Pretty propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island

Summary: Today we discuss and example of myth-making by the Left, a politically-useful fable. They do it more elegantly than the Right, but not as successfully (in terms of political effect). This is an expanded version of a post from February 2010.

Stories, better than science
Stories: for many they’re better than science

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Contents

  1. Myth-telling by the Left
  2. A National Geographic special telling the real story
  3. Excerpts and abstracts from the literature
  4. Links to other research
  5. For More Information

(1) Myth-telling by the Left

In Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America I said that in general the Right has been more successful than the Left in promulgating its propaganda in America. There are exceptions to this.

The Left tells some wonderful fables, contradicted by the scientific evidence but told with such confidence and so pleasing that we believe them nonetheless. Such as the eco-fable of Easter Island. It’s circulated for decades, but achieved final form in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). As he says in the opening (page 20):

“Our first case study from the past, the history of Easter Island, is as close as we can get to a “pure” ecological collapse, in this case due to total deforestation that led to war, overthrow of the elite and the famous stone statues, and a massive population die-off. As far as we know, Easter’s Polynesian society remained isolated remained isolated after its initial founding, so that Easter’s trajectory was uninfluenced by either enemies or friends.”

For a summary of his case see “Easter Island Revisited“, Jared Diamond, Science, 21 September 2007 (see an ungated copy here). It’s effective propaganda, but largely contradicts the known evidence showing that the Islanders did not commit eco-suicide (aka ecocide). They suffered all three devastating blasts of western contact:

  • pandemic disease,
  • followed by depopulating slave raid,
  • followed by conversion to Christianity (eliminating their native culture and erasing their oral history).

Considering how often such things happened during the western exploration of the world, I find the success of the contrary eco-fable astonishing evidence of our willful ignorance. We’d prefer to use the people of Easter Island as props, lessons for our children, but the bloody truth remains visible to any who look.

(2) A National Geographic special telling the real story

A National Geographic Special: “Easter Island Enigma“. Here is the accompanying video:

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Conclusion to the National Geographic summary:

This new National Geographic Special follows Dr Hunt and Dr Lipo as they journey to Easter Island to reveal a different story. Hunt and Lipo challenge the idea that the islanders were the root of the problems on Rapa Nui, saying no archaeological evidence supports the existing history of annihilation by their own hand.

At the same time, they uncover new archaeological clues to one of the most baffling mysteries of all time – how a society without the wheel and without a written language managed to build and move its enigmatic Moai. They will test their theory using experimental archaeology and the help of the native Rapanui.

Also see this article from the July 2012 issue of National Geographic: “If Only They Could Talk“, with a video showing how they moved those giant statues.

(3) Excerpts from the literature

These are just a sample of the large literature about the actual Easter Island tragedy. Number 2 is the most detailed analysis of both the actual history of Easter Island and the sordid origins of the eco-fable that shifts the blame from the West to the natives (an extreme version of blaming the victim).

{Click here to read the full post}

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4 thoughts on “Pretty propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island

  1. Stewart Brand (founder of Whole Earth Catalog {WEC}, and promoter of “Four Environmental Heresies” {FEH}) had Hunt and Lipo do a presentation at the Long Now Foundation: “The Statues Walked — What Really Happened on Easter Island“. Filmed on 17 January 2013

    At minute 22, the Rapa Nui population collapse is explained as the result of introduction of european disease and slave raiding.

    Note: Brand has spoken in relation to FEH that the environmental movement is composed of two wings, a small scientific/rationalist elite wing, and a larger romanticist, mass culture wing that only occasionally cares to align its beliefs with valid science. Brand makes some observations of the political problems and opportunities this division results in. Brand previously stated that WEC was less a “liberal nanny state” project than one that reinforced “tool use”, or a traditional american ethos of self reliance and individualism.

  2. What should be considered is that the human population and resource consumption per person were kept in check by bio-capacity.

    That is not the case for the global population.

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