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Which is incidentally yet another reason why it's very important to ensure stability of our technological civilization. We've pulled ourselves by the straps of our boots a couple hundred meters into air now; it's not safe to stop pulling. Given big enough shock to economies and populations, we'll regress not a decade or three, but all the way to the beginning of industrial revolution - you can't build the technology we have now from scratch, as it's full of cyclical dependencies. It would need to be rebooted from scratch.

This is also why the protection of supply chains and international trade is essential. The cause of the Dark Ages was the collapse of the security surrounding the Roman road network, making trade hazardous, and subsequent reversion to local production of everything resulting in the loss of technological prowess.

In our current economy, that reversion would be even more painful. In the short term, as much as I hate the US military, their "freedom of navigation" guarantees are essential. In the long term, every nation/bloc should make sure it has the materials to re-bootstrap if necessary.

Here in Korea, we just had to scramble because Japan decided to limit photoresist and high-purity HF exports. I count the scramble as a good thing for national self-sufficiency.

My apologies for going way off topic.

Your first paragraph is very interesting. Got a link or book you could recommend to learn more?

The Hardcore History episode "Thor's Angels" goes quite a bit into that territory. It covers period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire until the formation of the Holy Roman Empire.

For fans of that podcast, it's one of the best single episodes. Dan Carlin has a particular style, which is not for everyone, but fans know what to expect.


Perhaps more critically, we've burned most of the easily-accessible fossil fuels, which means that if we drop below a critical threshold we won't be able to reboot from scratch because there will be insufficient high-energy-density material available.

That too. I'm increasingly strongly of the belief that ensuring the stability of what we have now is the most important thing. We can keep fixing things incrementally, but if we break our civilization now, we condemn the next couple dozen or more generations to medieval life on a severely damaged planet.

That's why it pains me when I see activists crying for correcting the wrongs at all costs, "justice" at the cost of "order". It's ultimately a self-destructive approach that's akin to cutting off the branch you're sitting on, after first setting it on fire.

The biggest threats to the current order today are not the people calling for more "justice", or more "social justice", however.

The biggest threats to the current order are companies and politicians that refuse to address our unsustainable level of pollution, which is pushing our climate out of balance.

They're the people advocating for a "starve the beast" approach to governance, literally trying to create a financial crisis just to get a few percent taxes shaved off their bottom line (and probably think they can profit off the crisis too).

They're the people pushing for increased gerrymanding and census manipulation, which radicalizes politics on both ends of the political spectrum, shuts out people in the middle, and erodes faith in our institutions on the long term.

These things are by far the biggest threat to the long term stability of the current order in the US.

I agree. And I didn't mean to say that pursuit of justice is a problem, but I do have an issue with calls for justice at the expense of everything else that I sometimes hear from the Internet pitchfork mobs, and I worry that it may gain momentum at some point.

I wonder how difficult it would be leapfrog oil and go straight to nuclear power.

If any necessary and non-substitutable material or equipment is based on petroleum chemistry, then we won't be able to do that. I'd love some nuclear engineering experts to chime in on it here; my uneducated guess is that it's extremely unlikely that there isn't a hard petroleum dependency somewhere in there.

Just think of all the protective equipment. What do you think it’s made of?

The coal-powered steam locomotive era and the nuclear power era overlap. We almost did go from coal to nuclear. Especially in the UK, which had little domestic oil or gas in the 1950s.

I think it would be a lot easier to go with internal combustion of ethanol and biodiesel (and possibly wood gas) first.

There’s a great book about exactly this - including an attempt to help you reboot it by giving people the Igor clues in the right order.

The knowledge, How to rebuild the world from scratch https://www.amazon.co.uk/Knowledge-How-Rebuild-World-Scratch...

In some ways this is what has happened with the transfer of manufacturing to China. Building things requires building components, and their components, and their components, and so on down. That whole stack is withering in western democracies, so it’s incredibly difficult to “bring back” something like iPhone manufacturing without retaining a deep dependency on China anyway.

This is the answer to the question "Why not build more Saturn Vs". We no longer have the tools to build the tools to build the machines to build the parts of the Saturn V.

Why not?

Because "unused muscle atrophy" applies very much to our technology as well. A lot of knowledge surrounding technological processes isn't really captured beyond institutional culture and individual memory. So if there isn't demand for some specific technology, the capacity and knowledge to build it will wither and die with the organizations and people who built it.

We can't do a Saturn V today. We might be able to do a Saturn V equivalent, though, as both NASA and SpaceX are retracing the steps towards heavy lifters.

This. And if one still struggles to understand the importance of institutional culture + individual memory, I would like into invite you to the following thought experiment.

“Imagine waking up the next morning and the world totally forgot all knowledge on Linux Kernel, and you are now tasked to release the next major version with major changes / improvements”

And remember the documentation and tests we have on Saturn V is certainly not as great as what we have on Linux kernel.

I remember reading that some of the textile techonology that enabled the arctic/anarctic expeditions in the early 20th century has already been lost.

They're having to analyse the garments in medical scanners to work out how the fabrics work.

The idea that technology that enabled the equivalent of the space race could be lost within a century is quite sobering.

You should write all this up on a single place, it's very interesting.

I just might put it up on my blog. Need to collect references for the things I've been saying first.

I first need to finish and ask someone to proofread my long overdue post on my views about advertising industry.

http://jacek.zlydach.pl, yes? I eagerly await this piece. I can think of a lot of people (and groups) who would find it enlightening!

Yes. I see you have an e-mail address in your profile; I'll drop you an e-mail when I'm done with it.

Hey person, I hope it wouldn't be to presumptuous for me to also ask for an email about this? I'd be very interested in what all you have to say.

Not at all! But since you don't have your e-mail published in your profile, you need to mail me so I know where to send the notification :).

Thanks. Already subscribed to your feed :)

I can proofread if you want.

Thanks. I'll send you a draft later tonight.

Someone else linked a book, but this TV show, Connections by James Burke [1], follows this idea of cyclical dependencies in technology. Society starts with the plow. Definitely a great watch, even though it was made basically pre-internet.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series)

> It would need to be rebooted from scratch.

With no readily-accessible source of energy, we would never be able to reboot. And everything readily-available has already been mined. We now drill deep below the ocean surface for oil.

"Dark Age America" is a fascinating book by John Michael Greer that goes into the wicked dependencies in our technology stack.

That is one of many of his books to focus on this topic.

The Ecotechnic Future, The Retro Future, The Long Decent, Not the Future we ordered - all great books on what will happen if these systems crumble from resource depletion.

As much as I want disagree with his views, they look more sound every day. He is actually doing a follow up series on these topics on his blog (Ecosophia) currently.

This is one of the most fascinating things I've read on this site. Do you know of any resources that go into this in more detail?

See resources around the thread about precision manufacturing. Consider how Industrial Revolution started thanks to easy access to high-density energy sources like coal, and how we've mined and burned pretty much everything that's accessible by hand. Observe how modern mining requires huge amounts of energy and sophisticated technology. It's all intertwined.

Consider also the amount of people needed all across the industries and supply chains of any product you know. I don't have hard sources, but I fondly remember this essay by Charles Stross[0]. TL;DR: how many people does it take to maintain (not improve) current technology level of our civilization? Charlie puts it at 100 million to 1 billion.

And now think of the economies and infrastructure needed to just feed these people. We hit 1 billion around 1804[1], which is far in the industrialization process, and most of these people weren't working to support the technology levels anyway.

For some insights, I recommend tracking down and watching Connections[2]. It's an old show, from the era where TV shows actually made sense, and it drives home just how much our current technology is dependent on right combinations of social, economical and technological conditions.

EDIT: fixed site reference in [2].


[0] - http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/07/insuffic...

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population_milestones

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series); I hear you can find it on a site that starts with "daily", and ends with "motion.com".

Thanks! I'll check those out. It would be amazing if someone had put together a piece that tied this all together.

That risk seems like a liability to me. It's also the Achilles' heel of all the new non-fossil-fuel-based energy production methods at scale - they all end up being dependent on that same advanced industrial base and transportation network, which is complex, fragile, and incidentally still runs on fossil fuels.

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