Paul Davis : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


I see by reading through the forum that you've been really busy lately (lots of posts), so I'm hoping that you simply haven't revisited the thread that I originally asked this on and are not ignoring me. Although I often disagree with you, I see you as a courteous and responsible person and one who is interested in whether or not his views are accepted. I would genuinely appreciate your response to the following:

(in another thread) You said, "I don't trust long chains of if's. . ."

Neither do I.

I value the fact that your life experiences (as related on this forum from time to time) have given you a perspective which, although it leads you to very different conclusions than mine, is nevertheless valid. The value, to me, of a different viewpoint is that it lends multi-dimensionality to my perception. In the tale of the blind men and the elephant, each man's perception was correct but because limited and incomplete, none provided the picture of an elephant that a sighted person held to be "normal". I am mindful of the probable accuracy of pshannon's view that much of whatever happens vis-a-vis Y2K will be unexpected.

Having said that, I must say that my life experiences have convinced me beyond any possibility of doubt that all of western civilization is one immense interconnection of people and machinery, most of which is digital and programmed with the assumption that "now" is in the 20th century. As in the analogies of a spider web or a pyramid of tins in a supermarket, it is apparent that large, even huge, parts of the interconnection can be completely non-functional or even missing and the whole will still function to a high degree. It is equally apparent (at least to me) that there are also many parts of that interconnection that must be present and functioning for any of the rest of it to work at all! (ie: electric power, telecommunication, etc.)

What brought me up short in your last post was your expressed distrust of long chains of "ifs". If you do not see our civilization as just such an immense chain, how do you perceive it?

If you see it as such a chain, how can you trust it?

-- Hardliner (, January 08, 1999


I really would like a reply, even if only an acknowledgment that you're not going to answer.

-- Hardliner (, January 08, 1999.

Past and present reality (the single actuality) is more like a long chain of 'and's. The chain of 'if's belongs to speculation about past or future.

-- Jon (, January 08, 1999.

Like a string of pearls, that breaks, and bounces all over the floor ... how does one refute the global interdependencies and interconnections?

Hint: There is no argument.


-- Diane J. Squire (, January 08, 1999.


My background is hardware with software as a "lesser included offense" (in actuality, software is virtual hardware), so it may be more apparent to me that "ands" and "ifs" are really no different. At the circuitry level, a "Positive AND" is identical with a "Negative OR". Your premise depends on a difference between the two for validity.

-- Hardliner (, January 08, 1999.

Simple: There are no IF's in the evidence.

There are no 'ifs', 'ands' or 'buts'.

-- Paul Milne (, January 08, 1999.

Right, a chain of 'if's is linked implicitly with 'and's and/or 'or's. I was just pointing out that any conditional expression is hypothetical; the more complex, the more hypothetical, the more error- prone. An assertion with lots of 'if's (conditional expressions) is more likely to be less than accurate.

Life is a web of dependencies, as is civilization, but they both have some fault-tolerance.

The existence of and need for global interdependencies and interconnections are not refuted but they have been reduced with sanctions and war.

At issue is how far will the Infomagic 'devolutionary spiral' unravel the level of civilization on earth. Will the computer problem flip us back to the 1900 level of technology (how appropriate) or even back to the stone age?

I think the 10- stone age scenario is based on people getting very hungry and very ugly due to months of non-operational infrastructure. This is 'if' we have a permanent and total infrastructure outage. That's a big if.

-- Jon (, January 08, 1999.

"There are no IF's in the evidence. There are no 'ifs', 'ands' or 'buts'."

"Certitude is the enemy." (Molly Ivins)

"Seek simplicity, and distrust it." (A. N. Whitehead)

"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd." (Voltaire)

"We should not hold rashly an opinion in a scientific matter, so that we may not come to hate later whatever truth may reveal to us, out of love for our own error." (St. Augustine)

"Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world." (Schopenhauer)

"What luck for the rulers that men do not think." (Adolf Hitler)

"I have found you an argument; I am not obliged to find you an understanding." (Samuel Johnson, in Boswell's "Life")

-- Tom Carey (, January 08, 1999.


This is a great post. What we need is balance in thought without predisposition toward one extreme or another.

"I value the fact that your life experiences (as related on this forum from time to time) have given you a perspective which, although it leads you to very different conclusions than mine, is nevertheless valid. The value, to me, of a different viewpoint is that it lends multi-dimensionality to my perception."

Those words sent shivers up and down my spine. I could not agree more.

Mike ================================================================

-- Michael Taylor (, January 08, 1999.

Tom - Excellent post! I just printed out the whole thread just so I could keep those qoutes:)


-- Rick Tansun (, January 08, 1999.


For the most part, you and I are in violent agreement. Your final paragraph though, is a bit too simplistic for me. I see multiple possibilities that could result in a "10".

I do, however, find deductive logic an inadequate tool with which to analyze the situation. I have no specific knowledge, for example, of the electric power industry so I must depend on others for input here. I have to decide who is likely to be not only correct and accurate but truthful as well. I have known many men like Rick Cowles and Robert Cook and my experience tells me that it is in their character to be both accurate and truthful. In the other extreme, I have, unfortunately, known far too many bureaucrats and "spin doctors" such as Mr. Koskinen and my experience tells me that it is in their character to stretch the truth to the breaking point and, if they can justify it to themselves, disregard it entirely in order to achieve their objective.

In the end, what I must trust (as I think each of us must) is my own judgement. I know better (usually) than to apply it to an area within my own vast ignorance and I try therefore to apply it to the really vital question, "Who do I trust?"

It's all any of us really has and it's why I've asked Paul Davis to respond to me. I don't understand his reasoning well enough to accept or disregard it.


I agree, but what I am asking Paul (Davis) is how he can reconcile that view (which I don't see how anyone can not hold) with his statement of distrust.

Paul (Milne),

I am astonished at your reply.

While I have not read everything you've written, I have read a good deal of it and until now, I've not found anything that I view differently. Having acquired the current thickness of my skin with a guy in a Smokey-the-Bear hat spitting in my face as he screamed at the top of his lungs, I have found your much discussed verbal techniques variable, from "appropriate" to "irrelevant", largely dependent on results.

What astonishes me is that you and I arrived at the same conclusions when I have followed a somewhat tortuous path of "ifs", "ands" and "buts" while you have apparently seen none of them!

-- Hardliner (, January 08, 1999.

>>there are also many parts of that interconnection that must be present and functioning for any of the rest of it to work at all! (ie: electric power, telecommunication, etc.)

Western civlization can work without power and telecommunication. The issue is our (historically, very recent) overdependence on these. We won't "not work" - we will go through serious withdrawl. This may mean the end of representative government, and a degeneration into tribalism, or state socialism or feudalism - these are the "ifs/thens." But Western Civilization has deeper roots. We won't really lose anything, in the long run.

I think the benefit of Y2k will be the realization that WE are not the power grid, or the telephone system, or the banks. The people on t.v. are not our family or our friends. All this is mere glamor. We will not forget how to make technical magic, but when we rebuild, we may decide to use it more consciously, and responsibly.



-- E. Coli (, January 08, 1999.


You're correct; power's only about 100 years old.

Question is what PERCENTAGE of Western civilization could survive without power? Its (WC)carrying capacity - particularly food production - is entirely dependent on utilities.

You'd almost have to assume that WC's carrying capacity without utilities would be roughly the figure it was prior to utilities, no? Which was... about 1/3 of what it is now?

-- Lisa (, January 08, 1999.


Your reply has pointed out to me that I didn't really say what I meant.

Allow me to revise the sentence to read, ". . .there are also many parts of that interconnection that must be present and functioning for any of the rest of it to work at all continue to exist in its present form! (ie: electric power, telecommunication, etc.)

I agree completely with what you've written in reply.

-- Hardliner (, January 08, 1999.

"The conveniences and comforts of humanity in general will be linked up by one mechanism, which will produce comforts and conveniences beyond human imagination. But the smallest mistake will bring the whole mechanism to a certain collapse. In this way the end of the world will be brought about." Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, 1922 (Sufi Prophet)

-- Andy (, January 08, 1999.

Two big concerns about the 9 to 10 (stone age) scenarios:

First the overly simple absolutist position on the loss of functionality of the infrastructure.

"Infrastructure" is used here to refer to energy distribution (including electric, water, petrochemical), public services (government, police/fire, emergency/medical), monetary system, and media.

The binary thinking is that either 'the system' works or it doesn't. Such a two-state logic does not apply to this dynamic. The various infrastructure systems will receive various degrees of injury, but not uniform widespread total destruction. Availability of resources and services as delivered via the 'infrastructure' may range between 100% and 0%, and drops will be followed by rises as long as there is a demand for them. Any outage is a temporary state. At issue is only the frequency, prevalence, and duration of the anticipated shortages and outages. What is the failure rate, what is the recovery rate.

Consider that there is significant desire and motivation among many people to conduct infrastructure as well as industrial and commercial operations.

The second concern is the widespread outbreak of lawlessness. This is really the biggest hazard, including foreign and domestic terrorism and the home invasion robbery along with more conventional crimes. Even though pockets of violence are likely to flare up, the real question is how much and for how long. This also is more than just a yes or no state, and it too will eventually pass.

Consider that for whatever amount of motivation for violence there is a similar amount (an order of magnitude comparison) of desire for peace. Obviously this will vary from community to community. If Beverly Hills cops will pull you over if your car is less than $90k, they are going to work equally hard to protect the neighborhood from looting. In other words it seems that the violence is unlikely to be pandemic, more like epidemic within pockets. East L.A. would be one of the pockets.

-- Jon (, January 08, 1999.

Jon, are you assuming that a Beverly Hills cop who lives in, say, East LA, is going to work hard protecting BH while his family hunkers down in the ELA 'pocket' ?


-- runway cat (, January 08, 1999.

RC, no I think the cops get around $50k and know enough to avoid ELA. But if they have a chance to earn money doing their job, they will, and the point being that the violence pockets are going to correspond with existing pockets.

-- Jon (, January 08, 1999.

Is it a question of if society could exist without power, telecommunications and simplicity?

Or, is the question can the majority of society could adjust to living without these things?

Or, is it that the majority of society would simply choose NOT to live without these things and react in violent denial about the loss in the availability of these things?

I don't think most people will cope well with the loss of comfort. That is how the devolutionary spiral will either begin or not... in how the majority react.

And, without the government there to make life easier, the open hands of those who feel "they" will take care of them will remain empty.

Mike ============================================================

-- Michael Taylor (, January 08, 1999.

You need to move beyond the oversimplified yes/no, with/without options concerning resource availability, and you have to question and answer "what is the curve of loss and recovery?". This refers to both the infrastructure operations and the expected human behavioral response. In other words how bad does it get and for how long. As mentioned, it will vary by region.

-- Jon (, January 08, 1999.


You're quite right to point out that none of this is going to be homogenized across the entire civilization. I think it was either RD Herring or Robert Cook who espoused the concept of TEOTWAWKI as a local phenomenon and my impression was that there was general agreement with this idea (at least on this forum at that time).

In keeping with your notation that much of this is not properly subject to binary logic, it might be helpful to visualize civilization as chain mail rather than a simple chain. I think that is a more accurate analogy in that it allows for multiple paths from point A to B and the picture of "holes" in the mail is more in keeping with the idea of a "local" TEOTWAWKI.

Still, some possible outcomes (as opposed to probable outcomes) will destroy the entire fabric of the infrastructure, to wit: global thermonuclear war or global biological warfare, as the entire bolt of chain mail could be melted by heat or eaten by acid. I suppose one could imagine other total effects, but they seem so unlikely that I've confined my own thinking to that which I perceive to be most likely.

Desire and motivation are indeed necessary and will go a long way toward accomplishment of an objective, but capability is a show stopper. It appears to me that the extreme specialization of our society will work to our disadvantage in this respect. If we have to rebuild the ball bearing industry (most of the bearings we use in the USA are imported) before we can start rebuilding machine tools before we can start rebuilding something else, the duration of those shortages and outages could extend well into the future.

As for the lawlessness and violence, my fear is that the group that desires peace, whatever its size, will not be equipped to handle violence as well as the opposing group simply due to the nature of the desire. That is, violence prone people seem to me to be more likely to posess or acquire the means to inflict violence on others than their opposites seem to be likely to posess or acquire the means to defend themselves. In addition, since attack and defense are equally violent, the violence prone would seem to have a distinct advantage. My personal experience has shown that often the best combat soldiers are those who enjoy violence.

I too, think that it will all pass eventually. I'm not as optimistic as you seem to be however, that eventually will be anytime soon.

-- Hardliner (, January 08, 1999.

Lisa: You are right. High tech enlarges the carrying capacity. We are now "living on ten earths." When the carrying capacity shrinks rapidly, people die. En masse. Solution to the problem? Don't be one of them!


-- E. Coli (, January 08, 1999.

Hardliner, it does indeed need to be kept in mind that 'how bad it gets' varies geographically, and has a lot to do with the prevailing socio-economic environment. It's about the economy. I see the impact of y2k primarily as triggering the economic correction due to impairment of infrastructure, industry, and commerce, giving the net result of a reduction of available resources. How people respond to scarcity and inconvenience is the human behavior experiment.

I'm not sure if you're referring to chain mail as in pyramid scheme or chain mail as in King Arthur days, but either way, the analogy I see is reduncancy. In the case of the mail, chances are if I don't get it from one of my associates, I may get it from another, and I may get it from both, since whoever knew one of them may well know the other. In the case of the armor, it's a 2-d chain so it takes a lot more than one broken link for failure.

If MWD use becomes widespread, all bets are off.

Industrial capabilities will diminish, raising cost, but seem unlikely to vanish for all time.

If the petrochemical supply is diminished (by whatever, 50%, 75%, etc), this will reduce mobility further and it seems to me that the prevalence of violence and lawlessness will follow the existing distribution geographically. It goes up, it comes down.

Governments at all levels will try to maintain public safety.

-- Jon (, January 08, 1999.

Has anyone followed Hardliner's post attentively over the past several months as I have? He's quiet a gem on this forum. Him and a few others. I'm not one with credibility as I goof around too much, but I'm proud of my ability to know a clear headed, analytical smart man with good values and other assets when I see one. I'd trust this guy with my life.

(Had to get this off my chest and a glass of wine helped it.)

-- Chris (, January 08, 1999.

Oh wait...I think I have trusted my life with this man already...he's a marine right?

A light bulb went up in my head INVAR :-)

-- Chris (, January 08, 1999.

Paul are you mellowing? Shouldn't it be:

No "ifs", "ands" or "buttheads"!

-- Bill (, January 08, 1999.

That was mostly done after work in a couple of brief spurts. See I got caught up in the great phone outage down here after the ice storm - have turned in my 6TH complaint today. Can't complain too hard though - 600,000 to the east of me had neither power nor phones. A real hoohaa of a mess. I managed to catch my phone working tonight - and it shows every sign of going out as soon as I hang up. False rings, etc. Trouble is, I am a fast touch typist - so anything I have already thought out I can answer in a couple minutes or less - assuming the connection cooperates. And simple humor - and I do post quite a few of those - take even less. What you are asking for takes thought - I might try to put some words together this weekend - but hate doing without the Internet as a research tool.

-- Paul Davis (, January 09, 1999.

wil our paul davis ever make a post that does not refer to one of his abilities, eg, a fast typer, huge iq, various degrees...etc

or, a post that does not give pointless details about his locale, his history, his shoe size ..etc.

His bragging is the action of an insecure man....and no wonder he's insecure.

-- humptydumpty (, January 10, 1999.

Ohhh funny man Humpty. I'm insecure, so you feel the need to cut me down? How's that again? By the way, they have finally got my phone service working correctly again - so he's baaaaaak.

Hardliner - if you are still checking this thread - I have finally gotten the first part of what you wanted put together. I combined it with Arlin's request for sort of an overview of the situation - and found out it was too large and the parts were too unrelated to manage to merge them together. So I am doing the communications end of things first. Will address transport and power later. Posting first part tomorrow morning I think - have a couple guys doing some proof reading.


-- Paul Davis (, January 13, 1999.

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