A Dark Age starts when a civilization no longer remembers what it has lost. Unable to even recognize the missing pieces, the culture locks into a spiral downward. Jane Jacobs starts off the book with examples of nations who’ve followed this pattern, 15th Century China being a good instance of turns-and-dives-on-a-dime. The massive government-backed ship-building industry, quite probably the most technologically-advance in the world at the time, was dismantled and reduced to “exaggerations of elders” within a generation because of a shift in political power. One faction backed the building of treasure ships, while their opponents didn’t. The anti-ships grop took power, flexed their muscles by getting rid of the industry, and the technology disappeared. This book is not a collection of historical curiosities, however. It is a cautionary tale. After outlining what she means by a Dark Age and offering examples of the decline of civilizations in the past, Jacobs outlines five pillars of our civilization that are decaying.
- Community and Family
- Higher Education
- The effective practice of Science and Science-Based Technology
- Taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
- Self-policing by the learned professions
Some of these are obviously important things to a civilization, but some– especially if you’re from my generation and not used to seeing taxes as anything other than an impediment– are not so obvious. And some– I’m thinking specifically of Higher Education– are difficult to see as decaying. Thankfully, Jacobs goes into detail about why these facets of civilization are vital, and then how and why they’re sickly. It is her contention that other societal issues we have (rising consumer debt and racial tension, for example), are symptoms of the decay of these five pillars. Jacobs narrowed it down to five definable expressions of civilizations, but they could further be narrowed to two mindsets; the drive for community and the passionate pursuit of truth. If those fall away, everything we’ve built our civilization on starts to fall with them.
I found this idea fascinating, and very convincing. With several of her stats, especially those about Community and Education, I hadn’t known that things were once done differently than the way they are now. I had just known that the way they are now seemed wrong somehow. Jacobs points out that yes, many facets of our culture could be done better– and within living memory they have been done better.
In addition to the fascinating aspects of examining culture and offering a diagnosis about the problem, it was awesome to see what an interconnected picture she painted of our civilization. Instead of the image I’m used to, of problems arising in a vacuum, (or at most with one problem easily fixed if we threw money at it), she pointed out the complexity of these issues. Perhaps the problems she outlines are unusual ones, and most could be fixed by dumping cash on them. These dilemmas, however, certainly need more time and care to repair.
I quite enjoyed this book
. I look forward to integrating the information I gathered from it with other knowledge I gather from school! 😀