Sunday, May 5, 2013
Easter Island as a metaphor
I started reading the papers and books by Jared Diamond as a result of his review of “Why Nations Fail,” the book by Acemoglu and Robinson. Since then, I read his most recent book, “The World Until Yesterday” (about what we can selectively learn from primitive societies) and now I’m reading the previous one, "Collapse." The latter contains a chapter about the environmental (complete deforestation) and social collapse (leading to violent changes of leadership and cannibalism) of Easter Island prior to the arrival of expeditions from European origin. This Pacific island had the worst geographic conditions in terms of those that facilitate overuse of natural resources. Although the deep reasons of the collapse are geographical (enormous physical distance from other societies, temperature, soil conditions), the irreversible decline was accompanied by destructive competition among clans (which led to the construction –requiring the employment of huge amounts of resources- of those ever bigger giant sculptures, or moais). Diamond notes that there is a potential metaphor about the likely fate of our planet, which cannot rely for help from other civilizations. I note another interesting analogy: worsening environmental conditions coincided with identity wars and social disruption. Social, environmental and “national” issues cannot be artificially separated.