The Collapse of the Maya, the Collapse of Today?

Collapsing Architecture at the Mayan site of Lubaantun - "the Place of Fallen Stones" - in southern Belize. What can
we glean from the ancient Maya experience?
Photo courtesy of douglas reeser.
by douglas reeser on March 22, 2012
The more we learn about the ancient Maya, the more it seems that we should be heeding these lessons learned. Environmental changes and (maybe) catastrophes have long been blamed for the contraction of the Maya civilization. More recently, a series of rather modest droughts have been identified as occurring at the same time as people left the great Maya cities. National Geographic has a new (from early March 2012) article by Charles Fishman summarizing the latest data and draws some interesting connections to our own time. After explaining that the advanced water systems of the Maya were ill-prepared for a sustained reduction in rainfall, Fishman concludes about our present day water-knowldege: 
"Our water assumptions are just that: assumptions. We should be building municipal water cultures that have flexibility, multiple sources, the ability to re-use water, the ability to conserve. Real strategic thinking about water isn’t about a new water treatment plant, or a plan to replace aging water mains. It’s about knowing what you’ll do if you’re suddenly faced with a 10 or 20 percent loss of available water, permanently."
Changes in environmental activity are not the only factor being equated with the contraction of the Maya empire. A report in LiveScience by Charles Choi discusses new thoughts that equate the structure of the Maya culture itself with it's own downfall. 
"Archaeologists have pointed out that ancient Mayan societies may have been vulnerable to collapse by their very nature. They apparently funneled wealth to a small ruling elite topped by hereditary divine kings, who had virtually unlimited power but whose subjects expected generosity — a string of military defeats or seasonal droughts could greatly damage their credibility."
Things in the US and elsewhere are pointing in a surprisingly similar direction. A look at the highly religious and very rich Republican Party candidates for president has that country in the precarious position of becoming a Christian State - if it's not already. Further, as has been shown in previous columns here, the wealth of the planet is currently being funneled into fewer and fewer hands. This has not led to a wealthy ruling religious elite in the West, but such a system exists throughout the Middle East, and the wealthy certainly hold power the world over. And don't forget about the ground-up protests in Europe, the Middle East, and the US, a result of growing discontent with the powers that be.

So does this sound familiar? A great society has arisen with advanced science and engineering that has allowed for large, wealthy and concentrated populations. The wealth created by this successful system, however, continues to be concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. That wealthy minority holds power. The majority of the population becomes discontented with the power elite. Drastic culture change results.... Is this our future? Is this our now?
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  1. Anonymous8:33 AM

    Yes, you'd like to think that with all of our advanced technology, as well as the free time provided by that technology to ponder the lessons we could glean from history, we would be on a different course. But maybe it's some malfunction of the human condition to be greedy and short-sighted -- like a perpetual teenager.

  2. I think the comparison is completely accurate. I think we've all known a day like this will come, I just wonder if it is closer than people think.


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