Easter Island, Earth Island
March 13, 2004 10:15 PM   Subscribe

Twilight at Easter by Jared Diamond, offers us a clear summary of "Easter's settlement and subsequent history, its statues, the frightening collapse of its society, and its broader significance in our world beset with similar environmental problems." [via JBD's SDJ]
posted by kliuless (14 comments total)
The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth.

posted by SPrintF at 10:28 PM on March 13, 2004

I'd been holding off on posting this tale for a year and a half or so and, lately, I'd thought of the comparison (fairly apt, really) between the historical Easter Island and contemporary Haiti.

Since I first read Jared's early nutshell though, he's fleshed out the story with considerable aplomb. Good for him. It needs now to be told - and broadcast - widely. Diamond floated earlier short versions of this, based on preliminary research, at least four years ago if not earlier. When I re-broadcast the message in early 2001, I was considered (by a lay public) quite insane.

What a difference a scant few years now can make (and this is a good thing).
posted by troutfishing at 10:49 PM on March 13, 2004

"I have often asked myself, "What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?" Like modern loggers, did he shout "Jobs, not trees!"? Or: "Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we'll find a substitute for wood"? Or: "We need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature"? " (Jared Diamond)
posted by troutfishing at 10:56 PM on March 13, 2004

Maybe he said "Global warming? Isn't it cold enough for ya?" Not that New Hampshirites say this, mainly it's outsiders from MA and CT.
posted by crazy finger at 11:07 PM on March 13, 2004

> "I have often asked myself, "What did the Easter Islander
> who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?"

Unlikely that he said or thought anything in particular, any more than a goat on a rocky island thinks anything in particular as it eats the last blade of grass. Horizons shrink easily to embrace nothing but the deed at hand. Living in the moment is part of our heritage as animals.
posted by jfuller at 4:20 AM on March 14, 2004

...which one would think Jared Diamond would know. Even the most educated persons apparently don't really believe in evolution.
posted by jfuller at 4:23 AM on March 14, 2004

Jared Diamond wrote another article on the same topic for Discover magazine back in 1995; it can be found here. Fascinating stuff.

Wow, that was almost ten years ago. I feel old.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:20 AM on March 14, 2004

"I have often asked myself, "What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?"

Probably something like: "I better cut this down and use the wood before that bastard Timoti does."
posted by moonbiter at 6:44 AM on March 14, 2004

Diamond scatters articles on "Why do societies make disastrous decisions" like dandelion seeds. It's his topic.

For the record, the answer is:

Living in the present moment is part of our heritage as animals. That the human species's narrowly focused moments greatly outnumber its moments of wide circumspection more than adequately explains the observation that a few of us (inventors, warriors, whatever) are often smart enough to make trouble while the many are not then smart enough to unmake it.

Societies don't make disastrous decisions because societies do not make decisions--full stop. Consider how hard it is to get every member of a committee of six on the same page. Now imagine a committee of millions. "Society" is a large, wooly abstraction with, as a whole, no more awareness than a mushroom. We often say "society" should do this or that; this is worse than sloppy talk, it is a deeply confusing misuse of terms (specifically, a reification of an abstraction.) A society isn't going to "do" anything, because there's nobody at the wheel.
posted by jfuller at 6:47 AM on March 14, 2004

great post, kliuless - thanks.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:23 AM on March 14, 2004

Yeah, I second that. Great post.

I like jfuller's comments too.
posted by troutfishing at 11:09 AM on March 14, 2004

Good read. For those who don't know, the author also wrote "Guns, Germs, and Steel", talking about why some societies succeed and some fail discussing factors like environment and geography a lot more than many histories. Smart guy with interesting ideas.
posted by superchris at 11:23 AM on March 14, 2004

Really great, thanks.
posted by alms at 7:39 PM on March 14, 2004

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