Sun Sep 23rd, 2007 at 02:43:41 AM EST
There seems to be a growing consensus on this site that our global civilisation is unsustainable. Some people limit themselves to predicting financial collapse, others predict another Great Depression precipitated by peak oil, others yet a die-off maybe comparable to 14th century Europe, others a die-off acompanied by ecological collapse (massive crop failures, a discontinuous shift in the planet's climate, mass extinction). Some people say industrial civilisation cannot survive. Others might say 'good riddance' to that: let's revert to a more pastoral way of life. Others say our civilization is (could be? should be?) morphing into a low-footprint information society anyway... There are also people who will say that the fundamentals are sound and that 50 years from now the stock markets will be at 10 times their current value, that globalization is lifting millions out of poverty, that we will transition to new forms of energy technology.
But suppose it got bad. Suppose it got one notch worse than you can contemplate.
I can actually live with the prospect of a massive die-off, even a massive die-off with ecological collapse. The world didn't end with the European black death of the 14th Century.
What I think I have a serious problem with is a collapse of civilisation to the point where knowledge is lost. Even worse, where science and technology themselves are blamed for the disaster.
One of the classics of 1950's post-apocalyptic fiction is A Canticle for Leibowitz:
Around the end of the 20th century, industrial civilization was destroyed by ... the "Flame Deluge". Subsequently, there was a violent backlash against the culture of advanced knowledge and technology ... -- the "Simplification". Anyone of learning, and eventually anyone who could even read, was likely to be killed. Illiteracy became almost universal, and books were destroyed en masse.
Isaac Edward Leibowitz had been a Jewish electrical engineer working for the United States military. After surviving the war, he converted to Catholicism and founded a monastic order, the "Albertian Order of Leibowitz", dedicated to preserving knowledge by hiding books, smuggling them to safety (booklegging), memorizing, and copying them. A principal base for the order was an abbey Leibowitz founded in the American southwestern desert (near the military base where he had worked before the war). The exact location of the abbey is not revealed, but it is on an old road, probably part of the National Highway System, that was "a portion of the shortest route from the Great Salt Lake to Old El Paso". ... Centuries after his death, the Abbey is still preserving the "memorabilia", the collected writings that have survived the Flame Deluge and the Simplification, in the hope that they will help future generations reclaim forgotten science.
On more optimistic days I think "oh, sure, civilisation will collapse but we'll still have WiMax" or something to that effect. But in more gloomy moments I wonder whether my pie-in-the-sky idea of an ETopia
centered on an "ET Conference Centre" of sorts is not in a way a seed of something not unlike the Albertian Order of Leibowitz.