London rioters and the man who cut the last tree on Easter Island

In his brilliant book ‘Collapse– how societies choose to fail or survive’ Jared Diamond surveyed a number of societies which had witnessed extinction, including the Easter Islands.

Western explorers in the 18th century visiting the Island found remnants of a former society with some 397  stone statues representing stylized human torsoes some 20 ft tall (with some up to 70ft tall) facing out to sea; evidence of great engineering and cultural expression, yet on a now near-deserted island.

Archaeological finds subsequently revealed how the now deforested island was once covered in woodland presumably only for the local population to complete denude the vital resource.

Diamond posed a hypothetical question: ‘What was going through the mind of the Easter Islander who cut down the last tree?’

While on holiday last week I had time to reflect on all sorts of things, and out-of-the-blue came Diamond’s question – which must have been lingering in my unconscious for several years.

I now feel, with the evidence of the summer riots in a number of English cities, I have an answer.

In the same way that rioters smashed their way into shops to get instant, quick gratification, while damaging or even destroying a valuable local resource, the Easter  Islander were, I am convinced, similarly single-minded focussed on the immediate, the must-have-now.

There could well have been dissenting voices at the time who, in a similar fashion to contemporary media on-watchers, were seemingly powerless to stop the actions, and the resulting long-term damage.

While I had the advantage of a holiday break to stop and reflect, I wonder if our society reflects enough about its actions, what it is witnessing, and where it is going. 

With the summer holidays behind did us, did it provide you with the opportunity to reflect?

What is each of us guilty of doing, which is the equivalent of cutting down the last tree on our metaphorical island?

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