In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how it might be possible to re-build civilisation if it were ever to collapse. This has been inspired largely by the fact that I’ve been spending a lot of time working on The Island At The End Of The World, the third book in my For Those In Peril series.
The first book concentrated on the discombobulation brought on by returning to civilisation and finding it has, for some reason, disappeared, while the second focussed on what it would be like to suddenly find yourself in the middle of an ongoing apocalyptic event.
The third book, the one I’m currently working on, has, for its main theme, rebuilding lives, communities and civilisations after the immediate danger from an apocalyptic event has passed, and it’s a theme that raises a lot of interesting issues.
In the modern world, it is very rare to find one person who knows how to make something from start to finish. A mechanic, for example, might know how to put the parts of an internal combustion engine together, but he’s unlikely to know how to make the parts in the first place, or how to extract ore from the ground and turn it into the raw materials you need to assemble before you can even think about making the parts. It is also unlikely that he’d know how to make the fuel you’d need to run an internal combustion engine, or the oil to stop it ceasing solid the moment you turned it on, or the battery you’d need to start it.
Making pretty much any modern item requires complicated, inter-connected networks reaching across half the globe, and such networks are highly fragile, so if the world were to fall apart tomorrow, whether from nuclear war, disease, asteroid strike, or, of course, the resurrection of the dead, how could ever hope to re-create anything like the world we currently live in?
The chances are we couldn’t, but could we even recreate a simplified version of it? How many of us actually know how to do even the most basic things like starting a fire without matches or lighters? Or how to turn the fleece of sheep into a nice warm woolly jumper? Or animals into a nice tasty meal and a rather fancy fur coat?
What about antibiotics and medicines? How would we ever survive without things we take so much for granted, like Penicillin? Or asthma inhalers? Or artificial lenses to deal with your failing eyesight?
Then there’s our recreational loves, how would we get our daily caffeine kick (would you even know where to start making your own coffee, or, for that matter, how to milk a cow to get that creamy foamy head you like so much on your favourite cappuccino)? What about cigarettes to feed your nicotine addiction? Or a cold beer at the end of a long day?
These are the thoughts that have been exercising me of late, and I’ve been coming to one conclusion: if you want to be able to start re-building society after an apocalyptic event, you’d really couldn’t do better than have an experimental archaeologist in your survival group. What, you might wonder, is an experimental archaeologist? Well, it’s someone who explores how people made and used tools in the past to do various things, like making knives from lump of flint, or extracting metal from ore. They know all sorts of handy things, like how to make basic medicines from native plants, or turning barley into ale, or converting animals into sizzling hot steaks with nothing but pile of tinder and two sticks to rub together.
The other person you’d want to have in your survival group is a bloke by the name of Lewis Dartnell. Why this guy? Well, it just happens to be the author of a rather interesting book on this subject called The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World From Scratch. It aims to provide all the key information you would ever need to rebuild modern Western society (or at least all the technological parts of it – hopefully we wouldn’t make the same mistake of inventing lawyers and politicians and advertising executives again, after all we’d hopefully be trying to build a better society than we lost, not re-creating it exactly, mistakes and all).
Of course, if you can’t get hold of your very own Lewis Dartnell, you’ll just have to get a copy of his book instead, and you better make sure you get a printed copy. After all, the batteries in your e-reader will only last so long once the power grid goes down.
It’s also a book that’s worth reading for its own merits. By looking at what information we’d need to rebuild the world, it sheds a spotlight on the society we currently live in, and how it is potentially vulnerable because of the level of inter-connectedness we now all take for granted, and that is always interesting.
Politicians and business-leaders are always telling us that globalisation is a good thing (and that’s why they are in the middle of secret negotiations to try to make the world an even smaller place, although the exact details of what they are trying to do are pretty scary for the ordinary man on the street), but is it, if it is making us more vulnerable to the vagaries of a highly connected world?
After all, just look at the global financial system: someone decides to play the system by giving mortgages to people who can’t really afford them in the northeast US, and the next thing we know is that half the world is plunged into a recession so deep that it still hasn’t recovered. Wouldn’t it have been better if what happened locally, stayed locally? Maybe then the banks would have had second thoughts about offering the catastrophic sub-prime loans in the first place, and the whole world would have undoubtedly been better off if that had happened.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.