Reflections On An Article That Changed My Life 15 Years Ago

by Michael Simmons on Aug 9, 2013

Easter Island Statues

When Easter Island was discovered in 1722, it was a desolate island. It had no trees and little wildlife. Its grass was withered, and its vegetation burnt. Despite being 64 square miles, its population was around 2,000.

The most notable feature was 200+ huge stone statues lining the coast with at least 700 more in various stages of completion.

It didn’t add up. How could a primitive society move these huge stones without trees or ropes?

To answer this question, researchers did pollen analysis, radiocarbon dating, and archeological excavation. Not only was the island a subtropical forest of trees and woody bushes, it was once full of wildlife.

What happened to this pristine island?

Based on the research and stories from surviving inhabitants, a grim story emerged; a story of overexploitation and using natural resources to build, move, and showcase these huge statues as status symbols:

With passing years, the statues and platforms became larger and larger, and the statues began sporting ten-ton red crowns–probably in an escalating spiral of one-upmanship, as rival clans tried to surpass each other with shows of wealth and power. (In the same way, successive Egyptian pharaohs built ever-larger pyramids. Today Hollywood movie moguls near my home in Los Angeles are displaying their wealth and power by building ever more ostentatious mansions). source: Easter’s End

It is easy to write off Easter Island and say that we would never do the same thing to the Earth’s climate. It is easy to ridicule the pointlessness of having large statues as status symbols.

However, we still, to this day, do the same things as a society and as individuals!

I remember the angst of trying to be popular. I knew that the popularity I built would not translate past high school, yet it was extremely hard to step out of it. While high school may end when we’re 18, we jump right into new popularity contests in our personal and professional lives.

It is surprisingly easy to spend one’s whole life comparing ones self to other people and trying to be better than them.

A mistake that I see many, many smart people make (including myself at different times) is spending a whole life on a false assumption that could have been easily proven wrong with further introspection.

The two haunting questions from the author of Easter’s End that have stayed with me all these years and the ones I’ll leave you with are:

As we try to imagine the decline of Easter’s civilization, we ask ourselves, Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?


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I'm the co-founder of Empact, one of the leading entrepreneurship education organizations in the world. I'm obsessed with understanding how we all can lead meaningful lives that have a positive social impact. I love probing into the truth of how we experience life. I believe that challenges are what make us grow the most, and I openly share my experiences. Continue reading…