"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Lesson of the Rapa Nui

In the South Pacific, there is a small island about twice the size of Manhattan. Looking over this landscape, are a number of stern, solemn faces. The story of these faces is whispered by the ghosts of history, if only we would listen.

Death came to the Rapa Nui as a slow and eventual decline. The food was running scarce and the forests were disappearing without coming back. We can imagine a long gone population crying out over the island's rolling hills. "Why have the gods forsaken us?" they would have cried, "Have they forgotten us? Have they abandoned us? We cut down the trees; we make the stone statues; why has their presence left our people?"

Even as the stone faces, imbued with sacred significance, were placed along the coast, looking out over the distant oceans, the gods still did not return to the Rapa Nui.

For the gods did not exist and never did. Instead, the Rapa Nui brought about their own demise by pleading with their imaginations and depleting the only resources available on the island. Having ravished the forests, there was nothing left with which to construct boats. No way to leave. Instead, they were trapped with their own poor decisions, based on fantastical illusions that should have left them long before.

Easter Island should be a reminder to all of us that ill-founded beliefs can cause harm. Let us learn from the lesson of the Rapa Nui.

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