Chicagoboyz – Relevant Then & Relevant Now

Discussion of Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed drew criticism from several bloggers here: Lex, Shannon, as well as a more positive take on his earlier Guns, Germs & Steel by Michael Hiteshew, who voices an appreciation shared by many of us who were more critical of this later, apocalyptic work.

A&L, that great aggregator, has linked to an article by Terry L. Hunt, Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island, that finds Diamond’s assumptions quite wrong. We are pleased when we see a scientist, in Arnold’s words, “turn back on himself” – not because we want their assumptions to be wrong but because we respect those who are willing to listen to what the evidence says, to approach their projects with sympathies but not closed minds. So, Hunt tells us:

When I first went to Rapa Nui to conduct archaeological research, I expected to help confirm this story. Instead, I found evidence that just didn’t fit the underlying timeline. As I looked more closely at data from earlier archaeological excavations and at some similar work on other Pacific islands, I realized that much of what was claimed about Rapa Nui’s prehistory was speculation. I am now convinced that self-induced environmental collapse simply does not explain the fall of the Rapanui.

(In American Scientist Online.

3 thoughts on “Chicagoboyz – Relevant Then & Relevant Now”

  1. This man is a true scientist:

    “I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island’s prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today’s problems.”

    The ability to separate one’s personal beliefs from one’s scientific conclusions is the one attribute reqired of all scientists. Unfortunately, far too few of us have enough of that trait when the funding chips are down.

  2. Hunt does not cite:

    From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui, by Benny Peiser, Faculty of Science Liverpool John Moores University, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT, VOLUME 16 No. 3&4 2005

    The Ďdecline and fallí of Easter Island and its alleged self-destruction has become the poster child of a new environmentalist historiography, a school of thought that goes hand-in-hand with predictions of environmental disaster. Why did this exceptional civilisation crumble? What drove its population to extinction? These are some of the key questions Jared Diamond endeavours to answer in his new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. According to Diamond, the people of Easter Island destroyed their forest, degraded the islandís topsoil,
    wiped out their plants and drove their animals to extinction. As a result of this selfinflicted environmental devastation, its complex society collapsed, descending into civil war, cannibalism and self-destruction. While his theory of ecocide has become almost paradigmatic in environmental circles, a dark and gory secret hangs over the premise of Easter Islandís self-destruction: an actual genocide terminated Rapa Nuiís indigenous populace and its culture. Diamond, however, ignores and fails to address the true reasons behind Rapa Nuiís collapse. Why has he turned the victims of cultural and physical extermination into the perpetrators of their own demise? This paper is a first attempt to address this disquieting quandary. It describes the foundation of Diamondís environmental revisionism and explains why it does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.

  3. Since the age of explorations, we have projected our own concerns upon the primitive peoples we have encountered, turning them into props within our own morality plays. In the early days, uncivilized peoples were portrayed alternatively has existing in eden like innocence or being demonic agents.

    In more modern times, researchers like Margret Meade used highly dubious anthropological work to attack traditional Western customs. I fear Diamond has done the same although not as egregiously. Certainly, he did not originate the idea that the Rapinu destroyed their environment.

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