February 27, 2014
THE MALTHUSIAN NEVER TIRES OF BEING WRONG:
THE COLLAPSE OF JARED DIAMOND (ROSSA MINOGUE, 26 FEBRUARY 2014, spiked)
Diamond's thesis had gone largely unchallenged until recently when anthropologist Dr Mara Mulrooney from Bishop's Gate Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, published the findings of her six-year study of Rapa Nui's archaeology entitled Continuity or Collapse?. Mulrooney found that, far from being abandoned, the interior of the island had gone through something of an agricultural revolution at some point in Rapa Nui's history, making it more productive than it had ever been before. This may have resulted in less dependency on fishing and hunting which are unreliable sources of food because they depend on the whims of nature. Diamond had therefore been wrong to assume that deforestation and the fact that the islanders ceased to construct Moai had marked the end of the Rapa Nui civilisation; it had simply entered a new, and perhaps, more innovative phase.Mulrooney argues that what really happened on Rapa Nui is a story of 'continuity rather than collapse'. The use of the island as a heavy-handed allegory for man's destruction of the planet is simply wrong. In fact, as Mulrooney writes: 'Rapa Nui should be the poster-child of how human ingenuity can result in success, rather than failure.' Mulrooney now believes that Rapa Nui's population only went into decline after European contact bringing with it diseases to which the Rapa Nui people had no immunity. Roggeveen's account, it seems, was inaccurate. By his own admission he spent very little time on the island and his fear of its inhabitants limited his movements. Also, the accounts of adventurers of his age were infamous for self-serving embellishment, each trying to outdo their peers in the strangeness of the peoples they encountered. In short, his observations about the culture of Rapa Nui cannot be trusted.Diamond's view of human societies assumes that when a particular resource is depleted, the Four Horsemen are never far away. This is an extremely simplistic worldview. Human societies have always been resilient and have a remarkable ability to adapt to their changing environments. Historically, when a resource has been depleted, more often than not, societies have found an alternative rather than simply choosing to commit societal Hari Kari as Diamond would have us believe. In Europe, when forests could no longer meet our fuel needs, we moved on to coal, and then on to oil and someday we will move on to something else. And this it seems was the case on Rapa Nui: The islanders did not commit some kind of mass ecological suicide when the last tree was felled; they simply adapted and got on with things as the human race has done throughout history.
Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2014 7:56 PM