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Using Human History as a guide Could Our Present Civilization Fall Into a New Dark Age?

BAYLOR

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#1
How are we in the present like and unlike past civilizations that have suffered that fate ? What do you think are our vulnerabilities in this regard. And what would be the signs that we are entering a dark age? Are Darks avoidable or are they inevitable in the cycle of History ?


Thought ? :unsure:
 

sknox

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#2
What are you imagining the Dark Age (rather silly we make that a plural) was like? What were its characteristics? You would have to identify those first before I would try to answer it. Fair warning: you are talking to a medievalist here (though my field is late Middle Ages).
 

Harpo

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#3
Quite apart from the Digital dark age...
Digital dark age - Wikipedia

...which we're already in, and which will lead to problems we cannot see coming, there's also the various "anti" science movements, such as climate change denial, Flat Earthers, nonsense regarding vaccines and chemtrails, and a general feeling among gullible idiots that chanting "USA! USA! USA!" is the way forward.
 

Vertigo

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#4
I don't think our biggest vulnerability is loss of information through hardware or software obsolescence, a small risk maybe, but as most information is now stored in various open formats now (pdf, jpg, mpeg, etc.) I don't think it's all that big a risk and it's diminishing rather than growing. I think the biggest risk is the one alluded to by @Harpo and is people denying science; whether that be climate change denial, flat Earthers, creationists or any other form or rejection of science. Whilst one would expect that, as technology advances, such views would become more and more marginalised in fact the opposite seems to be happening.

Could that precipitate another 'dark age'? I really don't know but, where once I would have laughed at the idea, I now look at things like the teaching of evolutionism in American schools and I wonder...

[I also think we need to be very careful on a discussion like this to not drift into political and/or religious argument.]
 

Justin Swanton

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#5
If by the Dark Ages you mean the post-Roman world of the 5th century onwards then it wasn't actually that dark. Unlike pretty much every Hollywood portrayal, there weren't bands of screaming, unwashed peasants being ridden down by barbarian raiders under a perpetually overcast sky.

For anything resembling a real Dark Ages you need to look at Western Europe after the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the first half of the 9th century, up to the unification of the German dukes under the Ottonian dynasty towards the end of the 10th. Europe was then being ravaged by Vikings, Avars and Saracens. It seems that a genuine dark age society as popularly conceived only happens in a time of perpetual raiding and warfare, which happened when the first two tiers of political authority collapsed (Emperor and kings), leaving the disunited dukes vulnerable to attack. But even then it was more a case of a village living peacefully most of the time but in fear of a future raid, rather than ongoing fire and pillage.

Oh, and the peasants knew about soap (and the sun did shine sometimes).
 

Cathbad

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#9
You sure? It's Europe, after all.

;)
I was in Germany for two and a half years, posted in Neu Ulm. As I've told others, during that time, we might have had a full month of sunshine. So when I see a medieval show with dark skies - I'm not surprised...
 

BAYLOR

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#12
OK, but I'm still wondering what you are picturing when you say "Dark Ages".
Cities abandoned or significantly reduced in population and falling to neglect and ruin, infrastructure disintegration and collapse. No money ,economic activity reduced to barter and salvage. Literacy abandoned , knowledge and learning gone and lost.
 

svalbard

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#13
Cities abandoned or reduced population an falling to neglect and ruin, No money ,economic activity reduced to barter and salvage. Literacy abandoned , knowledge and learning gone and lost.
It rarely happened over a large geographic area and such calamaties were entirely localised ie. Britain 5/6th centuries scant records and for the same period in France we know quite a lot.

I imagine the same would happen today in a collapse of civilisation, although the difference now is that we have WMDs.
 

BAYLOR

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#14
It rarely happened over a large geographic area and such calamaties were entirely localised ie. Britain 5/6th centuries scant records and for the same period in France we know quite a lot.

I imagine the same would happen today in a collapse of civilisation, although the difference now is that we have WMDs.
The Mayan Civilization in Central America around the 9th century, collapsed . Whole cities were left abandoned.
 

kythe

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#15
I've wondered something along a similar line - is the US the primary source of this "anti-intellectualism" movement, or is this retrogression a world wide phenomenon?

Because I would like to maintain hope that even if US civilization falls, it wouldn't be so devastating if the rest of the world carries on. :unsure:
 

sknox

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#17
Cities abandoned or significantly reduced in population and falling to neglect and ruin, infrastructure disintegration and collapse. No money ,economic activity reduced to barter and salvage. Literacy abandoned , knowledge and learning gone and lost.
Cities in ruin. It could happen, I reckon. I'd vote for long, slow deterioration over cataclysm. The thing about a catastrophe is that people try to bounce back. The current generation remembers and wants to recover. But when things just get gradually worse, we humans adjust. Take a look at John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar for a treatment of that theme.

No money; barter economy -- that one pretty much never happened. Money appears very early in human history and persists even in the face of general collapse. I can't construct a scenario in which everything anyone ever wants can be handled by barter.

Literacy and learning is somewhat similar. Literacy, once gained, can be reduced but is never lost. There's no precedent for this one because we have never had such widespread literacy in any civilization. Schools can collapse--all you need is to have whatever government entities are funding them to collapse. That indeed did happen, and monastic schools came only in the wake of that collapse. Sacred texts provide a powerful incentive to literacy. As for knowledge, of course that never disappears, though it can transform into a purely oral tradition. Farmers still need to know how to farm, people will still make clothes and they'll still build shelters. They could very well forget how to make skyscrapers.
 

Overread

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#20
I think anti-science is simply a result of lowering education standards and has been there for a long long while (actually its always been there); however in the past you didn't hear about it. The internet and world media allow us to hear about a lot more things going on than we've ever been able to before. This, coupled with vastly expanded populations, means that yes there are more than before; and yes we do hear about it - but overall its not actually holding us back. Slows things down; acts as a distraction, but it hasn't stopped science.


More likely the biggest risks and potential triggers for a spring into a regression could come from

1) Plague - massive plague could well be a trigger that crashes world populations. In todays world a plague that resists modern medication could well depopulate many nations very quickly; especially targeting the most mobile and affluent nations. Poorer nations and more isolated populations might well have increased capacity to resist infection simply because of reduced contact; however they'd also have reduced chances to develop a cure or vaccine.

2) War - we have some utterly horrific weapons of war now. A World War between developed nations could now cause untold devastation and push the world back if no nation came to rise to the fore. Nuclear Winter on a near global scale could well cause huge electronic information loss; loss of data centres (most are in big urban areas and key targets); and also huge loss of life.

3) Electronic shutdown - a bit more tricky since most data is replicated in either offline machines or paper. However a magnetic shift or a very powerful virus could potentially cause shut-down of many world systems. This would likely set things back and the loss of electronics would certainly shut down a huge amount of modern research.



In general in order to stop advance all you need is to break information storage, access and comprehension for several generations. Enough of a break and you can quickly make it so that higher level information is very hard to access for those untrained in it. The difficulty is having a major event big enough to shut down all potential avenues - one protection we have today is that education isn't as elite as it once was. We are far from the times when reading and writing were the domain of the affluent - indeed in developed nations we consider them some of the most basic life skills. Even if not everyone reaches very high, the fact that the base skills remain means that we can still access a lot of information and study.
 

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