Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Thu Apr 27th, 2006 at 12:53:47 AM EST
While we're playing at futurism, I thought I'd throw Ran Prieur's Fall Down Six Times into the mix. Ran, creative as ever, imagines six futures from wildly optimistic to very dismal. I thought I'd take a poll :-) The whole essay is well worth a read, but here are some high points of each case:
Worst Case Scenario
In spring of 2006, the Bush Gang attacks Iran, a mountainous nation almost four times the size of Iraq with a much stronger military. No problem -- they use nukes, and they don't have to cover it up for the people at home, because Americans know "we" would never do that, so we didn't. The rest of the world, though, is appalled [...] Bush's approval rating goes back up to 60%, and because our enemies are now attacking us, he dissolves congress and cancels the 2008 elections. The Democrats, afraid of seeming weak in a time of war, make mild objections [...]
Ridiculous Best Case Scenario:
Depending on where you live, growing vegetables in your yard is either absolutely forbidden or absolutely required. These laws are justified by the word "America" which is justified by the word "freedom."
By 2009, the bird flu is a serious global pandemic that has killed almost 6000 people, while around a million people have died running out of water under the quarantines, and 50,000 have died from adverse reaction to bird flu vaccines. This is not counting the "adverse reactions" to "immunizations" routinely given to people in the detention facilities who are too weak to work.[...]
By 2011, laws have abolished the very existence of the public domain. It's technically against the law to give anything away for free. When protesters are arrested they are charged with criminal trespass since all space is now private.[... and so on! ...]
Spring, 2006. The attack on Iran is canceled when the UAE, stung on the port deal, refuses to offer their territory as a staging ground. Tony Blair, after being given a huge dose of ecstacy by Russian agents, reveals that he supported the Iraq war because the Bush administration blackmailed him with disturbing sex photos. Hundreds of other blackmailees come forward, and suddenly the American elite have no leverage. The rest of the world pulls the rug out from under our economy, and we can no longer afford to occupy the colonies or import anything.
Naive Sci-Fi Utopia
This disaster cuts deep enough that most Americans pass right through indignation and outrage, into humility and cooperation to help each other get through it. The neocons fade away, the Republicans become a minority party of religious fundamentalists, and Howard Dean survives three assassination attempts to be elected president in 2008. Using Bush-era strong-president laws, he begins a Hugo Chavez-style redistribution of wealth and political power.[...] The dying industrial farm system is nationalized, distribution is handled by autonomous volunteers, and it's kept going just long enough to feed us while we learn to grow food locally without oil-derived chemicals. Residents of places where food cannot be grown locally use their last gasoline to drive to places where it can, and live in their cars until they build their own shelter from indigenous and scavenged materials, turning parking lots into thriving encampments with dense gardens.
Changes like these are happening all over the world. China and India pass quickly through the peak phase of Empire, moderated and undermined by oil scarcity, by sophisticated peasant movements, and by radical computer games mostly invented by Americans newly rich in free time. There are great bursts of creative innovation wherever "intellectual property" is released to the public domain. Computer operating systems and software are retooled for efficiency, and become so streamlined that obsolete hardware becomes usable again, which is a good thing since no one can manufacture new hardware with acceptable environmental impacts or labor conditions. [... and so on ...]
An inventor discovers a way to generate unlimited free energy. The patent draws instant attention from the big media, who do not assume he must be a crackpot. He is not killed by interests that would be wiped out if they could no longer charge money for energy, nor is the invention confiscated by the military so they can keep it for themselves, nor is he forced to sell out to interests that will only use the technology to increase their own power. Instead he becomes fabulously wealthy distributing his machines all over the world, and spends his money wisely.
Ran's Personal Sci Fi Utopia:
The old saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" turns out to be false. In fact, it's nearly absolute power, like what Stalin had over Russia, or what humans get from burning oil, that corrupts absolutely. Truly absolute power makes people wise and enlightened and creates an eternal golden age. So all the individuals, businesses, governments, and religions with (or without) Infinite Energy Generators do not get in any conflicts about what kind of shared world that energy will create. [...]
Everyone can live forever, and have kids, and enjoy wide open spaces. No one is sure how this is possible, but it probably has something to do with the Mayan calendar or the word "quantum." Humans expand into the galaxy in starships, which unlike all previous weapon-bearing vessels, are not used to violently extract resources to build more weapon-bearing vessels. Actually, in a strict sense, humans are extinct, since we've all uploaded our consciousness into machines. In the process, we answered all questions about what "consciousness" is anyway, and all other questions, yet we are still able to feel a sense of mystery. [... snark galore ...]
A fake terror attack on an American city comes unraveled, and everyone in that city now knows that their own rulers are the enemy. At first this knowledge spreads slowly, but as local investigators uncover stronger and stronger evidence, the rulers decide the best way to keep their grip on the country is an electromagnetic pulse strike on the city, which fries all circuitry in a 100 mile radius.
Playing The Odds:
They blame it on Iran and launch a disastrous war that turns the whole world against them. The US economy crashes, and 40 million people lose their jobs and find themselves with lots of free time and no reason to keep obeying the dominant system -- or believing in it. [...] Of course the country is under martial law, but in practice, there are only enough reliable forces to protect the corporate and government headquarters and the wealthy neighborhoods. Most of the country slides into "chaos," a propaganda word lumping together all the varieties of freedom and unpredictable domination that exist in the absence of central control. [...]
The new Morphic Field Generator makes advanced bioengineering possible with so little DNA work that anyone with a little skill can do it in a barn. And they do.
There are practical creatures: photosynthetic chickens that need no food in summer and lay peach-flavored eggs, carnivorous plants that glow brighter than candles and feast on nighttime insects, talking crows that serve as scouts for hunting parties. There are beautiful creatures: phosphorescent willow groves and pink tiger-striped squirrels and birds that sound like spooky violins. Some people just like to see what they can cross: dog with cat, cat with horse, horse with eagle, eagle with snake. The Tolkienites easily make elves, but it takes them 200 years to make ents.
Humans diverge in a hundred directions, and then a thousand, into many sizes and shapes, into hybrids with animals of land, sea, and air, into races that can call lightning or levitate or walk through dimensions to other worlds. [... you go, Ran ...]
The Iran attack is delayed by logistics, and some time in early summer US forces do some "surgical" strikes on nuclear plants, which release enough radioactivity to eventually kill more people than the hypothetical feared weapons if they'd all been used. The attacks are reported as successful in the American media and failed in the Asian media, and the whole conflict simmers without resolution.
The world abandons the US economy so slowly that few people notice. But news magazines do stories on the housing collapse and it accelerates. Unable to borrow against their houses, and with credit card companies in collection mode, Americans spend less, slowing the Chinese economy. Out-of-work Americans have to move in with each other, and the personality conflicts are mostly good for us. [...]
Computers keep getting faster, but this speed is mostly used to send movies over the internet, and to do computer models that prove the economic and cultural unsustainability of increasing computer speed. Indeed, by 2010 computers use so much energy that we can barely afford to turn them on. At the same time, biotech gets so advanced that corporations are able to patent essentially all life on Earth, including you -- but they're seldom able to enforce it. The engineered babies of the rich are not better than random babies in any significant way. The only effect of the trend is that future humans will have bluer eyes and bigger lips.[...]
By 2015, plankton have died back by 50%. Populations that depend on fish are starving, and with the reduced oxygen, more sick people die, and we all have to breathe more deeply and ventilate buildings better. The biosphere reaches a stable low point, with the sensitive species dead or as good as dead, and the weedy species at equilibrium with lingering attempts to kill them (link). Deaths related to climate change rise to 40 million a year, causing the big media to ignore them -- if it happens all the time it isn't news. The human population sputters at around five billion, most of them short-timers, kids who just come in for a quick look. But after a few generations, humans in the worst places are a lot tougher.[...]
In 2040, the enclaves of the elite still live like the middle class of 1999, except that their technologies of alienation are now so advanced that they are far more neurotic and unstable. Despite fertility technology, they don't have kids fast enough to replace emigrants to the filthy outside, and their world fades away.
To everyone's disappointment, the bad people do not die out. Even the best autonomous cities have idiots who are able to muck up any possible decision-making process. Some neo-indigenous forager-hunter tribes turn out inbred and narrow-minded. Natural diet trends become puritanical and cause serious chronic illnesses. [...]
In 2006 there's a war that doesn't seem to affect you directly. But you really start to notice prices going up. You can't sacrifice on fuel, and you couldn't stand to live with other people, so you slash your food budget -- no more organics, and more white sugar and white flour. Your health deteriorates, you get depressed, and when the first serious crisis hits, you find yourself on a bus to an "evacuee facility" where you get sick and die... Back up. [...]
All this time you're working with other groups to help people get food and water and medical care, to transform the infrastructure, and to deter violent crime, or clean up after it. There are drug gangs, right wing death squads, and the occasional marauding horde of government troops and/or bandits. There are giant storms and hard summers and winters. But the vast majority of your friends are not killed, and people go about their lives less fearful than they did at the peak of the Empire.
If you don't have kids, you help raise other people's kids. They don't go to school, but jump right in doing what adults do, and spend a few weeks learning to read and write when they're ready. By 2030, the city is full of gardens and orchards. You don't know anyone with a car, but a few techies are still using old computers and surviving satellites and fiber optic lines to connect to a patchy internet. You hear strange stories of distant lands, and wonder where it's all heading. At the end of a long and very interesting life, like all your ancestors (except the most recent), you die at home surrounded by people you love.
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