Another reason why we won’t exist in future history

I’ve went on Luddite rants before, but a NextGov article titled Most Scientific Research Data from the 1990s is Lost Forever settles in my mind the impending technoclasm will erase us from history.

As a  Maître Jaques, I amateurishly dabble in many fields, but have not the skill to bountifully harvest from any of them. But even a simpleton such as I can see that we will be an enigma to future generations, who might see the ruins of our great civilization, but have no surviving record of what we were capable of. Unlike the Egyptians, we don’t leave much of our record in stone. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, we don’t even leave it in paper anymore. We’re more like the Atlanteans (they did exist didn’t they???). What other ancient civilizations existed that we have no record of because they chose to store their records to “advanced”, and fragile, means of storage. ?

The article mentioned that much of the lost data were stored on floppy disks. This reminded me of another article about the migration of the original source code of Prince of Persia a while back. Had the source code not been found when antique hardware was available to read the ancient formats, that effort would have been lost as well. This is the dilemma of digital storage: every so often, that which is saved in an old format must be moved to a newer format. Obsolete tech, bit rot, and what-have-you.
I have firsthand experience with the hassle this is. After my father died, I inherited all the old VHS family movies. For a couple years now, I’ve kept a VCR around, connected to a DVD burner, so that I can convert the movies to DVD, which I will then rip to some digital format, saved to my hard drive. So what do I do then? I have to back them up to something else in case of hard drive failure. What do I do a decade from now when I have to migrate to some newer platform? When does the value of the “memories” diminish to where it is not worth the effort? Do my kids or their kids really care to see what my siblings and I did growing up? I don’t know, but as the family archivist, I’ll go through the effort, because I don’t want to be the one to let the family stories and legends die.
We tried to address this in the 70s with the gold disks sent out on Voyagers 1 & 2. I don’t think we’ve done many such practical things since. I’ve seen a theory posited online that the apex of human civilization was 1975. I’ll not link to them, because they’re just as crackpotish as I am (or more¡), but when you look at how little “new” we’ve created since then, the theory sounds reasonable. We haven’t been to the moon since then. Intel invented the 4004 microprocessor in 1971. We still use a small arms platform designed by Eugene Stoner in 1958. Even the Space Shuttle was a 1960s design that would have launched years earlier had it not been for government bureaucracy. Everything we have done since has been advances on these innovations. Sure we have smaller, faster, lighter tech that wasn’t available then, but its all built off of the thinking from that era. Even Unix was invented in the late 60s and was in pretty good use by the early 70s. We’ve even reached the limits of Moore’s Law.
So what is the solution? If we want to be remembered as a civilization, we need to develop some type of high-density, analog format etched into a robust media, like the disks on Voyager. This Wikipedia entry has other peoples’ ideas. Or we drop back to one of my other favorite topics, Tribalism, and each small group ensures the survival of its own legacy through whatever means it chooses.

Urban Tribalism

The headline of a Slashdot article, Can a computer identify your urban tribe?, got me thinking today. I’ve commented some on tribalism (here and here), but I did go out on a limb to state my belief that tribalism is the most stable form of government.

Granted, my screed here has nothing to do with the notion that an algorithm can deduce your particular social quirk (a.k.a “urban tribe”). It probably can’t tell from my social media photos that I am a confused thirty-something who wishes he had been born in Edwardian England, Tsarist Russia, or Teddy Roosevelt’s America. With its categorizations of Bikers, Hipsters, Goth, Surfers, or Formal, I find it lacking the”No Sense of Style” category. I also find these material categorizations vapid.

But digress I must.

The main benefits of tribalism is that it is small and exclusive. That doesn’t work in our modern, inclusive, multi-culti, everyone-is-right-because-there-is-no-right-or-wrong godless democracy. We are so enlightened that our genius transcends human history, good vs. evil, or the myriad of quaint superstitions practiced in tribalism. We are post-societal man-gods to ourselves. We need need no religion, for it cannot be proven scientifically.

With modern democracy, conflicting groups are often forced to live together, with the majority group running roughshod over the minorities. This leads to strife and conflict. In America, it leads to gerrymandered districts that bob and weave through geographic areas to achieve the desired political outcome. We vote for weak appeasers who are the lesser of two evils. We do not follow the sage advice of President Kennedy and “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.“, we hold out our hand to see what we will be given in exchange for our vote. We neither offer nor accept bribes, because that would be unethical, so we lobby politicians by contributing financially to their campaigns. We allow our elected leaders appoint nameless and faceless unelected bureaucrats, whom we loathe. We loathe them because we are jealous of their unfettered power.

Tribalism reveres the elder and the warrior. Tribalism honors the family as its form of survival. The religion of the tribe is maintained and its gods(s) revered. Outsiders are vetted before being allowed to become a part of the tribe. Members who violate norms are punished. As exemplified in the Cherokee Blood Law, actions not in the interest of the tribe were often punished by death. Order was maintained. Honor was maintained.

Historically, democracy is only temporary. They tend to corrupt themselves and collapse into dictatorships. It may take a decade or several hundred years, but they always fail.

However, tribalism can survive, even while enveloped by an overarching form of government. Using the Native American tribes as examples, they maintain their tribal heritage while also being American citizens. They vote in local, state, and national elections outside their tribal structures. They serve in the United States Armed Forces. But at the end of the day, they are Cherokee, Navaho, Delaware, Apache, while at the same time being American. The United States attempted to destroy their tribal identities over a century ago and failed. Granted, many did assimilate, as my purported Cherokee ancestors did, but a great number did keep their heritage. I commend them.

So what has been the point in my incoherent blathering? We should celebrate our differences. We shouldn’t force conformance. But at the same time we can’t expect unity. We’re not all going to get along. We’re going to splinter off into factions, into tribes, but let us remember: “If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18 ASV).