The Perenno mission rests on seven assumptions:

..1. Collapse of global civilization is more likely than other events that reasonable people …….insure against. The odds are 16,000 to 1 against a typical house burning down.

..2. Collapse without a plan for preservation would destroy most recorded knowledge.

..3. Preservation of knowledge would greatly speed recovery.

..4. The best way to preserve knowledge would be construction of an archival facility to
…….perpetuate key elements of technology including a massive electronic database.*

..5. Two major challenges would confront such a facility:

……a. A well-stocked facility surrounded by hordes of armed and starving people would
……….face risk of violent attack.

……b. Breakdown of trade and industry would eliminate access to spare parts for broken
……….machinery aside from what is available on-site.

..6. Solutions are available for the two major challenges:

……a. Defensive measures could include a military battalion.

……b. Political measures could include development of a perimeter where leaders outside
……….the facility would be responsible for protecting stored resources from aggressors and
……….rationing them among survivors. While conflict during and after a collapse would be
……….inevitable, there are means to keep battlefields at a distance.

……c. Warehouses can hold centuries worth of most spare parts and raw materials. Light
……….manufacturing can provide non-durable items. Freeze-dried food remains edible for
……….up to twenty-five years. Conditions at some point after the turmoil of collapse will
……….permit on-site cultivation and local trade.

..7. Failure to prepare now for recovery after a collapse would be irresponsible.

You can argue against or in favor of these assumptions in the End-of-the-World-As-We-Know-It Forum. If you disagree with them, then please clearly state your alternative premises after thinking them through.

What kind of facility can survive the collapse of civilization and then keep its computers running for decades or even centuries going forward?

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone

Imagine yourself working on the plans.  You will design multiple redundant systems for food, water, power, information processing, medical technology, and defense.  You must warehouse a millennium worth of spare parts.  How many of each spare part should you store?  To answer that question, you have to know the projected life of each component of every critical system both in use and on the shelf.  You may have to engineer some ultra-durable items or set up in-house manufacturing processes for weak links in the chain such as capacitors. Don’t forget to store the raw materials!

How many people will live in your facility?  With too few people, the community dies.  With too many people, expenses grow out of control.  What mix of skills will it take for them to survive and to succeed in their mission?  How will you stop them from opening the gates to bring their closest friends and family inside while a collapse is underway?  Where will the President of the United States and his retinue move when their bunker runs out of supplies?  Be ready for them to show up.  What will you do if 5,000 people try to share provisions meant for 500?

Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism

Be sure to plan for more than one kind of catastrophe.  An event could depopulate the Earth in hours, or economic decay could drag on for decades.  A continent could fall to an early industrial level for a generation, or agricultural productivity could plummet almost everywhere in the world for twice that long.  The scholars and technicians preserving knowledge at a Perenno facility might live next to small bands of foragers at one point in their history and powerful warlords at another. They will face different dangers at different times. Whatever you expect, something else will happen.

The Perenno approach will preserve working knowledge, not just tablets for some archaeologist to dig up after the recovery is over.  No Medieval scholar could have puzzled out the workings of an ancient Antikythera computer from its waterlogged remains. The technique behind it was lost. We can find inspiration in the work of the Irish courtier priest, Sedulius Scottus. He copied Greek and Latin codices and learned enough from them to advise Charlemagne on matters of statecraft. Just a little more classical knowledge spread by a handful of others like him could have increased the kingdom’s productivity, hence its military might, enough to crush the rampaging Norsemen. The Renaissance might have arrived centuries ahead of schedule.

What kind of military defense will you put in your plans? Dark ages are dangerous. Vikings enjoyed raiding monasteries in post-Roman Europe. They murdered scholars and burned scriptoria. Caliph Omar of Baghdad sent his army to conquer Alexandria, where much of Rome’s classical knowledge had been preserved alongside the heritage of other nearby cultures. Almost every book in its library ended up as fuel for the public baths. Travesty? Yes. Novelty? No. At the end of the Bronze Age, refugees across the Mediterranean had dispersed across rugged terrain to escape the Sea Peoples. These troubled times saw the widespread burial, not just of human corpses but also of clay tablets with economic records, political archives and literature at places such as Alalakh, Emar, and Ugarit. A thousand years before those cities fell, the palace at Ebla collapsed on top of that kingdom’s archives.

Part of a column from a papyrus roll containing Aeschines' "Against Ctesiphon"

Part of Aeschines' "Against Ctesiphon"

A Sumerian clay tablet will almost certainly contain more useful information a thousand years from now than the hard drive in the computer you are using right now. How long will a typical computer keep running after the last multi-billion dollar chip-manufacturing clean room has decayed into a rusty pile of junk?  What information should we store on paper?  Which books should we etch into metal?  Who will choose priorities among holy scriptures, scientific texts, technical manuals, patents, great literature, and historical documentation?  What plans will you make for copying and distributing the right stuff to the right people at the right times?

Getting the details right could spell the difference between a long, punishing dark age and a quicker recovery. The paucity of easy-to-reach oil and other mineral resources would hamper our efforts to rebuild. The loss of trillions of dollars worth of information would cripple those efforts even further. We cannot put oil back into the ground, but we can preserve our knowledge.

Critics may favor spending all of our anti-collapse funds on prevention rather than recovery.  This brand of argument sounds logical at first, but if we were to take it seriously, then every homeowner should cancel their insurance policy and spend the money on fireproofing instead of premiums.  Call your mortgage-holder and see what they think of that idea. Imagine a prevention plan that everybody will agree on. Start with a consensus among the conservatives who believe that liberalism will destroy us and the liberals who believe that conservative policies will bring us down. Next, convince every ruthless dictator to renounce weapons of mass destruction. Call a plumber to drain the magma chamber underneath the Yellowstone Supervolcano. Tally up the dollars needed for NASA to guarantee protection against every danger from outer space including a big rock named 101955 1999 RQ36. This one asteroid is ten times more likely to impact our planet than fire is to destroy your wisely insured home.

Critics will also argue for a cheaper solution than a multi-billion-dollar, state-of-the-art Perenno facility.  If these critics win a close political battle, we should etch their leaders’ names onto a megalith right under a short, cheap note to our descendants.  It will explain why we spent trillions of dollars on potato chips, lawn care, tourism, sugar drinks, and pornography but allotted no budget to protect their heritage and secure their livelihood.

* The “best” method for preserving knowledge is the one with the highest likelihood of substantially shortening a dark age. It requires getting the right information to the right people at the right time to stoke economic vitality. For instance, a Perenno facility and its neighbors might set up a regional pantelegraph network. A farming cooperative might ask for instructions on how to build a hay loader. Perenno could send them an image of an 1896 hay loader patent. It could answer hundreds of requests each day from its giant electronic database.

One Response to Overview

  1. fred.greek says:

    My estimates are that if in essence isolated, the minimum size for a stand alone full service and capable of advancing human community is around 1 million people, all in essense within walking distance of the overall community. (Say a square 11 miles on a side.)