Knowledge and its Effects on the World Socially and Ecologically via Intensification

Just as our work in the Chesapeake started with indigenous people, so has our current work here in Central America. As we have discussed in the social science component of this comparative study with Dr. Seidel, the indigenous people of this area were the maya. These people arose with considerable fervor to become arguably the most advanced society of this region: the Eastern lowlands of Mesoamerica. The maya started out as a small scale agricultural society. Between then and until approximately 800-930A.D. they left all of that behind. In doing so, they turned into a society that had a much more developed agricultural system, incorporating practices such as raised fields, canals, and drainage because of their low lying place of residence. Also, the Maya developed TWO highly detailed calendar systems, a vigesimal numbering system, a glyph based language, extensive trade network, and a system of political organization that all made their society a fixture of this region during that time as well. However, while the Maya were an incredibly advanced people, did many wonderful things, and ultimately created a vibrant and well-established Mesoamerican culture, they were not without some flaws.    Due to this rapid intensification of society, which resulted in an equally vigorous interaction with their environment, the Maya were the harbingers of their own demise. While the complete story behind this demise is first and foremost NOT ABSOLUTE- it is far more complex than a civilization collapse and includes far more details beyond a superficial level- the Maya essentially pushed their society to the limits of development. This can all be generally contained within a cycle. The intensification of agriculture leads to population growth. Population growth leads to increased demand for and consumption of resources. That, in turn, leads to environmental degradation as agriculture tries to satiate its need to match up with the activity of the population. Once this point is reached, warfare and political strife increase as resources become more scarce and people’s quality of life begins to tank. The ultimate end, then, is that this cycle never really improves, puts the society on a knife edge, and eventually leads to its inevitable collapse.
The significance of all this, is that it connects to a concept from another of our lectures conducted by Dr. Lampman: Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Among many different manifestations, Traditional Ecological Knowledge comments on the affairs of remote locales that have little organized characterization of information. Today, the descendants of the Maya are stuck at a crossroads that encompasses the intersection between traditional cultural structure, and more efficient or advanced practices and ideas. These practices, such as monoculture, or commercialization of resources, could provide them with more opportunities that could enrich their station, or provide them with access to things indicative of a traditionally socioeconomically stable situation. Those opportunities could be within the realm of more education, more health care, more technology, and less reproduction, less financial instability, and less malnutrition. The issue, therefore, is that intensification of knowledge as to social and economic pursuits, coupled with ecological and social stresses which come as a cost, has put th their ancestors in this situation, and has had lingering influences for them as well. Inexplicably, knowledge has effects on the world through ecological and social intensification, in that as it increases the stress and apparent degradation of these two areas increases along with it. 


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