Sunday, 9 March 2014

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

by Jared Diamond

If I had to reduce this 560-page book to one idea, to one formula, it would be:

Earth = Easter Island

Let’s face it, there are no habitable worlds in our vicinity. There is nowhere to go and nobody is going to help. Yet we are seem to be bent on destroying our land and erecting huge ugly statues all over the damn place.

Collapse does not flow as smoothly as Guns, Germs and Steel. According to Diamond, his book resembles “a boa constrictor that has swallowed two very large sheep”, the first sheep being the Chapter 1 on the environmental problems of southwestern Montana, while the Chapters 6 to 8 dedicated to Norse Greenland constitute the second sheep. I did not know much about Montana until reading this book and, to be honest, the reading still didn’t get me interested enough to read more about it, let alone to plan holidays there. I was much more fascinated with chapters on Greenland and tiny Polynesian islands.

The author describes himself as a “cautious optimist”. He points out that, in contrast to collapsed past societies, we have the opportunity to learn from their histories. Of course, we are not going to; we all know what Hegel said about history lessons. Just read the news. Any news. I feel sorry for our planet, Easter Island with a single remaining tree, “which an islander proceeds to fell in an act of incredibly self-damaging stupidity”.

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