Why the West is Riding for a Fall

Two recently published books, 'Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed' and 'Dark Age Ahead' suggest our oil-dependent culture is 'rushing' towards a new Dark Age.

Published: 14-Jan-2005

A little book with a big title, Dark Age Ahead, published last year, tracked the ebbs and flows of civilisations over centuries. It came to this chilling conclusion: "We show signs of rushing headlong into a Dark Age." Not slipping towards a Dark Age. Rushing.

Dark Age Ahead (Random House, New York), was written by Jane Jacobs. She may be almost unknown in this country but has been famous in North America for 40 years, making her name writing about how communities thrive or decay. "Jane is like a rock star in Canada," her publisher, David Ebershoff, told me. (Jacobs is American but lives in Toronto.) Her dark age warning was directed at the United States but she also wants the rest of the West to heed the signs. She thinks Western culture is not as sturdy as it looks: "Writing, printing, and the internet give a false sense of security about the permanence of culture. Most of the million details of a complex, living culture are transmitted neither in writing nor pictorially. Instead, cultures live through word and mouth and example ... [and] countless nuances that are assimilated only through experience."

She singles out several pillars of culture that she believes are "insidiously decaying":

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