Western Civilization, Seen from 2150 AD, Part 1
A small roll of pages showed up in my mailbox last week, printed on an odd size and type of paper. They appeared to have been ripped from a history book entitled 2000–2150 AD: The Emergence of Modernity. I'm repeating the text here verbatim, sans the header, which mentions only the title of the book. (Or perhaps it's the title of a chapter.)
Make of this what you will.
In the late 20th century it began dawning on the heirs of Western civilization that the archaic forms of rulership they lived under (and which they had held as the ultimate form of human organization) were actually enormous parasites. The first people to grasp this tended to be socially ostracized and were punished in a variety of ways, mostly informal. But they persevered and found comfort in the writings of like-minded men and women of the past, who had the good fortune to live beneath milder incarnations of parasitic hierarchy.
Soon books were being written on the subject and circulated among a small but devoted readership. Slowly, something of an intellectual movement began to form. The first great expansion came with the rise of the internet in the 1990s. The new ideas began spreading beyond small intellectual circles and into the minds of productive people worldwide.
The ideas advanced slowly. People of the era were, after all, forcibly schooled by those same parasitic regimes, and breaking away from a nearly universal system of thought was difficult, no matter how obvious the system's barbarity.
Still, humans have always been clever and self-referential creatures, as well as being gifted with effective memories. Little by little the new ideas, like so many seeds, began to grow. One person here spread the concepts to one or two elsewhere, who – a few years later when the seeds in them had matured a bit – spread them to still others. With a geometric certainty, the seeds began filling mankind.
But while this appears as an inevitable process from our perspective, it seemed desperately slow and uncertain to the people involved. Many of the earliest adopters died before they saw the fruit of their labors, which didn't appear in any significant concentrations until 2015 or so.
Restraints and Releases
The great restraint to these ideas, during the era of their first emergence, was the Internet's corporate parasitism, running from roughly 2002 through 2025. The primary transaction under this model was for people to accept "free" services in return for granting the corporation complete access to their most private lives. No such service was truly free of course, and people did understand this at some basic level, but Westerners of that era were well schooled in the fear of scarcity (even though very few lived in conditions of actual privation), and all were bombarded with fear day and night by "news stations."
In that condition, the offer of "free" service was all but irresistible to them, and so they closed their eyes to the ongoing sale of their intimate lives.
This of course was before people learned to treat fear as mind pollution. At that time, embracing every new fear was considered a show of vitality.
And so people flocked to "free" services, allowing those services and their spy agency partners to conduct deeper and more pervasive surveillance than could have been imagined in any previous era. This, as we know, resulted in the greatest systems of manipulation in world history. The monstrosities we see as Descartes's Demon were possible only because of scarcity fears among people who faced little or no actual scarcity.
The first great release from parasitic systems was the decentralized digital economy, beginning with Bitcoin in 2009. By the time cryptocurrencies accounted for 10% of world currency volume, decentralization was firmly rooted in the realms of money and economic infrastructure, and it was clear that it would not be stopped. The Crypto Massacres in India and Turkey claimed several thousand lives, but they also turned most Indians and Turks against their murderous "leaders," leading to the end of both regimes within a few years.
What decentralized economics slowly taught the world was that their parasitic structures had been unnecessary. People had, from what seemed time immemorial, believed that violence-based hierarchies were necessary for cooperation… that without them, human life would become, as was famously proclaimed, "nasty, solitary, poor, brutish, and short."
The historical record didn't support that statement of course, but nearly all history books after 1900 AD were written for and purchased by parasitic systems, and so contrary portions were left out.
Nonetheless, once decentralized systems were part of everyday life for the bulk of the populace (by 2050 or so), it became clearer and clearer that parasitic systems weren't actually necessary.
Finding ways to organize in nonparasitic ways took time, however. A first problem was that many Westerners still thought systems of organization had to be monopolistic, that a single system incorporating everyone was necessary. But by 2060 this idea was fading, primarily because no system could maintain sufficient violence to force everyone into it. Millions of people were honestly surprised to learn that multiple systems could operate simultaneously and successfully.
I'll stop here this week and complete my transcription next week.
Western Civilization, Seen from 2150 AD, Part 2
As I noted last time, a small roll of pages recently showed up at my door. They appeared to have been ripped from a history book entitled 2000–2150 AD: The Emergence of Modernity. I am completing my transcription of them today, verbatim. Make of it what you will.
The Death of Scarcity
Wants can be infinitely imagined by clever creatures such as ourselves, but nowadays a basic dividing line between wants and needs is acknowledged. This was not the case during the pre-modern period, when cravings for ever-more were not only habitual but neurotic.
Pre-moderns were actually addicted to scarcity. Without it, they didn't know how to find a mate, for example. Showing oneself worthy (especially on the part of males) involved demonstrations that one could thrive in conditions of scarcity better than one's competitors. Under this assumption, the gathering of more and more goods made them a more and more worthy mate.
And so, when technology began to end scarcity in the late 1900s, most people were simply unable to see it. Most rejected it reflexively and many ridiculed those who persisted in their claims that scarcity was being overcome.
Little by little, however, people accepted clear facts, such as the fact that North Americans were growing only half the wheat they could, simply because there weren't enough people to eat it all. Likewise corn: When the crops became too large, bribed politicians forced oil refiners to add ethanol to gasoline (ethanol being made from corn).
By 2030, the death of scarcity was apparent to a significant minority. But it took almost another two generations before most people were convinced. Again, this was because scarcity had been a foundational concept to them. Conditions of scarcity had been the fundamental justification for governments, war, jobs, mating, and so on. All those psychological dependencies had to be replaced, and that took time.
By 2080, it was almost universally accepted that scarcity, save for narrow areas or short seasons, had been surpassed. Replacements for the old strategies, however, remained in flux for a long time. And while they may remain in flux indefinitely, they have reached some base level of stability in our time.
The Voyagers and the End of the Old World
The final end of the old world – the event that ensured it could not return – is broadly held to be the ability of humans to leave Earth. The old systems survived on their ability to extort money from fenced-in subjects. Once those subjects could leave for the further reaches of the solar system, however, no more money and obedience could be extorted from them.
At its core, the reason for this is simple mathematics. Space is a territory that expands exponentially, as a cube of the distance. The numbers look like this:
At one million miles distance, coercive government requires 4,189,000,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.
At two million miles it requires 33,510,000,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.
At three million miles it requires 113,098,000,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.
At four million miles it requires s 268,083,000,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.
And so, those who left moved beyond the state's ability to exert force upon them.
All of our early moon colonies, as you must know, were founded by independent commercial ventures, not governments. The first few were under the domination of governments and agreed to enforce their legal orders, but as time went on, such orders were taken less and less seriously.
Bounty hunters thrived for a handful of years, but once a bounty hunter found him or herself returning to their government employers bound in chains (as they generally did), they demanded higher salaries for further engagements. This soon became a losing venture for the governments, who were, after all, starved for money due to the abandonment of government currency and the use of encrypted commerce.
Once Mars bases became practical (2070), and especially as asteroid mining became practical (2100), there were simply too many locations – at far too great distances – to dominate. This meant that the colonies became free, but it meant much more than that. The image of the state as the indomitable, the unchallengeable, the unquestionable, had failed. The mighty states had become barbarians who no longer inspired terror. They could be ignored and they were ignored.
The Age of Transition
Our world is always in a state of transition, but the century and a half between 2000 and 2150 AD were remarkable in that they swept away traditions and systems that had held since the Bronze Age.
It took time for our ancestors to adjust to the modern age they were creating, much as our eyes must adjust when walking from a darkened building into bright sunlight. Even when positioned in the light, it took them some time before they could see very well. That's why conditions didn't fully stabilize till 2150 or so.
The great drivers of the change of course were technology and evolution.
While governments always cycled between dominance and dissolution, technology accumulated. By 1968 it had advanced far enough to send humans to the moon. Governments halted the advance at that point, but within two generations technological advances put the moon within the range of groups who lacked (or eschewed) the power of coercion. And likewise in virtually every area of technology, continuing no less in our day.
Human evolution, it is now widely held, continued all through the age of dominating hierarchies. People slowly became more creative, less cruel, and less willing to justify constraint. But this evolution was restrained, because new ways of living – ways that might afford evolution some scope – were violently forbidden.
Once the dominance of states fell away, however, those better qualities flowed into human life more rapidly than people expected. They had in fact been contained, much as are pressurized gasses. Finally, though, the containment vessels cracked and opened.
[THUS ENDS THE DOCUMENT]