It’s Only the End of the World, Again: part the second
watch zac calculate innumerable factors and lose his shit completely
As we move past playing out the contradictions in the existing system, it becomes harder to make broad stroke predictions, as the driving forces that take over favour the individual and their actions, as opposed to large bodies such as governments. Indeed, governments will be beginning to unravel at exponential speeds, leaving many people to determine the course of their own lives for the first time.
First, We need to pause to talk about technology for a minute, because by 2011 or so, we’re getting to the sharp turn in the exponential growth curve of computing, biology and a whole host of other things you have new driving forces taking over, namely the individual, empowered by technology vs central authority vs the drive towards decentralisation
A lot of the tension I talked about in terms of the 20th century related to the way technology changed the power relations between the government and the individual. From the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, radio, mass media, and free education, centralised power has been playing catch up to the individual breaking out into new spaces and only just keeping up. and that’s only because we’ve been in the slow part of the curve. It’s happened so slowly that you can forget about the separation of church and state, the growth of literacy and social consciousness, even the idea of rulers being accountable to the ‘public’ is a result of the printing press, for example.
Do you suppose the elites want to tap dance around things like hurricane katrina, and abu ghraib? Of course they don’t, but technology won’t permit them to avoid it. The upheavals of the 1960’s we’re a fore-shock of what happens when you educate a whole generation of first world youth up to a high standard. The rest of the century had been the oligarchical backlash from the unexpected consequences of universal education. And that worked, up to a point, because everyone was still mostly dependant on the central government for structure and direction. A lot of millennial culture is a kind of ironic wallowing in that climate of imposed ignorance and misinformation. But again, that can’t last, nor will it.
For that reason, the principles that hold true are going to be the ones that relate to the way individuals react to change, because things will change, often and significantly.
In the case of major changes you have three general paths it can take for a person; there are those who will embrace the new reality, those who will reject it, and those who either don’t comprehend, or don’t notice it at all.
For example in the case of september 11 you have dramatic polarisation between those who recognise the changes that event wrought on the social, political, and moral landscape, those who see it only as a threat to the status quo, whose implications are to be fought and resisted, and those who don’t really see that anything has changed, except maybe an upping of the intensity of an already existing dynamic.
The neoconservatives have made off like bandits by embracing the post 911 reality, arguably because they helped engineer it in the first place. Meanwhile knowledgeable activists who understand that something like this represents a watershed loss of legitimacy for the United states government and it’s covert policy implementation, have also embraced this new situation at least insofar as it affects the planning they have to implement to lead their lives, and survive into the future.
The greater mass of activists fall into the category of those who go into hysterics over the outrageous excesses of the bush administration, and want everything to go back to the halcyon days of bill clinton and cruise missiles over kosovo, or something. Or they’ve already dug their heels in over 90’s globalisation or nuclear power and would like us to run back the clock to the paleolithic era. Not that ideas like this lack all merit, but it’s clear in many cases that this represents a failure to grasp the true dynamics of the situation.
And lastly some people remain clueless. Things are just as lovely or fucked up as they have ever been and the only change has been a slight shift in the level of loveliness or fucked-up-ness. It’s either the latest battle in the noble struggle to maintain the status quo, or the latest outrage perpetrated by the corrupt bastards who have always run things and probably always will. In either case, nothing to take your mind off what you were already doing, at least not for long.
Now that’s just one example, and for most of the 20th century, these epochal changes tended to be few and far between and easy to overlook for the most part until you were already swimming in them. And that’s fine, but the 21st isn’t going to be like that. It isn’t going to be a major war or catastrophe or technological innovation every ten years or so that you succeed in getting your head around or not. It’ll be one every 2 or 3 years, then every year, then every 6 months, then every time you care to look there will be some radical redefinition of your status quo… IF you’re still willing to look at it, which is the key point.
So really the only question that matters is how much rapid change can any particular person handle before they shut down their awareness of the outside world completely, and go into some self generated cocoon? Before too long technology will make it utterly feasible for the average person to retreat entirely into video games, virtual sex, torrented entertainment and instant messaging. If you have a job at all, you’ll be working from your home, thanks to telepresence technologies, and thus there will be no reason to leave it all.
Or at the very least you can fuck off to the countryside and dig a well while things continue to cascade out of control without you. Sadly a lot of primitivists or eco conservatives imagine that when they finally do opt out of the future, then everyone else will have to as well, for the exact same reasons they have, but it just aint true and never has been. It will be true for a lot of people in a lot of places, just like it is right now, but it will never be true everywhere, or even most places.
By way of illustration, lets consider the global milieu a bit. As the slow dwindling of energies and the concomitant destruction of delivery infrastructure by guerrilla warfare and systemic decay marches on, you’ll have a playing out of the no-go zone effect. As the central authorities start to lose the ability to project force and/or deliver services, certain regions will progressively and quietly be dubbed expendable and chucked out of the exit hatch of global monoculture and mass media spectacular discourse. While those that remain will circle the wagons and turn in on themselves.
These lost regions will be treated much like the aftermath of hurricane katrina, or a modern day slum of any stripe. If you happen to live in one of these places, one day the cops and soldiers will stop showing up, the rolling blackouts will start, ( if they haven’t already) , and then become permanent as the utility conglomerates amalgamate and reallocate resources, the local utility company having long since been privatised and gutted. Around the same time the local wallmart will fold up, along with the big grocery store chain, and anything else that relies on trucking or air traffic to supply.
And then what? Then nothing. If you’re still there, they’ll assume it’s your choice to live off the grid and forget about you. You could complain but there won’t be anyone to complain to. You won’t be able to drive anywhere to talk to someone in authority and they wouldn’t be able to do jack shit anyway. And besides, travel in anything but large well armed groups will quickly be an invitation to opportunistic bandit gangs to have their way with you. The public disgrace to the local government will be efficiently ignored and your options will be either shut the fuck up and deal with it, or pull up stakes for somewhere where nobody wants you and nobody has much sympathy left to go around.
On the plus side while you probably won’t be able to fill your gas tank very often, you and everyone you know will already have a number of extremely small, cheap and powerful computing devices on your person at all times, connected by essentially free wireless broadband, and powered by efficient integrated solar panels. If you’re not in the satellite footprint for connectivity you won’t have to go far to do so from a tower. Anything you care to know about pretty much anything will be distributed massively, instantly and for free. Interactive courseware from the major universities will be available to the poorest of the poor, and pretty much everyone who cares to do so will be a producer of culture and media. Any significant event will be broadcast around the world instantly to anyone who cares to know about it. Employers will encourage you to work from your home, to save money and fuel, and most people will be spending a lot of time downloading information on how to grow food and cultivate local economies. High end voice recognition software will make text creation faster than ever. Massively parallel computing will make it possible for anyone with a internet connection to access absurd levels of computational power, such as sequencing a genome in a matter of days, or generating totally lifelike graphics and sound. A lot of fucking power for the individual basically. if you can handle it.
If you’re not living in one of the disappeared no-go zones you’ll be in one of two places probably. On the one hand you have the sustainable ecovillage, where most of the food will eventually be grown. Shoveling horeshit and growing really bitchin tomatoes while the world races toward a technological singularity or something. And they’re not necessarily exclusive either; a lot of people will be picking tomatoes by day and fucking a virtual monica bellucci and/or orlando bloom at night.
The other trend will be for those who have the money to do so, to withdraw into either densly popluated urban centers full of heavily armed cops and soldiers, fed by tributary croplands and urban gardens, or to smaller walled enclaves protected by even more heavily armed private security and fed by still more more tributary croplands.
Said croplands will be administered by the poor and former middle class, who will have decanted there to ‘get back to the land’, only to find that you have to contend with gangs, bandits, starving mobs, and the extortion efforts of the local military outpost. The federal, or even state level government having lost the ability to do much of anything of note, except to maintain the illusion that a singular country is still a reality.
As ghastly and unthinkable as all this sounds, it won’t seem very different to most people. A lot have already checked out of understanding or acknowledging what’s happening around them. Almost by definition the clueless segment of the population have already done that. Don’t know, don’t need to know. Once you jump off the ride, it’s hard to get back on. The same kind of people who don’t notice the erosion of civil liberties now, probably still won’t 10 years from now.
Most americans are terrified of random violence already, and used to the encroaching presence of cops and gangs. Whereas the fear was mostly imaginary before, it will now be an accepted fact of life. The people who are really shit out of luck won’t be the ones in the cities, who will remain insulated in their urban paranoia, or the the ones in the country who who will live pretty much the same way feudal serfs have always lived… it will be the people in the fringes. The ones who don’t hold productive land, who don’t live next to a nuclear reactor or port that needs protection, but rather live in some godforsaken hellhole suburb that merits no protection, no resource delivery and sits next to nothing in the way of water or growing plants. Like phoenix, or las vegas. Or maybe you’re the wretched rabble who cling to the old highways, hoping to hijack a supply truck, or waylay some travellers, or raise chickens on wasted scrubland and try to keep the coyotes away.
In every case, you’ll probably still be able to tune in cnn or fox to find out how you favorite political or celebrity scandal is going, or torrent up the latest episode of your favorite cable tv show.
Eventually pretty much everyone who isn’t actively working to adapt and change with the times, or actively fighting it, will have opted out of any meaningful interaction with the future.
…and so it will go, in the ‘civilised’ world.
Meanwhile WW III will still be going on, but it will have mutated into open source tribal slaughter ver3.0. Sunnis will be killing Shiites, rich will be killing poor, races ( however loosely defined) will be killing other races, and any pretext for resentment will be followed by an AK-47 and some improvised explosives. This shit will spread everywhere that it can spread to. The unraveling of governments and resource distribution. and the poor state of the underlying social fabric in many post-colonial countries will make sure of it.
Not that the ‘developed world’ is off the hook either. Most of those countries will be going through a succession of military coups, conservative/luddite/fundamentalist political backlashes, and varying degrees of armed insurgency/domestic terrorism/civil war. Most of this shit will be fuelled by fear, rank stupidity and dashed expectations of the first world citizen to maintain their first world lifestyles without disruption.
As strange as it sounds in a global state of affairs like this one, innovation and technical progress doesn’t slow down. It actually speeds up. A lot. As we’ve said there will always remain pockets of well protected industrial and technical capacity to plug away at the usual obsessions and these will be the last things to lose resources or funding. Do you think they’re going to quit funding DARPA because poor people are starving and lightless? Yeah whatever. They’ll be rushing to perfect targeted bioweapons, microwave crowd suppression technology, and brain implants for soldiers.
And in the fringes things will be going faster and faster as well. As connectivity through computers accelerates, and legal restrictions lose efficacy, you also have the global fire sale as technical equipment from corporations and universities is ‘lost’ in the shuffle and ends up in someone’s basement. You’ll be able to trade a truckload of potatoes for several million dollars worth of gene-sequencing or nano engineering equipment. This stuff will only get smaller, cheaper and more energy efficient as time goes on, after all.
Eventually you’ll have numerous pockets of advanced technical capability running without any oversight or central authority supervising them. When it becomes possible for anyone to engage in virtual dialouge with experts all over the world in many fields anonymously, on all kinds of terms and for all kinds of reasons, things will get very strange very quickly.
Certainly, as just one example, psychedelic subcultures will have a field day in semi-tribal enclaves where you can use lab-grade facilities to mass produce dmt or ayahuasca analogues for whatever purpose. Drug use in general isn’t exactly going to fade away either. In many ways the future will be quite drug-friendly, saturated with dirt cheap crystal meth, lsd or heroin.
In some ways this period can and will be thought of as a dark age, because a lot of what goes on will never be known about by much of the world. Not for lack of communication bandwidth, but simply because everyone will be too immersed in their own concerns to care what someone else is doing. Material life will take on a character of hardship, austerity,and occasional brutality, as people rapidly cobble together piecemeal answers to local resource problems. Meanwhile people’s private lives will be exploding in diversity and strangeness, as escapism and outlet, and playground for creativity where lack of energy and materials makes no difference. Most people will have entire alternate virtual lives, and that will come to be seen by many, possibly most, as the arena where human cultural evolution is truly still taking place.
I don’t really see this lasting more than twenty years or so. By the 2030’s at the latest, the unraveling will have gone as far as it can, most wars will have simply exhausted themselves in pointless guerrilla bloodbaths, useless and tragic nuclear exchanges, and the odd biowarfare epidemic. Alternative energy will have by this point taken up the slack from oil and gas. It will be then that all the incubating energy-starved strangeness that people have been trying to ignore will explode outward, and the post-powerdown world becomes the world of the posthuman arms race. And it won’t be the sort of thing that anyone will be able to ignore.
next: the pandaemon aeon