Friday, December 18, 2009

Place Your Bets Here

My friend Judith Patrylak (shout out from Phoenix!) and I went to Cahokia Mounds last weekend to see one of the most significant cultural touchstones of the St. Louis region.

Judith had studied Native American history in one of her many past lives; I am interested in re-animating our cultural histories in as many ways as possible.

What I learned:
Much of our cultural heritage has been lost through attrition, neglect, manifest destiny.
Many St. Louis residents have never visited Cahokia.
The State of Illinois has to cycle out Illinois state maps with Rob Blagojevich still listed as governor. (The state's bird=jail bird?)

What struck me was the smartness of a display at the end of the "tour" in the Visitor Center.

They didn't just tell you the current archaeological theories for the collapse of Cahokia Mound society--they asked you to bet on which one won (or lost, depending on your perspective) with money fed directly into the display.

What a brilliant funding strategy!

"Failure of Leadership" was not the highest-grossing of the four winning answers, but given the climate discussions in Copenhagen this past week, we might want to start our own bets.

One of my favorite recent reads was Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail. Collapse kept coming back to me while thinking about cultural sustainability because, ultimately, this is what we are up against.

I don't mean just non-profits, I mean the various institutions that fulfill the "social contact" that has driven Western Civilization for the past 500 years.

We should all take lessons from Cahokia.

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