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Dark Age Ahead

de Jane Jacobs

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7051623,821 (3.44)30
Publisher's description: Visionary thinker Jane Jacobs uses her authoritative work on urban life and economies to show us how we can protect and strengthen our culture and communities. In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs identifies five pillars of our culture that we depend on but which are in serious decline: community and family; higher education; the effective practice of science; taxation and government; and self-policing by learned professions. The decay of these pillars, Jacobs contends, is behind such ills as environmental crisis, racism and the growing gulf between rich and poor; their continued degradation could lead us into a new Dark Age, a period of cultural collapse in which all that keeps a society alive and vibrant is forgotten. But this is a hopeful book as well as a warning. Jacobs draws on her vast frame of reference -- from fifteenth-century Chinese shipbuilding to zoning regulations in Brampton, Ontario -- and in highly readable, invigorating prose offers proposals that could arrest the cycles of decay and turn them into beneficent ones. Wise, worldly, full of real-life examples and accessible concepts, this book is an essential read for perilous times.… (mais)
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Due to my current borderline obsession with social collapse, I was intrigued when I saw this recommended on the Multnomah County Library's website. So I placed a hold and received a copy not long after and got to reading.

I liked it. Hence the three stars. I didn't quite love it. Not because of any lack of good information and ideas or a lack of quality writing, but more because I wanted it to be a little more riled up. A bit more emotional. It was very straightforward and even, which is perfectly commendable but doesn't get my blood flowing.

Jacobs basically claims that North America (the U.S. and Canada, that is) is teetering dangerously close on the brink of sliding into a Dark Age. She cites five major reasons why: the continuing degradation of community and family, our higher education system, misuse of science and technology, governmental representation that has become disconnected from local needs, and the failure of self-regulation of the learned professions.

I found all the points really intriguing, with quite a number of viewpoints offered that I hadn't before heard or considered. Her talk of the degradation of community and family was a great section, not focusing on ranting moralistic concerns so much as on the ever-worsening economic brutalities that households face while trying to support themselves, as well as the destruction of community (in its most holistic sense) brought about by those economic hardships as well as poor planning practices. For instance, she takes suburban design to task. Again, this is not in some kind of moralistic view in which she proclaims suburbs evil, but rather she simply points out the ways in which thought-processes behind their planning have been terribly misguided and destructive, often leading to neighborhoods that lack any real sense of community.

Her taking to task of most of the universities in North America was also quite compelling. It comes across as a somewhat more dispassionate version of [a:Wendell Berry|8567|Wendell Berry|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1209652700p2/8567.jpg]'s arguments in [b:Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition|76732|Life Is a Miracle An Essay Against Modern Superstition|Wendell Berry|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1236228896s/76732.jpg|74220], although the substance of the arguments do have their differences, as well. Still, she quite convincingly argues that universities have become little more than credentialing agencies, rather than institutions that work to create fully formed human beings via comprehensive education (that fosters and creates the ability of critical and independent thought) and mentoring.

Those are just a few of the intriguing arguments Jacobs makes in the book, and if they sound interesting, I certainly would recommend reading it. I perhaps prefer this sort of information to come to me via a more agitated voice--someone railing, though ideally not to the degree of incoherence. That Dark Age Ahead doesn't come in that exact voice is no condemnation of it as a fine bit of writing. Hell, for some, it's probably a much more palatable approach to a topic that can easily become very emotionally charged. For me, I would have preferred a bit more Berry-type anger.

But then, I have Berry for that. Jacobs fulfills her own niche quite nicely. ( )
  joel.caris | Jun 26, 2020 |
The book suggests 5 ways in which our (North American) culture is failing, hurling us toward a Dark Age. It was written 15 years ago and it's clear that these parameters have gotten significantly worse rather than better in that time. None of her suggestions as to how the downward spiral could be arrested have been adopted. As such it's a rather depressing book. ( )
  snash | Mar 11, 2020 |
Jacobs is an interesting writer, and clearly very well-read. Also a fascinating person. This book contains some interesting ideas. She leans heavily on Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. Dark Age Ahead, however, is not a very "focused" book. Kind of rambling. Well written rambling. ( )
  bibliosk8er | Aug 16, 2018 |
241 p.
  BmoreMetroCouncil | Feb 9, 2017 |
This is the last book Jane Jacobs wrote. It was written in 2003 and she was born in 1916 so she was 87 at the time. How wonderful to have the mental acuity and wide-ranging curiosity at that age to bring together such divergent fields as city planning, economics, history, politics and education.
Jacobs takes us through a discussion of various Dark Ages and how they resulted in a cultural amnesia into a dissection of five pillars that show signs of a coming Dark Age and finally into a prescription for forestalling this. The five pillars are:
1. Community and family
2. Higher education
3. Science and technology
4. Governmental representation
5. Self-governing professions
Although I can’t speak authoritatively about any of these pillars I do know a little bit more about science and technology than the others. Jacobs describes the way the scientific process works better than anyone else I have ever read. At page 69 she says “In sum, the scientific state of mind works along two slightly different avenues, one abstract, the other feeling its way more concretely and pragmatically. Both approaches demand integrity, awareness of evidence and respect for it, and attention to new questions that arise as immediate practical problems to be grappled with, or else as more abstract and postponable. Both avenues are valid and effective. They work together so well that they frequently shift back and forth in the course of an investigation or they overlap.” She then goes on to say “If a body of enquiry becomes disconnected from the scientific state of mind, that unfortunate segment of knowledge is no longer scientific.” She cites three examples of supposed scientific thinking that became disconnected from the scientific state of mind. The fact that she saw this as an issue in 2003, long before the Harper Government started to wage its war on science strikes me as remarkably prescient. The federal government has muzzled its own scientists and attacked non-governmental science groups with everything from audits to lies.
If Jacobs was as correct about her other arguments as she was about science and technology then we are probably further down the road to a Dark Age than we were a decade ago. Let us hope we are not too late to unwind the vicious spiral (the title of Chapter Seven). ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Sep 3, 2014 |
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. . . the death or the stagnated moribundity of formerly unassailable and vigorous cultures is caused not by assault from outside but by assault from within, that is, by internal rot in the form of fatal cultural turnings, not recognized as wrong turnings while they occur or soon enough afterward to be correctable.
In the early fifteenth century, a political power struggle was waged between two factions of the Chinese imperial bureaucracy. The losing faction had championed treasure fleets and taken an interest in their leadership and well-being. The winning faction asserted its success by abruptly calling a halt to voyages, forbidding further ocean voyaging, and dismantling shipyards.
. . . the vicious spiral of interlocked housing shortages for the poor, loss of inclusive communities, and excessive car dependency [in the contemporary USA] had its origins in fifteen years of depression and war.
All three assumptions [undesirablility of high population and building densities, and of mingled workplace and residential environments] are rejections of cities and city life, devised by utopians and reformers who tried to overcome public health problems and "disorder" with these abstract, dysfunctional solutions.
[forced artifical contrivances] probably wouldn't work any better than the policies of rent control, redlining, and [slum] clearances, the contrived social engineering that yielded homelessness and helped erase communities.
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Publisher's description: Visionary thinker Jane Jacobs uses her authoritative work on urban life and economies to show us how we can protect and strengthen our culture and communities. In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs identifies five pillars of our culture that we depend on but which are in serious decline: community and family; higher education; the effective practice of science; taxation and government; and self-policing by learned professions. The decay of these pillars, Jacobs contends, is behind such ills as environmental crisis, racism and the growing gulf between rich and poor; their continued degradation could lead us into a new Dark Age, a period of cultural collapse in which all that keeps a society alive and vibrant is forgotten. But this is a hopeful book as well as a warning. Jacobs draws on her vast frame of reference -- from fifteenth-century Chinese shipbuilding to zoning regulations in Brampton, Ontario -- and in highly readable, invigorating prose offers proposals that could arrest the cycles of decay and turn them into beneficent ones. Wise, worldly, full of real-life examples and accessible concepts, this book is an essential read for perilous times.

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