I really wanted to write something light-hearted this week, but I can’t stop thinking about the end of the world. Not the absolute destruction of the planet, I’m not that far gone, but just the crumbling of modern society. I’ve never considered it before. In the Before-Time, if I thought about it at all, I figured society would continue to advance, technologically and socially; that we would move slowly towards some sort of Techno Utopia. (Clearly, I’ve read too much sci-fi and not enough social psychology and history).
Disclaimer: I’m not saying society will fall; I’m not saying the world will end. However, in the last few years I’ve seen a few things that ‘Could never happen here,’ happen not only here, but in several equally unlikely places, so it’s time to re-examine the list of impossible things.
I can’t stop thinking about the end of the world, but not in a panicky way. I’m at the dispassionate stage, thinking about it as an intellectual exercise. I know I’m well behind the times in considering the end of the world; all young adult fiction lately is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape. But I’m not thinking about what the world will be like after.
I’m wondering how we get there. Are we looking at slow decay, like the Roman Empire, or something a little more exciting, like the uprising of the French Revolution?
Society is meant to be ever-changing, ever-evolving. I think our evolution has been accelerated over the last 18 months. The pandemic has forced us to adjust, make changes just to keep life going. And we have. In some cases we have embraced these changes as an improvement to our quality of life. Work from home eliminates a gruelling commute. Zoom meetings make international meetings possible without environmentally damaging air travel. I personally will never get closer that 6 feet to the next person on a queue.
But those in charge are telling us we need to “Get back to Normal.” And the people in charge aren’t too popular these days. Something the pandemic exposed, aside from the resilience of the human spirit, is how thoroughly the rich are screwing over everyone else. While the world went into economic collapse, the richest people got even richer. Exponentially richer. All the while, things got harder for those at the bottom. The thing is, thanks to the media, we could all see it happening.
I think we’re all a little less inclined to put up with things now, less likely to shrug and say ‘that’s the way it is.’ People are taking the time to ask ‘Why?’ Why are Essential Workers paid so little, while the highest paid do so little? When those Elites who campaigned for Brexit sang a song of ‘Once We Were Empire,’ why did they not mention the shortages that would result from the sudden loss of truck drivers from the continent? Perhaps because they knew the shortages would never affect them, because they had money, and they didn’t really care about those without money.
The wealth gap between rich and poor now makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the sidewalk. And since Money=Power, people are seeing the slow erosion of their rights and access to services, while the rich do… whatever they want without consequence. I’m a little fuzzy on the history, but I think it’s circumstances like these that led to the French Revolution, where the excesses of the rich led them to the steps of Madame Guillotine. I’m not saying the rich should be beheaded. I’m not a savage. I think they should have their assets seized and be made to get a job at Starbucks and see how they like it.
I’m worried that a violent uprising is the more likely outcome as society falls, primarily due to the shortages the UK is experiencing. In the slow decay of the Roman empire, they subdued the masses with Bread and Circuses. These days the circus side is covered by Netflix and Disney+, but we may come to a point of no Bread. And again, the rich will have their own on-site bakeries while the rest of us fight for crumbs.
The fix for a lot of this is a Wealth tax on the rich and higher wages for the poor. I don’t see it happening either. Continued peace is relying on the apathy of the common man. How far can we bend without breaking?
Interestingly, my thoughts on the End of the World were sparked by something that happened last Thursday. There were Internet outages all over London. It meant my shop couldn’t process Credit card payments. Also, not email, no social media, no netflix. It went on for about an hour and then service was restored.
Had it gone on another hour, London may have seen the start of the Purge.