Monday, May 20, 2019

What kind of warning does the collapse of Easter Island give to us?

A friend on a discussion list pointed us all to a vivid, compelling video on the collapse of Easter Island, which many people interpret as a warning to us:

How Gods Die (The Collapse of Easter Island)

I strongly agree with George Santayana's saying those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. But what **IS** the real lesson in this case? I have posted a couple of items on Facebook about Easter Island,

based on what we learned in actually visiting the place and discovering that most of what we hear about Easter Island is fake news. Here is my more detailed explanation:

The video reminds me of the more general issue of ... hallucinogenic groupthink versus the hope of more authentic dialogue and collective intelligence.
Maybe the term "hallucinogenic groupthink" is better than "fake news," really.

When we see so MANY examples of this phenomenon, can we generalize a bit to understand it in general terms?

This particular video reminds me a lot of a quotation from Carl Jung, sitting on a two pager somewhere in the pile behind me. Roughly Jung said "spare us your projections... " In this case, the guy was projecting his thoughts and his concerns about his culture and his life onto the Easter islanders, creating a myth intended to catch our attention (and raise his hits and his advertizing revenue?). HE is the one thinking of the twilight of the gods.

In actuality, the statues were basically ... elaborate headstones or mausoleums, intended to hold the bones of prized ancestors. There was a spiritual belief that the spirits of the ancestors could be animated enough to bring them advice and support. The video is so tangled up that I should be careful not to be too definite here, but it does seem to confuse WHY the people simply knocked over the statues and stopped making them. The islanders seemed absolutely definite that it was NOT ecological collapse OR European attacks, but the simple sight of passing Europeans demonstrating a higher standard of living and a different way of life.  Could that itself be just THEIR myth? Thats a valid question, but the 15 tribes remain intact and continue oral traditions more reliable than those which gave us the Old Testament. Peterkin, archeologists and studies of Polynesia in general support that.

One factor enhancing hallucinogenic groupthink in the myths we create about Easter Island (and other things) is a desire to simplify. So our myths about Easter Island tend to assume that there was just one great transition time on the island. There were a number, and one can be confused by attributing one to another. Those who seek fame by popularity by saying what people want to hear have often blamed all the worst transitions on the native peoples, and that is clearly not accurate.

It turns out that gods were important after all, but in a way exactly opposite to what the video depicts. And I have seen evidence.

In the video, he has a picture of himself vastly looking out at a great crater. He suggests... you are looking at a great man at the center of the food supply of the island. That scene reminds me of a photo I have of the most majestic point on Raritonga, with about four other tourists there, all intently looking up into their cell phones to see pictures of themselves for selfies, utterly disconnected from the incredible nature and life all around them, acting like lost robots without movement obstructing all flows of qi. If the guy had looked around a little, he would pay real attention very close to that crater a visitor center which the local government put a lot of effort to create, depicting (with references and photos) the actual history of the bird man competition by which the native people overcame the time of troubles, no thanks to Europeans. The trouble was about warfare, not ecology as such, though when a stable cooperative society was at its limits and the weltaunschaung which led them to a kind of Pareto optimal arrangement breaks down (due to a breakdown in BELIEFS), the lack of cooperation does immediately lead to economic issues and a struggle for resources. (Anyone miss the analogy? What of the beliefs in spirit AND in science which were central to our own weltaunschaung?) 

That crater was not the main food supply (though people do cooperative farming there to this day). It was a tiny part of a much larger island, with farms we saw all around. It was ACTUALLY the site of the honorable competition which brought the island back to a higher level of stability and economics than before the time of troubles. The European appearance before that was initially destabilizing but caused a kind of rethink which made life better (until LATER European arrivals were less benign). A key part of THAT rethink... was a panPolynesian secret society, and .. attention to one of THEIR gods, in honor of whom the competition was conceived and held. "Freemasons of the Pacific?" In a way. Shifting attention from tribal ancestors to more global archetypes created, roughly, a new weltaunschaung de facto, and a higher level of life. (By the way, I feel compelled to use Spengler's concept of weltaunschaung here because it applies not only to them but to us, and our own time of troubles. The term "worldview" may be just as good, in a way, but the link back to Spengler is relevant.)

Slavers, sheep farmers, missionaries and colonial authorities all changed things quite a bit later on, in many waves of change. The Polynesian gods are no longer so prominent; we saw lots of Maria, mana (qi) and a bit of the birdman all around. To understand what we saw and heard, it helped to know more about the general story of the Polynesians and people of the boat (which the author of that video proudly announces he knows nothing about). 

As we left, I did send an email to a friend in Chile about solar energy, coffee and a need for anthropologists to record the oral story of the time of troubles especially. And we did discuss mana there in a moderate degree of detail. 
Best of luck,

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