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This Time We’re Taking the Whole Planet With Us
Posted on Mar 7, 2011
By Chris Hedges
The desperate islanders developed a belief system that posited that the erected stone gods, the moai, would come to life and save them from disaster. This last retreat into magic characterizes all societies that fall into terminal decline. It is a frantic response to loss of control as well as despair and powerlessness. This desperate retreat into magic led to the Cherokee ghost dance, the doomed Taki Onqoy revolt against the Spanish invaders in Peru, and the Aztec prophecies of the 1530s. Civilizations in the last moments embrace a total severance from reality, a reality that becomes too bleak to be absorbed.
The modern belief by evangelical Christians in the rapture, which does not exist in biblical literature, is no less fantastic, one that at once allows for the denial of global warming and of evolution and the absurd idea that the righteous will all be saved—floating naked into heaven at the end of time. The faith that science and technology, which are morally neutral and serve human ambitions, will make the world whole again is no less delusional. We offer up our magical thinking in secular as well as religious form.
We think we have somehow escaped from the foibles of the past. We are certain that we are wiser and greater than those who went before us. We trust naively in the inevitability of our own salvation. And those who cater to this false hope, especially as things deteriorate, receive our adulation and praise. We in the United States, only 5 percent of the world’s population, are outraged if anyone tries to tell us we don’t have a divine right to levels of consumption that squander 25 percent of the world’s energy. President Jimmy Carter, when he suggested that such consumption was probably not beneficial, became a figure of national ridicule. The worse it gets the more we demand illusionary Ronald Reagan happy talk. Those willing to cater to fantasy and self-delusion are, because they make us politically passive, lavishly funded and promoted by corporate and oligarchic forces. And by the very end we are joyfully led over the cliff by simpletons and lunatics, many of whom appear to be lining up for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Are the events of three hundred years ago on a small remote island of any significance to the world at large?” Bahn and Flenley ask. “We believe they are. We consider that Easter Island was a microcosm which provides a model for the whole planet. Like the Earth, Easter Island was an isolated system. The people there believed that they were the only survivors on Earth, all other land having sunk beneath the sea. They carried out for us the experiment of permitting unrestricted population growth, profligate use of resources, destruction of the environment and boundless confidence in their religion to take care of the future. The result was an ecological disaster leading to a population crash. ... Do we have to repeat the experiment on this grand scale? Do we have to be as cynical as Henry Ford and say ‘History is bunk’? Would it not be more sensible to learn the lesson of Easter Island history, and apply it to the Earth Island on which we live?”
Human beings seem cursed to repeat these cycles of exploitation and collapse. And the greater the extent of the deterioration the less they are able to comprehend what is happening around them. The Earth is littered with the physical remains of human folly and human hubris. We seem condemned as a species to drive ourselves and our societies toward extinction, although this moment appears be the denouement to the whole sad show of settled, civilized life that began some 5,000 years ago. There is nothing left on the planet to seize. We are now spending down the last remnants of our natural capital, including our forests, fossil fuel, air and water.
This time when we go down it will be global. There are no new lands to pillage, no new peoples to exploit. Technology, which has obliterated the constraints of time and space, has turned our global village into a global death trap. The fate of Easter Island will be writ large across the broad expanse of planet Earth.
Chris Hedges is a weekly Truthdig columnist and a fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “Death of the Liberal Class.”
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