They say if we don’t study history, we’re destined to repeat it. Many of you will be familiar with Jared Diamond and his work. Author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Mr. Diamond has put a lot of energy into studying various cultures that have come, and, significantly, gone again. Amongst these is the example of Easter Island, where it appears that despite the islanders’ major resources being clearly in decline, they continued to use these resources for their own particular, peculiar economy — that being to make their giant Moai idols. Not only that, but, over time, as the resources needed to create them dwindled, the Moai statues only got larger. Their economy not only had to continue, but it had to grow — regardless of their context, and despite what should have been obvious consequences.
Some dispute the exact nature of the collapse of Easter Island, but what we do know is that pollen samples taken from the island show that it was once covered in forest, yet by the time Europeans arrived the island was treeless. There are no pollen traces dated beyond around 1650, around the same time the statues ceased being made. Surviving clans after this time, no longer able to create more competing statues, instead took to pushing over those of rival clans — until by 1868 all the Moai had been toppled, and many beheaded.
It’s ironic that the islanders were undermining their own viability in order to create the all-important Moai, and then fought and killed (and possibly even ate) each other as they tore it all down again.
Isn’t it similar today? The entire world’s resource base is dwindling rapidly, but for many, in our socially atomised society, it just encourages them to strive all the harder to get a slice before it’s all gone. Our aspirations, and our toys, continue to grow….