Quote of the Day

Today’s quote is from my friend Romans Pancs, who is currently entertaining some other friends at his home in Mexico City and writes to report on their activities:

I escaped for a break home when they went to the Museum of Anthropology… No one has been able to explain to me what’s the point of studying failed civilisations when I can study successful ones by visiting Macy’s.

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25 Responses to “Quote of the Day”


  1. 1 1 Bret Sikkink

    I would have to disagree in few ways.

    1. He can’t visit a Macy’s in Mexico City.
    2. Many of the “failed” civilizations found in the Anthropology museum were driven to extinction by brutal colonial powers, despite having flourishing trade and inter-tribal cooperation for centuries. Not for lack of a 15th-century Macy’s.
    3. Would Mr. Pancs denigrate the entire field of economic history? For in these objects, that’s exactly what we are able to construct: a story of production and consumption, traded among neighbors as well as at great distances. A story of markets, subsidies, problems of the commons, fiscal overreach, backlash to taxes leading to insurrection, currency debasement, and much else.
    4. As an ITAM professor, his cost is nought but opportunity cost. A small price to pay for beautiful architecture, a chance to walk through Chapultepec Park, and see the beauty and richness of civilizations not as failures but as steps in a chain of cultural evolution. He couldn’t find de rigeur 20th century clothing in a 12th-century Zapotec village regardless of their later success or failure.

    Doubtless an idle comment, and having escorted many a guest through that same megalopolis, I can understand enjoying a respite from the sensory overload that is CDMX.
    As for its deep insights in terms of economic commentary, I give it a 3. Mr. Pancs will understand the reference.

  2. 2 2 Harold

    I could offer a quote from George Santayana:
    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  3. 3 3 James Kahn

    So if a plane crashes, we shouldn’t examine the causes, we should just focus on how all the other ones flew and landed safely?

  4. 4 4 Ken B

    That’s why Lee Harvey Oswald is much more interesting than John F Kennedy too.

  5. 5 5 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    Funny, but in defense of Anthropology, often more can be learned from failure than success. For example, the current situation in Venezuela has much to teach the economically illiterate masses. Not that it will.

  6. 6 6 nobody.really

    Successful? Observing the plight of bricks & mortar department stores, pretty soon the only place you’ll be able to learn about Macy’s will be in a museum.

  7. 7 7 Thomas

    Why is Macy the successful civilization? The Maya civilization was around for 3000 years. The Macy civilization for less than 300 years.

  8. 8 8 Steve

    Like my students say “What can you learn from mistakes?” Then again, those kids are some of the worst students…

  9. 9 9 Harold

    The wider point is whether history has any significance, which is really two questions: does it have significance and should it had significance?

    Regarding the does it, one only needs to walk through certain areas of Belfast wearing orange and playing a fife to discover that it does. People are very attached to their history; events hundreds of years ago affect their behavior today. It is part of their national identity and patriotism.

    As to whether it should be important, that is a complicated. Like nationalism, patriotism and religion, shared history can be a unifying and bonding force, or a divisive and violent force. I suggest that we should learn about it, and we should adopt our responses to reinforce the positive aspects of shared history.

    Anyway, it is quite interesting. Some people like novels, some like history. Both can inform us about our own lives today.

  10. 10 10 Neil

    The Mayan civilization thrived for over 2000 years. It may be a bit early to determine winners and losers.

  11. 11 11 Neil

    Oops. I see Thomas beat me to this.

  12. 12 12 Doctor Memory

    As good an epitaph for western civilization as many that I’ve heard mooted.

  13. 13 13 Khodge

    I would suggest that, from an anthropological perspective, Macy’s may well be understudied.

    I don’t have any expertise but from an economic and finance perspective, I am sure there is no lack of case studies. An interesting question would be: How many anthropologists read Steve’s blog.

  14. 14 14 Advo

    All those failed civilizations used to be successful civilizations at some point, often for centuries and millenia; they persisted for far longer than the US empire before it was put into terminal decline by the emergence of banana republicanism.

  15. 15 15 nobody.really

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat George Santayana–a punishment disproportionate to the crime.

  16. 16 16 Richard D.

    Mr. Pancs’ real point is not that we ought willfully
    ignore history, but rather that we should be willing to
    make value judgements. This is especially trenchant in
    our egalitarian culture, where decent citizens are
    shocked by such discrimination.

  17. 17 17 Richard D.

    Advo:
    “All those failed civilizations used to be successful
    civilizations at some point… they persisted for far longer
    than the US empire”

    Indeed, a great many civilizations have existed. Which one
    invented novocaine?

    ‘length of persistence’ isn’t my criterion for successful -

  18. 18 18 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Advo Hey, semi-interesting update on an exchange we had here a few months ago. Drop me a line at my blog (linked here) and I’ll send you the details.

  19. 19 19 Ken B

    Richard D
    The Roman one invented Novocaine. Or does not the continuance of language, institutions, and customs count for naught?

  20. 20 20 Ken B

    Richard D. 16
    I hope you are right. I think you make a great point with your speculation. I am skeptical though.

  21. 21 21 Ken B

    Perhaps they are not the precursors of us. Perhaps we are the afterglow of them.

    (This is not alas original but I forget where it’s from.)

  22. 22 22 Harold

    #15. I have a quote: ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Can’t remember where I heard it before though.

  23. 23 23 Dave

    I think the actual quote was “Those who do not study the past are currently running for office.”

  24. 24 24 Scott H.

    #7. I’m sure the Brits will be happy to know we regard stepping off their ships just as we regard savages stepping out of the woods. Thanks for nothin!

  25. 25 25 Scott H.

    #16 But we do make value judgements. Extinct civilizations ultimately proved that they were viable, compatible, and sustainable with the Earth by ultimately disappearing into it. Our civilization on the other hand…

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