It’s a history video podcast by Paul MM Cooper looking at a different collapsed society each episode. Why did they fall? What happened next? And what can they teach us?
Last night I learned about the people of the Easter Islands, correctly known as Rapa Nui, the ones who cut down all their trees to move the giant statues they fixated on making and caused their civilisation to implode.
Turns out most of that is wrong.
The main cause of their hardship and the fall of their civilisation was contact with ‘modern people’, Europeans, who kidnapped and enslaved huge numbers of their community and gave the remainders smallpox.
This repeated atrocity all but wiped them out, lost them forever the ability to read their written texts, and highlights the flawed wisdom of history lessons that don’t evolve with understanding. It’s rather a convenient story that the inhabitants destroyed themselves, rather than being destroyed by Europeans. I wonder if they teach that in schools.
I also learned a new fact or two about Christopher Columbus. Specifically, he was a horrific human being, a torturer, perpetrator of repeated genocides and architect of industrial scale slavery. I wonder if they teach that in schools as well.
There’s a lot of history being exhumed and morbidly dissected these days, from the attitudes of Winston Churchill to the historical social media posts of sportsmen.
Perhaps an apology and self-evident explanation that something thoughtlessly posted on Twitter a decade ago doesn’t reflect the person of today should be the beginning and end of it, rather than the grisly show trials and cancelled careers that serve a purpose of I know not exactly what.
I’m inclined to think that perhaps we should all attend to the planks in our own eyes before picking away at historical specks in the eyes of others. And rather than vilifying them for their crimes we should perhaps consider our own attitudes, and adjust those accordingly.
Some people would rather punish others for their perceived lack of virtue than actually lift the lid on their own selves and attend to that. When we ignore our own faults, and instead focus on those of others, we may feel better about ourselves through the looking glass of comparison yet personally achieve nothing of worth, no improvement of self.
Judging others takes our attention away from our own faults and focuses it on someone else’s. We thereby fail to address our own failings, and instead feel they are less significant compared to the other. They are ‘bad’ therefore we must be ‘good’, the reasoning goes. How very convenient to think like that.
It’s curious that many of the civilisations prior to ours had much in common. Ever increasing inequalities and disconnects between the wealthiest and the masses, self interested politicians ruling instead of serving, and when climate change happens, disrupting food supplies, material supplies, the vital connectedness of supply lines, as it did for many of the ancients, the lack of community cohesion quickly escalated into societal breakdown.
But at least we don’t do human sacrifice like the Aztecs. Or do we? How many lives do we sacrifice to the god of money? Millions and millions and millions. And it doesn’t stop with human lives. Entire forests. Oceans. Everything we can. Sacrificed. To money.
The truth is our civilisation has already fallen. Our entire species clearly is. Our technology doesn’t make it any less so. As we prepare to knowingly sacrifice our children and their future, how can you even doubt it?