Ye cannae ignore the laws of social science

Ye cannae ignore the laws of social science

Postby TimLundSE26 » Thu May 01, 2014 12:33 pm

Having just introduced myself, I reproduce verbatim a post I made about The Knowledge on my local Forum. Earlier in the day I'd started another thread there, ''Ye cannae change the laws of physics for HS2", which part explains the subject line here. Lewis responded to the email I sent to him with comments on what I wrote, but I leave that to him to add here.

There’s an interesting book just published, “The Knowledge” with the subtitle “How to rebuild our world from scratch”. Here’s its author in The Guardian, offering some guidelines:

Lewis Dartnell wrote:How to survive the apocalypse

If you were to wake up after a global catastrophe, would you have the knowledge and skills to stay alive? How would you begin to rebuild civilisation?

Source here

For me, it’s a useful corrective for my general view that scientists and engineers are the people most worth listening to, because although what he writes about technical things which interest me – just how do you grow food? – in his section “3. Reinstate agriculture”, and finishes with a hymn of praise “The Greatest Invention” to

the scientific method. It is only by thinking rationally, closely observing the world around you, and asking carefully constrained questions of nature – running experiments – that you will be able to decide which explanatory story (or hypothesis) is more likely to be correct. This knowledge-generating machinery of science is phenomenally successful and will enable the post-apocalyptic society to reconstitute all that is known today. It is science that built our modern world, and it is science that you will need to rebuild again

it doesn’t seem as if he has given any thought to how societies work.

It’s possible I’m being unfair, reacting against his second bit of advice, “2. Leave the cities”, where he writes:

modern urbanised areas simply won't be habitable once the technological bubble that supports them bursts with the apocalypse. With the failure of the power grid and gas supplies, modern apartment blocks would be nigh-on impossible to heat and cook in. And where would you go for fresh water?

because, with the phrase “the technological bubble that supports them”, he’s slipping in an assertion that modern cities are inherently unsustainable, which seems to me to contradict his hope that science will enable us to rebuild our modern world”.

I think he’s just assuming that the current world’s population is inherently unsustainable – which is a fairly common view – but it needs some justification. The fact is that large numbers of people can live together most sustainably in cities, and so far have depended on economic systems which allow food to be produced using high technology by relatively few who don’t choose to live in cities. How does that happen? Well, perhaps there’s also something to be said for understanding social sciences such as economics and politics.

It’s possible the current world population is unsustainable, but if the world’s post Apocalypse population is to recover at all, and ‘our modern world’ means offering the benefits of civic life, then some awareness of the laws of social science would help.
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu May 01, 2014 11:52 am

Re: Ye cannae ignore the laws of social science

Postby Jess » Wed May 07, 2014 12:13 pm

I think that Lewis is right and it would be very unsafe to remain in cities. You only have to look at the riots that spread throughout some of our cities of a couple of years ago to see what would happen if the forces of law and order disappeared. And that is quite apart from trying to live in cold, draughty blocks of flats with no means of heating them or of having water and lighting. Yes, there would be supermarkets and shops with food and bottled water in them but it would not last long - most supermarkets only carry a three day supply and that would soon run out. And what about the number of rotting, dead bodies? The smell alone would be unbearable and with it would come disease and rats, probably in biblical plague proportions. I am not sure what you mean by the laws of social science but common sense works for me - in my view it would be much better to move out of the cities and try and make a life somewhere where food can be grown and you can easily defend yourself if necessary. I think you would need to start with the basics of survival for yourself and those closest to you and see how that works before trying to introduce the benefits of civic life. And if you try and live a decent life, being fair to and considering the needs of everyone, would that not follow automatically anyway?
Posts: 3
Joined: Wed May 07, 2014 11:01 am

Re: Ye cannae ignore the laws of social science

Postby lewis » Thu Jun 05, 2014 11:19 am

I think you're absolutely right, Tim. There is more to a complex civilisation than the visible technology - social and economic factors are of course also important. But as a science book, The Knowledge focuses on how you would go about recovering the crucial science and technology to allow society to progress. I think you can accelerate the rediscovery of understanding by providing condensed kernels of knowledge, but I don't think you can accelerate social development by, for example, simply writing down a ten-step guide to democracy.

I don't make any statement in the book as to whether I believe the current global population is sustainable or nor, or indeed whether cities are inherently unsustainable. But I do think it is fair to say that once you lose the distribution networks for electricity, water and gas, a modern city will be a very hard place to survive in, compared to a more rural setting where you have arable land, a natural water source, and access to other natural resources.
Site Admin
Posts: 60
Joined: Fri Sep 14, 2012 6:50 am

Re: Ye cannae ignore the laws of social science

Postby DougPardoeWilson » Tue Jul 14, 2015 2:12 am

To rebuild civilization, we must be civil to one another. Behind that is an equally, or perhaps even more important technology, including that taught in what Americans call civics class. We as individuals could survive as hunter-gatherers, meeting only occasionally to mate. But a civilization requires more. In fact it requires nothing that is in Dr. Dartnell's wonderful book. It requires social technology. First of all, education, something we invented. Free compulsory education was an extraordinary idea. Then it requires some sort of legal system, however primitive. It requires some of the institutions of democracy. I think that Dr. Dartnell left these things out of his book intentionally, but I think that it robbed the book of much of its value. Just as we could leapfrog over agricultural, chemical and communications technology, so we could leapfrog over all the mistakes of our civil-iz-ation, the process by which we learned to be civilized people. I would welcome a second volume: The Knowledge, Volume Two, How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Catastrophe. Oh, wait, that was the title of the 2nd edition of the book. Sorry. Well, perhaps there should be a second volume anyway to fulfill that promise.
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Jul 14, 2015 1:41 am

Re: Ye cannae ignore the laws of social science

Postby FTroppasher » Tue Nov 24, 2015 6:05 am

According to The Knowledge after the initial survival phase, groups need to be 100 men and 100 women at a minimum to ensure genetic variability, and around 10,000 to ensure enough knowledge can be implemented in the required ways. It would be very interesting to hear a social scientist speak about how such society could grow and achieve what it needs to and what "institutions" would be necessary for it's survival (police? army? etc). So you can't stay in a small group - because you would eventually breed "idiots". Hopefully some sort of social contract would evolve and people could agree to it to become part of a society. The contract could include a way of making decisions. Perhaps everyone could vote on major decisions eg. whether to join with another group of survivors. Some decision making may be delegated to a group of decision makers eg. where to put a dam or road. Would taxes be required? I think we need another entire book this subject. Without this type of knowledge the groups of survivors may be more likely to disintegrate.
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Nov 24, 2015 5:51 am

Return to How quickly could you accelerate a reboot of civilisation?

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest