23 July 2011

"Nothing learned, and everything forgotten!"

"Tragic failures become moral sins only if one should have known better from the outset. In that regard there are two big differences between us and eleventh-century Anasazi Indians: scientific understanding, and literacy. We know, and they didn't know, how to draw graphs that plot sustainable resource population as a function of resource harvesting rate. We can read about all the ecological disasters of the past; the Anasazi couldn't. Yet our generation continues to hunt whales and clear tropical rain forest as if no one had never hunted moas or cleared pinyon-juniper woodlands. The past was still a Golden Age of ignorance, while the present is an Iron Age of willful blindness.

From this point of view it's beyond understanding to see modern societies repeating the past's suicidal ecological mismanagment, with much more powerful tools of destruction in the hands of far more people. It's as if we hadn't already run that particular film many times before in human history, and as if we didn't know the inevitable outcome. Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias" evokes Persepolis, Tikal, and Easter island equally well; perhaps it will someday evoke to others the ruins of our own civilization."

p. 337, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, © 1992, 2006. Jared Diamond.

2 comments:

Scott said...

Funny you should mention it. I've been reading some excerpts from Clive Hamilton's Requiem:

"Clinging to hopefulness has become a means of avoiding the truth about climate change. In the circumstances, to despair is human, but succumbing to apathy is unhelpful. We have to abandon the accustomed view of the future as an improving version of the past and rethink a future under severe climate disruption.

Passing from despair to acceptance requires a huge psychological shift, akin to passing through a process of grieving, but until it is done we will not be in a position to take the measures needed. It requires developing a new sense of self and its relationship to the natural environment."

Some folks are in a better position to make these realizations than many others. The problem is so many more will have to get there --somehow...

smellincoffee said...

One of humanity's greatest enemies is the feeling of learned helplessness. We convince ourselves that nothing can done and resign ourselves to doing nothing, while the situation gets worse and worse.

I suppose it's rather like crying in the darkness rather than feeling around for the candle and matches. This is one of the reasons I despise religious doctrines which teach that people are utterly depraved and without hope...unless they join the church/mosque/temple and follow all the rules. There religion isn't a crutch, it's a stockade!