An open letter to my nephew, who thought the Renaissance was stupid.
"Take a look at Primitive Technology. His videos are remarkable- not because of the materials produced but by the leverage with which he produces them. He has merely Nature and a pair of shorts, and yet can survive for what seems to be an indefinite amount of time. But mere survival does not seem all that impressive; You and I do that every day. What's interesting is that he can do it without the things you and I take for granted. He's proof that even if every car, computer, and camera stopped working mankind could still survive. That's precisely the boat the Western World was in at the Renaissance, and it was unclear whether Mankind would ever return to their technological advances. We'd seen the height of civilization in the Roman Empire. These were the guys who rearranged land masses just to settle a grudge match. They didn't just build the Coliseum at Rome, they flooded it with water and imported monsters to do battle. For their amusement. The Greeks before them had built a god damned LASER TURRET. But, for millions of little reasons, the Roman Empire fell. And it wasn't just lines on a map that changed, either. Try to imagine a world where money doesn't work. Not just USD, but even the idea of money. Imagine that you, in particular, were responsible for mapping the world- Where would you start? Imagine that the last working boat has sprung a leak, and there are no craftsmen who can fix it. Effectively, you have Nature and a pair of shorts. You may survive, but how long will it take to build the Pyramids? Vaccinate against Polio? Go to the Moon? Play Dubstep? The following is a "Graph of Social Development" by Ian Morris, a historian. The graph represents a lot of things, but primarily has to do with energy capture- How many calories does it take to produce 1000 calories? A low score means that, like Primitive Technology, you spend 1000 calories to get 1000 calories. There's not a lot of wiggle room there. Nature is unforgiving. Without modern accommodations, Primitive Technology could easily starve, be eaten, fall to his death, or poison himself. When things are that dire, there's serious doubt that Mankind will even survive. To increase that score, civilizations organize. They distribute and specialize labor, so that lumberjacks who can't bake still get to eat bread and bakers who can't fell timber still get to have a house. Organize well enough and you can get thinkers- who are not particularly good at baking or felling, but can invent a better oven or handsaw. But from 1CE to 1000CE, the Western World's score was going down. All the things that improve your score were being destroyed. The maps of the world had been burnt. The master bakers were killed. The skilled lumberjacks were ill with plague. Anything that was unique or secret was lost. Keep that up and before long you're extinct. Thankfully, the Renaissance happened. Despite the plague and war and losses sustained, people were rediscovering technologies and artforms and skillsets. It was as if puzzle pieces, scattered to the wind, were making their way back to Italy and finding where they fit in. People were building- The Pyramids would not be the tallest man made edifice for long. They were cooking- For the first time in a long time, Scurvy was optional! They were thinking- Developing systems in which they could trust to evenly divide labor. They were sailing and healing and farming and studying in ways no one had for centuries. The Renaissance is the point in history where it became clear that Mankind would not end. Think on that. For the first time in a thousand years the belief that you could be more than what your father was became feasible. And THAT is why you should care about the Renaissance, Elijah."