Friday, May 13, 2005

More on Collapse

Ok, I promised more of a piece-wise review of Collapse by Jared Diamond, but I am not convinced I am going to finish it. It has not completely impressed me, and I have another book that is craving my attention at the moment.

But why am I not impressed? All the examples of collapse were all in marginal areas, except for the Maya and I have no idea why they are gone. The section the Anasazi was pretty good though I do not completely agree with his conclusions.

He seems to have an anti-Christian pro-Malthius mindset. If there are starving people, the problem is, according to him, overpopulation. And if that is the problem you identify, then the unspoken solution is implicit - get rid of some population or eliminate growth. I do not consider either acceptable. But then, I learn different lessons from the examples he gives.

The Anasazi, grew to a large population, depleted their natural resources, and were dependent on trade. When fighting started, the trade routes broke down, and the system collapsed because it could not sustain itself.

The story of the Vikings is more detailed and definitely more interesting. But the story is the same. They grew to a large population, depleted (at least some of) their own resources, and when trading ceased and the environment grew unfriendly, they died off. There are however, some things that make this story more complex, namely that the Inuits did not die off. If they had eaten fish and learned some from the Inuit, they could have survived. Never mind that even the natives had died off multiple times. But the point remains, they could have adapted better. And they could have eaten fish. What is up with that? Other Vikings eat fish and they starve in the midst of plenty? Maybe we all do that, I don’t know. But with the event of the Little Ice Age, I have a hard time faulting the collapse of Viking society in Greenland.

But what do we learn from all of this????

If we are not locally self-sufficient, our lives are in the hands others. The Greenland Vikings did not have their own boats, it appears to me, because of a local scarcity of lumber. And when other boats did not come, they were screwed. Same with the people in Pitcairn and Henderson Islands. We have to be locally self-sufficient. We need to grow our own crops and grow our own lumber. If we can not do that, then we are at the mercy of others.

They also lived beyond their means, as did the Anasazi and the Easter Islanders. By that I mean, they did not use their resources in the manner that they should have. They were careless. The poor know this - you can live on very little. For instance, the minimum I need to live is much less that, say, Paris Hilton.

Now, if this were just people a long, long time ago in a place, far, far away, this would have little, other than academic interest. But is isn’t. This is our story today. And if we don’t learn from previous mistakes, we will repeat them, and America will become the next Ozymandias for future generations. That is not our destiny however. America will survive, but you and I? That is for us to decide and prepare for.

No comments: