Bloody Shovel 3

We will drown and nobody shall save us


A while ago I argued that if modern civilization collapses, which is a possibility given the relentless action of the worldwide IQ Shredder that we call "modernity", then humanity will never get a second chance to start industrial civilization ever again. By lack of cheap fuel mostly. We'd be stuck, at best, with a Chinese style "high-level equilibrium trap", basically the middle ages going on forever.

To which many commenters surprised me by saying: good-riddance then. What's so bad about the Iron Age? Men were men, women were women, children were children. Yes, no air conditioning and no antibiotics is pretty bad. But you get used to that. What you never get used to is the never ending ratchet of contemporary madness. We call ourselves reactionaries for a reason; maybe we should celebrate the forcible return to Ancien Regime technology.

I honestly don't know what to say to that. I've a natural instinct to defend my current standard of living, but I can't really argue against the fact that preindustrial societies are just much healthier. It's not really comparable. As a datum, let me put forward this video. It comes from a channel that our resident Hindu nationalist, the good Lalit, put on my last post, on a white guy living in Burma, defending the Burmese against the attacks by the global islamoprogressive alliance. It's a nice channel, check it out. And now look at this video of some rakhine state kids. As he says, just being kids.

Burma is not Africa. The TFR is a modest, but healthy 2.3. And interestingly enough they publish of the Marital TFR, which is extremely reasonable at 4 kids per married couple. I guess the Buddhist establishment takes care of the bachelors and spinsters.

Screenshot 2017-09-24 20.37.37

But anyone, it's just a joy to watch children in a rural setting, where they can play around amongst themselves, unwatched by adults, unbothered by cars and buses, playing and laughing and just being there, learning to live in society. Instead of being thrown into cages ("classes") from age 2 where they are lectured 10 hours a day on inane stuff made up by evil fat women from the government. Like we do.

Everyone would be more than glad to have 4 children in this kind of environment. They're just much less work, children raise each other and they're just a joy to look at. Again, I'm not eulogizing poverty, life in rural Burma isn't easy, and the people aren't all happy and good-natured. Poverty is harsh. But the one thing the rural poor in traditional societies do better is raising children. Which is the very thing which we, the richest societies in human history, are utterly incapable of doing. And is this inability which will bury is, likely forever.

Show this video to your mother and just watch her giggle for 18 minutes.


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  • Modernity has been an ongoing process of mining down the top soil and ore deposits. The global average end point as the fuels, soil, and metals run out will be much more neolithic looking than rural Burma.

    • Brave Bronze Age nudists ftw. But when I made this point in the other post people argued that metal recycling is rather easy so apparently there'd no shortage of that. 18th century technology seems doable. Don't know about topsoil though.

      • Don't know why they'd say that. The steel and copper we have will rust away in a few centuries and then there's no more ever again. All the surface level ore deposits are gone. You need enormous machines and massive amounts of diesel to get any at all these days. You can't do late middle ages style agriculture without plenty of iron or bronze.

        • Even in an Idiocracy scenario we aren't going to lose the capability to smelt iron for centuries. We can use and reuse scrap metal before it rusts all away.

        • That will take thousands of years assuming zero effort is point into preservation, and oxidized metal doesn't just disappear. If literally all of the metal on the earth's surface rusted away it would most likely create large, identifiable concentrations of recoverable metal oxides. No one's bothered with this though, because there's no point right now.

        • Yeah, rub a magnet in dry dirt and then tell us that iron is hard to find. Iron and iron oxide are everywhere! Giant open-pit mines in Australia are for the best-quality iron ore; the rest is left where it lies. You might have a point about copper, though.

        • > The steel and copper we have will rust away in a few centuries electricity removes rust from base metals rather quickly.... by the way, how much steel does a civilization need? How much steel did Ghengis Khan need to conquesr half the world?

      • Schitzo Tech is probably likely, low energy output (wood and charcoal and remaining coal and the like) maybe some trains, smart sustainable but low tech fertilizer and firearms, smokeless powder is fairly easy to make for example

        • You can have rockets and tanks and horse-drawn buggies and peasant windmills and muscle-power plows all in the same economy. The USSR did it, and North Korea currently does it. Sure, neither of those places were/are great to live in, but the point is that a general high-medieval level of technology doesn't preclude things like space exploration.

  • the unwind will take decades, centuries. it will happen (it is happening), just not all at once, tomorrow. our lifestyle goes away, slowly bleeding out. nobody alive today will see the bottoming out.

  • There's tons of Coal everywhere and Trees/Reforestation would naturally happen. So, what are these cheap fuels you say would lack? You can also generate energy with Windmills and Watermills. So no, your energy argument is bogus.

    • The coal is gone. All that's left requires massive machines and enormous amounts of diesel to get. Wood and windmills ain't gonna run even a middle ages level civilization.

      • Wood and windmills is exactly what run a medieval level civilization. Let's not overdo it. China run mostly on wood and animal power until the 20th century.

        • You guys realize that Windmills and Watermills can also generate electricity, right?

            • Before the national grid a lot of villages used water wheels to provide electricity. In the 3rd world it still done in remote parts of the Himalayas. You do need quite well run factories to make and wind the long lengths of narrow copper wire used in motors and generators though. Making one by hand could get time consuming and expensive.

    • This is true. Look to the USA. Total US power consumption in 1900 was around 9 quadrillion BTU, with 6.8 of those quadrillions coming from oil, and the rest from wood, which is classified as a renewable energy source. Today, renewable energy sources, including wood, produce almost 11 quadrillion BTUs in the USA. Enough to keep us at a 1900 level, if nothing else! And the US lags far behind European countries such as Austria, for e.g.: I'm familiar with all of the arguments against wind and solar energy, and to be honest I'm no great fan of those renewables -- but for the sake of intellectual honesty, if nothing else, it must be noted that there's sufficient renewable energy to ensure that we don't revert back to a Burmese condition, or worse. As for the "iron is running out" argument, which is almost too stupid to be believed, it should be noted: A) according to the USGS, the global reserve base of iron ore is 350B metric tons -- whereas global mine production was little more than 2B tons; B) "iron ore reserves" doesn't mean "all the iron ore there is on Earth;" the numbers are very frequently revised upwards with time. (In 1950, the USGS estimated global reserves of zinc at 77 million tons. In 2000, the US Government announced reserves were up to 209Mt.) C) "The steel will rust away!" -- you idiot, people have been making steel from iron oxide for centuries; it is a major iron ore, itself; a blast furnace can turn a bag of rust powder into steel; D) that iron ore is currently trading at $65/ton, and the price is expected to drop further to $55/ton by the end of the year; E) that steel's recycling rate is ~88%, and that most steels doesn't suffer from a decline in mechanical properties upon recycling; F) that even the best technical and tool steels rarely cost more than $2/kg in bulk. In short, iron ore is abundant, very cheap. Steel is abundant, very cheap, and recyclable without significant deterioration.

      • You're not including energy and finance in your thinking, or thinking about this on a long enough time scale. Yes, earth's core is made of iron, but it's not economical to use it. As energy availability contracts the same becomes true of presently useful rusty dirt. You have to justify the energy costs of a "gather rusty dirt and smelt it" operation with even more enormous energy production wins from the resulting tools. Cases where that can be true in an economy running on renewables will be very limited. The high grade ores are all depleted. There are closed depleted mines in many areas of America. We use more and more energy intensive lower grades. The steel we have will steadily rust and dissipate over centuries and be unrecoverable because the energy math won't work to fight the entropy. It's roughly the same situation with things like tar sands and shale oil and coal reserves, where people don't understand that almost all of that stuff will stay in the ground forever. It's impossible to get more energy out of the refined product than you blew extracting and refining it. It's also impossible to extract these things at any scale without commercial lending, which can't happen in the context of static/shrinking energy supplies. Industrial society is predicated on loans and expanding energy supply. You get the loans to pay workers and assemble your mill and burn down a large forest to make a little metal from low grade ore. How do you pay the interest? Without an expanding economy you can't. Your customers are broke. The economy can't expand because the energy supply is fixed. Catch 22.

        • Sure some iron left in exposed places will be blown away in the wind but in large piles or tunnels or buried or embedded in concrete the iron oxide will be stuck in place. When buried the oxide layer is eroded less, swords from iron age burials still have non corroded iron in the middle after thousands of years. The remains of modern cities and industrial centres will have enough scrap iron to keep neo medieval black smiths going for thousands of years. More iron than medieval mining could access. The neo neolithic will have to wait a few hundred thousand years yet. Humans will be speciating by then.

  • When can I expect 'the big one', the cascadian rupture, yellowstone, north korean war, economic collapse, or whichever circus that will bring down the modern world? Patiently waiting thank you.

  • They seem a lot like the Mexican/CentralAmerican kids in my Brooklyn neighborhood, who were almost always easy for my very White-looking kid to play with. It was sometimes kind of unnerving to me how their parents would let them run around the park unattended. As far as I know, none of them ever went missing.

  • For children in the first world, the real danger is the automobile. We in the US have made a pact with the devil - the car allows us to have our suburban estates - but only at the cost of filling the landscape with noisy and dangerous machines which are a threat to everyone and especially to children. Without cars, most US suburban areas would be perfectly safe for children to wonder about. Of course, one can scarily imagine the existence of suburbs without cars...

  • Intergalactic travel will not happen, instead the sun will die and destroy the earth in the process. By going the primitive route the higher IQ races will ensure their survival till that day comes. A medieval agricultural society with 100 IQ(Amish) will be a more pleasant place to live in then with 80 IQ society which we are heading for at the current trends.

  • We aren't going back to the iron age. Or not all of us are, at least. It's entirely possible that 9 billion humans or whatever can't live indefinitely like this, but half a billion probably could. For one thing, institutional technical knowledge is disseminated enough that even the "collapse of civilization" won't reduce the entire planet to Year Zero. In the very long term natural selection is going to produce *something* with at-least-stable fertility and the chutzpah to keep the Bantu out. Metal depletion is a nonissue. Easily-accessible ore deposits haven't been destroyed, they've been brought to the surface, purified, and are easily recoverable. Rare earth elements are mostly useful for electronics miniaturization, and I'm not sure they couldn't be recovered from PCB waste using relatively crude smelting processes if we cared enough. I can believe that a confluence of factors (dysgenics, energy depletion, mineral availability) could lead to a mass die-off down to "only" 1800 levels, but it wouldn't be the end of industrial civilization.

    • "Or not all of us, at least" -- yes, there might be an aristocracy that, with its retainers, enjoys technology way beyond our own, while most live like medieval peasants or (in outlying areas) neolithic tribesmen.

    • 1800 is the end of industrial civilization. It was a very different world back then. 1800 was still different from 1800 BC, but in many ways it was closer to 1800 BC than to the present.

      • I mean in number of people alive, not in technology. Around a billion apparently.

        • But energy depletion would be the end of industrial civilization. Absent that we wouldn't have that much issue with producing fertilizer so I don't see why we couldn't feed more than 1 billion people.

          • 1800 fed a billion people fine, and they knew less about agriculture than us. And in all likelihood the most problematic aspects of subsequent population growth was enabled by tech, rather than the other way around.

    • Building on this: it should be obvious that there can never be a true return to the past; any "post-collapse" civilization would be fundamentally different from previous civilizations, because it would contain the knowledge of greater achievements. Take the glorification of Greece and Rome that took place during the High Middle Ages and Renaissance and multiply it 100x. And because of mass production, they'd have far more artifacts and texts (even in the age of Wikipedia) pointing to the achievements of the past than the medievals did. Returning to that past would be the obsession of many men of ambition. If nothing else, the desire for our weapons technology would motivate rulers. And for that reason, you could expect whatever society best preserved technology to be aggressively expansionistic, as Europe was, having evolved to survive the Second Bantu Expansion. The idea that an advanced society would leave a primitive society in peace indefinitely is pretty removed from reality. Even if primitive societies have nothing of material value to take, they will always have women. And men emerging from a dark age will have far fewer scruples about seizing those women than do men in our age.

  • Where are the children? All I see is an agglomeration of differently sized muddy primitives.

  • Islam is the terminal middle age society given our biology. Europe and china were both utterly incapable of stopping it before industry. Permanent medieval society is the permanent triumph of low iq rapist, brother murdering cavalry raiders.

    • Frankish shield-wall stopped it at Tours. English longbowmen would have stopped it. Alexander the Great would have stopped it (combined pike-infantry and cavalry). The general point is that well-trained non-aristocratic troops with a sense of pride can defeat masses of cavalry raiders. (Right? I don't really know.)

        • It did once those troops got a hold of gunpowder weapons. Not even very good ones, at that.

      • Well trained and disciplined horse archers are a pain to defeat. The Romans, who were otherwise pretty strong, did not have a cakewalk against Parthia; Crassus was slaughtered at Carrahae, for example. During the Crusades, Islamic horse archers were consistently effective, though their lack of discipline meant that they sometimes got caught up in melees by European knights (and consequently crushed).

        • Victories against horse archers are singular or paired anomalies on a map, capturing a single city for 10 years perhaps. Horse archers expanded from a single city to occupying half of southern europe, all of the antiquity civs, all of western asia, and most of southeast asia, as well as significant parts of china, depressing iq in every single location. The pattern of islamic social behavior consistently replaces high iq people in the city with peripheral low iq murderers everywhere it appears. If industrial civ collapses we wont get a second chance. It was a simple fluke that europeans discovered industry before being overwhelmed

          • You seem to be conflating the Mongols and the Muslims, which is silly. The Islamic invasions of Europe were pretty typical by contemporary military standards. Steppe horse archers were scary but there's nothing like them today, and there won't be ever again thanks to firearms unless there's some kind of completely unforeseen technical revolution.

            • The ottomans were an islamic empire with a higher iq phenotype than arabs that took over when the arabs became too low iq to continue raping. The ottomans depressed iq everywhere they went and were the strongest empire in europe for a long time. When the ottomans would have become too low iq to function, their model of conquest and islam wpuld have been adopted by a higher iq subjugated group Are you forgetting thatvthe ottomans had conquered as much as vienna? Imagine some clever convert in vienna islamizing germanic people amd putting them on a warpath in northern europe, dropping their iq... game over. There is no recovery.

              • What is this about horse archers lowering IQ? Lots of things lower IQ (such as Singapore, perhaps), but it is not instantly obvious to me that a horse archer is one of those things. Did I miss an idea? Regarding the original post: the sci fi is interesting but it seems to me that the forecast remains too blurry to reliably resolve details, or even to resolve main features in the large. I suppose that some scarcity or other will always pose a chief constraint, but doubt that energy will be it. Malthusian limits will probably govern in any event, but yes, a higher average IQ would be preferable. I have packed lunch to work today. My lunch does not look like a Malthusian limit, thankfully. It looks pretty good, actually. Maybe if I moved to Arakan, I would lose some weight?

            • Also we are talking about technological collapse. There is a decent chance most nations wont be able to recreate firearms. Certainly not browner people. Many college graduates cannot multiply fractions. Genetics remains a long term existential threat.

  • "I honestly don’t know what to say to that." I do -- where's the teleos in such nonsense? Humanity can be fat, dumb and happy in the "iron age" until the sun goes nova. Then what? Oops. This community derides the childless as failures and IQ 80 aboriginal worthless at best -- what then shall we call an intelligent species that perishes on its home planet due to complacency?

    • My original idea for a New Religion was spacefaring, but that isn't looking very feasible, and the industrialization and computer age steps needed for that are basically making us eat the seed corn.

    • Nothing will save us from the sun going into its red giant phase. H.G. Wells lied to you when he popularized the idea of galactic civilization; without a fundamental revolution in our understanding of physics (which is possible, but highly unlikely in our peer-reviewed age), we might just set up a temporary Moon colony as a racial vanity project, but no more. There's just no point.

        • Get back to me when we can make a nuclear submarine run for 5,000 years without an overhaul.

            • No, of course not, but then, neither are dragons and unicorns, or socialism leading to utopia. Just because we can imagine something doesn't mean it's at all feasible. I could go on with various problems with the idea. For example, it's not even proven that people can physically survive the trip to Mars yet, and there are some fair indications that they can't. We don't even know if babies develop normally in microgravity, or if they can even be born - it's quite possible that their skeleto-muscular development requires gravity, and that the birth process would kill them.

              • My response to the space travel fantasy stuff is to suggest the enthusiasts move to a valley in Antarctica with a single container and then prove they can live there for eight years without resupply. Way easier than going to mars, but even Antarctica really might not be possible. And nobody sane would volunteer for it.

  • Counterpoint: Once you know a thing is possible, you find ways to make it happen. The expense might be significantly greater and take five to ten times longer, but it's nearly always doable if you just think about it. For example if you want cars, you don't need gasoline, you just need wood gas engines. Yeah it'll be less efficient energy storage and more expensive travel but the basic thing is still there. If you want space travel, you can synthesize everything you need - it's just chemistry and energy, and the energy problem is just a balance between density of storage and time spent collecting it. The one thing we really can run out of is radioactives, but those aren't absolutely required for getting into orbit (although they would help, and there's certainly a possibility that enough radioactive ore will be left around for some future civilization to Orion themselves into space and start mining the asteroids). The cheap resources kickstarting the Industrial Revolution helped, but nobody knew where they were going with that, so they were fairly inefficient in using them. The whole process could be reproduced at a fraction of the resource expenditure if necessary. It would take a near-extinction-level event to erase the changes the IR has had on human society, and the fact that people KNOW these things are doable. Running a lathe or a milling machine doesn't require coal. At worst, you can make do with a river flowing nearby. Once you have those machines running, you are no longer dependent on the natural cycle, no more so than you can give up guns to go back to swords when you know guns are possible. I've been doing a fair amount of research on this recently and more and more I'm coming to the conclusion that humans are most of the way past a phase change in human nature on a level that hasn't been seen since the invention of agriculture. There's no going back. This actually ties into the "new religion" thing, since ALL the old religions were absolutely tied into the cycle of the seasons and agriculture on a very fundamental level. Whatever the new religion will be, we can't know and can't predict it, because it will be an outgrowth of industrial mass production and its consequences, and we don't know what the consequences of that for human nature are yet.

    • Thinking about it, I'd add that increased-but-not-prohibitive energy-related expense might actually encourage projects like Jerry Pournelle's system of orbiting solar power satellites, which can be scaled up linearly with no problem and would provide all the energy anybody would want. We don't do that right now because the environmentalists have all the AC and widescreen TV they want. If a society is at a point where they KNOW further expansion of industry is possible and desirable and they KNOW they are being held back due to energy costs, suddenly the cost/benefit analysis looks entirely different.

      • We don't do this because it's prohibitively expensive at current power prices. (There's the cost of getting the satellites up there, stationkeeping, and maintenance in a very harsh environment.) Trading rocket fuel for electricity just isn't that efficient.

        • No. You're trading rocket fuel for a satellite. It's a one-time sunk cost. It's a high cost of entry but it pays off nearly indefinitely.

          • To expand on this a bit: How often do GPS satellites require maintenance flights? What about weather sats, or communications sats? How many maintenance flights have there been since the shuttles stopped flying? What's the average expected lifetime of these satellites? How much maintenance have the Voyager probes required in order to keep transmitting? What is the cost in joules of getting a given mass into orbit? Assuming that this mass is devoted to solar power gathering and beaming it down to Earth as Pournelle describes, what is the expected average lifetime of the satellite, and how many joules will it gather during that time? What is the difference between the first number and the second? The point is that Pournelle already ran all these numbers back in the 1970s, the last time these sorts of concerns were prevalent. The math works. It's worth doing. It just isn't sufficiently worth doing right now because we have lots of cheap energy on Earth's surface and the barrier-to-entry costs of building the launch infrastructure and satellites are high enough that it doesn't compete well with alternative investments with short-term payoffs. Increase the cost of energy world-wide and those high-payoff short-term investments become a lot scarcer.

            • You're trading rocket fuel for electricity. Whenever you gain electricity from orbit, you're stealing it from your own potential energy. Your orbit falls. So you need stationkeeping fuel, quite a bit more of it than you do for other satellite applications. Further, because you're transmitting power with this satellite, you have at least some parts that are under a lot more stress than weathersats, commsats, etc. And true, we don't generally run maintenance flights on satellites - because it's prohibitively expensive. More expensive than just sending up another one when the first one breaks, if the first one doesn't break all that often because it's not doing all that much strenuous. But we're talking about a satellite doing a high-wear task, which means either corresponding more maintenance or faster replacement. (Probably the latter, since even repairing Hubble wasn't economical, except from the standpoint of bureaucratic budgets.) Anyhow, I'm not claiming it'll never ever be economically feasible. I'm specifically claiming the same thing you do in your last paragraph - that it's not feasible unless a lot of things change. But of course if energy becomes a lot more expensive here on Earth, the cost of rocket fuel and launch architecture goes up too, so it's not trivially obvious that it will be a good idea at some point.

              • "Whenever you gain electricity from orbit, you’re stealing it from your own potential energy. Your orbit falls. " I held off on answering this line at first because I didn't understand it. Having thought about it a while, I still don't understand it. You're not stealing from your own potential energy, you're getting energy input from the sun and then output towards Earth. The satellite is a conduit, it has no meaningful net change in its energy state. If you can explain how gathering sunlight on solar panels and then beaming it via microwaves to receptors on Earth causes the satellite to lose potential energy, I'd be very interested to see it.

    • The new religion, in other words the new social-cohesion-inducing/sustaining system of collective ritualistic behavior enforced/motivated by certain slogans and ideas, might not look like a religion -- it might look more like an "augmented reality" game.

      • Religion this, religion that. Start with accepting the Wager of Pascal. Better worship Cthulhu than to stay an Atheist. Hell is eternal.

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