Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Flaying the outfield

A year or so ago I read Collapse by Jared Diamond. In that book he compares examples of sustainable and unsustainable societies. His main examples of unsustainable and hence collapsing societies are the Vikings in Greenland, the Maya, and Easter Island of course. Sustainable societies were various island economies, including Japan. A key term in that book is 'mining'. He calls it mining if a culture is just stripping out a resource. For instance the Vikings stripped the peat from southern Greenland, much faster than it could be replaced (they called it 'flaying the outfield').

The first section of the book is about modern Montana. I found it a bit less interesting than the rest so I skimmed it. However I remember him saying that capitalism has been in Montana much less time (about a quarter of the time) that the Vikings were in Greenland. And we consider that a failed experiment. That comes to mind a lot when we read these articles and see the pictures of the prairies being abandoned again.

This is the place where assumptions about the land proved to be wrong. The homesteaders believed rain followed the plow. In the grasslands of western Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, they learned better. And so for almost a century we’ve watched stranded towns and houses fall one by one like autumn leaves in the chill of October.

What is so tragic is that this land only fell to the plough because of the rapid systematic destruction of the existing ecology. Millions and millions of buffalo were slaughtered and left to rot. The prairie wolves gorged on the corpses and then starved to death. The Ogallala aquifer is now being depleted. Effectively the water is being mined. I'm wondering if we are flaying the outfield.

I've been writing a lot about Cormac McCarthy, and I think his books are all about imminent collapse. Western capitalism has over-stretched itself, it's mining the Americas, and it's going to fall back from the frontier. Genocide, slavery and slaughter of indiginous animals brought capitalism to the land, and I don't think we can hold onto it. Though sometimes I think this is just me. I have heard it said 'as people grow old they project their own physical decline onto their culture'. I just feel it's not sustainable. And then I wonder, well, what happens next?
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