Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making the UTmost of history

Around about 500 years ago Machiavelli was writing The Prince, Martin Luther was denouncing abuses of the Catholic Church, and the ecosystem on Easter Island was beginning to fail.

I'm not trying to imply that those events are causally related, but I think they each reflect, on a thematic level, some of the baser human traits which seem to be coming so much more prevalent today.

The case of Easter Island, in particular, is the one I want to focus on now.

For about 700 years, the Polynesians who settled Easter Island (Rapa Nui, as they called it) had it pretty good —nice beaches, plenty of fish, fertile soil to grow their taro root, yams, and cassava.

Thing were so good that there was plenty of leisure time that needed to be filled. And the Rapa Nui invented a cool kind of puppet theater using giant stone statues they called Moai. They were like the action figures of the day. You'd set them up on a field and pretend they're having treasure hunts, or wars or deep philosophical discussions.

No, don't judge. What might seem a bit ridiculous to you and me was really a smashing success on Rapa Nui. The pastime became so popular that the Rapa Nui people decided to create more and more of these giant statues. They would dress them in garish attire and sometimes pretend they were in great sporting events.

It was all great fun.


It wasn't.

At some point, the theater and games the Moai were imagined to play became less important than Moai themselves. Different tribes began to compete to see who could build the most and the biggest Moai and who could dress them in the craziest uniforms. Giant (by Easter Island standards) corporations got involved to sponsor the creation of the Moai and market them to the Rapa Nui public.

But it didn't take too long for that public to take a look at the insane Moai arms race, at the completely batshit crazy amount of resources it was taking up, and realize that something had gone terribly wrong on Easter Island.

The Moai that they once depended upon for entertainment and diversion from their idyllic life on Rapa Nui had come to consume the very resources they depended upon for survival.

And by the time the Rapa Nui powers-that-had-been saw what their audience saw, the island had been completely deforested. There were no trees to build boats, so fishing came to a halt. With no forests to hold the soil, it began to erode and became less fertile.

With less capacity for farming, the people began to eat the birds and small rodents on the island. When those were pretty much gone, they began to eat each other.

They had, in essence, entertained themselves into cannibalism and near extinction.

On a bit of an unrelated note — Man, the Big XII used to be a really great football conference, right Texas?

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  1. I understand that both the MAC and Conference USA are looking to fill their ranks...

  2. Solid write, very poignant. And I hate using the word poignant, but hell, if the shoe fits...

  3. Ah, the power of metaphor. Well done.


  4. Nice post, though I am somewhat more likely to see the Moai as college athletics in general and the Rapa Nui as institutions of higher learning... But I'm just being negative.

  5. I've always suspected the moai were monuments to venerate heroic ancestors or deities.

    At some point, erection of one moai incidentally correlated to some especially fortunate natural event so the people innocently arrived at a reasonable, but mistaken, cause-and-effect correlation. Thus, building more moai guarantee greater fortune, and bad fortune proves the need to build more or grander moai.

    But we'll never know for sure what happened because pious Christians enslaved all the literate people of Rapa Nui, rendering their scripts undecipherable.

    The real unifying theme of Machiavelli, Luther and moai is how religion seduces people into delusion and destruction.

  6. A puppet show? Those huge rocks? Strong group of people, weren't they?
    - Personal Injury Lawyer Bend Oregon


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