How long would it take to turn people into brutes?

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Pablo Edronkin

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If an apocalyptic event takes place, survivors would not only be confronting the immediate dangers caused by the event itself, but also, the result of the destruction of knowledge necessary to reconstruct society. It would be sure to bet on a return to a primordial level of obscurantism if certain measures are not taken.

Continuing with our analysis on the feasibility of a "Noah's Ark" kind of survival shelter or mission (see "Is Noah's Ark a realistic, valid survival strategy?"), we will see now what could be the impact of the disappearance of knowledge and culture, and so understand why saving cultural, historic, scientific and other artifacts that form part of the universal culture of mankind should be save, even at the cost of some people's lives.

The republican Spanish war effort was crumbling in early 1939, as the civil war in the country was reaching its final moments. Tens of thousands of refugees were attempting to cross into France thorough the roads and trails that crossed the mountains. And in the middle of this human tragedy, several trucks loaded with works of art coming from Spanish museums passed by, speeding, without stopping just one moment to pick up anybody. The priority of their drivers was to save a significant part of the cultural heritage of Spain: they finally made it. The falangists knew about the trucks. They bombed and machine gunned their enemies happily even then, but not those vehicles. The trucks finally got into France, and the Spanish treasures went to Switzerland for a while, until they were returned to Spain, now in the hands of Franco.

Tens, or even hundreds of people could have been saved had the pieces of art been downloaded and left on the side of the road. But in the long run would that have been correct? Indeed, nobody would like to be left stranded in a road in such a situation. However, we have to consider that in apocalyptic situations some things become more important that life itself.

In order to understand this, we only have to ask ourselves: how long would it take to turn a civilization into a mass of animal brutality? The answer is simple: Just one generation. And the method is even more simple, because in order to turn humans into animals, you only have to do two things: wait until those who have knowledge die, and disallow the propagation of their knowledge while they are still alive.

Then it is better to use some means to save more people or to save the basic elements of their culture? It would be really to save humankind to deprive it of all its knowledge?

Societies and cultures that have survived for extended periods of time under duress or deprived of some of their most significant resources, like self-government, a territory, etc. usually bet on organization, knowledge and religion to survive as national entities. Such an example is that of the Jews.

Many of the celebrated figures in Jewish religious history were not miraculous prophets or people who performed providential acts, but authors and talmudists. Rabbis are often measured by the weight of their intellectual work. This speaks of a culture of erudition, preservation and transmission of knowledge.

Brutalization is a technique used to some extent in many different dictatorial or undemocratic regimes in order to avoid civil unrest: if people doesn't know that abroad other fellow human beings enjoy a better life, they will not protest. Cutting and censoring information coming from across the borders, and then using lots of propaganda to embellish the regime's results is the commonest way to achieve that.

Thus, in case that a "Noah's Ark" survival strategy like the one described is attempted, rescuing cultural artifacts and recovering and reconstructing them and their meaning would be as important as saving biological species. After all, humans without human culture are no better than any other animal.

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