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Ed Driscoll

Starting From Zero: How a Wide a Nozzle on the Airbrush?

December 20th, 2011 - 8:01 pm

Glenn Reynolds links to Phil Bowermaster, who writes:

One of the tragedies in the history of human learning is the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. There are conflicting accounts of the library’s destruction attributed to various perpetrators, beginning with Julius Caesar in 48 BCE and ending with the Muslim invaders in 642 CE.

However it was destroyed, it was a tremendous loss. The Library of Alexandria was the Library of Congress of the ancient world. It is believed that many great works of antiquity –  known to us today only by title, or in quoted fragments, or not at all — were lost for all time. Our knowledge would be richer and, potentially, our path from the ancient world to the modern world would have been shorter and easier, had some of these works survived.

This week we see history repeating itself on a smaller scale as another library in Egypt is burned down:

Volunteers in white lab coats, surgical gloves and masks stood on the back of a pickup truck Monday along the banks of the Nile River in Cairo, rummaging through stacks of rare 200-year-old manuscripts that were little more than charcoal debris.

The volunteers, ranging from academic experts to appalled citizens, have spent the past two days trying to salvage what’s left of some 192,000 books, journals and writings, casualties of Egypt’s latest bout of violence.

Bowermaster’s post is titled “Backing Up Civilization,” which unintentionally cuts both ways in this case. I concur with his sentiments, though it’s a little disconcerting seeing them come from someone who uses the letters CE and BCE. I guess as long as you do your airbrushing slowly, rather than with the wide nozzle of post-Arab Spring Egypt, you’ll both get to Start from Zero eventually — it’s all just a matter of pacing yourself.

Related:  The dead tree equivalent of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, or life imitates the ending of Fahrenheit 451.

Just a reminder though — no matter how carefully you back up western civ, the component parts remain infinitely malleable.

Update: Welcome Mark Steyn readers clicking in from the Corner, where Mark writes, “Egypt is now falling into the hands of men who revel in Taliban-scale parochial stupidity and are bent on imposing it. From 1922 to 2011, the country got worse. It’s now getting worser.”

As Wallace Shawn liked to say in The Princess Bride,  inconceivable!

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