Sunday, July 27, 2008


My wife and I recently returned from a vacation to Colorado. A stop on our journeys was the Anasazi site of Mesa Verde. The Anasazi (Navajo for "Ancient Ones") were a tribal population very similar to the Maya and other sophisticated pre-American societies. The only caveat is that they completely vanished around the mid 1100s.
Its interesting to wander about the ruins of the Anasazi cave dwellings and cities, climbing down into restored Kevas (akin to a temple in modern day understanding) and trying to understand how a society slips away. In Jared Diamond's book Collapse, he does that on a global scale; trying to understand what happened to the societies that just went away.
Its hard for us to imagine in this day and age that a society can simply vanish. Although, remember that the State of Israel was created in 1948, which is only 70 years ago. Already they have nuclear war heads and are major players in the global theater. If a society can be formed that quickly can it not fall all the quicker?
Let's pull away from that for a moment and consider this: how strong or fragile is any society? We all have national pride to some extent, regardless of where we come from. I mean, who wants to see their own country fall (unless you have something very serious to gain from it)? The answer is that we have a certain psychological relationship to the security of ourselves and the place in which we live. Its the same reason people will spend thousands to install a security system in their homes; the same reason we purchase car insurance, life insurance, health insurance, pet insurance. We want security. The greater question is can we have security in isolation? Societies in the past have proven that the answer to that question is a double edged sword. Its a catch-22 at times.
It is often at election times that we become very invested in questions that we can at other times shrug off. In this election time, how can we apply the lessons of forgotten societies to our current situation? What conclusions do we draw about our candidates? Can we afford to look beyond our borders? Can we afford not to?
Jared Diamond does a phenomenal job of exploring the history of lost societies. Although the reading can become a bit dry at times, you will leave the book all the more knowledgeable about the self preservation and destruction of a people group. My recommendation is to skim through some of the detail that Diamond gives for each society and read just enough to understand his premise. Although, you may go back in the book to discover, for example, how the Easter Island inhabitants erected the enormous stone statues that line the island (especially if you want to consider alien creatures meddling with the human population).


Kim L said...

Great review, I almost want to read this book myself.

Kim L said...

Consider thineself awarded.

Eva said...

I loved Guns, Germs, and Steel, so I think my expectations for Collapse were too high. I didn't dislike it, but I wasn't raving about it either. I think I just didn't find the premise quite as interesting!