Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Three Parts

   As I outlined in the Introduction to the Leibowitz Society, there are three modes of knowledge collection and storage, the individual, the Codex Universalis, and the Repository.  Since I didn't go into detail in the first post about how these are intended to work and interact, I wanted to explain this a little more thoroughly, to give readers a better idea of how these are intended to interact.

   The first level, of course, is the individual.  An organization or effort is only as good as the people who comprise it.  If there are no people who are part of the effort, or they are unprepared, then all the good intentions and planning in the world are meaningless.  People who are part of the efforts of the Leibowitz Society are going to be facing a double challenge -- in addition to simply trying to adjust to life in a civilization where there is increasing uncertainty and turmoil, they are also going to have to be mindful of the task of storing, preserving and interpreting knowledge.  They are also going to need to be able to record events as history continues to unfold before them. 

   While modern survivalism and preparedness movements seem to be aimed at creating a private label commando, capable of living off of MREs and fighting back zombie hordes with a survival knife until order is restored in a few weeks, members of the Leibowitz Society need to take a longer viewpoint with a different emphasis.  I don't deny that self-defense and primitive living skills are important, along with accumulating supplies, but are people who are trying to collect and preserve knowledge while surviving the transition to a Dark Age necessarily going to be expecting to fight as soldiers in whatever is the cause of the day?  And, barring something like an asteroid hitting the earth, the transition from order to chaos isn't likely to happen in a matter of a few hours, meaning people aren't going to have to go from their desk job to a bunker overnight.  Instead, I think that skills in building a community, in understanding human psychology and needs, in how to manage limited supplies, etc, are going to be vitally important and probably overlooked.  How else is the Society going to be able to perpetuate itself and carry out the mission of preserving knowledge if members have only a hammer in their mental toolbox?

   The second level is the Codex Universalis.  Where the individual's knowledge of daily survival skills leaves off, the Codex Universalis picks up.  Few of us have the time or mental ability to master all aspects of what is needed to run a stable community, maintain equipment, raise good, and so on.  The intent of the Codex Universalis is to be an "Operations Manual" of sorts for member of the Leibowitz Society, bridging the gap between the individual's knowledge and that which is stored away in the repository.  Things related to community defense, food production, construction, medicine, and so on would be available in the Codex, making it a "recipe book" as well as a general source of knowledge.  While it might be nice for people to memorize how to make biodiesel, having the process recorded in written form would ease the burden of trying to memorize too many things.  In addition, the information in the Codex would also be more widely available to a community -- if you need to know how to do something, go look it up and go with it.

   Some might point out that it's impossible to put detailed instructions in the Codex Universalis for handling every contingency and this is true.  I expect that the Codex will be a bit of a balancing act between content on one hand (what is actually in the Codex in terms of explicit instructions) and context on the other hand (what the Codex doesn't explicitly cover but may allow people to make connections between what is covered and what is missing).  For example, the Codex won't cover instructions on how to repair every specific type of engine that has ever been made, but will instead cover information on repairing a couple of types as well as provide information on the principles of how an engine works, allowing people to make inferences on repairing the types not covered. 

   The form of the Codex Universalis itself hasn't been yet locked down.  My current thought is that once it was in a mature form, it could be published as a set of seven volumes, corresponding to each major knowledge area, if enough people were interested in pre-ordering a copy of the set.  Wider interest in the publication might be possible, as it would be available to anyone who wants a copy for their own preparedness supplies.  Other option include one large volume or a self-published set of loose-leaf binders.  At any rate, the source files would be freely available for the work and revised editions released periodically. 

   The third and final level is the "Repository" (I am open to suggestions for a better name for this).  This level was actually what provided my impetus for starting the Leibowitz Society -- while Bruce Clayton's idea for the Leibowitz Project was a good start, I thought the flaw was that there was little to no coordination of what books people would think were important to preserve, meaning significant holes in stored knowledge could arise.  The idea behind creating a "master list" of reference works (and their substitutes and relative importance) is to avoid duplication of certain areas and omission of others.  For example, someone might save back a reference work on inorganic chemistry, but not save one on organic chemistry, etc.  Part of the issue with creating the Repository is what can go in it that will be a thorough knowledge base, yet easily storable.  Also, there is the question of how to physically preserve different kinds of modern texts.  The glue in bindings, for example, can grow brittle over time and pages which are not printed on acid-free paper will become yellow and brittle as well. 

   The actual sources for the works in the Repository can vary, but I'm currently envisioning two or three areas.  The first is a digital storage medium for various older works which may be out of print but available in digital form on the internet (the things at Project Gutenberg come readily to mind).  The second is academic textbooks which are one or two editions expired and contain information that isn't likely to change drastically.  Obviously, something dealing with quantum physics, or another cutting-edge scientific field,  would be problematic as it would wind up becoming dated, but works in more mature areas, such as anatomy, history, basic chemistry, etc, the information contained in those works isn't likely to change.  Also, it's relatively easy to find surplus books on non-academic topics for a significant price reducation if people are patient and look around.  Last, It may be appropriate to create some hybrid works which can be "published" at home, or in small runs if needed, based on topics which are important but not covered in the Codex Universalis or in bound texts. 

   I hope this has been a satisfactory explanation for how the three levels of the Leibowitz Society are designed to work and interact.  Each part is vital to the Society's task of preserving the important knowledge of human civilization in the face of an impending Dark Age and each part has its own issues and concerns which need to be addressed as the Society moves forward.  In the coming weeks, I'll be posting the topics which I've defined as being necessary to be included both in individual study and in the Codex Universalis.  At the same time, I hope to start hearing from people what they feel would be good additions to the Repository as well as any suggested changes for the individual skills and Codex.

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