Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Surviving a Dark Age

If you are one of the few reading this blog you probably already know that Western Civilization in being screwed and the operative question is how badly. I know there still some who believe we can vote our way out of this mess. I used to be one but I'm not so sure any more. Last year Nearly half of US households escaped any federal income tax and, according to the article,
The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment.
I'll wager the ratio is getting even worse. How to you think those who pay no taxes are going to vote?

So it's bad. What are you going to do about it?

Do I know the answer? No. You want answers join a cult. The best I can do today is offer an observation from history.

In the 1,000 year period from about the 5th through the 15th Centuries -- which used to called the Dark Ages but is now known by the more neutral term Middle Ages -- the Christian Monasteries preserved a lot of knowledge by copying Roman and Greek manuscripts.

The monastic life was communal and organized. It spread the necessary labor of feeding the monks and maintaining the monastery over many hands. In the pre-industrial world this was an efficient use of resources and led to a life with sufficient leisure to pray up to eight times a day (Lauds, Prime, Sext, Nones, Terce, Vespers, Compline, and Matins). If the histories are to be believed, the average monk, living as he did without benefit of wine, women or television, had a lot of potential free time. So, idle hands being the Devil's workshop, it was necessary to keep the monks busy when they weren't at prayer or working at tasks necessary for the survival of the monastery. Copying of texts was a good way to accomplish that.

I seriously doubt this was, originally, a deliberate attempt to preserve the knowledge -- it just worked out that way. The lesson is that knowledge stored in a low-tech format like books can be preserved for centuries if need be. There are books out there that are full of the useful information needed to build a civilization. Not having to relearn it all from scratch will give any group with access to such knowledge a huge advantage.

If our species is lucky, the coming endarkenment will not last 1,000 years like the last one did. If we are really lucky, it won't last more than a generation. If some of us can preserve the knowledge in physics, chemistry, engineering, medicine and biology we've learned since Galileo I think the interregnum will be shorter than it will be otherwise.

Some Suggestions:
  • The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics
  • Mechanical Engineers Handbook (AKA Mark's Manual)
  • Grey's Anatomy.
  • Mercks Manual of Differential Diagnosis
  • The Way Things Work.

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