Lessons Learned from the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

Submitted by peter holmes on Thu, 03/02/2006 - 10:06.

Jared Diamond, the world-class observer of societies and cultures, told a well-packed Severance Hall audience Wednesday, that "consumerism"  and "isolationism" threaten the future well-being of America.  He called for a "reappraisal" of the nation's citizens' core values, because the oceans no longer  insulate the U.S. from the world and physical resources are being used at what Diamond called an "unsustainable rate."

Speaking at Case's Distinguished Lecture Series, Diamond, a popular author  and University of California at Los Angeles faculty member,  delivered a  veritable  45 minute-long tour de force.  It integrated lessons learned from prior cultures' successes and failures with the challenges  today's cultures encounter.  He named the following such factors to which  people and nations must respond:  climate change; resource over-use; response to neighboring nations; relationships with trading partners and the processes by which society's problems are tackled and solved.

Among the manifestations of tattered U.S. responses to these challenges are poor or fragile environmental conditions in the state of Montana, and the growing number of "gated-communities" that have the effect of insulating elites from social problems.  Diamond said that "globalization" is nothing more that the consequence of improved world-wide communication and that corporations can be models for sustainable behavoirs.  

    Contemporary examples of failure that illustrate the end of isolationism are the breakdown of authority in such remote places as Somalia, Afghanistan and Nepal, that now impact the entire world.  Diamond alluded to climate change as a possible explanation for the gradual erosion of authority in nation-states in the Arab world.  He said that global warming represents the greatest opportunity for the world to utilize its prowess in information technologies and science.        

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Corporations might succeed where governments fail

Though most people don't associate international corporations with the best interests of the environment and humanity, the idea that they should take the lead is a good one -- especially since our government fails to even acknowledge the seriousness of climate change.

Corp. might succeed etc.

While listening to Diamond tell his experience of "good" international corporate behavior, one word came to mind as an example of why - Bhopal.  The tremendous ecomonic and pr cost to Union Carbide as a result of ignoring humanity and the environment was a lesson not lost by the other transnationals, whose only ethic of responsibility is to their stock price and executive compensation.  It should be remembered that only in societies with accountable governments, ways to redress grievences, and a free and open press, do corporations "take the lead" and operate responsibly.