings, has been to reconstruct the lost aspects of Maya cosmology, and this has come to focus on 2012, a topic that Maya scholars themselves have failed to take up. The sweet quote that I encouraged Miller to include in her piece was not used: "Scholars never dropped the ball on rationally investigating 2012 as a true artifact of Maya thought, because they never picked the ball up!" This is true of Friedel and many others. Friedel, for example, offered Miller a curious metaphor for how we should think about 2012: as a vehicle's mechanical odometer flipping over to zero. My own metaphor for how we should think about 2012 (transformation and renewal) is congruent with the ancient and modern Maya perspective on cycle endings. While Friedel criticizes New Age writers of inappropriately projecting their modern concepts onto the ancient Maya, he has done exactly that with his vehicle odometer. But no one, including the scholars on Aztlan who I later put this question to, seemed to consider this to be a contradiction. In fact, many thought Friedel's mechanical odometer was the more appropriate metaphor.
2. Resultuing posts to the Aztlan e-list
Miller's piece was exceedingly brief. It was immediately announced on the Aztlan list, and inspired Robert Sitler to take Friedel to task for throwing around pejorative labels (see "Respect as a Teaching Tool.") My own response to Aztlan, a short and civil corrective that pointed out the performative contradiction of Friedel's mechanical metaphor, was rejected by the Aztlan moderator.
I sent a brief post to Aztlan, in which my only offense appears to be that I asserted, generically, that people who call other people charlatans are mudslingers. Nevertheless, my post was rejected by the Aztlan moderator, with the following comment:
From: michael ruggeri <email@example.com>
Sent: May 6, 2009 11:39 AM
Subject: YOUR AZTLAN POST
We try to steer clear of attacking folks online so we do not start
flame wars. Perhaps you should send that post offline to the person
you are replying to.
And/or you could re-write the post sans the attack. That would be good too.
Mike Ruggeri (Aztlan moderator)
Since the link to the Newsweek piece was allowed as a post, its contents must have been reviewed and endorsed. In that piece, David Freidel calls me a charlatan. That is a personal attack. My response identifies this as mudslinging. What would you call it? I also corrected the implication of Freidel's words that I am one of those doomsday people, identifying that as an underinformed error which therefore disqualifies him from saying anything about my work. That is all a very reasonable response, none of which is a personal attack. However, calling a person a charlatan is a personal attack. You therefore endorse a personal attack on me, but do not allow me the space to defend it (in non-personal, NON-attack words.) You see how this works: Friedel says, in effect, "John is a charlatan." I say: "calling a person a charlatan is mudslinging" (notice I didn't say "Freidel is a mudslinger"). You exhibit a double standard, and I am disappointed that you choose to weild your veto power to nurture a one-side, biased, venue. If you do not endorse Freidel's underinformed mudslinging, and are okay with allowing posts that include links to pages containing ad hominem vitriole that you do not necessarily endorse, then I will momentarily submit a link to my offical response page, which will be posted on the Newsweek comment page. All in the interest of clarity, a value which I trust you uphold.
John Major Jenkins
Note: I also added acomment to the Newsweek comment section below Miller's article, which read:
Posted By: JMJenkins @ 05/05/2009 9:41:12 PM
The 2012 date is a valid artifact of the Maya calendar. We now know it had meaning for the ancient Maya because of the 2012 text on Tortuguero Monument 6 (forgot to mention that, didn't we?). As a cycle ending in the Long Count calendar, it also would have meant for the ancient Maya what any cycle ending meant for them: transformation and renewal. That's about as basic as it can get, and I believe I stated as much in my interview with Ms Miller. Scholars, like David Freidel, have failed in their job to treat the 2012 topic rationally, and so it has fallen to an independent outside investigator to offer well-document research into how 2012 played a role in Maya cosmology, iconography, and conceptions of time. And, Maya spiritual teachings that relate to cycle endings can also be discussed rationally, if only scholars would reciprocate. My work is not about about proclaiming doomsday or ascension; it is just a good old fashioned reconstruction of a forgotten tradition. I'd be happy to engage Dr Freidel in a written debate on 2012 The alternative is continued mudslinging fed by misconceptions. John Major Jenkins
A few months later, I revived the topic on Aztlan and suggested taking a poll on whether 2012 should be conceived with Friedel's modern mechanical metaphor or with the Maya's non-mechanical ideology or transformation & renewal. An astounding number sided with Freidel. (See the thread on Aztlan called "2012 Show Features someone you know" at: http://www.famsi.org/pipermail/aztlan/2009-July/subject.html#6303.
3. Exchange with David Freidel
I contacted Friedel with a cordial email after the Newsweek piece came out, to confirm whther he had intended to skewer me as a "charlatan." He responded in the affirmative. The exchange is posted below ...
Hello Dr. Freidel,
I wanted to extend a friendly and hopeful hello, in consideration of the recent Newsweek piece by Lisa Miller. I'm aware of how easy it is for media interviewers to distort the words of their interviewees, so I was hoping for clarification or verification on your opinion of my work. For example, Miller gave the impression that your use of the word "charlatan" was to apply specifically to me, but I wasn't sure if you were intending that as a personal attack or merely as a reference to a generalized category of persons that you believe I belong in. Secondly, I wasn't aware of any "New Age" 2012 event in Washington DC that I needed to be deprived of speaking at, which again makes me wonder if Miller was getting her facts straight. I hope you had an enjoyable time if you went. Third, in my experience my scholarly critics very often confuse me with other writers. This is especially true as to my intentions, which I see reflected back to me in a myraid different ways, distorted and filtered through misapprehensions. In an effort to defend myself, and my work, from these misconceptions, I'd like to extend a laurel wreath in the form of a short document that explains in a nutshell what my approach to 2012 is, and how the idea that I put on the table some 15 years ago is now finding support in recent research by Maya epigraphers working on Creation texts and other inscriptions at Copan, Tikal, Piedras Negras, Tortuguero, and Palenque. Best wishes,
John Major Jenkins
From: David Freidel <dfreidel@WUSTL.EDU>
Sent: May 10, 2009 10:41 AM
To: John Major Jenkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>, "Guenter, Stanley" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Hello from fellow Newsweek alumni
Hi John, nice to hear from you directly. I would not place you in the
same category as Mr. Ponzi, who has inspired the current world wide
economic crisis, but I think you intelligent enough to know the
difference between what passes for bold conjecture in science and your
proposals concerning 2012. So yes indeed, I identify you as a charlatan
profiting through the royalties of your books and other means by the
heartfelt yearnings of gullible people for a better world through
outside means. You have read my book on Maya religion, so you know my
belief that Mayan speaking peoples do indeed today, and in their
Pre-Columbian civilizations, evince faith in mystical causation and this
is a vital premise to inferences about their past behavior and
accomplishments. Some works inspired by my collaborative efforts with
Linda Schele in Maya Cosmos are truly wonderful, like Darren Aronofsky's
film The Fountain. Moreover, I am a champion of consciousness raising as
practiced by many many adepts and scholars, such as the Sakyong in
Colorado. Advocating that people strive to be better in themselves as
they work to heal the world is a good thing, and encouraging them to
look for lessons in the experience of Mayan speaking peoples is fine.
The ramp-up to 2012 will be an opportunity for people like myself to try
to express what more than a century of hard work by many scholars has
discovered about Maya calendrics and prophecy, while debunking
untestable and implausible connections between human destiny and cosmic
patterns as you propose in your writings. I attach a powerpoint slide
show prepared by my student Stanley Guenter for our course on Fantastic
Archaeology. Game on John. David
I'm pretty sure, after viewing your PDF show, that your concept of what "my proposals concerning 2012" are about don't at all match what my work is actually about. This is most clearly indicated in your effort to debunk "untestable and implausible connections between human destiny and cosmic patterns as you propose in your writings." The majority of the slides in your presentation convey wildly incorrect information about my connections with doomsday theories, Maya New Age shamans, and a doctrine of astrological causality. I very much hope, since it is based upon a clarification of facts, that the enclosed response will result in greater understanding so that you can take a more fair and accurate view of my work. Best wishes,
John Major Jenkins
[again, my extensive response to Freidel and Guenter's power point presentation is reproduced in full here.]
Sent: May 19, 2009 9:27 AM
To: John Major Jenkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Hello from fellow Newsweek alumni
Hi John, thanks for the correspondence. I will read your response with
great interest. I have received correspondence from "Star Heart", you may
well imagine what he says about you. However, he also asks if I think
that there is some connection between the lineage of Pakal of Palenque
and Egyptians. I am going to Paris tomorrow, but will check my email
regularly again after a few days settling in. David
Star Heart is an unstable person and it would be best to not engage him at all. I did, at one time, engage his critiques and comments, but the exchanges always escalated into irrational threatening areas. There's no basis to his accusations. Rather scary. I've considered seeking some kind of digital restraining order as he also targets my associates and uses alias email accounts. Some of the things he says verge on life threatening, and my wife has been very upset.
Enjoy Paris! and feel free to set aside my response for your later attention. No hurry. Best wishes,
Update, September 22, 2009. I haven't yet received a response. However, in the interrum I have been invited to give a presentation next April at the 2010 SAA (Society for American Archaeology) meetings in St Louis, where David lives. Perhaps we will have a chance to discuss the evidence for 2012 being an intentional artifact of ancient Maya cosmology, as well as the critical new evidence that points to a conscious awareness of the solstice sun's alignment with the dark rift in the Milky Way in 2012.
4. 2012: A Gringo Invention? For this, see the update for June