Re: *Chapter 14 -Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decis
Forgive me if I ramble a bit...I am tired, but had some thoughts....
OK...Chapter 14 seems to be where Diamond starts to tie everything together.
So why do some societies fail? Diamond presents a 'road map' of reasons and I find them very compelling...and a little concerning.
1) Failure to anticipate.
This is probably a very straightforward and understandable situation. Like the societies that had suffered deforestation, soil erosion and in the case of Australia, purposely introduced alien species...they just did not know and did not have the science to understand what would happen as a result of their actions. As Diamond, I will not dwell on this.
2) Failure to perceive a problem after it arises.
Again this is understandable to an extent, based on the timeframe involved and the science available to discern the problem. But this area can very well be the product of distant or lazze-faire management, as in the off site agribusiness management Diamond offers as an example. If the entity that owns and depends on the land does not know the land or is not intimately involved in the operations of the ecosystem, then that is poor management. A more Machiavellian style of agriculture is needed here...and I do not mean that in the traditional connotation of the adjective...but rather that a Prince must be aware of his holdings or he will risk the loss of said holdings.
Other than mis-management, there is also "creeping normalcy" and "landscape amnesia" that can be a factor in this area of the map. With the short memory of humans, those societies that have not maintained written records will not remember past disaster, like the Anasazi and the droughts, the Maya and their droughts and soil erosion in the hillsides settlements (although the Maya DID have written records, they were not concerned with the weather it seems), the Norse with the increasingly cooler climates and deforestation...etc. But even though a society may keep extensive records, that is no guarantee that the info will be utilized. Diamond offers the Oil embargo again, with the resulting immediate decline in gasoline consumption and the return to gas guzzling autos like the SUV today. Short term memory, even though we have recent examples of a bad stretch. And lastly, there is the difficulty of seeing what is happening due to the measurements getting buried in "wide up and down fluctuations" in data that is measured (the increase in average temperature due to global warming).
2) Failure to attempt to solve a crisis even after it is perceived.
This is a worrisome one. This is all about manipulation by the few of the many. Seeking immediate gain from a bad situation and passing the burden on to the masses. This is called 'rational behavior'. It is rational because the reasoning is sound, yet the results 'may be morally reprehensible'. This reminds me so much of the corporate pilfering that has gone on over the past 5 years as well as the extraction businesses that will mine or clear cut an area until it is gone and not clean up or re-seed the land. Then there is the denial of global warming despite all the evidence that it is real. Denial of global warming, and other environmental issues is being touted by our very own President. But I will not venture further into a political diatribe right now.
Diamond speaks about the 'tragedy of the commons", which is basically: "If I don't do it, someone else will first...so I am going to do it". Sad reasoning, but yet a consistent human stumbling block throughout history. Solutions to this situation can be top down, as in Japan, which worked well it seems, and bottom up, with people realizing their plight and working together and for the common goal of continued success for themselves and their families, like in Montana and the utilization of the limited water supply. There are solutions.
I enjoyed the last paragraph on page 430 and the first paragraph on page 431:
A further conflict of interest involving rational behavior arises when the interests of the decision-making elite in power clash with the interests of the rest of society. Especially if the elite can insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions, they are likely to do things that profit themselves, regardless of whether those actions hurt everybody else...frequently in the modern U.S., where rich people tend to live within their gated compounds and to drink bottle water.
He then mentions Enron.
Later on, Diamond asks:
"At what point do we as individuals prefer to die than to compromise & live"?
This made me think of badmendicant's emotion defense of the Norse and disagreement with Diamond. I think bad may have a point. In the unknown confusion that was Greenland, which customs should the Norse have given up and which should they have clung to? We know that hands down, but did they? In the times WE find ourselves in now, with greenhouse emissions, deforestation, high oil and petroleum products and, the big catch phrase "with the world changed after 9/11", should we as American's give up our liberty and freedom if that meant avoiding a collapse by environmental changes or attacks by hostile neighbors? Should we succumb to the darker side of the Patriot act and grant our government the ability to pry into our private lives and information to safeguard us against devastating attacks? Should we give up the luxury of high performance cars? OR...do we CLING to our outdated notions of independence, personal freedom and liberty for all? Interesting question, no?
Will we be criticized for being stubborn about our personal freedoms, when our society was hurt because of it?
Badmendicant: I would suggest you read this chapter. You harsh criticism of Diamond may have been too harsh. It seems he is offering, if not a defense, an explanation about why the Norse did not change their ways. Perhaps you are correct in that they may not have wanted to be 'reduced' (in their eyes) to a lower form of lifestyle. They made it for 500 years...can we really judge that, being a 200+ year old nation?
The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.
The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"
I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper