Thursday, June 12, 2014

Manual for Civilization

I thought XKCD was joking about the contents of the Manual for Civilization project of the Long Now group. I looked it up. Urk.

Some of the contributors suggested for technical works, to rebuild the physical infrastructure (Backyard Blacksmith for some starters, and The Drill Press and Minerals for Atomic Energy for later; Merck Manual). Some thought of history (how come Gibbon and not the Durants? They had a much broader sweep), literature (Shakespeare, Hobbes), and so on.

But Munroe isn't exaggerating that much. Asimov: Foundation Trilogy; Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49; Bright: X: the Erotic Treasury; and others like these show up too.

It seems as though some want to reboot the culture of the modern West, or at least the last several years of it. The Iliad and Gilgamesh are there, but not the Bible. It is kind of hard to reboot Western Civ without the Bible. It is hard to develop a culture without a religion too.

Earlier this year they had this breakdown:

  • 484: Mechanics of Civilization
  • 420: Cultural Canon
  • 225: Science Fiction
  • 299: Futurism

Do I need to point out that a "Futurism" category is worthless for restarting a civilization? If the collection serves its intended purpose, the future is not what was expected.

Alexander Rose's post has a graph of technological progress that is triply wrong: it leaves out interactions with India and China, doesn't notice the technical collapse during the Roman empire, and has a hole for the "Christian Dark Ages" that is incorrect and slanderous. However, he has some good book suggestions (Slow Sand Filtration).

The Great Books set makes a nice shortcut for a lot of western culture, especially if you overlap both editions. They too left out the Bible, though it is included in their guided readings, because they said they expected every home would have one.

A Canticle For Leibowitz, anyone?


Mark Reiff said...

They have a religion. Secularism is a faith, and it works out about as well as well as any other dogma, with all the attendant denigration of un-believers.

james said...

I don't know that it "works out about as well." Marxism has a unifying faith in the future paradise on earth, but most of what American secularism aims for, or is their means to the paradise on earth, is strongly individualistic and materialistic: not really a good recipe for unity. The only unifying features that come to mind are the "Two Minutes' Hate" and shared amusements.

Mark Reiff said...

Yup. It doesn't have to be profound, and we already have our new religions. Republican Vs. Democrat, and the shared religion of civil government. What is the Pledge of Allegiance other than an Apostle's Creed for America?