Thursday, May 22, 2008

But who still remembers how to plow with a donkey?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Cultural Conservers
The Archdruid Report

...In a world lurching through economic crisis and the first wave of impacts from peak oil, it’s easy to dismiss the continuing implosion of American culture as a minor issue, but such a dismissal is as much a symptom of cultural collapse as anything I’ve cited already. Again, culture is memory, and among the things it holds in store are the tools, insights, and lifeways that served people well in the days before our civilization started chasing the suicidally addictive rush of empire. Again, Rome offers a useful example; by the time the Roman empire began coming apart at the seams and the grain ships no longer sailed from North African wheat fields to Ostia’s wharves, nobody remembered how things had worked in the days when the classical world consisted of independent city-states producing most of their own necessities at home...

...Our situation differs from theirs only because the contemporary sense of history makes it possible to place our own experience beside that of the Romans, and any number of other fallen civilizations as well, and draw conclusions about the likely shape of our own future. We are arguably in much the same case as the Romans of the late Empire; we have, as they had, an immense cultural heritage, nearly all of which is disastrously vulnerable to the impacts of collapse; we have done our level best to abandon the heritage of local folk cultures at home and elsewhere in our empire, just as they did, and thus risk losing precious knowledge that might make it easier to weather the descent from today’s vertiginous imperial heights. The one difference is that it’s possible to talk in these terms today, and to propose concrete responses to what will be one of the most challenging features of the decline and fall of the industrial world...

...Thus I’d like to suggest that one crucial need of our present predicament is the rise of a movement of cultural conservers – individuals who choose, for one reason or another, to take personal responsibility for the preservation of some part of the modern world’s cultural heritage. That’s a tall order, not least because the crises inseparable from the decline and fall of a civilization will leave many of us scrambling for bare survival in the face of soaring death rates and increasingly harsh conditions. Still, it’s not an insurmountable challenge...

* Focus. The cultural heritage of the modern world is far too vast for any one person even to encounter it all, much less to know enough about it to preserve significant elements of it in any meaningful way. Thus each cultural conserver will need to choose a handful of traditions at most, and focus his or her efforts on those...

* Simplicity. As the requirements needed to maintain a cultural tradition go up, the likelihood of its survival in a time of scarcity go down. Musical forms you can play yourself on an instrument of your own construction are thus more likely to survive as living traditions than musical forms that require a symphony orchestra and an opera company...

* Transmission. It takes more than one lifetime for a civilization to decline and fall, and so the flip side of preserving some bit of cultural heritage is the challenge of passing it on to a younger generation. Those traditions that will have obvious economic value in an age of decline and disintegration have a huge head start here; it’s unlikely in the extreme, for example, that today’s advances in intensive organic food production will be lost anytime soon, since the skills in question grant a huge survival advantage to those who know them and have the opportunity to put them to use. Still, cultural transmission does not always follow the economic line of least resistance. Those who know must be prepared to teach, and also to use their knowledge in ways that meet community needs...


The Kollel and Yeshiva culture has allowed an incredible amount of skill, craftmanship, trades and arts to be lost to the modern generation. And the fact that so many wives have been sold into slavery to provide an income and insurance for the family means that the modern wife has neither the time nor the inclination to learn how to do the things her grandmothers and great-grandmothers did - and the mother is the true backbone of the household. If she can't function in a world without imported modern electrical gadgets, imported household goods and imported pre-packaged foods, the whole family is going to suffer tremendously.

So sad - yet so avoidable.

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