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Nothing New, Part II

I almost didn’t read Don’t Eat Cat, because I’m not a huge fan of zombie stories. It is a testament to the power of the short story that I decided to give it a try- it was well-rated on Amazon, didn’t cost much, and wouldn’t take long to read. So why not?

I’m glad I downloaded it and read it. There is a passage part way through the book that so thoroughly grabbed my attention it almost felt like it had reached out and given me a little shake:

“But here's what I've come to believe. That maybe it's no different now than it ever was. Maybe it's always the end of the world. Maybe you're alive for a while and then you realize you're going to die, and that's such an insane thing to comprehend, you look around for answers and the only answer is that the world must die with you.”

I think there is real truth in this quote. This is, perhaps, the dark side of the continuity in human behavior that I wrote about a few weeks ago, inspired by The Heart of Haiku.

And yet, it also brought to mind one of the things that struck me when I read Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford. (Yes, I read things other than short eBooks!) There are many aspects of life described in that book that are horrifying to a modern reader, such as the practice of kidnapping women for forced marriages and using captured children as literal ammunition in a siege on a castle. As horrifying as these things are to us, the implication in the book is that they were just accepted as a normal part of life in those times. In that regard, things do change, and they can change for the better.

Right now, I am struggling with wow to reconcile these things with the ideas in a recent article about a new theory of what happened to the Rapa Nui (Easter Islanders). In this new theory, the islanders did not cut down all of the threes for agricultural purposes, in a terrible example of the tragedy of the commons. Instead, the trees were destroyed by rats, which were probably stowaways on the canoes that brought the Polynesian settlers to Easter Island. With no natural predators on the island, the rats ran rampant, and their love of the palm tree seeds and sprouts spelled doom for the trees.

While this new theory absolves the Rapa Nui of direct responsibility for the demise of their society, it is still a cautionary story for modern humans. While their island ecosystem gets less and less congenial, the islanders continually adapt to their reduced options and shrinking horizons. I cannot help but wonder if we will do the same. And if we do, will the world as we know it finally actually end? Or can we find a way to change for the better?

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