The Unconservatory  

Author's preface: The focus of this article is on education. The topic is not directly related to our primary fields of music or music education, but those planning any millennium celebrations - musical or otherwise are encouraged to read on.

The Real Millennium Bug

by Kirk Whipple

When the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000 a most insidious event will occur. The largest group of people in the history of the world will fall prey to a most deplorable condition. Sorry, it will not be the dreaded "Millennium Bug," but a more sinister foe: a widespread celebration of ignorance. And, unfortunately, it appears the offender is being openly embraced.

For the record, here is what is at the heart of the confusion. The true date of the beginning of the new millennium - according to our modern "Gregorian" calendar - is January 1, 2001 - A.D. The abbreviation stands for "Anno Domini," or "in the year of our lord." Whatever your religious beliefs might happen to be, the abbreviation presupposes that the first year, "year 1" began at midnight on January 1, 0001 in the year Jesus Christ was born. Since there is no common agreement amongst scholars as to the exact date - or even the year - of Christ's birth, an educated guess was made. We'll deal with this problem a little later.

Conversely, the term "B.C." or "Before Christ" is used to signify years that occurred before 1 A.D. The thing to remember here is that there is no year "Zero" in our calendar. To better visualize this, let's say that this year, the year in which you are reading this article right now, is the year "1 Modern Times" or "1 M.T." That would mean that the year "Before This Year" would be the year "1 B.T.Y." - not "Zero M.T." and not "Zero B.T.Y." The "Year Zero" in this system would not exist. It is interesting to note at this point that astronomers, unlike us Gregorian based folk, actually do use a calendar that includes the year "Zero" for the sake of their calculations. The problem is that all of their "negative number" years are one year off from our "B.C." dates.

For at least the sake of demonstration, let's say that our calendar actually correctly placed Christ's birthday as previously mentioned. Then, the last evening of Jesus Christ's tenth year, December 31, 10 A.D., was the last evening of the first decade, and January 1, 11 A.D., was the beginning of the second decade. In turn, the last evening of his one-hundredth year, December 31, 100 A.D., was the last evening of the first decade, and January 1, 101 A.D., was the beginning of the second decade. Also, the last evening of his one-thousandth year, December 31, 1000 A.D., was the last evening of the first millennium, and January 1, 1001 A.D., was the beginning of the second millennium. Add 1,000 years to these last figures and it's easy to see that a lot of people are planning their millennium celebrations a year too early.

Now, on the other hand, Y2K has been receiving quite a bit of press. We sure are fascinated with all of those zeroes, aren't we! Hey, doesn't everyone try to sneak a peek at the odometer at the next 1,000 mile mark? 1,001... 10,001.... even 100,001 do not distract us as much as their immediate predecessors. There are an amazing amount of early millennium celebrations here in Miami. Check your local listings: everyone wants to cash in! From a strictly business point of view I can't say that I blame them. From a purely educational view, however, I must strongly object.

For centuries now a large segment of our culture has adopted the Gregorian calendar. While we will never know the exact date of the millennium (based upon Christ's dates), we do have worldwide agreement as to the exact date and time that our calendar recognizes each new year. It therefore follows that, however attractive the three cheerios look in our datebooks, we must recognize the simple mathematical conclusion that all of the "Millennium 2000" celebrations are premature.

At first, I was not very concerned about the millennium date confusion. Like any other trivial misconception, this one seemed harmless. As more people climbed on the bandwagon I became annoyed. As the ignorance of this historical concept mutated from a seemingly honest mistake into a worldwide travesty I became downright agitated.

I came to realize that the source of my consternation lay in my fundamental educational ideals. If we can conveniently overlook simple facts for the sake of profit or pride, if a global culture cannot agree on a concept as basic as this, if we cannot discover the whole truth... what message are we sending to children about the value of the truth? If it's all in fun we can ignore it until it goes away, right? It's easy to tell a fib if everyone else goes along. And... If no one checks our fib, then maybe we'll get away with a "little white lie." This is the stuff from which complete fabrications are sprung.

By the way, what message are we sending to those who wish to exploit us? The marketers of the world are slathering all over themselves to get a piece of our millennium buck. If advertisers push education in this arena, you can bet what's left of your party cash that they will not begin until the warehouses are emptied of the faux millennium trash.

Does it really matter when or why we celebrate the new year? We do need to have a common reference for dates, but, in fact, other great calendars of the world that are in use today have nothing to do with Christ's birth and death dates. Two prime examples are the Chinese and Islamic calendars. These and other calendars have different systems for determining the date of the new year.

My main argument is that such a great spiritual and emotional attachment has been associated with a date that is vague at best. If the date is so important, then let's get it right. If not, then why all the fuss? Ignorance is bliss, facts give way to denial, and, not unlike the now ridiculous flat/round world argument, the arrival date of the third millennium will most likely remain a confusion even in light of the elementary math.

Here, for your enjoyment and party planning assistance I offer...

"Top Ten List of Solutions for the Millennially Challenged"

1. Have a great time this "official" New Year's Eve, and the next one, and the Chinese one, and the Hebrew one, and the Islamic one. Also the Indian, Julian and Astronomical ones. And even (does it exist?) the Aboriginal one!

2. If you're going to have an "official" Gregorian-based millennium celebration consider yourself lucky - you have a year more to plan it than most people think!

3. Don't attach any spiritual significance to a vague and highly arbitrary number. If you can believe that God is coming to clean house in the year 2000 you might also be induced into believing that the dinosaurs were wiped out during a B.C. year with a lot of zeroes. (Or did that year end with -999?) If you are afraid that that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are going to crash your millennium Super Bowl party I will be delighted to forward the name of my favorite charitable organizations to whom you may forward all liquid assets. God (and a few starving artists) will smile upon you.

4. Fix your toys and forget about Y2K. If a stupid little computer oversight brings our species to a halt then I say we deserve to join the dinosaurs. The cockroaches won't need the Internet.

5. Attend an acoustic music performance on the eve of Y2K. If you're worried that your evening will die at midnight with the power failure, my wife and I will be giving a concert at two pianos. We'll have a bag of candles just in case!

6. If you must precisely focus your mystical energy at the dawn of the third millennium, please correctly do so on the first day of 2001. If you are psychically connected to our Christian based calendar and its temporal assertions you would be depriving yourself of a proper "millecstasy" by overly celebrating on 1-01-00. By the way, doesn't 01-01-01 look cool? Sexier? More balanced? The Mark Of The One True and Powerful Almighty Millennium? (What do you think of my marketing ploy?)

7. Don't send me any e-mail regarding this subject. (Unless it comes with a publishing offer.) I have exhaustively researched this topic and, upon finishing this rant, plan to celebrate the millennium by seeing just how much music I can create before 01-01-01. (Is my marketing ploy working? Don't answer that!)

8. Pinch yourself at midnight, January 1, 2000 to see if the world hasn't ended.

9. Pinch yourself again at midnight, January 1, 2001 to see if the world still hasn't ended. And, by the way, raise your glasses with friends and family to the new millennium at midnight. You can be assured I will be doing the same.

10. Stop worrying! There are worse things than the end of the world... ;)

Kirk Whipple
Miami, Florida

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Updated: January 25, 2001 (KB)

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