The Irony of Knowledge.

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A short summary and agreement to Jared Diamonds essay "The Ends of the World as We Know Them."

Submitted: May 30, 2014

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Submitted: May 30, 2014

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The Irony of Knowledge.

Whether we choose to accept it as fact or not, it can be said with no small amount of conjecture that we as a nation collectively understand the consequences and seriousness of global warming. As a general statement it can be argued we are doing nothing to ebb the impending doomsday scenario that the industrialization of the First World during the Oil Age, and mankind's selfishness, and inability to adapt to our changing world has created. Unwillingness by the United States and most of the Earth's nations to change the course of our planets atmospheric downfall is one of the themes analyzed under a more scrutinizing geographic and historic microscope in Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamonds essay, “The Ends of the world as We Know Them.”

Diamonds thesis that, when it comes to historical collapses, five groups of interacting factors have been especially important: the damage that people have inflicted on their environment; climate change; enemies; changes in friendly trading partners; and the society's political, economic and social responses to these shifts (643) as he says, could be used as a useful checklist that should be examined (643). Someone mildly learned as I am and who believes in global warming can transplant any of Diamonds other theoretically realistic, contributive factors for the downfall of societies and academically evaluate the importance they play in contemporary American and global existence.

Throughout the 1930’s, Imperial Japan embarked on a series of offensive militaristic campaigns that put them at odds with the Western world. Their hostile takeover and control of the Manchurian peninsula in September of 1931 and the brutal occupation of China clashed both morally and economically with the United States. Although outraged at Japan’s disregard for international treaties, the United States was unwilling to commit to full scale war. So on July 2nd 1940, President Roosevelt signed the Export Control Act. This law cut off petroleum supplies to the Imperial Japanese war machine and its effects were immediately felt. The Japanese high command realized they only had a two year reserve of crude oil and so began planning for the attack on Pearl Harbor. A preemptive strike that would give the Japanese military time to occupy the oil rich Dutch East Indies. The change between the two nations previously friendly trading was a major contributing factor to the United States entry into the Second World War and as a direct result of victory in that war, sent the United States toward an ideal of global Manifest Destiny.

Diamond uses similar examples in his essay to illustrate the necessity to understand common factors that precipitate historically significant events. The disappearance of Polynesians from Pitcairn and Henderson islands was in direct correlation to the disruption in trade from Mangareva, whose inhabitants irreversibly changed their environment. Civilizations from the Fertile Crescent and the Americas were displaced due to climate change. Mayan kings of the southern Yucatan peninsula were unable to understand and adapt to the environmental repercussions they had unwittingly brought forth upon their own people because they were insulated from the populus. The importance of each factor differs from time period and context but nonetheless are all contributive.

Another deep lesson involves a willingness to re-examine long held core values, when conditions change and those values no longer make sense (647). As a Veteran and (selectively naive) American it is difficult for me to admit, but it is time for the United States to re-evaluate its place on the global stage. It is no longer realistically viable for our nation to police the world or preach at the altar of economic supremacy yet practice unfettered, socially unwise militaristic spending and free range accommodation to corporations with short term financial gain as their sole motivation.

The problem is that in the last 100 years we Americans have lived in a world where we think of ourselves as the global guiding light for the rest of humanity, that we are justified, and do no wrong. We are collectively insulated from the reality that our national and international policies are no longer beneficial to the greater good of either our own domestic issues or those of the planet. According to a 2013 study the United States ranks 17th in education,  24th in literacy and we have the 35th highest life expectancy. We however are still number one in military expenditure with a 2013 estimate of $640 billion, roughly $400 billion more than China at number two on the list. We emitted 17.6 metric tons of carbon gasses into the atmosphere, nearly 6 more tons per capita than any other developed First World country.

Now is the time for the United States to reevaluate its political, economic and social responses to the clearly shifting paradigm of global responsibility. To pull back the reigns of militaristic dominance and focus on a reformational national identity wherein more is spent on the collective well being of our own citizens and not on fruitless wars, in time creating an example for developing nations to emulate, not despise.

Diamond implores us to remain ever hopeful. The Medieval Icelanders and 17th century Germans reversed the tide of environmental decline by reevaluating their national priorities and changing adverse practices that harmed their environment. But in this day and age of global interconnectedness is there still time? When America as the global superpower does little to accept its own harmful environmental and political policies, what kind of example does that set for an emerging country who does not have the fiscal means to regulate emissions or provide a better quality of life for its citizens.

Historically, we viewed the United States as a land of unlimited plenty, and so we practiced unrestrained consumerism, but that’s no longer viable in a world of finite resources (647).  In order to counteract the increasingly irreversible effects of global warming, the United States has a global obligation to the rest of the world to change its perspective. The land of the free and home of the brave is good and well until Colt Defense Manufacturing realizes an M-16 rifle cannot defend against encroaching water levels or shoot down an anomalous super tornado.

The ironic fact is that we have an entire vault of historic scenarios to draw from. A knowledge bank that Diamond points out, the Mangarevans or Mayans did not possess. And yet we continue to practice the same detrimental policies that have been archaeologically and historically tied to the downfall of many societies. It was the prolific Spanish philosopher, George Santayana who said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” One simply needs to read a history book to understand the repercussions of a society's inability to adapt to its surroundings. Only this time it is not just a small island in the South Pacific or a pre Columbian empire in Central America. It is an intrinsically interconnected humanity that cannot rely solely on the policies within it’s own man made borders, but must be an all encompassing global orientation for the benefit of the whole. I have enough faith that we as a global society will be able to drastically change our global perspective in time to prevent wholesale environmental catastrophe, but it might be wise to stock up on sunscreen, buy some good sunglasses and maybe a sailboat, just in case.



















 

Works Cited

Diamond, Jared. “The Ends of the World as We Know Them”. The writers Presence. A Pool of

 

readings. 7th edition. Eds. Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012. 642-48. Print.

 

Export Control Act. mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/WorldWar2/japan.htm, Peace and War: United

 

States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943) 2010. Web. 29 May 2014.

 

Ranking America. rankingamerica.wordpress.com. Mark Rice, 2013. Web. 29 May 2014.

 

Santayana, George. BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2014. Web. 29 May 2014.

 

United States World Bank. data.worldbank.org/country/united-states. The World Bank Group,

2014. Web. 28 May 2014.


 


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