2012 or What the cuckoo teaches us
by Thomas Wagner | Jan 1, 2012
Graphic: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark

The Horsfield's bronze cuckoo is a pretty bird and a smart parasite. Last year a team of Australian researchers found out that not only does it adapt the color and pattern of its eggs to those in a foreign nest. And the freshly hatched cuckoos externally resemble the chicks of the brood into which they have emerged – in terms of both skin color, the color of their open beaks and at times even their fluff. The scientists presume that this is a response to especially distrustful host birds. For the latter tend to throw not only strange eggs out of their nests, but also young birds that they find suspicious too. By imitating the color of the host's brood, the young cuckoos prevent that deadly ejection. The deception lasts for eight days, and then the host parents have accepted all the chicks and the cuckoo slowly assumes the appearance of its own species.

In an interview with the online edition of the "Die Zeit" weekly philosopher Slavoj Žižek responded last August to the question whether we live in "end times" by saying: "As I say in my book on 'End Times', I am not interested in individual disasters. I am interested in the crisis of global capitalism from the perspective of a critique of political economy. We're heading for the zero point of capitalism at different levels, ecology, bioengineering, intellectual property and new forms of apartheid. The great utopia today is the fact that we can maintain this system for an infinitely long period with just a few cosmetic changes."

To which one need simply respond: Cuckoo! Or did the bird not show a little economic-cosmetic chuzpe? It mocks its host the way all the financial jugglers make fun of their clients. It uses the power of disguise and dissemblance like any clever ad man or marketing CEO. And it prevents itself getting ejected from the profit zone (i.e,, going bust) by shamelessly copying someone else's "products". Now let us not do the little bird an injustice and make nature responsible for capitalism's aberrations. We are cuckoos, no one else. And one thing is clear: we'll never be able to crunch numbers as skillfully as the bankers or politicians. But since we don't know what they will do with the 2 the 0 the 1 and the 2, this year-end we're back left to our own resources and forced to rely on a little fundamental numeral mysticism.

So let's leave that distinction between seconds, minutes, hours, days and years, and it's quite arbitrary for our feeling for time anyway, aside for a moment and in the case of 2012 that leaves the 20, which will have to get by for a whole century, and focus on the "12". Twelve. What a number! One short of the baker's dozen: 12 bottles in a crate and only football has to get by with 11. And haven't we for decades had to put up with the mantra that it's "five minutes before 12"? Something always seemed to be heading right our way, something immutable about to happen that would top everything that has gone before. And now of all things, suddenly: Twelve!

Meaning, if not end times, than an end game? Are we now entering the historical witching hour? Have we arrived? If so, where? In a time where there are no more excuses? Arrived in a wide open field to which the hand does not yet point? If it's 12 the two hands of the clock overlap, and everything on the wide round face of time seems open and undetermined. As if that interests a cuckoo?

"Five and seven, those holy numbers, rest in twelve," writes Schiller. And just as the 12 has such an extraordinary impact, do we suddenly too? If we believe the Ancient Babylonians, then the moon travels as the "ruler of the months" through 12 houses. The Ancient Egyptians opted for 12 gates to Heaven and 12 gates to the underworld. Indeed, in the Levant the 12 became a crucial round number: The 12 tribes of Israel were never actually 12 in history and yet formed a unity; the High Priest's breastplate bore 12 jewels; the Savior had to pass through the 12 stages of the Cross, Holy Jerusalem had 12 gates, and 12 times 12 Chosen Ones adore the Lamb of God. While Christ is viewed as the Day, the 12 Apostles reference the 12 hours of the day. And because 12 is three times four, it is the task of the 12 disciples he has gathered around him to spread the belief in the Trinity to the four corners of the Earth. The trend to divide leading figures into groups of 12 is also to be found in Islam, for example when the Shiites list the sequence of Imams who as descendants of Muhammad are the rightful heads of the community, through to the 12th Imam.

Irrespective of how we may interpret such constellations, we will always end up accepting that our deeds somehow seem bound up in many ways with a cosmic rhythm. But doesn't the Christian version of the numbers game offer unexpected opportunities? If someone such as Christ managed to gather 12 faithful men around him, could he then change the world? Twelve upright men should suffice! But where are they? And why did the poets of yore so adore the cuckoo and equate it with the spring of their lives? No worries, the clock will strike 13 fast enough, you'll see!

Graphic: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
Graphic: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark