Saturday, November 20, 2010


   I suspect that at least a few readers of this blog -- and people aligned with the principles of the Leibowitz Society -- are avid readers.  Of those readers, perhaps a smaller few have picked up the book "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson.  I had purchased it some time ago, but only now have begun working my way through it (anyone familiar with his writings will appreciate that one does indeed "work" through a Neal Stephenson novel).  Being that it deals with a fictional version of monasteries, something that it has in common with a Canticle for Leibowitz, I found the subject matter of some interest.

   Early on, a key idea crops up in the book as a first-page exchange between an instructor monk and a craftsman from outside is explained to the protagonist of the novel.  Without going too much into detail about the exchange (and spoiling that part of the novel), the monk is apparently trying to determine a causal link between what happens outside the monastery and what happens inside the monastery.  In other words, does the outside world affect the cloistered world that the monks live in? 

   With the Leibowitz Society, I think we are eventually going to face a similar divide.  Even if it does not exist as a formal, physical separation in the way that the monks experience, just by beginning to accept the idea that the world is sinking in a new dark age, and that we need to preserve and protect civilization's intellectual achievements, then we are already cloistering ourselves from the larger population's mode of thought.  At some point, can we undertake a similarity measurement of casuality of thought between what the majority thinks and feels about events, and what we think and feel about events, and describe the differences?

   The detachment of casuality of thought has another aspect here, too, and why it is vitally important in many ways.  Consider the following notion: Rational thought may be the pinnacle of achievement of the arc of civilization beginning with the Middle Ages, reaching a zenith in the Renaissance, becoming a widespread ideal during the Age of Reason, and experiencing a twilight as the destruction of the twentieth century came to a close.  Now, I should make it clear that I do not consider rationality as necessarily opposing ideas such as religion, the arts, altruism, etc, only that process of taking something mind and working through it to come to a conclusion about it should be an intact process. 

    Now, if the great intellectual tragedy of the last few decades is the movement away from rationality, into emotionality and even anti-rationality (i.e. "I don't care what you say, because I know in my heart that you're wrong"; "I go by my feelings"; "Why argue?  Everyone has something to say/is right in their own view"; "Can't we all just get along?"), then if we, as members of the Leibowitz Society, operate with rationality, then we have achieved causal decoupling from what is the popular (albeit incorrect) mode of thought.  In essence, if we approach a problem even from a relatively simple evaluation, using a structured method, then we are practicing something which has become less and less common in modern society.  If one carries this notion out, we can use the same test as a means of determining if we are ourselves beginning to fall into the same trap, and the effect of the world outside of the Society on the Society's efforts can be measured, or at least accounted for.

   This isn't meant to be a screed against the modern day, just that when we think of the "Dark Ages," we are often thinking of bandit raiders, people huddling in the burned-out ruins of a once wealthy city, and so on.  Instead, we need to remember that the new dark ages can take many forms, across many stages, and that we are already beginning to be at the point where we need to start taking steps to protect our accumulated knowledge.


  1. First, I would like to say "thank you" - for all the thoughtful work that goes into your postings, for starting this attempt to bring like-minded people together just in case "the worst" happens, as well as the current posting on the value of rational thought.
    I read the Canticle for Leibowitz (sp?) long ago, and found it a book that I would often think about long afterwards. Maybe because I would eventually have to live through something similar?
    Beside this website, and Kunstler's, and The Automatic Earth, and maybe FerFal, are there other blogs/sites I should peruse to help in preparing?
    I was born into comfortable surroundings in American suburbia, and have lived my 48 years in the same. While I am pretty handy for someone of this ilk, I have a long way to go to be able to handle the range possibilities (some of them nightmare-ish) that might await us all.
    As for preparation, we can each pursue this individually (food, knowledge, weapons, survival gear) ... and maybe this is best done "individually". As you said previously, there should be no "members"; maybe gatherings or plans to gather if the worst happens are not a good idea?. I think none of us want this to become something akin to a cult.
    It is imperative that as much knowledge survives whatever happens during the coming decades, as the debt-bubble crisis, peak oil, social coarsening, and moral degradation all hit society at pretty much the same time.

    Thank you again - I think I speak for many when I say "Keep doing the good work, and let us know how we can help".

    Scott in Bucks County

  2. Scott,

    Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful comment. I'm working on a blog post which will address the points you raised, since I think they are very good and are probably on the minds of a number of people. Look for it sometime tomorrow morning.


  3. I love Neal Stephenson and Anathem may be his best book yet. Nice blog, I found you in Kunstler's comments. Come visit me at and let's keep in touch.


  4. Barry,

    I confess that I spent spring break in college years ago reading Cryptonomicon rather than doing any of the usual spring-breakish activities. I took a quick look at your blog (have to love the prog rock bands listed under favorites :) ) and appreciate where you're coming from -- what is sometimes forgotten in the epic, national scale of statistics and headlines is that there are real people being affected by what is happening day in and day out by the upheaval. One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

    I'm of the mind anymore that we have been fortunate to have lived on the Titanic for a time, but that it's hit the iceberg and now comes the scramble to survive as it sinks. My fear is that the things which should not be lost will inevitably be unless people take steps to save them. The Life After People series was interesting in that it showed just how fast things really can decay to nothing -- how fast will things disappear when people look at libraries as kindling?