A ratchet is a bar or wheel with slanted teeth that allows a bolt to fall into in one direction only. You are not allowed to fall backwards. Ratchet Technology, according to Frank Landis of “Hot Earth Dreams” ( where I encountered the term. I don’t know if this was original with him-and darn fine book, by the way. I’m no fan of Gore Warming but his systems analysis made his $20 book a bargain ), is technology that is such an improvement that there is no need to use its predecessor, nor is it lost in a collapse. His primary example is iron technology. Bronze is superior to copper as the addition of tin makes it a better metal. Tin is scattered in its locations. To make bronze, vast trading networks needed to be maintained ( or in the case of the Romans, occupation and transport networks. Britain was no easier than north of the Rhine to hold but the island had tin. As India was to Britain, Britain was to Rome ). Iron is superior to bronze, with the added bonus it is much more abundant, everywhere, and with the extra added bonus of doing away with that pesky tin problem ( with less strategic risk that trade brings ). Who wouldn’t want iron over bronze, right? Well, of course iron was a lot harder to work which was why it was never used instead of bronze in the first place. It took quite some time before the technique was perfected, even with intense economic and strategic motivation ( kind of like how it took so long for our owners to discover the perfect President was a foreign Muslim homosexual-perfect malleable clay to be directed at will with little fear of that house negro getting uppity ).
But once iron working was figured out ( Frank speculates that once that happened it could have been a cause contributing to the collapse at the end of the Bronze Age as all those intricate trade networks were no longer needed ), it was the New Normal. Iron was too superior to NOT have, a military necessity if nothing else. In a energy shortage, far less iron might be smelted but it was still nonetheless iron rather than bronze that was utilized. Iron is a ratchet technology. Once perfected in technique, you don’t go back to the old ways because they are plainly inferior. You have no reason to go lower tech. It is like a boat design. Once one proves its usefulness, you don’t go back to an earlier model that was clearly its inferior. Material availability might force you to improvise, such as foregoing fiberglass and using wood instead, but the newer design is still used. His whole point was that Cyclic Thinking is a trap. A Ratchet is the best analogy.
Another wonderful example given was that of a rocket stove. Or even a solar oven. Both are easier and cheaper to construct than their hundred year old predecessor, the pot bellied cast iron stove. Who would go back to a potbelly, assuming you needed to construct one rather than if you already owned one, when, with a few clay bricks and some clay mixed with hay, you had a far more efficient stove? The whole point of the rocket stove was to drastically reduce the amount of wood poor dudes were stripping from the rain soaked hillsides. It sips wood rather than voraciously consuming it. A rocket stove is everyone’s friend. Cast iron is wonderful for heating, but no longer needed. How much wood would you like to waste on an inefficient technology once your chainsaw is out of fuel ( the rocket stove was designed for cooking, originally. You will find designs for a heating rocket stove, however. I strongly suggest you avail yourself ). More Next Article.
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