Lost Knowledge

The Survivor Library is a growing collection of books on a wide range of skills from the mundane (how to clean a chicken for cooking) through the somewhat unusual

  • how to build a telegraph system
  • what’s the best wood to use when building a WWI era biplane
  • how to build instruments to control a steam engine
  • how to build a steamship
  • how to operate a steam locomotive
  • how to attach a plow to a horse
  • how to manufacture a plow

The purpose of the books is to provide a repository of skill knowledge that has been abandoned, forgotten or deemed no longer of any use as we have progressed in our technological capabilities.

Unfortunately our growing litany of technological wonders has made us, both as individuals and as communities, dependent on the actual skills of others and on a fragile technological infrastructure that is increasingly prone to failure. Most people use technology about which they know virtually nothing.

Many men joke about women being ignorant about the cars they drive without stopping to realize that they themselves know little more about most of the technology which they use.

Most women my be ignorant about oil filters and fuel injection but most men are equally ignorant about how to kill and butcher a hog or a cow, how to build a motor, how to manufacture a new saw if the old one breaks and the stores are all gone, how to make a plow or a saddle, etc.

Most people alive today and under the age of 50 have grown up in an advanced technological and industrial infrastructure on which they have been dependent their entire lives. Most people alive in the United States have been procuring their food from grocery stores their entire lives and have no true conception of where that food comes from, other than in an abstract sense, and even less knowledge of how to produce it themselves.

The skills of self sufficiency which our grandparents even 70-100 years ago took for granted have been lost, not passed on, and forgotten in the intervening years. There has been some resurgence of interest in such skills in the past decades but it has been minimal and more of a hobby than a true desire to master the knowledge of self sufficiency. The Foxfire books are an example of that small resurgence. The people who do possess these skills make up a very small almost minute percentage of the population.

There are many people among us who garden and even supplement their food from their gardens. There are fewer who can and preserve the produce of their gardens. There are even fewer who harvest their own seed from their produce in order to plant the next years crop.

The Amish live a relatively self-sufficient lifestyle and have kept many skills alive but even they depend to one degree or another on the modern industrial system. While they would have a much better chance of surviving the collapse of the industrial infrastructure even they would have difficulties. Many of the materials and supplies upon which they rely are products of the industrial system and they do not have the skills or knowledge to immediately replace them.

Just to cite the simplest example, the Amish use the same glass jars and lids to can their produce as you and I use. The Amish, just like the general population, lack the skills and knowledge to make glass jars.

I have known and visited over the years with many people who live a “self-sufficient lifestyle. In virtually every single case one or more important part of their lives made use of the products or services of our existing infrastructure whether it was solar panels, wind generators, storage batteries and sophisticated control technology or even seemingly simple things like rubber gasketed canning jar lids. There seemed to always be one or more critical parts of their  systems which were the product of modern technology and without which there would be a major difficulty or shortfall.

We have lost a great deal of knowledge over the last several generations and some of it is knowledge we needed to keep.

The Librarian

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