Collapsing Vanity

Man is born, man lives, and man diesAnd it's all vanity.

I am reading Jared Diamonds awesome book Collapse. With his trademark intellectual grace he charts several past catastrophes where human civilizations have epically crashed out after disrespecting their environments. The Maya of Meso-America, the Easter Islanders and the Norse of Greenland were all distinct societies that after a period of prospering experienced a sudden and dramatic collapse. The degraded ecosystems could no longer sustain their populations and the outcome was a medley of war, starvation and cannibalism.

Cultures that have failed to sustain themselves are consigned to the pages of history like a dead branch on the tree of life; all that is left of them is their skeleton-like ruins. His message is clear, we ignore our ecological life-support system at out peril. 

In each failed culture there was an over-emphasis on competition over cooperation. For example, the tribes of Easter Island cut down all their trees in a competition to see who could erect the biggest human effigy. Their brief flash of inspired narcissism still stand like gravestones, the heads mysteriously staring inwards at the island they ravaged out of cold, unseeing eyes. 

Jared steers us towards the inevitable comparisons with our own civilization: Paul Allen and his Megayacht

“Like Easter Island chiefs erecting ever larger statues… and like the Ananzi elite treating themselves to necklaces of 2,000 turquoise beads, Maya kings sought to out do each other with more and more impressive temples, covered with thicker and thicker plaster – reminiscent in turn of the extravagant conspicuous consumption by modern American CEOs. The passivity of Easter chiefs and Maya kings in the face of the real big threats to their societies completes our list of disquieting parallels.”

Reminded me of this song: