Witchcraft

More people believe in magic than we would care to admit. ISIS is currently carrying out a campaign against wizards in their midst and is executing those they suspect of dabbling in it. But that is understandable given their world view.

a ginger-bearded ISIS barbarian ordered the beheading of an elderly prisoner - after accusing him of being a wizard. The extremist can be seen using a microphone to read out charges in a town square near Damascus in Syria. Another photo shows a blindfolded pensioner - accused of being a 'sorcerer' - being held down over a wooden chopping block by two more fanatics.

When the last cellphone in the Caliphate is destroyed or worn out no one will know how to make another. Their 8th century is capable of producing fanaticism but probably couldn't make a ball point pen. Objects in the ISIS universe are "magical" -- put there by Allah in the possession of the infidel for holy warriors to plunder and enjoy until the power which inheres in them gradually fades away.

Surprisingly much of the modern world is not very different. Many people treat technology like magic even in the West. How does a cell phone work? Dunno. Where does it come from? The store. Civilization depends on the knowledge of a small fraction of the world's 7.5 billion population. The know-how to make pharmaceuticals, complex devices, aircraft, computers, industrial chemicals from scratch is probably confined to a few million people concentrated in North America, Europe, Russia and North Asia.  The rest of us are end users.

If a global catastrophe destroyed all of civilization's works yet spared these few millions, they could re-create every object in the world again. By contrast, if only these few millions perished, the remaining billions, though untouched, could continue only until things broke down. It is knowledge which sustains civilization. Of course, knowledge is also stored in libraries against catastrophe. Or is it? If universities began seeing science as old "white man" sorcery, they might start purging it like ISIS does wizardry. Richard Montgomery describes the culling of University of California Santa Cruz's libraries:

In 1990, when I arrived to work at UCSC, I took pride in our Science Library. By 2000 new journals were no longer displayed. By 2010 the journal room was gone, turned into a large study. We could no longer browse new journals.

After journals had been vanquished, the next enemy was clear: books.

At the beginning of this Fall quarter I entered the library. No books on the first floor. I walked up to the second floor, where the math and physics collection used to be. Nothing. No books.

Space. Lots of space. Students scattered around on their devices. Some eating. Some drinking.