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

awesomesauce

Disco unicorn!
Joined
Apr 23, 2018
Messages
191
The destruction of submarine cables as @awesomesauce points out would result in far worse communication problems but even then you could expect a certain level of connection to be restored using satellite uplink and other methods.
Very true, cutting undersea cables wouldn't completely sever communication, but it would cripple it until it could be repaired. 99% of our data traffic goes through those cables and we just don't have the bandwidth available anywhere else to compensate in a situation where too many cables were broken. I would guess that it would be some kind of global emergency, a massive geological convulsion, or deliberate sabotage, and government and emergency use of alternate channels would be prioritized. So, you know. No Netflix.

Now there's a post-Cold War reboot idea for Hunt for Red October.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,081
Location
Idaho
>Actually destroying cities is easy
Examples, please.

>I think you might go broke betting on Joe Average in the short term.
But we're not talking the short term here. The people of *any* city in *any* time period were utterly dependent upon the countryside. This ain't news. And they suffered enormous disruptions. Killing a city is quite difficult. All the examples I know of required human agency (essentially genocide).

It's interesting to me that this discussion, and all others I've heard, presume not the end of the world but the end of the First World. How would people fare in other parts of the world? Much would depend on the nature of the catastrophe, of course. Heck, for some islands in the Pacific, the End of the World as They Know It is pretty much at hand.
 
Last edited:

RJM Corbet

Deus Pascus Corvus
Supporter
Joined
Mar 25, 2011
Messages
2,818
Location
Devon UK
But even if most internet information was permanently deleted, computers would still be able to access hard storage files? Where most important information is almost certainly backed-up. Is there anything that could in theory destroy the ability of most computers to access hard storage files offline?
 

Edward M. Grant

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2015
Messages
401
Location
The Frozen North
I just wanted to correct you here. A Cloud based online networking solution doesn't contain a single point of failure. The whole idea behind the Cloud is they use geographically diverse multi failure redundant systems. So you would need to nuke multiple server farms across the globe.
Yes, that's the theory.

The reality, though, is that very few companies do that. Most just put up a virtual machine somewhere in one region and call it a day. So when Amazon goes down in America, you can still watch Netflix, but you can no longer control your 'smart' thermostat or 'smart' stove.

Netflix is one of the most robust 'cloud' services because they regularly do switchovers to other sites, and intentionally force their software to randomly crash to verify that it will rapidly recover from an unintentional crash. But even of the companies that do support a switchover to a different region, few are willing to risk doing that, then it fails when they actually need to do it.
 

Edward M. Grant

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2015
Messages
401
Location
The Frozen North
I think it was either Harry Turtledove or Eric Flint who said that, following a disaster, it wouldn’t be too hard to get back to a Victorian level of technology. The problem would be pushing it much further.
I'd say the big problem is that pretty much all modern tech is heavily reliant on chip fabs. To jump from Victorian tech to today's tech, you need to be able to build large numbers of complex chips. Those complex chips rely on already-existing complex chips that can run the design and layout software, and expensive and complex fabs that can build them. And the support services, like making masks for the fabs.

If we lose those, it's going to take a long time to rebuild them. And we can't build modern tech until we do, except by using existing stocks of chips.

After a reversion to Victorian tech, Indiana Jones might be hunting for a fabled lost stash of 486 chips, not the Holy Grail.
 

Edward M. Grant

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2015
Messages
401
Location
The Frozen North
The people of *any* city in *any* time period were utterly dependent upon the countryside.
But they didn't have 'just in time' delivery that means they'll run out of food in two days. They also didn't have houses that rely on electricity and gas to heat them in the winter, and will drop to twenty below zero in a day or two if those go out.

They also had fewer crazy people (since crazies tended not to survive back then), and they had weapons to defend themselves against those that existed.

How would people fare in other parts of the world?
I'd say Africa would be toast. The Middle East would be the Middle East, but with a lot less people. India and China would be in trouble, but probably survive as intact societies. Hawaii would be... interesting; way too many people to support with its own production.
 

Dave

Custom title not found
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 5, 2001
Messages
18,885
Location
Way on Down South, London Town
>I think you might go broke betting on Joe Average in the short term.
But we're not talking the short term here. The people of *any* city in *any* time period were utterly dependent upon the countryside. This ain't news. And they suffered enormous disruptions. Killing a city is quite difficult. All the examples I know of required human agency (essentially genocide).
I both agree and disagree with you. First, cities are much bigger, so, there is a matter of scale. If you think that a city with a population of millions being reduced to thousands is not "killing it" then that is merely an argument of semantics. Second, supply chains are longer and more complex. Check where your supermarket vegetables some from. It isn't from a farmer coming to the city once a week, but flown in by aeroplane across continents. In addition, "Average Joe" himself, he doesn't even know how to cook meals anymore if they don't come in a plastic tub or a box from out of the freezer.

However, cities and towns are built in strategic places - river mouths, where rivers pass through mountains, or at the place where the tides turn on rivers - and in defensible places - on hills and on land surrounded by rivers. So, unless they are somewhere like Milton Keynes or Las Vegas they will still be the best place to defend, and to trade and to hold markets. So, they will remain in those places and be rebuilt.

It's interesting to me that this discussion, and all others I've heard, presume not the end of the world but the end of the First World. How would people fare in other parts of the world? Much would depend on the nature of the catastrophe, of course. Heck, for some islands in the Pacific, the End of the World as They Know It is pretty much at hand.
This is a good point. I think it is partly because people write about what they know and I expect the majority of us posting here live in First World cities. I expect that rural less developed places would fare better, if they aren't islands underneath a higher sea level, merely because they don't have as far to fall.
 

Edward M. Grant

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2015
Messages
401
Location
The Frozen North
I expect that rural less developed places would fare better, if they aren't islands underneath a higher sea level, merely because they don't have as far to fall.
But many of them have populations much larger than their natural carrying capacity. And often have underlying resentments between natives and newcomers that will rapidly turn violent once there's not enough food to go around.

I don't think many Pacific islands would be good places to be if the ships and planes stopped coming. Particularly if you're not a native. Whereas tribes who still live in the Amazon jungle might not even notice a collapse for a few years.
 

RJM Corbet

Deus Pascus Corvus
Supporter
Joined
Mar 25, 2011
Messages
2,818
Location
Devon UK
But they didn't have 'just in time' delivery that means they'll run out of food in two days. They also didn't have houses that rely on electricity and gas to heat them in the winter, and will drop to twenty below zero in a day or two if those go out.

They also had fewer crazy people (since crazies tended not to survive back then), and they had weapons to defend themselves against those that existed.



I'd say Africa would be toast. The Middle East would be the Middle East, but with a lot less people. India and China would be in trouble, but probably survive as intact societies. Hawaii would be... interesting; way too many people to support with its own production.
I'd dispute that: Africa could be a place least tech dependent, where very many people cook with paraffin and where even a coca-cola tin isn't thrown away unless it can't be used as an oil burner or something else. I'm probably exaggerating, but the principle remains. Necessity makes for innovation. And Shanghai and Mumbai are both huge cities ...
 
Last edited:

Edward M. Grant

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2015
Messages
401
Location
The Frozen North
Another thing to consider is that many Western nations are seeing a radical divergence in political opinions between town and country. If you look at a map of the US elections, for example, you find that pretty much all the votes for Clinton came from a few big cities, and everywhere else voted for Trump. Here in Canada, we're increasingly heading the same way, with left-wing cities and right-wing countryside.

So, if there was a major collapse, not only would the cities lose the supplies they rely on from the countryside, but those living in the country might actively work to blockade those cities, because why would they support people who hate them?
 

Edward M. Grant

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2015
Messages
401
Location
The Frozen North
I'd dispute that: Africa is a place where even a coca-cola tin gets used as an oil burner or something else. I'mainly exaggerating, but the principle remains. Necessity makes for innovation. And Shanghai and Mumbai are both huge cities ...
Without modern medicine, Africa will have no way to prevent the spread of diseases that will kill off most of its population.

There are reasons the population there was a tiny fraction of its current size until a century or two back. And disease is one of the most important.

Edit: and I didn't mean to imply that China and India wouldn't see massive problems too with their huge populations, just that I think they'd hold together as nations, whereas much of the rest of the world would break up into tribalism.
 
Last edited:

Onyx

Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2018
Messages
1,000
I don't have quite as much faith in 'education' - and I'm not criticising schools here - there is much that schools don't teach, and shouldn't need to teach. I've read recent research (which I can't reference and is possibly anecdotal) that young people can't name wild flowers (while our grandparents would name them all) - a symptom of our disconnect with nature. I've also read that young people can't do DIY and always need to get a tradesman in to do the work. @Onyx says most people have a home machine shop. That is not my experience in the UK, and certainly not for 'twentysomethings'. Having said that, my own kids are not completely useless - my daughter went to a girls school where she was taught to wire a plug. However, look at this thread https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/570168/ and the all the skills we learnt that are now totally redundant.
Actually, I said "many people" have machine tools - and by that I meant maybe 1 in 1000. Compared to 70 years ago, many more people have the ability to craft technology today. More people are restoring cars, renovating their homes, building their own PCs and that sort of thing. Home Depot is a testament to this DIY wave. We are less dependent on "tradesman" than we used to be, and if something happened to the usual infrastructure, a huge number of amateur tradesman would emerge.
 

RJM Corbet

Deus Pascus Corvus
Supporter
Joined
Mar 25, 2011
Messages
2,818
Location
Devon UK
Without modern medicine, Africa will have no way to prevent the spread of diseases that will kill off most of its population.

There are reasons the population there was a tiny fraction of its current size until a century or two back. And disease is one of the most important.

Edit: and I didn't mean to imply that China and India wouldn't see massive problems too with their huge populations, just that I think they'd hold together as nations, whereas much of the rest of the world would break up into tribalism.
That's moot. But in Africa no-one throws out their toaster or washing machine because the fuse in the plug has blown. There aren't many charity shops: when you've read your books, you sell them -- you don't give them away.

Supermarkets don't throw away out of date food. It's given to charity on the expiry date. Charities have to apply and meet criteria to receive it. Edible food just isn't thrown away. Within reason. The first thing you do if your fridge breaks is try to fix it.
 
Last edited:

RJM Corbet

Deus Pascus Corvus
Supporter
Joined
Mar 25, 2011
Messages
2,818
Location
Devon UK
Incidentally South Africa was the first country in the world to introduce charging for supermarket plastic bags. And when you've drunk your coke, you return the bottle to any shop and get your deposit back ... or leave it for a poor person. It's always been like that.

EDIT: I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult. But Cape Town -- and southern Africa in general -- has some of the best hotels in the world, Africa isn't as backward as the west perhaps imagines. And China and India are important tech nations, imo ...

But that's enough from me. I'm getting tired of the sound if my own opinions, and these forums are, as usual, seriously eroding my reading time, lol
 
Last edited:

Parson

This world is not my home
Supporter
Joined
Oct 11, 2006
Messages
8,447
Location
Iowa
So, if there was a major collapse, not only would the cities lose the supplies they rely on from the countryside, but those living in the country might actively work to blockade those cities, because why would they support people who hate them?
Living in the country as I do I am a sure as I can be that when trouble hits country folk help. I believe the issue would be that at least in the Western Democracies farmers are about as dependent on stores as anyone else. We largely do not garden, we manage cash crops. My Dad's farm in the 40's and 50's could get along by itself quite well indeed. (As a small child I lived on a farm without electricity or running water) But today most farms have at most crops and feed animals, some have one or the other.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,081
Location
Idaho
To invoke the OP subject line, human history is not going to provide much guidance about any sort of collapse of civilization. And the reference to the Dark Ages is ahistorical and the 7thc is highly unlikely to be level to which civilization would collapse. Also, the collapse would not be uniform. I'm out.
 

Dave

Custom title not found
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 5, 2001
Messages
18,885
Location
Way on Down South, London Town
To invoke the OP subject line, human history is not going to provide much guidance about any sort of collapse of civilization. And the reference to the Dark Ages is ahistorical and the 7thc is highly unlikely to be level to which civilization would collapse. Also, the collapse would not be uniform. I'm out.
I totally agree. I think we decided all that back on page 3 or 4 of this discussion. Please don't leave the conversation on account of what I replied to you though. It is precisely because I do agree with you that I don't think the siege of a Medieval walled city is going to provide much guidance to that of a Beirut or Damascus, though there must be some parallels and therefore your specialist knowledge is relevant. I also agree with you that you cannot kill a city. Even in the bombed out concrete shells of cities attacked by nerve gases there are still people living. I only think that there is an argument whether that is really 'living'.

I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult. But Cape Town -- and southern Africa in general -- has some of the best hotels in the world, Africa isn't as backward as the west perhaps imagines. And China and India are important tech nations, imo ...

But that's enough from me. I'm getting tired of the sound if my own opinions, and these forums are, as usual, seriously eroding my reading time, lol
Sorry that you also feel the need to leave because people have a skewed view of these parts of the world. All that I meant was that some of the technology and skills still in use in Africa and China - clockwork radios, people who can mend TVs with soldering irons, washing machines that don't have complex electronic programs - would help them survive a world wide collapse better.

However, this thread has possibly run its course now. I'm not sure there is any more to say, given that the OP subject line is so flawed.
 

RJM Corbet

Deus Pascus Corvus
Supporter
Joined
Mar 25, 2011
Messages
2,818
Location
Devon UK
I totally agree. I think we decided all that back on page 3 or 4 of this discussion. Please don't leave the conversation on account of what I replied to you though. It is precisely because I do agree with you that I don't think the siege of a Medieval walled city is going to provide much guidance to that of a Beirut or Damascus, though there must be some parallels and therefore your specialist knowledge is relevant. I also agree with you that you cannot kill a city. Even in the bombed out concrete shells of cities attacked by nerve gases there are still people living. I only think that there is an argument whether that is really 'living'.

Sorry that you also feel the need to leave because people have a skewed view of these parts of the world. All that I meant was that some of the technology and skills still in use in Africa and China - clockwork radios, people who can mend TVs with soldering irons, washing machines that don't have complex electronic programs - would help them survive a world wide collapse better.

However, this thread has possibly run its course now. I'm not sure there is any more to say, given that the OP subject line is so flawed.
Dave, I didn't leave because I was in any way upset or offended. I just felt, like you, that further discussion would be going nowhere, really. But we are probably the first generation in all history to have our literal lives hang dependent on the sort of technology we cannot ourselves alter or repair. It used to be that if your typewriter broke or misfunctioned, you could have a go at the little springs to try and do something to correct the failure. You could give a thing a kick, and sometimes it worked. But you can't do that with a computer. With the Internet we are completely powerless to take anything apart and try to patch it, lol ...
 
Last edited:
Top