Saturday, November 19, 2016
How Will Humanity Lift Itself Out of the 2nd Dark Age? No. 2 in my New Series of Mythmaker Posts
I don’t want to waste effort reviewing all the things that went wrong on Earth during the 21st through the 24th centuries, since you can read about that in the above summation of My Future History. I will only say that the effect of “radiant” bombing and also of an uncontrollable new weapon invented by the Techno-Warlords – a pseudo-organism called a self-replicating nanobot – put the finishing touches to the destruction in the period called the Apocalyptical (last half of the 24th century). At that point much of Earth became uninhabitable, leaving only a gaggle of disconnected entities, with some areas remaining less damaged than other (the British Isles, Australia, Japan, portions of North America and other continents). These areas existed in isolation, without the ability to trade or even communicate with other parts of the world, and they were ruled mostly by tyrants who jealously guarded whatever remnants of technology they could glean. There was no longer an internet and most libraries and seats of learning had been destroyed.
So how could any vestige of civilization and knowledge be kept alive? Here the easiest thing to do is to quote from My Future History:
“Throughout the Second Dark Age there endured a minority of people who valued reason, compassion, freedom, and order and who never entirely lost their faith in human nature. Overwhelmed by the misery of the time, these people had to go underground, communicating by a primitive shortwave radio relay network in places where parts for the equipment could be fabricated or scavenged. These people had acquired a name: the Underground Archivists, composed of teachers, writers, librarians, scientists, and information technicians. ... The Archivists took inspiration from works of 20th century Fantasists like Fahrenheit 451 and The Mote in God’s Eye and began to collect and secrete any knowledge of the past that seemed to them useful for the future. They would hide books or any format of compressed electronic information that they could acquire; they would even scrounge pencil stubs and stray scraps of paper from old middens and copy out by hand material they thought worth preserving. They placed their hoards in any container that they thought might protect them – oil drums, shell casings, coffins, the husks of now-useless refrigerators and electronic devices – and hid them in old bunkers, caves, bank vaults, abandoned subway and utility tunnels. Then they died, leaving their caches behind for subsequent generations to rediscover.”
This is why you’ll find passages in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars like this one (from the incomplete second part):
“Robbie sprawled on the couch and started scrambling idly through the links. For a while he listened to GovNews’s daily review of the contents of the most recently discovered Underground Archivist caches; the wide-ranging nature of what those remarkable people had thought worthy of preservation never ceased to fascinate him. This time there were 22nd century maps of a Devastation Zone city called Atlanta, along with the blueprints of some of the commercial buildings built in that era. There were photocopies of a dozen 20th century publications called “comic books” (although the commentator noted that the name was mystifying, since the content of these works of graphic fiction appeared to consist almost entirely of depictions of horror and violent crime, with very little humor). In Nipon a collection of vids had come to light illustrating an incredibly grotesque sport called sumo, accompanied by a book detailing its history and rules. And there was a unique vid that had bioscientists quite excited; it showed the extinct three-toed sloth moving through a sector of the Amazen rainforest that was now a dry wasteland …
“And, unearthed in an archaeological excavation that was ongoing in the Safrisco salt marshes of the West Ammeriken Coast, an especially significant historical find – original records from the late 23rd century detailing the last days of an institution called University of California. The cache included a five-year diary written by the last Chancellor of the University. The journal ended abruptly at 22 March 2290, the day when the series of earthquakes had commenced that brought an end to civilization on the Ammeriken Pacifik Coast. The Old Ammeriken States had been facing continental civil war at that time and no resources were available to rebuild anything destroyed by natural calamities. It was all prime stuff.”
But there was more to the salvation of civilization than simply the preservation of data and artifacts. Among the ranks of the Archivists were some inspired, genuinely creative individuals who chose to produce a new canon of literature and other art forms that could form the basis of a new. humanist ethic. Not a single one of these creators ever signed any of their works so they remain eternally anonymous. Their works were preserved by the Archivists in the same way that more prosaic knowledge was preserved – in those secret caches.
The writers of these works came to be known as the Mythmakers.
I have a lot of information on the Mythmakers in the documents where I preserve notes for my writing. What they wrote was mostly fantasy fiction or variations on fantastic themes, but they also composed poetry, dramas, and music, and produced graphic art. On Facebook I recently viewed Ursula K. LeGuin’s acceptance speech when she was awarded the National Book Foundation’s medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In it she “explained how authors, especially fantasy writers, have a special opportunity to stand up to the corporate system because they can portray a world very different from the one we currently live in.” I think the same is true in a broader sense – that fantasy writers have a special opportunity and even obligation to influence the way we think about the fundamentals of our lives. They can become the Mythmakers of our future.
The 26th century, when civilization was coming back to life, was a time of vigorous philosophical ferment. By the 27th century, the Mythmaker’s humanistic philosophy had taken root, and a set of 20 Precepts had been formulated, not as prescriptive laws or commandments but as a rational guide to right behavior. People accepted this new way of thinking and this enabled the unification of Earth, which had proved impossible in earlier times, and hence qualified Earthers to attempt to fly to the stars and take their place in the greater Galaxy. So perhaps the Second Dark Age will be worth all the losses.
So what are the Mythmaker Precepts all about? Next time, we’ll begin an analysis.