I was catching up with WIRED's Danger Room, always good fodder for the sci-fi inclined, and bumped into YA-doomsday piece by Bruce Schneier, this time about the inevitability of us being wiped out (or kicked back into the stone age) by a combo of purposeful infrastructure mishaps, hobbyist-grade biotech plagues, and any other niceties creative application of natural stupidity multiplied by tech pawah can bring about.
Schneier's latest security alert can be summed up thusly :
As every jackass can print a nuke on their home replicator, bad shit happens.
— I don't know, pale dude… looks empty to me…
— That's the cool bit about airborne pathogens : no need to worry about pesky syringes. Feel anything yet, hominid friend ?
So, nothing new, really : we're nearing the point of no-return, and the 21st version of idiots playing with fire will eventually trigger mass-extinction through grey goo, or somesuch.
Only it's starting to feel a bit too real, by now, and while I'm trying hard not to go all Bill Joy on you, the "are we fucked for real ?" question is ever-simmering on my back burner as I mull over matters of game design and storytelling, or go about other, equally important daily business.
Should one run for the hills just yet ?
Shall one entertain the idea of being the kind of people who run for the hills, even ?
…because the company's terrible, as a matter of record : advocates of 'preparedness' tend to also be bloodshot-eyed gun-crazies with overgrown dog-modules and weird notions about what constitutes humane behavior.
And yet, for all the well-deserved ridicule directed at doomsayers and personal-bunker builders through the ages, we all know how the perfectly workable and sensible (in hindsight) may appear ludicrous at first, until one gets the implementation just right, or circumstances change — and changing they are, fast.
As we relentlessly set everything just so for turning ourselves into an endangered species, or at least usher mankind into a collection of dystopian futures, is there enough wiggle room left to prevent the worst possible tomorrows, and if so, does it entail sacrificing everything we value today, in the name of post-apocalyptic survival ?
"Survive to fight another day" is frequently invoked to justify avoidance or resignation in the face of damning odds, but this wisdom is predicated on a future worth holding out and fighting for. If all we've got to look forward to is the inevitability of paranoid social regression frenzied by technology gone feral, now might be the
best only time left to not worry about death and taxes, break out the booze and partay ourselves into oblivion, girl.
Let's face it : if things turn to extreme crap on a global level, individual preparedness will only be of minimal weight compared to dumb luck. More importantly : how eager will you be, personally, to merely survive for another couple of years, with nothing much to aspire to — for you or your cherished ones — as you trudge through the never-ending 'rough patch' ?
Back of the enveloppe, assuming nothing tangy enough to wipe the entire species comes around, we can expect massive depopulation (at least in some areas) to trigger infrastructure cascade-failures, then worsened environmental conditions as a second-order consequence, and massive social regression towards feudal models reliant on explicit might-makes-right power rules.
The people who spend their time reading books, playing videogames and writing blogs make for nice and stimulating company in a world of plenty, but your Facebook followers score and your BS in Virtual Interior Architecture will hardly translate as credentials in your new career as refuse forager and occasional unpaid prostitute for low-ranking pillagers.
Care to contemplate some alternative options, then ?
The natural urge in the face of imminent existential threat (in 'merkan parlance) is to sandbag and/or lash out (preemptively vitrify), but both those stances become decreasingly viable strategies in the face of hobbyist-grade nukes or bioweaponry, against which neither protection nor suppression are practical.
There is, in fact, only one winning strategy in that scenario, and that's not an easy or comforting one : it boils down to minimizing discontent with the social order among the population, and hope to weather moderately less awful amounts of catastrophic events than could otherwise prove too much for the social fabric to resist.
In practical terms, it might entail a radical choice to eschew violence and blatant coercion as means of governance — and possibly adding benzodiazepine mist blowers to AC units everywhere.
That's a hard sale, granted, and unlikely to pass as the result of a mere sit-down and stern talking-to, because who's going to do that…
As usual, we'll only get serious about changing our ways after all other venues of inaction and flailing around while making things worse are exhausted. It will probably take us single-event death tolls in the 5-6 digits range before we figure throwing more monies into SWAT tanks, airport anal probes, electrified fences and moar killer robots will not work out to anyone's benefit (but that of war profiteers).
How bloodied we all get before we accept that doing the same stupid things over and over again will not result in different outcomes remains to be seen, and whether we're in good enough shape by then to act upon that painfully acquired wisdom is just as uncertain.
Considering we've only got more skillful and sophisticated in the ways we inflict pain unto ourselves over the centuries, and have near-mastered the dubious art of engineering consent to our collective abuse, we may very well have boiled the frog, already, so don't get crazy hopeful just yet…
Bioterror for beginners, on a budget.
As the distinctions between war, terror and common-law crime become vanishingly artificial, it's time to acknowledge the obvious : while war is asymmetrical, peace demands balance, and it can't be gained or kept as a zero-sum game. With war and peace entangled beyond separation, we have to figure according to which of those states of mind we want to live our days.
Waging peace as low-intensity form of war is what we've been doing since 9/11, and it's not quite working on the global scale, because we're not the ones who get to decide how hot or cold it gets before we call it quits or victory.
Keeping the peace and preserving 'civilization' in some shape we can recognize through the 21st century might turn out to be less about stationing legions in Rome, and more about upping the budget on panem et circenses, for a start, then eventually rework our values systems to reward and foster socially beneficial behavior at the individual level, while mitigating the damage dissenters can inflict on society.
On this week's menu then, here are our specials :
Commie on Xanax (picture may differ from actual product)
Dead child soldier in the Glorious Army of Dog (your pick of cult/brand/nation)
Feudal Warlord (1B$ extra fee, not suitable for non-sociopaths)
Hills-people Toxic Waste Forager (exact number of limbs may vary +/- 3)
Enjoy your meal, just chew it well… to be safe.
As for me, my coffee's cold and my work here is done. Next time, I'll return to talking about creating cool games and entertaining stories, because I've got nothing better to do, considering.