Tag Archives: Dystopia

“Dead Memory,” a prescient story

I must have acquired Dark Horse’s English translation of Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s 2000 graphic novel, Dead Memory, more than 15 years ago. I’ve pulled it off the shelf to read several times over the years, I’m sure. In general a somewhat quirky, interesting, slightly vague work of science fantasy very much in the European style.

Upon the most recent re-read, however, I was surprised by what feels very much like a graphic novel for our own time.

The early sequence in which a conversation is visually implied to be a traditional meeting, then after a page-turn revealed as basically a Zoom meeting, really got my attention. Videoconferencing was by no means a new idea even in 2000, but discovering its use by such humdrum pedestrian people as was the case here is—from the perspective of 2021—a little surprising.

Also, everyone in Dead Memory is inseparable from a smartphone every bit as creepy as our own have become. The “black box’s” UI differs a little in detail, but people’s relationship to it is functionally much like that of ourselves with the smartphone. The story even implies that going anywhere without your black box is literally against the law, and when a couple goons of the state stop the main character and demand ID, naturally his black box is what they mean.

All of this seems pretty impressive foresight for the year 2000, when smartphones didn’t even exist and even cellphones were still mostly a specialist item.

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Fighting over the wrong infrastructure

Four years ago, Bruce Gibney wrote that “I think the choices might become so difficult that even fairly good people will get wrapped up in short-term self-interest” within the near future.

It seems like this is already manifesting in the much-greater energy going toward a progressive budget than toward reforming the political system. I observe this pretty much daily, in the messages from members of Congress, and from advocacy groups*; even America’s progressive leadership is pretty much all-in on making pocketbook assistance the priority.

I understand the desire to provide first aid ASAP to people suffering injury, but if that comes at the expense of fixing dangerous equipment which will continue causing injury, then this is the wrong choice to make.

America’s oppressive economic systems are downstream from oppressive political systems.

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Provincial Geoengineering

What if states suffering from climate change become, quite realistically, frustrated with waiting for coordinated global solutions and attempt to modify their own local climates?

This is just a hypothetical possibility that occurred to me, yesterday, prompted I suppose by the COVID pandemic and how that’s going. I’m not a climate scientist, or really any sort of expert in the natural sciences or engineering at all. I am a historian and chronicler of contemporary civilization, though, and from that perspective this concept seems very realistic.

Most of this concept is not even new. Any number of schemes for geoengineering responses to the climate crisis have kicked around for many years. As has speculation about the possibility of unilateral attempts, in the absence of global consensus; the harrowing short story collection The Hidden Girl even considers a private attempt at global geoengineering.

Microclimates are obviously not new, though the intersection of climate complexity and anthropogenic rapid climate change is revealing that the results will not be smooth and uniform.

Local-scale response is a well-established concept, also. The urban heat island effect is really a basic corollary of cities, but systems and policies can do a lot to minimize or intensify it, through e.g. choosing more trees instead of blacktop parking lots.

But what about in-between the local and global scale? Might individual nation-states (or federation member-states) try to protect their climates amid the continuing absence of global solutions? Whether or not they can in fact do so, what if one or more decide that they can, and try it?

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Post-democracy America

As I watch corrupt sham democracy eat each big new hole in the remaining shell of representative democracy, I always feel a tension any more between dismay at how fast it seems to be happening and the lessons of experience about how long zombie systems can shamble along anyway.

Aside from the lessons of America itself over the past couple of decades, I think again on re-reading Gibbon recently, and on how long the Roman Senate existed after the Roman republic ended. This notoriously pathetic zombie institution (the use of which by America’s framers as an explicit model for our government was really Asking For It from the very start) lingered on for centuries after it had surrendered all power to autocratic emperors. The Roman Senate outlasted the republic, its own purpose, and even the Roman religion, by centuries.

That’s a powerful corrective to any expectation of a near-term catharsis, of any kind.

So I’m stuck, usually, with the expectation that things will get worse and worse, but, while some kind of explosion(s) are probably somewhere ahead, even they may not really alter America’s zombie-shuffle very much.

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The Illusion of Change

During my active years in comic book fandom, somewhere or other I absorbed the concept of “no change, only the illusion of change.” I’m not sure that there’s any firm, verified single origin for it, and in any event its significance is in the clarity of its understanding of America’s biggest long-running superhero properties. From year to year, things seem to happen, but decade to decade, not so much, and over the longer term even less so.

I was reminded of this after spending some time thinking about American politics and governing, at the national level, and what major change has actually happened compared with 10 and 20 years ago.

That probably gives away much of my conclusion, which is that at this time scale so much of the screaming and scrambling and struggling seems to even out. Most of it is equivalent to the illusion of change. Above and beyond that, slow geologic trends seem to be the main story, and it is not really a good one.

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Outlook March 2021

Strange moment, not that they aren’t nearly all strange anymore.

A little over a year since America’s shit-just-got-real moment for a COVID-19 pandemic, it looks at last like we can see an end to our long plague year. It isn’t here yet. But with functioning national governance restored (just barely, for now) and vaccine distribution in high gear, it seems possible that we can avoid another severe case surge. As of today I have hopes of getting scheduled for vaccination soon, several weeks ahead of my previous expectation. This amid a yo-yo few days, which of course have involved ups and downs, but feel overall discouraging of enthusiasm or effort.

So what now?

While I am not completely sans interest in resuming various suspended activities, I reject “back to normal” as a general theme for either society or myself. The former should not really require explanation. As for myself, I have not really had a plan or even a strategy for years. This seems like as good a time as any to explore the idea.

How, then, do I “build back better?”

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Going off the grid

I struggle to process the emergence from the left of messages like: “Government doesn’t work. Abolish coercive enforcement by the state. Rely only on yourself and local, privately organized charitable systems.”

Of course, there are a lot of things I didn’t specifically anticipate, such as people freezing to death in Texas, yet here we are.

More generally, all of this is entirely in line with the dismal trends I have seen and bemoaned for so long. The trail of news stories and reports documenting the decay of America’s physical infrastructure goes back many years. I have written ad nauseam about the corresponding decay of political infrastructure, especially the corrupt sham Republican Party which in Texas “seceded” from the rest of the country’s electricity grids, and is now busy lying about the consequences. The “horseshoe theory” convergence of some left-originating rhetoric with rightwing libertarianism is strange in detail, but the broad collapse in social trust has been more and more on my mind.

Somewhere around here I have a scrap of paper on which I scrawled something like “the collapse is going to accelerate,” a few months ago. So, uh, yeah.

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Mid-October 2020

Mostly just assorted stray thoughts about the present phase of America’s long emergency.

At mid-October, we’re largely past the point where a lot of big narrative-shifting ratfuckery occurred in 2016. Russia’s hacked-email airlift to rescue Trump from his Access Hollywood vulgarity occurred Oct. 11. Jim Comey’s Clinton memo, which may have turned a teensy edge for Clinton into a teensy edge for Trump, was just days before the election. But that wasn’t a Republican hit job per se. That was to all appearances Comey trying to shore up some sort of independence brand image ahead of an inevitable Clinton presidency.

I trust nothing, at this point, but it seems at least possible that if Republicans had cards up their sleeves they would have played them by now. Particularly with massive early voting now into, what, its third week in some places?

Certainly Republicans have been trying, already. But multiple attempts to weaponize investigations-of-the-investigation into some sort of Biden-smearing narrative have proved unable to get around the complete absence of a there, there. The project to manufacture a Biden scandal has deteriorated into absolutely mental Rudy Giuliani haplessly trying to shop hacked emails about Hunter Biden, and succeeding in little more than making Joe Biden look like a caring parent.

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Critical thinking amid a nightmare

Really feeling Kipling’s “If,” as another week of this nightmare commences. “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…”

This is difficult.

Today the Bill Moyers site published someone’s hot-take about how it’s time to rise up and resist physically instead of just crouching at your computer, and someone shared it on Twitter, and I read the article because I was curious about the inclusion of the word “strategically” in the summary. Unfortunately the article didn’t really mention any kind of strategic thinking at all.

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Corrosion, Dysfunction and Pushing on a Rope

Just about every day, now, I watch what’s going on in America with a kind of horrified fascination.

I definitely do not mean popular protests to insist that Black Lives Matter. That’s very good.

Not much else is. America completely mismanaged, is still mismanaging, a deadly pandemic. A recession is spreading throughout the economy, applying pressure to the enormous dominoes of state and local government budgets. Many cities’ police departments are pretty clearly feral. Industry is turning Earth’s climate toxic. Etc.

Beneath all of this, there’s a pretty glaring lack of effective solutions being implemented. I think a growing number of people sense this, to some extent. But I also think that very few are fully capable of conceiving how far we are, at this point, from even a fundamental degree of societal functioning which seems to be an unquestioned, popular assumption.

A lot of people seem like Captain Willard on the Do Long Bridge—demanding a response from whoever is in authority—before the penny dropped and he realized that the expected responsive system of authority simply didn’t exist.

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