Power down May the farce be with you
The stone tiki of a long-lost society living on a Polynesian island have something important to tell us.
The Happy Isles of Oceania is a travel book by US author Paul Theroux. Reading it set me wondering - or is that wandering? – about whether history repeats itself. Subsequent perusal of Ronald Wright’s excellent Short History of Progress confirmed that it does.
Theroux describes the large stone structures found on the Marquesas Islands, something modern islanders have no records of. These required a tad more oomph to construct than the current inhabitants demonstrate, making them silent witnesses to a long-lost society.
For a sophisticated society to just disappear without trace speaks to a fast demise. Did the ancients discuss the fact that they were failing, or did they just keep on doggedly doing what they were doing until they could do it no more?
My experience from all sections of our current society to my ‘growth can’t/won’t continue’ message has been a stubborn, shut-him-up reaction so I’m guessing it’s a fair bet that any questioners in their midst were silenced and that things continued until they couldn’t.
Societies always believe their cleverness will see them through. There are people who believe something will continue because it hasn’t stopped yet. Others simply need to ‘believe’ and fear to question where things are headed.
It seems it’s a problem repeated throughout history according to Ronald Wright. There is an elite wanting to continue a game they see themselves winning, and a Kim Hill interview on Radio NZ promptly provided an example.
Hill was interviewing Annette Dixon, World Bank vice-president for the South Asia region. Dixon showed how muddled the thinking of an elite can be, asserting the world has to be more sustainable, but that we need to simultaneously pursue growth to raise the ‘living standards’ of those at the bottom. But there are more people in poverty now than the planetary population totalled when her edifice began.
Another claim was that up to 28 per cent of World Bankfunded projects are sustainable, which to me says there are 72 per cent (of a growing total) that are unsustainable. She also acknowledged that aquifers were being depleted at unsustainable rates, but that solar-powered pumps – which are sustainable, so that makes it alright apparently – could take over doing the depleting. Who falls for this nonsense? It is unacceptably confused thinking at global leadership level.
We don’t need to look back far for an example of an incumbent elite hanging onto the ideas their power depended on. Theroux and Wright both note that the biggest constructions of failed ancient civilizations were all undertaken just before they collapsed. Wright uses the example of the Mayan city Tikal (its ruins feature at the end of the first Star Wars movie) where all the towers were built in the last 100 years of a 1500-year boomto-bust run.
Down through the ages, elites have deflected angst, either by blaming some bogeyman or by promising a better future. But for a global elite like the World Bank to be seriously advocating anything unsustainable at this point tells us that history is in danger of repeating.
It seems its increasingly difficult to prepare for the demise of a growing system near the end, just when you need to do so most. What happens is the elite get more powerful and write more self-serving rules. Ordinary folk are too busy fitting in to even have time to write records, as the tiki of the Marquesas Islands can attest.
That’s a pity. It would be useful to know how, when and if the peasantry prioritised when the farce was no longer with them. And whether their debts were called-in.
A sophisticated society disappearing without trace speaks to a fast demise
Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands.