A wonderful writers’ group I’m part of recently started discussing civilization. There were many sub-discussions, but one thing struck my interest: someone pointed out that our civilization, unlike any that has gone before is global, networked across the entire planet. And thus, how it might fall cannot be predicted from studying past empires, which were just isolated pockets without the network effects.
Secondly, they pointed out that we’re extremely reliant on advanced technology – from mining resources to everything else – and were this state of affairs to collapse, we’d have little hope of recovery.
In short: if this goes south, we’d be fucked.
My understanding is different. From what I’ve read, empires past were pretty global. The Silk Roads connected five immense chunks – China, the Mongol empire, India, the Persian empires in the middle, and the Roman empire, with ancillary kingdoms feeding into this vast trunk network. They were definitely not isolated and their economies were as intricately interlinked as ours were. Along the Road spread humans, capital, and ideas – including the Abrahamic faiths.
The only thing that has changed is the speed at which we communicate. So definitely not a unique scenario, and definitely one that can be understood by studying past empires.
Technology is a more nuanced problem – it took many generations to recover technology once that trunk network of the Silk Road fell, but it was done anyway. Most of our base technology today was built in the last hundred years or so. If civilization does fall, it’ll take us much faster to recover, because the research is already done and the knowledge wil be lying around.
Today’s civilization is actually remarkably resilient in that regard – or at least what Nassim Taleb terms ‘antifragile’. Knowledge is distributed at a far more even rate that anything in times past. (Almost) the sum total of human knowledge can be cached in every country in the world. Humans are also healthier, live almost twice as long as they used to, and thus will be able to work on longer projects. Should a Black Swan event occur, barring something like nuclear winter, we’d bounce right back up in a different shape.
Anyway, an incomplete thought pattern. I need to follow this to its conclusion.
Last modified: November 26, 2018