Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Collapse XLI: Books: A Reconsideration

16 October 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

This season must be the earliest and coldest snowstorm we have experienced in some years! My trails to the bees, the greenhouse, the pump house, and the outhouse have become small walled passages that I have to tamp down every day. Our power has become spotty to the point that I do not assume that it will come on at all (and am pleasantly surprised when it does).

I was reflecting on books again (I certainly have plenty of time to reflect, currently). Yes, I know I did this back in August, but that was when the world seemed somewhat at odds but was not yet definitely at odds. My thought, as I scanned my shelves and looked at the book in my hand (one of the old Loeb Classical Library books of Speeches of Isocrates), was that I was living through the effective end of human knowledge.

It sounds drastic, does it not? I sit here, surrounded by my books, conscious of the fact that I will probably never buy another one, and realize not only will I not buy another one – there may not be another one written for a long time indeed.

I suspect that the great libraries of the universities and cities still survive, but who goes to read in them now? And how long will they survive the ravages of time and weather or the simple use of books as fuel? And they are the survivors: all electronic knowledge is effectively locked away as firmly as if it were a dead language, waiting for the translation power of electricity and technology to free it.

If this goes on long enough, I wonder what sort of books will be written, if any are? Diaries I suspect, or perhaps histories. Survival societies do not make writing their first priority. And even then, what will they be written on? The current supply of paper and journals, while quite large (I suspect) if you can find it, will eventually run out. And then what? I have made paper once upon a time, but even that presupposes raw materials – newsprint, for example – to use as a base. Shall we fall back to writing on calf skin?

It is a terrifying and depressing thought to realize that the growth of human knowledge may have effectively stopped. We have always – or at least for close to 4,000 years – recorded something of what we did and what we believed. Not only are we now in danger of losing that knowledge, we are in danger of future generations knowing anything about us.

We simply dissolve into ash, Lucilius: if this situation is not remedied, our descendants will consider us the builders of God towers and flying boxes and know little else about us.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca


  1. Question TB? Do you see a total collapse in the future, or maybe a temporary contraction, say from a revolution or civil war?

  2. I don;t think human knowledge will stop, any more than it has in the past. True, we don't know how the Great Pyramids were built, but we do know that they WERE built, and we DID figure out how to build much greater structures since then.

    My concern is the loss of HISTORY. With most of our literature in electronic format now, it's easier than ever to "redefine" history on the fly. Case in point; in my state, there was a woman who made news as the first illegal alien to be hired to a state government job. The article featured a picture of her standing with her family in front of a HUGE Mexican flag on the day of her graduation from one of OUR state colleges, with her quoting "I do this for Oaxaca, the place that I love." One of my hard Left-leaning colleagues didn't believe me when I told him about it, so I went looking for the article to send him. I found the article, but both the picture and the woman's quote had been EDITED OUT. There was no finding the original version of the article! History had been "redefined." 'Makes you wonder why there is no plan for "dead tree" historic records in the Obama presidential library...

    There are many knowledgeable people out there studying the ruins of lost civilizations, wondering how people who built such great things could have disappeared without a trace. Meanwhile, we're setting ourselves up for the same end, and these same knowledgeable people don't seem to notice...

  3. Glen - To quote that great master of wisdom, Yoda: "Always in motion is the future. Difficult to see".

    A total collapse has a certain grand ring to it, does it not? Entire civilizations snuffed out, small pockets of light across a dark landscape, the struggle for survival and the attempt to build something new and better out of the ruins.

    It probably will not happen like that of course - these things never do. What we can safely do is extrapolate based on past events:

    1) There are such things as societal collapses. Societies and civilizations are born, mature, grow old, and die.

    2) The intricate nature of the world economy has made it such that everything is really dependent on everything else and the world is strung together by a million small parts, each one which could harm the system if it does not work correctly.

    3) The bulk of the world's population is now urban and as such, contributes little to their own survival. In any sort of outage lasting more than a week, cities will become a starving, foul smelling mess at best.

    4) More than ever, people (at in least in the West) do not have the skills they would need to survive in a semi-civilized world.

    5) Our economic structure is built almost completely on debt. At some point, that all comes due.

    This is excludes some of the more ominous options like war, meteors, space aliens - which fall into the category of "Wow, that would be so cool if it was not going to kill us".

    So my assessment would be I cannot see the future, but we are primed in such a way that any small hiccup not attended to could radically alter the system. After all, it is the specialized animals that always go first in a climate change, not the generalists.

  4. Pete, what you state is precisely what Orwell predicted. History is now defined on the fly, or deleted at will. That is why I place so much emphasis on owning old books and have the actual hard copy - someday in the future, these will be the only standard of truth against a variable narrative.

  5. watch david dubyne on youtube if we are at the edge of an ice age or even a few years with no summer it would be good to find out what edibles will grow and mature in the colder weather


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