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Civilization And Its Enemies

By QuantumG in Culture
Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:01:31 AM EST
Tags: (all tags)

The future starts now. That may seem like a truism, but for many dreamers it's a fact often forgot. Most people today are afraid of the future, so much so that we have names for the minority who welcome it: technophiles, transhumanists, futurists, and space cadets. The continuing march of progress is frightening to so many of us, that words we have to ridicule and scorn those who are opposed to it have fallen out of use, or changed meaning: technophobe, luddite, naturalist, environmentalist.


Spaceflight is the ultimate achievement of industrial civilization. That is debatable, but in terms of utilizing all parts of industry simultaneously, no other single activity even comes close. I don't think it is a coincidence that it became popular to say the Apollo moon landings were faked around the same time that US manufacturing was seen to be declining. In case you're wondering they're both urban myths.

Mere understanding of how industrial civilization functions is lacking in the popular consciousness. Quick, where was your chair made? That one is probably too easy. What's it made out of? Where do each of those materials come from? Which processes are used to refine them? How are they transported? How are they combined? How much labor goes into each step? How much electricity is used? How is the electricity generated? Almost certainly all your answers are wrong and just finding out would take years.

More dangerous is the assumption: none of it is really necessary. Industry is seen by some as the means by which consumers get plasma TVs and video game consoles. They say the really important things in life - food, shelter, medicine and love - are not made in a factory, or at least need not. They advocate a return to a pre-industrial age where subsistence farming isn't a haphazard drudgery and natural remedies are just as effective as modern pharmaceuticals. Where "living in harmony with nature" means something more than squatting in the dirt.

Discontent with modern life is the inevitable result of a general ignorance of how outright fantastic it has become. It's not just the failure to study history - although few understand how advanced the Romans were compared to the dark ages that followed their conquest by hordes with no apparent appreciation for advanced culture - it's the failure to write history. I've read many books about Apollo, but I've yet to find one that explains where they got the metal to build the command module. We don't write that stuff down, it's just considered part of the background noise. Similarly, the only people who talk about where steak comes from is militant vegans who want to put a stop to it - and typically a good chunk of the rest of modern life.

Who cares what a bunch of hippies say? They have the right to their own opinion, right? So long as they're not hurting anyone... ahh, so there's the line. Do we have to wait until actual violence before we tell them they're wrong? If they're advocating violence can we move beyond verbal education? What happens if they win?

I think we have to consider that last question. Last time the hordes won, the dark age lasted ten centuries. Humanity took a few hundred years more just to get back to the level of Nepos and we have no idea how much was lost in the fire at Alexandria. So long as "returning to nature" is seen as a viable alternative to industrialized civilization, the threat will exist. I don't think there's much value in making the argument that we passed the no return sign long ago, as most rational people already know.

To me, it comes down to this.

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Civilization And Its Enemies | 30 comments (27 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
We have to choose (2.14 / 7) (#1)
by Lexx Core on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 02:51:47 AM EST

Go back on space.

Fix the economy.

Save the environment.

World peace.

End poverty and world hunger.

Save endangered animals.

We can only do one so choose wisely.

bankers force choices w/artificial scarcity of $ (1.50 / 4) (#18)
by donnalee on Sun Sep 25, 2011 at 12:07:49 PM EST



---
Guess I'll be adding this to tomorrow's comment dump!
[ Parent ]
An infinite amount of (none / 1) (#22)
by sholden on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 10:10:57 AM EST

dollars achieves none of those things, so clearly you are a moron.

--
The world's dullest web page


[ Parent ]
Human spaceflight is a scam (3.00 / 3) (#2)
by alba on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 06:06:29 AM EST

Bringing humans into space is expensive, dangerous, and achieves nothing tangible.
Nothing tangible means that there is no ability to measure economic success.
Therefore a space program inevitably develops into a state-directed economy detached from reality.

This is very similar to the defense industry, by the way.
Just compare what soldiers in Afghanistan actually need with the useless sci-fi weapons that use up most of the budget.

The way to go is unmanned space exploration.
If you really have to expose humans to a lethal environment, try to colonize the seafloor or the Antarctic.

and then what? (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by QuantumG on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 06:41:21 AM EST

I think you have cause and effect mixed up there. It's not like there was some former commercial version of human spaceflight that failed and had to be bailed out by government.. in a few years I expect it'll be quite the opposite. It's because human spaceflight is done by governments that it is uneconomical and done for intangible reasons.

In any case, how would colonizing the antarctic or the sea floor in any way mitigate the threat of another dark age? A space colony is unquestionably the product of industrial civilization.. those arguing that a return to nature is a preferable alternative are at worst non-destructive (they simply leave and go back to Earth) or, more likely, demonstrably laughable. The ones who are dangerous are those that see no value in living in a state of nature while civilization still exists.



Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
Make up your agenda, please (none / 1) (#4)
by alba on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 08:04:17 AM EST

Nobody wants to introduce a law prohibiting manned space flights.
Not even the "bunch of hippies" you like to blame.
So if you want to invest your money into space tourism or lunar real-estate, please do so.
Just don't expect taxpayers to finance your nerdy dreams.

Anyway, as you fail to see what enormous technological challenges the water pressure on the seafloor or the chilling climate of the antarctic pose you seem to be more like a Trekkie than a serious SF aficionado.

[ Parent ]

perhaps you should follow the link (none / 1) (#5)
by QuantumG on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 08:13:15 AM EST

You'll discover that there are indeed people who want to end industrial civilization. Although I expect I've read a lot more of it than you, I sure hope I'm never accused of being "a serious SF aficionado".

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
I admit that bashing liberals is great fun (none / 1) (#11)
by alba on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 02:10:49 PM EST

but your problem are the Christians. Get rid of the religious right, the cult of Armageddon, and most important of all, the people that worship money.


[ Parent ]
Well (1.50 / 2) (#10)
by Lexx Core on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 01:39:12 PM EST

We got the microchip and supercomputers from our space flight technology. Tang as well as freeze dried ice cream. Plus those pens that write upside down.

[ Parent ]
Urban myths, you say? (none / 1) (#6)
by Harry B Otch on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 09:49:00 AM EST

Next you're going to be saying that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter, or that HollyHopDrive doesn't have huge tits.

-----
A lamentable petty bourgeois cry of fear.-.

the hippies will never win. this is america dammit (none / 1) (#8)
by king of fools on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 12:44:46 PM EST


----------------

fade out again

can't hear the video (none / 1) (#13)
by nateo on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 04:19:55 PM EST

on account of i have to compute quietly here so i've got this bitch muted.  who's the geek in the video?

--
"I'm so gonna travel the world, photographing my dick at every location."
  - Vampire Zombie Abu Musab al Zarqawi
[ Parent ]
don't know, youtube crashes in chrome on this pc # (none / 1) (#15)
by king of fools on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 05:06:27 PM EST


----------------

fade out again

[ Parent ]
teh geek? some dad... (none / 1) (#24)
by k31 on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 10:50:17 PM EST

he starts off talking about how his son didn't believe that people once went to the moon... and then there was a lot of random quotes and... I think it is the second half of a talk or something, it started quite abruptly without a proper intro.

Anyhow, this is an interesting topic...

Your dollar is you only Word, the wrath of it your only fear. He who has an EAR to hear....
[ Parent ]

who are you? (3.00 / 3) (#9)
by Del Griffith on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 01:06:52 PM EST

did you just awake from a 5 year coma?

-------
I...I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. Because I'm the real article. What you see is what you get. - Me


who is he? (none / 1) (#12)
by mumble on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 03:56:28 PM EST

http://www.blogger.com/profile/17336493213317053535

Not sure why he suddenly decided to return to k5 though.

-----
stats for a better tomorrow
bitcoin: 1GsfkeggHSqbcVGS3GSJnwaCu6FYwF73fR
"They must know I'm here. The half and half jug is missing" - MDC.
"I've grown weary of googling the solutions to my many problems" - MDC.
[ Parent ]

He looks like a total fag. (none / 1) (#14)
by Del Griffith on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 04:24:20 PM EST

so +1fp it is!

-------
I...I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. Because I'm the real article. What you see is what you get. - Me


[ Parent ]

yes (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by QuantumG on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 09:10:44 PM EST

now get off my lawn.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
False dichotomy. Gibson had rastas in space. (1.66 / 3) (#19)
by donnalee on Sun Sep 25, 2011 at 12:09:09 PM EST



---
Guess I'll be adding this to tomorrow's comment dump!
could you explain that? (none / 1) (#21)
by QuantumG on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:34:55 AM EST

Do rastas want to return to nature or otherwise tear down civilization? I haven't read anything about that.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
You had to ask! (none / 1) (#23)
by Pnarp on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:04:18 PM EST

Quick, where was your chair made?
In a small, squarish factory in the lower left corner of China, by equally small, squarish Chinese laborers.
That one is probably too easy.
Actually, it wasn't! I had to completely disassemble my chair to find this information out, written in tiny, tiny script along the threads of one of the bolts.
What's it made out of?
The chair or the bolts? The chair is a combination of the finest particle board money can buy, glued together with the most combustible adhesive that can be found, and bolted together with the boltiest bolts this side of the Mississippi.

The bolts are zinc.
Where do each of those materials come from?
Particle board is delivered to the factory by the particle board fairy. The bolts are smelted from 100% natural smelt.
Which processes are used to refine them?
The smelt? Probably filleting, but I'm not an expert on fishmongery.
How are they transported?
On the backs of thousands of tiny golden cockroaches. Tiny golden cockroaches that can span the pacific carrying row upon row of 40' shipping containers on their backs, that is.
How are they combined?
I do believe cockroaches schtupp each other just like any other animal.
How much labor goes into each step?
The chair... or the cockroach schtupping???
How much electricity is used?
One whole watt.
How is the electricity generated?
Ever wonder why China just imported six billion Made-in-the-U.S.A. heavy-duty hamster wheels? Well, now you know. And knowing is 49.999999032% of the battle.

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We do write it down (none / 1) (#25)
by k31 on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 10:57:56 PM EST

People do write down how stuff is done, there's a whole sub-genre of "how stuff is made" books, documentaries... heck, that used to be all you could see on Discovery Channel at one point.

Of course, that is not enough detail to actually do it...but that is why engineering programs and MBAs are so important. Sure, the latter get more attention right now but that is because they assume that they will always be enough engineers.

Now, I also think that undersea exploration is more important than space, as is a more extreme view of recycling: why mine the raw earth when you can mine trash, which is rich in almost everything you need.

Science can help us solve our problems, but indeed, there is a treat of a dark age... and in some ways it has already started, because few people understand, for example, the whole "Money as Debt" problem...

It is quite possible, I think, that humanity will continue to have storms of mass social self destruction (riots and revolutions) distracting from the real problems of climate change, the need for full recycling, the pollution of the planet, the need to train engineers en mass, and the problem with delusion (e.g. religious) thinking.

It is also possible that a new way of life will continue to emerge, coming from the wisdom of the ages, and that widescale reformation will take place.

We live in interesting times.
 

Your dollar is you only Word, the wrath of it your only fear. He who has an EAR to hear....

I think industry is almost self-sustaining. (none / 1) (#26)
by Pentashagon on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 02:03:35 PM EST

It's incredibly evolutionarily successful, given the proper resources.  Beyond a certain threshold it is difficult to remove.  Name one previously industrialized nation that has reverted to farming or hunting/gathering.

While the Greeks and Romans had pretty neat civilizations they were still founded on farming and iron-age industry (basically enough to make swords, saddles, and statues).  Civilization did not truly change at its roots until the invention of the scientific method and the rise of rationalism when it became possible to actually discover new metallurgy and build engines.  Engines, by far, are the heart of industrial and post-industrial civilizations.  If we ever forget how to make engines (whether they're heat engines or solar panels or nuclear reactors) then we're fucked.  Considering that hobbyists can build their own engines with a low-end CNC machine, I don't see that kind of knowledge disappearing from the right hands any time soon.

The next stage is going to be local fabrication of everything with 3d printers and other miniaturized manufacturing and mining processes (basically what's missing is small generic semiconductor foundries and robotic assemblers for electronics [motor windings, inductors, etc.).  Just about everything else can be printed/cast/machined automatically at this point).  At that point almost everyone on earth will be able to own a little copy of the entire industrial revolution.  Industrialization will be unstoppable at that point, barring complete destruction of humanity.

one could say the same about mathematics (none / 1) (#27)
by QuantumG on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 06:55:42 AM EST

and then the Muslims banned it.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
mathematics alone doesn't have tangible (none / 1) (#28)
by Pentashagon on Sat Oct 01, 2011 at 03:36:46 PM EST

benefits.  Industry clearly does.

[ Parent ]
A rallying cry against an imagined enemy. (1.50 / 2) (#29)
by Wen Jian on Sat Oct 01, 2011 at 05:26:13 PM EST

(Oceania was at war with Eurasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia)
It was an experiment in lulz. - Rusty
Yikes (3.00 / 2) (#30)
by thiswillbegreat on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 04:24:44 PM EST

Boy, there's a lot to digest here.  Do you have any empirical evidence here?  This seems awfully subjective, and you just roll one conclusion into another, until suddenly we're at the precipice of the Dark Ages 2: Non-electric Boogaloo.
Semper ubi sub ubi.
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Civilization And Its Enemies | 30 comments (27 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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