Friday, 30 September 2016

The Fragility Of Civilization

When Manse Everard is in the Carthaginian timeline, he regrets that Dante and Shakespeare do not exist. Would the alternative timeline eventually have generated literature as great as that of Dante or of Shakespeare? Possibly but not necessarily. Anderson's point is that, in that timeline, there had been neither science nor social progress by the equivalent of our year 1960. The point is made even more starkly in "The House of Sorrows" and in the concluding section of The Shield Of Time. History might never have broken out of the cycle of slave-owning empires collapsing into dark ages from which nothing ever emerges but another slave-owning society.

In "Delenda Est" and "The House of Sorrows," no monotheism means no science. In The Shield Of Time, papal victory over the medieval emperors means a theocracy that prevents either freedom or science. How probable was our history? And how safe is our present civilization?


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    And THE SHIELD OF TIME, in "Amazement of the World," also shows us what might have happened if the state had dominated and absorbed the Church: another timeline with no true science or ordered, stable liberty. Poul Anderson made it plain that he believed it was necessary for a situation to arise when neither Church or State dominated the other before a true science, etc., could come into being. You should have mentioned those points as well.


  2. Kaor, Paul!

    I should have said something about your last question. My view is that our current civilization is very much endangered. Not so much by external enemies we could easily crush (such as fanatical Muslim jihadists) as by a destructive self doubt and despair paralyzing the will.


    1. Sean,
      I agree there is paralysis but I explain it differently. I think that the global economy is in a deep long-term crisis because of competitive pressures. This leads to lack of investment, cut-backs, austerity policies, redundancies, poverty, scapegoating and anti-immigrant feeling just at the time when the countries where there are interminable wars generate unprecedented numbers of refugees. (Each refugee is a person to be helped, not a problem to be kept out.) All this leads to a society paralyzed by insoluble internal conflicts. So I see the causes as material and economic, not as moral or psychological.