Here's something I wrote for a 2012 collection which never happened. I thought it was high time to publish it.
2012 - or 12,012?
We all desire something from the Singularity. Conditioned into instant gratification by consumerist culture, we want to believe that the mere quantitative - a date on a calendar promoted by Pope Gregory in 1582 - will deliver real qualitative change. So, disappointed by the Millennium, which didn't even manage to crash all the world's computers, we reach out for 2012. Like kids writing 'Dear Father Christmas' letters, we hope that something we haven't contributed to will provide a quick fix to global problems and rescue us from our mass folly.
Rather than hold our collective breath until the unknown rescues us, why not take the situation in hand, and create something new instead. Let's mark 2012 with a new calendar, a new system of numbering the years.
When we study any history before the past 2000 years, it looks messy. The years before 1 CE are arranged to present a run-up, all the nonsense that occurred before that date relegated to preparing the world for the advent of the Christian god. Or that's what it looks like, when we consider that Plato lived his life backwards, from around 427 to 347 BCE.
The 'AD' designation is somewhat improved by 'CE', or the Latin Thelemic variant 'EV' (Era Vulgaris) - but this doesn't go far enough. To call the last 2000 years just the 'common era' is almost an admission of defeat - we eliminate the reference to Year of Our Lord, but we still leave his supposed birth year as our temporal baseline.
This produces a skewing of history; it is as if Bishop Usher were right, and the time before JC was relatively short, and only significant as an introductory chapter to the narrative of a god's incarnation.
So how can we change the dating system?
One possibility is to date everything in reverse, like we do for geological and cosmic events; it makes sense to say that the Solar System was formed four and a half billion years ago, rather than at just-under-4.5bn BCE. But it makes a dog's breakfast of any other scale of history. For a start, everyone's lives would run backwards, and it would be a swine of a job renumbering all the important historical dates every year. So we need a forward-counting year system for most historical purposes.
The next question is obviously: Where do we start our new forward-count from? A sensible answer would be: From a time before most of what we study historically. Recorded history starts about 5000 years ago, with the development of cuneiform, the oldest known script. The period 5300 to 2500 years ago brackets the oldest known civilizations - early Egyptian hieroglyphs, pre-dynastic China, the Indus Valley cities. Archaeology pushes the origins of these civilizations back a few more centuries. Going back somewhat further, we collide with the last Ice Age. Any civilizations that existed before that have been ground to dust by glaciers or submerged in the flooding that came with the retreat of the ice. The current Interglacial Period is generally taken as starting about 11,000 years ago. This figure approximates to the round figure of 9,000 BCE. An even rounder figure, much easier to work with, would be to take our starting point for historical dating as 10,000 BCE*.
That would be in the old system; I propose the Interglacial (IG) dating system, in which we add 10,000 to all the years in the old system, counting BCE dates as negative and subtracting them from 10,000.
Here's how a few historical events would look in Interglacial (IG) dating:
Catal Hoyuk earliest finds 2500 IG
British Isles separate from rest of Europe 3900 IG
Pre-dynastic Badarian culture, Egypt 4500-6000 IG
Sumer, agriculture 4700 IG
West Kennet Longbarrow 6500 IG
Oetzi the Iceman 6700 IG
Indus Valley civilization earliest findings 6700 IG
Stonehenge earth bank and ditch 6900 IG
Egypt, pyramid of Khufu completed 7520 IG
Beaker People 7600-8200 IG
China, Zhou dynasty begins 8055 IG
Hallstadt culture from 9200 IG
Socrates ca. 9520-9601 IG
Traditional date of founding of city of Rome 9247 IG
Saul of Tarsus invents new religion ca. 10,040 IG
Earliest known sequential Futhark ca. 10,400 IG
Invention of poured steel 11,742 IG
Invention of the computer 11,941-44 IG
This system has advantages both practical and cultural. It does away with all that silly BCE reverse dating and the removal of that 2000-year ago discontinuity would place the story of Christianity in a more balanced perspective, rather than something which squats astride the whole of history. It would be easier to implement than any other calendar reform I've heard of, and I think it would stimulate interest in ancient history: dating our current civilization from the end of the last Ice Age would give us a sense of being embedded in greater cycles of time. 'Negative dates' would take on a whole new meaning - things that happened before the ice retreated - and this should benefit research into long lost eras.
So how do we start?
* This would place our Year 1 in the throes of the Ice Age, but that is no problem.