Easter Island - It's All How You Look At It

Easter Island is that little speck of land, out in the Pacific, with all those massive stone statues staring out over the water. For years, it was an enigma; who carved those statues, how, and why? When the white explorers got there, the inhabitants of the island didn't carve these statues, they couldn't. And, even if they could, they would have no way of moving the statues to the shore. There were no trees on the island, nothing to make rope with, just bushes and grassland. It was one of those things that just didn't make sense.

Well, some enterprising scientists have figured out the answer. They did some anthropological type excavations and, with counting pollen, bones, and whatnot, learned that Easter Island was not always as it is now. It used to be a tropical paradise, teeming with forests and a diversity of life. It also held human populations far larger than they are today; those people built ocean-going boats and fished far from shore, or so the bones say. Those people, with access to palm trees and the ropes made from them, were the ones that carved all the great statues around the island. The scientists went on to theorise, from other evidence one would presume, that great clans carved these statues as part of the warfare they waged against each other. Then, one day, for some reason none of us will ever really know, they cut down the last tree. The very, very, last tree on the island. After that, no more ropes, no more wood to make canoes...no more fish from the deep ocean. Well, after that, things didn't go very well for the inhabitants of Easter Island. As the clans fought over the dwindling resources available, things got very, very nasty. In the end, the population crashed and the few that remain still use colourful curses like "your mothers flesh is caught in my teeth."

Today, Easter Island is used as a parable for the earth as a whole. We too are consuming the resources of our island at an unsustainable rate. Some day, we too will, metaphorically, cut down the last tree. After that, things will get very nasty for all of humanity - or so the parable goes. However, as well as being a cautionary tale, Easter Island also offers a ray of hope. It all depends on how you look at it.

When you look at what the investigating scientists have deduced as activities undertaken by the earlier society, they discuss things like fishing porpoises far offshore. This must have been quite risky for the participating fishermen; a risk not shared by the current inhabitants. They mention how competing rival clans built, and moved, the great statues, a year’s work for twenty carvers and hundreds for moving. Labour not shared by the current inhabitants. They mention the hereditary chiefs, warriors, bureaucrats, and priests that provided a framework for the early society; all unnecessary on the island today. In their tale of environmental destruction and warnings for the future, they fail to mention one point: while the fall was, most likely, a particularly nasty time, the inhabitants today, as when the first Europeans arrived, live a fairly nice life.

Easter Island currently has a peaceful egalitarian society free from war and its attendant warriors, priests, and rock-carving megalomaniac leaders. It is balanced with what remains of its environment and can sustain itself indefinitely. From this lesson, it would seem that the people of earth have a bright future. After we too destroy or consume everything worth fighting over, we may yet attain the peaceful utopia that intellectuals have long sought.

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