In Honor of Jane Jacobs

Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs

“This is a gloomy and a hopeful book. A Dark Age is a culture’s dead end. We in North America and Western Europe, enjoying the many benefits of the culture conventionally known as the West, customarily think of a Dark Age as happening once, long ago, following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. But in NorthAmerica we live in a graveyard of lost aboriginal cultures, many of which were decisively finished off by mass amnesia in which even the memory of what was lost was also lost. throughout the world Dark Ages have scrawled finis to successions of cultures receding far into the past.”

With this passage Jane Jacobs sets the table for the possibility of what on first reflection seem implausible – a new Dark Age. Jane Jacobs aiding and abating pseudo-science fiction on par with comic book or Hollywood productions like Mad Max in the Thunderdome or Waterworld ? And Ms. Jacobs clearly recognizes how far out on the Bell curve she has gone … “People living in vigorous cultures typically treasure those cultures and resist any threat to them. How and why can a people so totally discard a formerly vital culture that it becomes literally lost ?”

So then the author alludes to the daunting nature of the task – and perhaps hints of a pedagogical approach – taking the extremem position and making it plausible. “Dark Ages are instructive , precisely because they are extreme examples of cultural collapse, and thus more clear cut and vivid then gradual decay. The purpose of this book is help our culture avoid sliding into a dead end, by understanding how such a tragedy comes about, and thereby what can be done to ward it off, and thus retain and further develop our living and functionng culture, which contains so much of value, so hard won by our forebears. We need this awarenes, because as I plan to explain, we show signs of rushing headlong into a Dark Age.”

And to buttress her arguments about history and cultures coming to untimely ends, Jane uses Jared Diamond and his book on scientific social history, Guns Germs and Steel, as the base point for describing how cultures can implode. This is fortuitous, because Diamond has gone on to write Collapsed, his own look at how civilizations throughout time and the world have collapsed – and what this means to modern society – ee our follow n review here.

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