Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Jared Diamond - Collapse

Jared Diamond estudia las "grandes preguntas" del surgimiento y colapso de
las civilizaciones... con la ventaja de que no ser ni historiador, ni
politologo ni economista. Su último libro ha sido criticado en diversos
frentes, pero creo que aún así contiene elementos valiosos.

Easter Island, C'est Moi
By Terrence McNally, AlterNet


In his Pulitzer-prize winning book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel," Jared Diamond
examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and
immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in
"Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed," Diamond probes the
other side of the
equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to
collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates? From the
Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American
civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya, and finally to the doomed Viking
colony on Greenland, "Collapse" traces the fundamental patterns of

TERRENCE MCNALLY: What called to you about the new book, "Collapse"?

JARED DIAMOND: What called to me was a romantic interest going back to when
I was in my 20s and began reading Thor Heyerdahl's books about the
settlement of Easter Island and the great stone statues and how they were
erected and why they were overthrown. It's a question that's been on my mind
for a long time.

Twenty years ago we really didn't know why the islanders ended up in this
barren landscape overthrowing their statues. It also wasn't clear why the
Maya had abandoned their great cities. But thanks to recent archeological
excavations we now have better understanding of these collapses. It's now
possible to write a unified book on collapses.

TM: You put forth a five-point framework of factors that tend to contribute
to collapse. Could you tell us what they are, in terms of one of the actual
cases in the book?

JD: Let's take a full five-factor collapse that involves a European society
(collapses happen not just to exotic people like Polynesians or Native
Americans, they happen to blue-eyed, blonde-haired Europeans like
Norwegians). The Vikings settled Greenland around C.E. 1000. They built
cathedrals and stone churches. They were literate, they wrote Latin and they
wrote in runes. But after about 500 years they were all dead. Still, the
Norse lasted longer in Greenland than Europeans have lasted in North America

Number one: human environmental impacts. Many societies unwittingly destroy
the environmental resources on which they depend. The Greenland Norse
chopped down their forests in order to clear land for pastures and to have
firewood and construction timber, but that resulted in erosion that
gradually removed land that could have been used for productive pastures.

Number two: climate change. Today we're causing climate change, but in the
past the climate has naturally gotten colder or hotter or rainy or drier. In
the case of the Greenland Norse, it got colder. If it's colder, you grow
less hay to get your cattle through the winter and your cattle start dying.

The third factor was enemies. Most societies have enemies, and can fight off
their enemies until the society gets weakened for whatever reason. The Roman
Empire weakened and then was overrun by barbarians. In the case of the
Greenland Norse, as they weakened, their enemies, the Inuit or Eskimos,
probably played a role in exterminating them.

Factor number four: friends. The Greenland Norse depended upon Norway for
essential resources, particularly iron and timber, and for cultural
identity. Norway began to decline, and the trade from Norway to Greenland
was impeded by sea ice.

And number five: every society responds or fails to respond to its problems.
The Greenland Norse failed to respond successfully.

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