Wednesday, October 14, 2009
In Collapse, by Jared Diamond, the haunting fate of Easter Island is expounded upon. On this isolated Pacific island, the spiral of power politics and ecological devastation progressed to its logical conclusion. The main cause of the collapse of Easter Island was deforestation, as lumber was a vital resource for survival on Easter. Would provided boats, ropes, and heat and thus fish, cooked food and heat. Trees also served the function of anchoring the soil to the ground and after the loss of this anchor, the Pacific ocean became the main beneficiary of the scanty amount of fertile top-soil on Easter. Lumber also had another value in Easter society, which relates to the well known stone heads which look out into the Ocean. While it has been shown that wooden rollers were not used, other elements in the construction of the monoliths were very lumber intensive. The monoliths served as a prestige project for the various clans which vied for power on Easter. The key question asked by Diamond is "What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last tree think?" Although Easter did make contacts with Europeans at some later date, the period coinciding with the deforestation of Easter precedes European contact by several centuries. In addition, the original migration to Easter was a one off event. No new Polynesian colonists came to Easter, nor was there any trade with any of the other Pacific Islands. Thus, the Easter Islanders knew there was no other source of lumber, even as they felled the few remaining trees on the Island. With that in mind, we can speculate that the elite very likely refused to relinquish power or end their ecologically suicidal building projects, even as the Island was being obviously denuded of its trees. If we accept this picture, it is clear that the elites interest in retaining pre-eminence over rival clans and the individual leaders' desires to remain pre-eminent over their subjects trumped even the drive to survival. If we compare this picture with our own present day situation, we find that there are marked similarities, an entrenched myopic elite more concerned with its own retention of power and prestige than with the survival of the species. My argument goes as follows: dicatatorship is the only solution to the world's environmental problems due to its ability to execute long term plans. A Democracy is fine at dealing with human scale problems, a war, the economy etc. because these kinds of problems can usually be solved/resolved (resolved in the sense that even if the gov't itself does not solve the problem, it will reach its climax and resolution on its own momentum. Take for example, the defeat of the gov't in question or the natural rebound of the economy in the wake of a financial crisis) within a single electoral cycle. A dicatorship on the other hand assumes that it will be in power indefinitely and thus acts in light of the fact that it must not only defend its present and short-term interests but also its long term interests. A tyranny can trample over dissent to force those difficult sacrifices which no rational constituency would submit themselves to, such as a one child policy, or any other loss of freedom/prosperity. The destruction of its own ecology, the metaphoric deforestation of its own isolated island would be an irrational policy for a tyranny if its power was secure. But then again, who said tyrants were rational?
So, to those of you who know me well, I have very recently had first hand experience with the "system". I'm as skeptical as the next person and despite my suspicions surrounding power relationships and hierarchy, I was also unwilling to uncritically accept the position taken by young radicals in regards to anarchy and being progressive in the reductionist, oppositional way. But, having had the experience of actually being in a cell, stripped of dignity and given some time to reflect on this, I have come to the realization that hierarchy is in fact a reality. All the idealistic, starry eyed university radicals and all the bleary eyed, disillusioned ranks of the older generations who have opposed state power were on the money. One realization that dawns on you quite forcefully when in a cell for no reason is that all the human rights, pieces of identification and preconcieved notions you have held about your immunity from arbitrary state violence were ephemeral curtains, brushed aside as easily as my fathers fears about racial profiling. All the high minded disputations on Human rights and freedoms and the state operating in the interests of the citizens are a farce. Even going back to the first Democracy in Athens, one of the first institutions implemented under the new system was the ostracism. This storied Athenian innovation whereby the citizens would vote some unfortunate soul into exile is confirmed by archaeological evidence. What is this practice if not a state sanctioned attack on an individual percieved negatively by the majority of citizens. Racial profiling is a reflection of this ostracism. Security services, composed of citizens from the lower socio-economic echelons victimize individuals based solely on their perception, fostered by some of the baser elements of society. Middle Easterner = Terrorist, an inescapable conclusion if you have been immersed in American hegemonic culture for your entire life. So, anarchism may be on to something, freedom of the masses from the masses. Or are all isms inherently flawed?