Maya Theater States

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Peak Surfer on July 9, 2017

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner

"What generally occurs when a civilization over-extends is not a complete disappearance but a rapid decline in complexity."

 

Detroit: Theater Ruins
 The collapse of the Classic Maya period, around 900 CE, is an active academic field, with many conflicting theories and a mountain of literature. While traveling in the Yucatán we are reading Arthur Demarest’s Ancient Maya: the Rise and Fall of the Rainforest Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
 
One of the terms Demarest uses to describe the period is a “theater-state.” The ruling elite, known as the K’uhul Ajaw, or Holy Lords, were relatively hands-off with respect to economics, social welfare and trade but devoted lots of resources to legitimizing their political and religious authority through monumental architecture, art, pageant, sports spectacles and warfare.

 

 

 

This resource misallocation — taking away from the real needs of the populace, especially in times of stress — led to swelling the elite class, enormous diversions to unproductive types of labor, depredations from unnecessary wars, resentment from disenfranchised youth who were relegated to javelin–fodder, and, of course, ecological decay — as previously elegant eco-agriculture microsystems (using 400–500 species of plants) were consolidated into monocultures and overproduced.

 
A question Demarest probes is why, in so many areas, did not Mayan leaders respond with effective corrective measures for the stresses generated by internal and external pressures they could not have failed to notice. We generally think of complex societies as problem-solving machines, in which elaborate chains of central command and control “wire” a nation to meet its goals. Yet beginning around the Eighth Century, the Holy Lords were apparently away from the control room.
 
Demarest thinks the problem was structural. Since the elites of the most classic Maya kingdoms did not farm or manage production of goods, the “real” economy was decentralized to community or family. The role of the Holy Lords was to manage a “false” economy that was derivative, its only marginal utility being that it gave their Kingdoms some sort of patriotic zeal or sense of exceptionalism.
 
When these derivatives eventually began to unravel, the Holy Lords, like mechanics with a limited set of wrenches, did what they knew best — they intensified ritual activities, built taller and more ornate temples and expensive stages, props, and costumes, and scheduled more performance rituals, wars, and feasting. Contrary to earlier results, however, these measures only prolonged or intensified the problems, led to further disenchantment, which eventually brought about whatever cataclysm dethroned them.

 


 

 

Successive rounds of quantitative easing had diminishing returns. The “real” economy suffered a century-long drought punctuated by severe droughts in CE 810, 860 and 910. Even the “false” economy could not help but feel reality intrude.

 

 
Today the theater state is shown in high definition and 3-D, and it resembles in its own way the grand Berlin pageants of Albert Speer as much as the scenes from Apocalypto. Mad-Men have refined the manufacture of consent, to use Chomsky’s phrase, to a fine science, and as in Classic Maya times, military recruitment is viewed as a fortunate outlet for the unemployed.
 
However, a “classic” period, signifying the peak of empire and also a peak in energy, productivity, and population in most cases, is never sustainable, because it is inherently unbalanced.
 
Demarest’s insight here is that we tend to characterize every civilization in terms of “preclassic, classic, and postclassic,” but we might do better to think of it as “stable and expanding,” “unstable,” and “shrinking and reconsolidating.” Preclassic Maya agriculture was exceedingly diverse, with agroforestry, household garden plots, rotational field crops, chinampas and aquaponic systems, and perhaps also novel farming techniques we have yet to learn about. So was the postclassic. We have only just recently begun to appreciate that the “slash and burn” found in many parts of the tropics was once a highly productive and ecologically sustainable biochar amendment system when practiced in the ancient ways.
 
The Mayan preclassic food system was only marginally regional. While trade and tribute brought in salt, chocolate, hardwoods, hard stone, luxuries, textiles, and non-perishable goods, transportation of corn or other staples was largely prohibitive from an energy efficiency standpoint. Moving corn on the back of a man 25 km requires the consumption of 16% of the caloric value of the load. Transport from 100 km would have cost a third of the load in expended caloric energy. Demarest wrote, “Such high transport costs might have been maintained by a few Mayan cities at their peak, but more generally Mayan subsistence economies and markets were probably based on an area of about 20 to 30 km — a day of travel from the major center and its periodic markets.”
 
Joseph Tainter’s famous 1988 analysis of civilizational collapses argues that what generally occurs when a civilization over-extends is not a complete disappearance but a rapid decline in complexity. Axiomatically, it can be said that the instability experienced at the peak of a culture is a function of over-complexity.

 

Pablo Lopez Luz, Mexico City 2017

 

 

While this might be true of the Maya in some ways, in other respects that analysis fails to satisfy. While the theater state of the Holy Lords reached a peak complexity and then declined, a different type of state followed that increased in complexity over what had existed in the classic period. The end of the theater state led to the cessation of monumental architecture and the disappearance of high status exotic goods and ornaments, but good riddance.

 

 
At the same time, although at different times and speeds in different regions, there was a flowering and transformation to the new order. Extensive ecological, archaeological, and settlement pattern studies have found a resurgence of complex agricultural regimes that were well adapted to population levels with no indications of nutritional stress. When the curtains were drawn on the theater state, the health and welfare of the people improved. With the loss of simple monoculture and central authority and the diffusion of complex microfarming diversity and decentralized councils, the new order recaptured stability.
 
What followed in the postclassic period were a diffusion of distinctive new variants of the classic culture, with strange costumes, long hairstyles, experimentation with new legitimating ideologies, and unusual features in buildings, sculpture and ceramics (e.g.: ubiquitous serpents, brightly colored murals, and the psychedelic temple complex of Tulum).

 


 

 

The Maya that flourish in the Guatemalan highlands and Yucatán today are as populous and even more vigorous economically than during the classic theater state, but they do not generate anything like the art and architecture of their predecessors from 1000 years ago. They don’t need to.

 

Demarest observed,

For at least 6000 years, the hallmarks of the Western tradition have been linear concepts of time, monocultural agricultural systems, overproduction and exchange of surplus in full-market economies, technology-driven development, a long history of attempts to separate religious and political authority, and judgmental Gods concerned with individual, personal moral conduct. As we learn from the Maya, none of these traits is universal, none of them was characteristic of classic Maya civilization, and none of them is critical to the fluorescence of high civilization.

***

Too often scholars and the public viewed non-Western societies with an implicit, unconscious condescension. We tend to regard their political and economic systems as incomplete (“less evolved”) versions of our own. Ideology and cosmetology are viewed as detailed esoteric collections of ideas fascinating for scholarly study and public imagination. We also tend to emphasize aspects of ancient religion that attempted control of nature as “primitive science.” In so doing, we ignore the personal and philosophical challenges of experiencing another worldview — an alternative perspective on existence and death.

***

From an openly philosophical, subjective, and postmodern perspective of our society and its science, we are no wiser than the Maya priests and shamans in the face of these mysteries. For that reason we can study the ancient Maya, and other non-Western cultures, as sources of alternative views of reality and of contemplation of our own culturally ingrained worldviews. You can view the classic Maya as a less developed society trying to control the forces of nature and to survive economically. Or instead, they can be regarded as fellow travelers who simply chose a different path through the darkness.

The pre- and postclassic system of mimicking the diversity and dispersion of the forest allowed the Maya to maintain populations in the millions in the Yucatán for over 1500 years without destroying a rich but fragile tropical environment and biodiversity. They are still here — still engaged in that work. That offers hope for us all.
 
 
This is an update of an essay we wrote six years ago from the Fourth World Congress on Ecological Restoration in Mérida, México. It was published as part of the collection Pour Evian on Your Radishes in 2014.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Support the Diner
Search the Diner
Surveys & Podcasts

NEW SURVEY

Renewable Energy

VISIT AND FOLLOW US ON DINER SOUNDCLOUD

" As a daily reader of all of the doomsday blogs, e.g. the Diner, Nature Bats Last, Zerohedge, Scribbler, etc… I must say that I most look forward to your “off the microphone” rants. Your analysis, insights, and conclusions are always logical, well supported, and clearly articulated – a trifecta not frequently achieved."- Joe D
Archives
Global Diners

View Full Diner Stats

Global Population Stats

Enter a Country Name for full Population & Demographic Statistics

Lake Mead Watch

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BX686_LakeMe_G_20130816175615.jpg

loading

Inside the Diner

5 Ways Wasting Food Hurts the Environment (and 5 Ways You Can Fix It)It’s the secret shame of many Americans: The half-forgotten perishables in your refrigerator and pantry that are now turning pretty colors or giving off the fragrance of a corpse.Th...

Borealopelta, discovered accidentally by Canadian miners, is one of the most spectacular fossil finds of all time.In March 2011, a construction worker...

The Trump Administration is attacking the very bedrock of ocean – and environmental – protection in the United States… and we need to fight back.We won’t stand by while the Administration silently sacrifices crucial marine life, healthy ocean ecosyst...

Behavioural evidence suggests marine organisms are not just ingesting microplastics by accident but actively seeking them out as food[img]https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/ed0f2a7cab72c12383a464d1be889bd4b1921be0/0_0_5315_3189/master/5315.jpg?w=62...

Is Bill Cosby having a hard time finding new lawyers to defend him at his second trial on sexual assault charges in November?It looks that way given that his lead attorney, Brian McMonagle of Philadelphia, said earlier this month he would bow out of t...

Recent Facebook Posts

Centrist Pundits Paved Way for Trump’s ‘Alt-Left’ False Equivalence

Centrist Pundits Paved Way for Trump’s ‘Alt-Left’ False Equivalence https://t.co/8Juzfx9b1p

59 minutes ago

Equality, Justice and the First Amendment

Equality, Justice and the First Amendment – Anthony D. Romero For all people of good will—regardless of party a… https://t.co/lgj9RKRzBq

59 minutes ago

Waiting for a Grown-Up in the White House

Waiting for a Grown-Up in the White House – Michael Winship This presidency is unconstitutional. The Constituti… https://t.co/hQ8bMaOUHE

59 minutes ago

t.co

The latest The SurlyZone! https://t.co/NcU32TwxGW Thanks to @TheNakedParty @Kelli_Rose #vaccineinjury

1 hour ago

Centrist Pundits Paved Way for Trump’s ‘Alt-Left’ False Equivalence

From Common Dreams:

1 hour ago

Diner Twitter feed

Knarf’s Knewz

5 Ways Wasting Food Hurts the Environment (and 5 W [...]

Borealopelta, discovered accidentally by Canadian [...]

The Trump Administration is attacking the very bed [...]

Behavioural evidence suggests marine organisms are [...]

Is Bill Cosby having a hard time finding new lawye [...]

Diner Newz Feeds
  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

"Alt-left thugs" who battled Nazis. [...]

Doomstead Diner Daily 8/16[html] [...]

Doomstead Diner Daily 8/15[html] [...]

Continued from the [url=http://renewablerevolution [...]

GREAT posts from K-Dog, Surly and Eddie!   [img wi [...]

Quote from: agelbert on August 15, 2017, 02:33:17 [...]

Quote from: K-Dog on August 15, 2017, 08:12:04 PMY [...]

Yes, saying both sides are responsible for a murde [...]

5 Ways Wasting Food Hurts the Environment (and 5 W [...]

Borealopelta, discovered accidentally by Canadian [...]

The Trump Administration is attacking the very bed [...]

Behavioural evidence suggests marine organisms are [...]

Is Bill Cosby having a hard time finding new lawye [...]

Quote from: azozeo on August 14, 2017, 05:17:04 PM [...]

http://www.activistpost.com/2017/04/gold-manipulat [...]

Quote from: Golden Oxen on August 06, 2017, 04:57: [...]

There are unintelligible messages from Karpatok an [...]

Quote from: K-Dog on July 20, 2017, 01:36:05 PMOil [...]

Quote from: luciddreams on August 05, 2017, 06:29: [...]

Quote from: RE on August 05, 2017, 01:00:20 AMThe [...]

I have taken a lot of abuse on my opinion of what [...]

The database has been upchucking a lot of old post [...]

We got another treat to old posting from the Diner [...]

Alternate Perspectives
  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

This and That - Vol. 1 Lines in the Sand By Cognitive Dissonance   When I was younger I would get in [...]

We Are All Going To Die! By Cognitive Dissonance   This one is short and sweet folks. The subject al [...]

Have You a Positive Personal Practice? (Part Two) By Cognitive Dissonance   My apologies for how tar [...]

Have You a Positive Personal Practice? By Cognitive Dissonance   Those who dive deeply into unmaskin [...]

Dark Homes By Cognitive Dissonance   While we closed on the purchase of our mountain cabin in March [...]

Event Update For 2017-08-14http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-08-13http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-08-12http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-08-11http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-08-10http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

With a bit of ice on the floor depositers could almost ride the seeds right on in (photo by Global C [...]

Well, at least it was made sure that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault looks real pretty (photo courtes [...]

Now it's data that makes the world go round? It's comfortably accepted by many that what w [...]

I left off last week's post – "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, Industrial-Scale Renewabl [...]

When you wish upon a star the Blue Fairy sends Tinker Bell, who plants a magic seed, which grows int [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability
  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

A Personal Forest"Every year on New Years Day I write down my annual electric meter reading, chart the milage of [...]

Is God Serious?"How ironic is it that having cornered some seemingly unique absence of reality, adherents cann [...]

The Gospel of Chief Seattle: Written For Television"No bright star hovers about the horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Some grim Neme [...]

Can Foodies Save the Planet?"Facing all of these grave threats, humans collectively have chosen to go insane."Having a [...]

Snowflake Summer"Why has academia descended into neo-fascist regimentation?"We didn’t give serious thought [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Democracy and politics would be messy business even if all participants were saints. But America doe [...]

A new book argues that, in order to survive climate change and peak oil, the global money economy ne [...]

Top Commentariats
  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

Even if people decided just to settle down to gathering berries,etc, in a life of pastoral simplicit [...]

Plus even if such redemption of humanity was ever possible and should materialize one "shiny hi [...]

The gods are located in Basel and they have now decided to cull the herd. [...]

Addendum: understandingly these "positive" traits are present in our culture and civilizat [...]

After a while somewhat interesting article: http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2017/08/which-eroi-d [...]

Welcome to new day, added 's' to 'http' so everyone should feel more secure ... [...]

Just to be clear about all the different administrations mentioned; All the while not one thing that [...]

Clintons job was to keep the party going, BJs under the desk for all! Bushs job was to tell jokes an [...]

Hey Steve, why don't you look into becoming REs neighbor. After the great power down, you can l [...]

Think Vermont. All you need is a wood stove and an internet connection. I'll bet you have a lot [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

Off the Keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Merry Doomy Christmas

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Collapse Fiction
Useful Links
Technical Journals

In this paper, we study the use of wheat land fallow production systems as a climate change adaptati [...]

Ambulance services are in operation around the world and yet, until recently, ambulance data has onl [...]

In this investigation, a numerical model expressing advection and diffusion effects is used to exami [...]

Follow on our http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/forum/