Win one, lose one:
I suppose this web log could be considered an exercise in battling for the hearts and minds of the world.  In such case it is an odd battle.  I am on the one side, but nobody is doing battle on the other side.  Apathy is the only enemy.  Still, in the attempt to counter the prejudice against marrying cousins and encourage the recognition that demographic survival depends on very limited social grouping, it is hard not to notice the score.  Are people thinking bigger or smaller?

On the thinking smaller side, I notice that two recent articles in the ECONOMIST (How 3D printing will Change the world p. 11 and 3D Printing p. 77 vol. 398 no 8720 February 12, 2011celebrates a new technology.  Modern printers are marvels of efficiency.  My own laser printer churns out copy rapidly and with little attention.  It has served me well for many years.  The printer basically puts a layer of ink or toner onto a piece of paper in the form of letters or graphics.  Well if you can print one layer you can print many, and that is now becoming a viable technology.  What they can do is to print many layers of powdered metal or plastic until a three dimensional model is built up. 

The cover of the issue shows a functional, if not very pretty, violin that had been made by 3D printing.  As they say, there was some assembly required.  The final assembly involved a master luthier.  Still it was a great accomplishment.  The first model may have taken a great deal of trouble, but the next would have been very easy, at least the production of the parts. 

The articles point out that one of the reasons to concentrate resources is so that things can be mass produced.  The assembly line can make a car or any other manufactured object much more cheaply than it can be built by hand.  This economy of scale has driven much of the economic growth since the Industrial Revolution.  But now at least that element of economy of scale is challenged.  The article points out that any village could have its own fabricator to produce whatever is needed locally.  Instructions could move around as easily as information does now. 

Well that is good.  The notion that people are thinking wistfully about villages is great news.  I have stepped on a land mine on that point personally.  Friends heard about that and immediately could think of only one occasion when village life was presented in a sympathetic way, and it happened to be old Nazi propaganda.  But it was only propaganda.  In fact the Nazi’s made great investments in highway transportation and rail.  They were busy building a national society such as we have whatever they may have claimed to the contrary.

3D printing is a step in the right direction, not that the existence of villages is of any real consequence.  It is mating strategy that matters.  So perhaps people are not immovable on the point. 

On the other hand the urge to return to a more intimate life may not be gone for good.  I wonder if textiles will ever be cheaply produced on a small scale. 

So that’s one for the forces of light but the forces of darkness have not lost their torpor.  There is an article (Ulf Bǖntgen (Sorry I don’t have the right accent mark available.) et al, 2500 Years of European Climate Variability and Human Susceptibility SCIENCE vol. 331 no. 6017 February 4. 2011 page 578) that examines the relationship between the instability of social orders and instability of the climate.  And they come up with a very credible evidence that societies are vulnerable to climate change.  They do admit that other forces may have effects as well although they do not mention birth rate.

I take the rather extreme position that birth rate fluctuating with mating strategy is the primary driver of history.  But in Europe even I find it somewhat difficult to demonstrate it.  The geography is very complex.  People are very mobile.  Borders keep getting redrawn.  Everybody is tampering with everybody else’s politics.  I cannot sort it out.  But that really isn’t a good excuse.  I at least ought to be able to get a sense of it even if I can’t present a graph.  I cannot.  It just seems that Europe is too unstable to analyze.  And of course contemporary Europe is more unstable than ever.  We are looking at a demographic decline already in the works more significant than the Black Death (which they now rate at up to 60% of the population lost) and the rise and probable fall of a united Europe occurring within a single lifetime. 

Only actual birth rates seem to follow a pattern, and they do that all too predictably. 

The article suggests cheerily that maybe since they can demonstrate a highly probable link between climate and the survival of societies people will take climate change seriously.  Lots of luck on that score.  They don’t even care about babies despite the fact that the mass of evidence I have presented dwarf even this excellent paper. 

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