The next destruction of books will take place as swiftly as the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria. Already libraries are getting rid of physical books and shifting to electronic records. Vandals will delete electronic books by hacking the systems; politicians will delete them for the supposed protection of the republic. Selective electronic book burning will be as easy as pie, because so-called artificial intelligence will be used to scan millions of manuscripts at once for unapproved ideas.
Destruction is already taking place willy-nilly, because software and hardware obsolescence increasingly deprive us of the ability to recover documents, files, and recordings more than a few years old. Can you still listen to your old eight-track tape player? Can your DVR-equipped computer still read your old CDs? Can your new computer accept your old floppy disks? The span of electronic memory turns out to be much less than a single generation of man.
About ten years ago, I was about to lose access to about 15,000 old documents written in an old word processing program, because the newer versions of MS-Word no longer support DOS. Well-meaning technicians – who thought this was like bringing back the horse-drawn buggy -- told me that there ought to be a way to convert my documents all at once. Even after research, though, they couldn’t tell me what it might be. Over a period of weeks, I dropped everything else in order to laboriously convert my files one, by one, by one, by one, by one.
“But everything is on the internet now!” Software obsolescence affects a lot of internet files too. Have most of us any idea how fragile such complex systems are, how much coordinated effort by thousands of people they take to maintain? Not to mention how easy they are to manipulate. Consider the algorithms used in social media, which seem so much more efficient in eliminating what our elites call “misinformation” than in eliminating children’s access to pornography. Besides – people read less and less, and the internet has devastated our attention spans.
“It will all work out.” Don’t be so sure. We prefer to view prosperity, economic opportunity, political freedom, and religious liberty as facts of nature, like air and gravity. In fact they are delicate achievements which will be lost in an instant if the cultural consensus which supports them disappears. Already this consensus has gravely eroded. In fact, it is under assault, and too often, those who recognize the fact are afraid to speak for fear of being called “partisan,” “polarizing,” on “on the wrong side of history.”
People of a certain kind of faith sometimes ask me, “But don’t you believe God is in control?” Yes, but this doesn’t mean that He will preserve our civilization. What it means is that He can save souls and preserve His Church, and that in the end, none of our civilization’s wickedness and insanity will be able to defeat His purposes. If we cannot or refuse to be reformed, we may be swept away -- or allowed to destroy ourselves – or, most likely, both.
Cheer up. I don’t say that our civilization can’t be reformed. Gloom and doom are wastes of time and vexations of spirit. Since we don’t know the future, we should always fight to preserve our institutions, never stooping to lie or manipulate, as though we knew that they still can be preserved -- for maybe they can. Prudence, however, requires inward preparation for the very real possibility of their disappearance, well within our lifetimes.