The Mayan people developed an agricultural system productive enough to support populations in the hundreds of thousands. For better or worse, this allowed them to develop specialization. Their kings and priests started erecting huge stone cities as monuments to their own glory, as well as fine places to ceremonially cut out the hearts of their prisoners of war, giving a whole different meaning to the phrase "Red Cross package."
Then, in what we call the 10th century, their civilization collapsed.
Europeans "discovering" their overgrown and abandoned cities in the early 19th century asked the local Indians who had lived there and where they had gone. No one knew.
I'm not an archaeologist, but I've tramped some of the jungles in question. Surely I can't be the only person to have surmised that the Maya didn't go anywhere. The facial and anatomical resemblance of the local Indian population to the folks in the old stone carvings is uncanny.
But if the descendants of the Maya are still there, living in dirt-floored huts and selling Orange Crush to the tourists, why wouldn't these folks retain some detailed records of their ancestors' heyday? Why can't they even read the hieroglyphics?
I submit this only seems odd if we assume the progress of mankind is an unbroken upward arc -- that peoples can't make collective mistakes so huge that they fall.
In fact, visitors from another continent, stumbling on some illiterate Greek shepherd tending his flock in the ruins of one of the ancient city states of the Peloponnesus a mere few centuries ago, might have found it equally impossible to believe such an unwashed waif could be directly descended from the God-like figures who built the Parthenon.
H.G. Wells was commenting on this phenomenon when he showed his time traveler reaching a future world inhabited by the Eloi, lovely people living in the ruins of marvelous cities built by their ancestors. These child-like creatures were unable to repair or maintain technologies whose operating principles they had long since forgotten, and were thus destined to become little more than herded cattle for the cannibal Morlocks next door.
Try quizzing today's typical high school "graduate" -- or even most college students -- on anything from our political history to the significance of the work of Newton, Edison, Volta, Marconi and Pasteur.
The Mayans' agricultural methods were apparently not sustainable. Imagine what the final days of the Mayans must have been like -- the people fighting over a reduced harvest, demanding that their priest-kings, "Fix it! Fix it!"
What would the leaders have done? More of what they'd always done, of course. Throw more virgins into the sacred cenote; cut out the hearts of a hundred new prisoners of war.
This, they would have soberly explained, was all very scientific. After all, when they used this method to pray for rain and abundant harvests in the past, it always worked ... eventually.
The faithful would thus have been frozen in place, watching the blood flow down the steps when they should have been out experimenting with fertilizers, crop rotation, fallowing the fields, whatever.
Our founding fathers understood this is how civilizations fail. Among the many safeguards they tried to install was a separation of the powers of church and state. This is why granting coercive government power to the Green religion by allowing the courts and the EPA to enforce bogus Green "science" with the power of law is so ominous.
Readers of the Review-Journal commentary page may have noticed an essay by George Mason University economist Walter Williams on Friday. Williams noted it's now common to claim scientific validity for political edicts which remove the property right of a restaurant or tavern owner to decide whether to allow smoking on his premises, based on the assertion that "everyone knows" secondhand smoke kills people.
In fact, Williams recalls for us how our politically financed and motivated "scientists" reached that conclusion.
In their 1993 study, the EPA claimed that 3,000 Americans die annually from secondhand smoke. "But there was a problem," Williams recalls. "They couldn't come up with that conclusion using the standard statistical 95 percent confidence interval. They lowered their study's confidence interval to 90 percent. That has the effect of doubling the margin of error and doubling the probability that mere chance explains those 3,000 deaths."
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) said at the time, "Admittedly, it is unusual to return to a study after the fact, lower the required significance level, and declare its results to be supportive rather than unsupportive of the effect one's theory suggests should be present."
What's the real science?
In 1998, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer released the largest ever and best formulated study on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), Williams reports. "The research project ran for 10 years and in seven European countries. The study, not widely publicized, concluded that no statistically significant risk existed for nonsmokers who either lived or worked with smokers."
(See also the British Medical Journal at www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/326/7398/0.)
"The public policy debate on smoking has been settled through bogus science," Williams concluded, Friday. "My question is, how willing are we to allow bogus science to be used in the pursuit of other public policy agendas, such as restrictions on economic growth, in the name of fighting global warming?"
Good question. What the global warming advocates won't tell us is what they want to do with all the emergency powers they're demanding to prevent their made-up "catastrophe of the future." You can bet they'll start with $12-a-gallon gasoline designed to force us all to ride their sweetheart "light rail" projects.
All to reduce -- by some imperceptibly small percentage -- the already tiny percentage of innocuous carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which can be traced to the activities of mankind.
And we shake our heads at the Mayans, who defended the usefulness of cutting out more human hearts with obsidian knives by shrieking, "But we have to do something!"
Fortunately, none of this matters, because we don't live in a dog-eat-dog world where nasty bearded enemies are currently running around screeching their hatred of us, ready to lop off our heads if we frivolously throw away our hard-won advantages in wealth, freedom, and technological progress, the way armed "barbarian" invaders promptly took advantage of the mincing decadence and mindless self-destruction of the Greeks, the Romans and the Mayans.