July 18, 2014

When people simply forgot how to build things

In Aeon Farming the apocalypse by Keith Farrell

"When my life came crashing down I took shelter on my farm, surviving with 11th-century tools like the sickle and scythe"
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Only gradually did I realize that I had far more in common with a post-apocalypse survivor – and chronic illness, not to mention financial challenges, are apocalyptic in their way – than with an 11th-century farmer. Those farmers, after all, knew what they were doing; their whole lives would have been spent doing it. They were far more prepared for a post-apocalypse life on the land than me or almost anyone I knew

Rod Dreher comments in Livin' The Medieval Dream,

When you have to preserve skills and methods from generation to generation simply to survive, traditions develop, and they become critically important, even after people may have forgotten why they came about. Then along comes technology to free you from traditions, and you discard them. Eventually you come to believe that anything you will is possible. And you forget that we all live on a soap bubble.

Historian Brian Ward-Perkins says that the retreat of material culture after the Western Roman Empire fell was catastrophic; people simply forgot how to build things — and that with the disappearance of the relatively complex economic networks under imperial Rome, intellectual life also shriveled. I interviewed Ward-Perkins about this once in his Oxford University office, but I don’t know that I understood so intimately what he meant by that until I read Ferrell’s essay.
Posted by Jill Fallon at July 18, 2014 12:48 AM | Permalink