Death by Consumption

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

As long as 2000 years ago, the Maya had a great empire- equal to the Egyptians.

Then suddenly, in fact VERY suddenly, relatively speaking, they left most of their cities and moved back to a very simple lifestyle, what was left of them. They left behind brilliant cities, great art, and the remains of a very rich civilization.

The reason? conspicuous consumption. Sound familiar?

If you’re as tired as I am of huge gas guzzlers, wasted resources, and other useless symptoms of excess, maybe it’s time to learn some history. In fact, it may be really important.

We’re in the process of uncovering cities in the Mayan jungle that make the incredible discoveries like Palenque look like a minor center of culture. The much larger city located in the jungle near San B├ártolo is huge, and contains buildings that rival the pyramids of Egypt in the amount of resources that it took to build them.

Glorious temples, palaces, huge sculptures, are emerging from the forest that swallowed them up more than a thousand years ago. Some of these buildings display forms of conspicuous consumption that strangely recalls what is going on now, here in the USA.

There are stairs built with huge blocks of limestone, with the blocks set so that only the last quarter is revealed, instead of using the block longitudinally, which would be much more economical. This is only one of many ways in which the Maya of that place wasted resources. The blocks had to be carved, transported, and placed using relatively crude tools. The amount of man-hours required to place a block thus is more than triple, and totally useless as far as function is concerned.

All the buildings were coated with a thick layer of plaster, which was then often painted. The arrangement of blocks makes no sense, except for one reason;

They did it because they could.

They engaged in conspicuous consumption because they had the resources, and did not think that they could run out. When the (——) hit, they were caught totally off guard. They didn’t have a name for the thing that happened, and it didn’t get written up in their gorgeous sculpture or their writings; their art says nothing about what happened. They just went back to living a simple life, and the cities disappeared, swallowed by the jungle.

Strangely enough, they had found that the muck in the swamps near the cities made for a wonderful faming medium, and built terraced farms that were capable of supporting a large population. Now, that fertile soil is covered by a thick layer of clay.

See, it’s the plaster that caused it. The manufacture of plaster necessitated huge quantities of wood to burn, and so the land around the cities was deforested. As the trees disappeared, erosion washed clay over the fertile soil, burying it two to three feet deep. As easy farming disappeared, the survivability of large population centers and the complex, expensive hierarchy that they supported was compromised.

Oh, it wasn’t just that; there were many reasons for the collapse of the Mayan empire; But the people at the top, and also in the middle, couldn’t see them. They were as blind as… well, as certain people today. I don’t want to mention names, but living where I do, as one of the remaining old-timers in a gilded ghetto, is… curious. The people that are moving into this very desirable part of the world are, according to a demographic study done by the school that my kids went to, very rich men over 65 years of age with grown up kids and younger (trophy) wives, and they will not have more kids; so the schools in this area may be doomed. Already people in service professions have to live elsewhere and commute here; and that includes people like fire fighters, police, and of course artists. Farmers are leaving too, the real estate too valuable to farm, and McMansions are rising, strangely similar in their look, as if saying, no, screaming “I’m a RICH man’s house!!!!!”

And as I drive around in my ’92 corolla, I look at these people in their huge SUV’s, their multimillion-dollar houses hidden behind electric gates, and I wonder if those gates will be excavated by future archaeologists.

Hopefully, I’ll go through the necessary changes before the (——-) happens here, and I hope that you, and all my friends will be able to escape too.

I leave you with a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley that could have been written about Washington, Paris, or perhaps Baghdad.

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.,  


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  1. …we’ve had a lot of posts declaring things which are deeply debated by expert scholars as facts, in this case, without links or citations.  The Mayan collapse is an event which is deeply disputed and where the majority of needed facts are unknown.  Indeed, one of the most compelling cases for Mayan collapse is drought theory, which states that droughts, brought on significantly by rapid climate change, are the main cause of the Mayan collapse.

    We do not have enough information to declare with confidence the claims you make here.

  2. and climate change may be another cause for the collapse; however, I doubt it, since the same flora is there relatively unchanged. The plants that were used then can be found easily in archaeological digs. Corn, beans, textiles, offerings, the remains of tools point to plants that still exist plentifully today.

    I’m not saying that there wasn’t climate change, or that it wasn’t one of the causes; but I feel, along with many other scholars whom I don’t quote because at this moment I am too busy, or maybe lazy, to research and quote chapter and verse, that inability to grow enough food due to breaking down of ‘easy’ agriculture led to absolutely necessary de-centralization.

  3. You mean that there was rapid climate change that wasn’t brought on by burning petroleum? (snark)

    Actually, burning of coal caused the air in 18th century England, and especially London, to resemble a ‘constant noisome fog’.  

  4. The Mayans failed to offer sufficient propitiation to Chac and Kukulkan.

    That, and the arrival from the east of the Norseman who claimed to be Quetzelcoatl.

    And if you ask presently living Mayans why they haven’t yet produced the Mayan equivalent of Shaquille O’neill (ie. somebody over 6′ tall) they’ll tell you it’s because of the limestone just under the jungles that infiltrates their water supply.

    These are all other stories and additional hypotheses for another time.

  5. After someone mis-spelled ‘Cthulhu’ yesterday, now someone mis-spells ‘Quetzalcoatl’.

    No wonder the Gods get pissed off and destroy civilizations… which is obviously the real reason The Maya collapsed.

    Are you ready for the rapture?

  6. the absolute elation, in the true sense of the word, of being at the top of the list for the first time!

  7. of ancient Empires are always theories and while nobody can prove anything they probably have some lessons to be pondered as we begin our materialistic slide taking huge swaths of life forms down the hole with us. As for air pollution I read somewhere that the smelting of heavy metal during the Roman’s military heyday made LA’s smoggy basin look crystal clear. And who can forget the dust bowl we created the last time we went gilded and greedy.

    Disputing facts and spitting hairs over what caused the demise either physical or Karmic when confronted with the bones of civilizations gone mad with excess and blood. Giant kangaroo’s who had previously been declared the victims of climate change were killed of by humans those Aussie’s have always been nut’s I guess.

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