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Time to build a new civilization

Mitsuhei Murata, UPI Asia
In the midst of the current global crisis, I am reminded of the words of Plato of ancient Greece to the effect that, to better the world, kings should become philosophers; otherwise the unhappiness of humanity will not disappear. Due to the lack of philosophy the world has lost its ideals.

“The maximum happiness for the greatest number of people,” which should be the essential objective of democracy, has been forgotten. Today’s materialism is based on greed, which is now threatening the future of mankind and the globe. The current financial meltdown is one clear example. The deterioration of the environment is another.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The earth can provide for every one’s need, but not for every one’s greed.” This may explain the problems encountered by globalization.

So-called GDP economics ignores all the important values that cannot be quantified and converted into monetary values, such as culture, tradition, family and social justice. And it makes a major mistake in regarding natural resources as “income” and not as “capital,” which requires preservation. Because of this mistake, economic growth is seriously damaging the environment.

The prevailing supremacy of the economy has eroded the ethics of the present generation, which out of self-interest is building prosperity at the expense of future generations, abusing natural resources. This lack of ethical values is rampant on a global scale. Combined with the absence of a sense of responsibility and justice, this is cause for apprehension about the future of mankind and the globe…
Mitsuhei Murata is professor of comparative civilizations at the Tokai Gakuen University in Tokyo, Japan. He is also a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland.
(24 October 2008)

The temples of doom

Rory Carroll, The Guardian
The ruins lie silent and abandoned in the heart of the jungle; blocks of stone surrendered to the vines, which twist and writhe over temples, plazas and pyramids. Weeds and forest creatures have colonised the inner sanctums; mahogany and cedar trees swallow what once were roads, blotting out the sun. This is Tikal, the ancient Mayan city of northern Guatemala. There was a time when tens of thousands of people lived here. The architecture and urban planning – there are epic monuments, boastful inscriptions and even courts for playing ball games – embody boundless human confidence…

…Shortly after its apogee, around AD800, the Mayan civilisation, the most advanced in the western hemisphere, withered. Kingdoms fell, monuments were smashed and the great stone cities emptied. Tikal now stands as an eerie embodiment of a society gone wrong, of collapse. How it came to pass is a question that has long fascinated scholars. Titles such as Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization fill faculty bookshelves. It has also provided fodder for literature and films, most recently Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. There is a grim, irresistible appeal to this tale of central American oblivion.

Recent events have injected a jarring note into Mayan studies: a sense of anxiety, even foreboding. Serious people are asking a question that at first sounds ridiculous. What if the fate of the Maya is to be our fate? What if climate change and the global financial crisis are harbingers of a system that is destined to warp, buckle and collapse?

No one is suggesting that vines will start crawling up the concrete canyons of Wall Street, or that howler monkeys will chase pin-striped bankers through Manhattan…

…There are, however, striking parallels between the Maya fall and our era’s convulsions. “We think we are different,” says Jared Diamond, the American evolutionary biologist. “In fact … all of those powerful societies of the past thought that they too were unique, right up to the moment of their collapse.” The Maya, like us, were at the apex of their power when things began to unravel, he says. As stock markets zigzag into uncharted territory and ice caps continue to melt, it is a view increasingly echoed by scholars and commentators.

What, then, is the story of the Maya? And what lessons does it hold for us?…
(28 October 2008)
Suggested by Meso-American archaeologist LD who writes:
I’m still waiting for an article with more specifics, based on environmental issues about the Maya. We need some hard data for an article, and it is out there. For the best synthesis of epigraphic and archaeological data about Maya civilization so far, I recommend the book “The Ancient Maya” by R. J. Sharer with L. P. Traxler (2006).

The Most Radical Thing You Can Do

Rebecca Solnit, Orion Magazine
LONG AGO the poet and bioregionalist Gary Snyder said, “The most radical thing you can do is stay home,” a phrase that has itself stayed with me for the many years since I first heard it. Some or all of its meaning was present then, in the bioregional 1970s, when going back to the land and consuming less was how the task was framed. The task has only become more urgent as climate change in particular underscores that we need to consume a lot less. It’s curious, in the chaos of conversations about what we ought to do to save the world, how seldom sheer modesty comes up—living smaller, staying closer, having less—especially for us in the ranks of the privileged. Not just having a fuel-efficient car, but maybe leaving it parked and taking the bus, or living a lot closer to work in the first place, or not having a car at all. A third of carbon-dioxide emissions nationwide are from the restless movements of goods and people.

We are going to have to stay home a lot more in the future. For us that’s about giving things up. But the situation looks quite different from the other side of all our divides. The indigenous central Mexicans who are driven by poverty to migrate have begun to insist that among the human rights that matter is the right to stay home. So reports David Bacon, who through photographs and words has become one of the great chroniclers of the plight of migrant labor in our time. “Today the right to travel to seek work is a matter of survival,” he writes. “But this June in Juxtlahuaca, in the heart of Oaxaca’s Mixteca region, dozens of farmers left their fields, and women weavers their looms, to talk about another right, the right to stay home. . . . In Spanish, Mixteco, and Triqui, people repeated one phrase over and over: the derecho de no migrar—the right to not migrate. Asserting this right challenges not just inequality and exploitation facing migrants, but the very reasons why people have to migrate to begin with.” Seldom mentioned in all the furor over undocumented immigrants in this country is the fact that most of these indigenous and mestizo people would be quite happy not to emigrate if they could earn a decent living at home; many of them are just working until they earn enough to lay the foundations for a decent life in their place of origin, or to support the rest of a family that remains behind…
(November/December 2008)
Interesting to think about the right to stay home rather than the right to travel.-SO