Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Arms and the Man

   The next "Codex Universalis" topic, that of self-defense and military subjects, is probably going to be somewhat controversial for some readers.  In the popular mind, survivalism is often associated with violence, and the topic of violence itself is not one that people necessarily want to think about.  People who claim to be "survivalists" often have large armories, more firearms and ammo than they could ever hope to use, in anticipation of the collapse of civilization being a time of nonstop violence, something that sometimes brings unwanted attention from the police and media.  On top of this, people often don't want to think about having to defend their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  They also don't want to think about having to try to protect their food and supplies, as they are often feel charitable impulses -- "I would be happy to share if I had enough to share."  These topics are often viewed with suspicion in the light of a more security-conscious modern world.  Finally, there is the potential for good old "pissing contests," where people claim to be ex-Special Ops badasses, or gun gurus, or just want to argue about which caliber is better, probably the most complete waste of time on the planet.

   Unfortunately, the view that the new Dark Ages will be more violent than what we are accustomed to is probably not without merit.  Part of the impetus for establishing systems of control in the Middle Ages was due to the ever-present threat of external invasions, as well as internal violence and strife.  Banditry itself has been a staple feature of human society and a serious problem even up into modern times, regardless of what it's called or who is doing it.  The fact that people can travel relatively free from threat of being attacked in modern first-world nations is, like many other parts of first-world life, an anamoly compared to most of history.  One the carefully assembled systems of control are gone, due to lack of resources and interest in controlling banditry, it's likely that we will see a return to this lifestyle in many places.  Murder rates, also, which have fallen dramatically century-by-century since the Middle Ages (when reliable estimates can be made), can be expected to climb.  One can imagine they were even higher during the Dark Ages, when there was little lawful authority organized to prevent crimes or catch criminals.

   Part of the Leibowitz Society's emphasis on preserving knowledge is creating safe havens for it to be stored and taught.  In turn, this means that these safe havens need to have some sort of ability to be "safe" -- in other words, protect themselves from people who want to loot and pillage.  This in turn raises the question of what people consider to be a lawful entity, with a "right" to obtain resources from a community in turn for protection, such as a conventional military or police force, but political restructurings and debates are really beyond the scope of the Leibowitz Society.  The fact remains that there may well be times when people and communities will need to protect themselves and trying to ignore this fact is setting people up for failure if they are trying to accomplish the goals of the Society. 

   Equally, it is important to emphasize the need to cooperate with legitimate authority.  The point of the Society is to preserve, protect and interpret knowledge.  Some people make take this as a copout, selling out to a ruling class or political elite, but the simple truth is that most people are going to be looking for security and stability in a time and place where it's gotten scarce.  In the industrialized world, exposure to violence is not a common part of the lives of most people.  For anyone who's had to deal with an aggressive or violent person by themselves, the first thing running through their mind is wishing they had a gun (or a bigger) gun.  The second is wishing they had some backup. 

   There is also mention of WMDs in the topics list, something that might provoke a little surprise and discussion.  I think it's not unrealistic that these weapons may be used at some point by one power or another, or terrorists, as resources grow scarcer and tensions rise.  Therefore, while the Society does not include information on the construction or delivery of these items, there is information on the effects of these weapons, what they can do and how/when they are used to allow people to seek refuge from them (maybe it's not realistic, but I'd be just as happy to see these things vanish from the human conciousness forever). 

   The bright side to all this is that even with a breakdown in lawful authority's ability to protect people, and increasing rates of violence, most people can still probably expect to go through life without having to feel like they are living in a warzone.  When we look at the history of times past, the violence and wars stand out, because they simply get more attention in the historical record.  One interesting anecedote that opposes this was the career of Ulrich von Lichtenstein, the alias of the protagonist in the Knight's Tale.  Von Lichtenstein was born in a period of relative peace, in the height of the Middle Ages.  Knights of the era were expected to glorify themselves in battle, but he was instead forced to distinguish himself in tournaments and through his writing, dying at the ripe old age of 78.  If anything, we can draw hope from his example and realize that peace can still be possible in a rougher time.

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