Final Entry June 22, 2073
OK, so this will likely be the last entry. If anyone comes after and this record survives, I hope they’ll still be able to read, and read in the English language. The translation software was on a different device and it died a while back. So no Russian, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Hindi, Farsi, or anything else.
As a historian I find it deeply ironic that eighty years ago someone wrote a book called The End of History and the Last Man. I guess someone privileged enough to go to Harvard and then get tenure at Stanford inevitably would have a very skewed perspective. Maybe things looked rosy back then, especially if you were a member of the affluent middle-class in sunny California. Before the mega-drought, the absurd property prices, populism, and all the rest.
I’ve studied the records, at least what’s left of them. We humans were always worrying about the wrong things, especially in the USA. Seems like the USA always needed an enemy against which it could define itself as the good guy, which was handy because the USA exported more horror to defenseless people than any other nation on Earth. First the indigenous people were the enemy, then the Mexicans, then the Japanese, then Communists, then terrorists, then liberals… it’s a strange thing that no one seemed to notice this bizarre pathology. Maybe they were too busy cramming corndogs, hotdogs, donuts, and pizza into their always-open mouths. And staring at their screens.
It was the screens that pushed our species over the edge. Our brains are adapted for the simple conditions of the African savannah and the primordial forests of Eurasia, not for a constant bombardment of sensationalist fear-mongering. Movies, radio, and television was bad enough. But when Apple Computer Corporation launched the first smartphone it was game over for homo sapiens.
We basically got everything backward. People were sacrificed on the altar of revenues. No matter how vile, how untrue, how harmful something was, provided it attracted attention it was golden. Our entire civilization became filled with endless mental effluent, poured into people’s heads twenty-four hours a day. And the people loved it. While refugees starved, fat complacent Westerners sat slumped on sofas gawping at endless food shows. While terrified civilians were slaughtered by their own governments, fat ignorant spoiled Westerners shouted about taking back control and getting rid of foreigners.
All they were doing, of course, was repeating the nonsense they’d been fed by large media organizations that loved to promulgate the most sensationalist lies available, because that was the content ordinary people lapped up like sugar-laden double cream. No lie was too absurd, no utterance too disgusting for the appetites of ordinary people who gawped and parroted slogans in their tens of millions.
And no one could see it was a one-way street.
It’s called the ratchet effect. Imagine a society where no one swears. Then, one day, some dimwit says “poop on you.” People are shocked. But when he says it again the next day, they’re not so shocked as the first time. By the third time he says “poop on you” it’s become normalized and other people start saying it too. So now, in order to attract the attention he got the first time round for saying “poop” he has to say something stronger, like “shit on you, fuckhead.” Gratifyingly, this new phrase has a startling effect. But once again, by the third time of repetition it’s become normalized and everyone is saying “shit on you, fuckhead” and are pleased with themselves because they imagine it is themselves thinking and saying something original.
It’s the same with lies and exhortations to violence. The first time we hear it, we’re shocked. By the end of the week we’re repeating those lies and we’re chanting the slogans about killing people we’ve identified as our convenient scapegoats.
In a very short space of time, Western civilization (what little there was of it) buckled under the weight of populist entertainments, populist demagogues, and relentlessly populist media. People became little more than drones screaming whatever obscenities their preferred Great Leader had programmed into them. And all the time they thought these were their own opinions, the slogans were their own thoughts, and that their mindless obedience was true patriotism.
While it was the Western nations with their free-market ideas and unrestricted media-generated lies that succumbed first, the rest of the world was quick to follow. Authoritarian regimes imagined that modern technologies provided the perfect means to capture the minds of their populations. China stirred up righteous resentment, anger, and fury against real and imagined threats from Western nations. India stoked the fires of Hindu religio-nationalism. Moslem nations incited hatred against all non-Moslems. Across the vast continent of Africa, tribe was set against tribe by politicians eager to exploit normal human simple-mindedness and deep-seated bigotry.
When we are made fearful, our brains (which are never very good at grasping even the basics of reality at the best of times) shut down entirely. We become empty-headed machines, easily programmed to do whatever the shouting demagogues tell us is our patriotic duty. The problem is, once we’re wound up like angry clockwork robots, unwinding us is nearly impossible.
It wasn’t as if we didn’t have plenty of warning. The populism of the second and third decades of the twenty-first century showed over and over again how once you’ve programmed people, you can’t un-program them. Brexiteers kept chanting their simple-minded slogans, nurtured their xenophobia and racism, and remained true believers even after every single thing they’d been told was shown unambiguously to be a lie. Trump supporters entered into an alternative reality in which up was down, black was white, lies were truth, and an obese moron was their Savior. Then came the first of the seemingly endless series of health panics, all media-driven in order to increase revenues, which left people terrified of their neighbors and convinced they were all going to die in a matter of days — from diseases that were almost totally harmless.
Ironically of course, tens of millions did die, but not from any virus. Doctors had been handing out antibiotics like candy to patients who were ever-eager to get magic pills to cure their self-inflicted lifestyle ailments. Farmers shoved millions of tons of antibiotics into livestock every year to speed up growth. Ordinary people failed to complete their courses of antibiotics, tossing the remainder into toilets or landfill. These things all helped ensure the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that eventually caused systemic food poisoning, killing nearly seventy-one million people worldwide in what was called the Black Year of 2031.
The funny thing about history not ending was that in fact it speeded up. While the West was recovering from the Black Year, China spotted its opportunity. It had spent two decades methodically building up superiority in weapons systems while the USA had spent hundreds of billions of dollars on largely irrelevant capabilities. So when in 2032 China “reclaimed” the island of Taiwan in the name of reunification, the USA was left with no choice but to slink away with its metaphorical tail between its legs after the sinking of the USS Ronald Reagan showed clearly how antiquated US military policy had become. Naval battle groups were nothing more than large slow-moving targets that were easily destroyed by hypersonic cruise missiles.
At a stroke, the era of US military might was over. All the other Asian nations quickly ingratiated themselves with their new regional Overlord. This humiliation caused enormous political and social turmoil back in the USA as everyone sought to blame everyone else. Coming on top of the Black Year, this tipped the USA over the edge and several States declared secession, shortly thereafter initiating minor wars against each other over things like water rights, ownership of the few remaining electricity generating plants, and oil storage facilities.
India combusted in 2038 as Hindu nationalists inspired a pogrom against their Muslim neighbors, killing an estimated nine million people, mainly defenseless women and children. In Pakistan, anti-Indian sentiment — which had been fomented by both governments and the military establishment for nearly a century — meant that the politicians and the Generals were painted into a corner. The Pakistani invasion force, utterly incompetent, was however sufficiently numerous that the equally incompetent Indian military struggled initially to repel it. But as the tide turned on the battlefield, Pakistan used tactical short-range nuclear weapons to avoid defeat. As is the case with the inevitable escalation of the ratchet mechanism that seems to govern all human affairs, the long-awaited nuclear war between India and Pakistan erupted and within forty-eight hours an estimated three hundred and seventy million people had been vaporized and a further four hundred million rendered destitute and homeless.
After the death of Russia’s first Dictator-for-life, Putin’s Russia collapsed into a patchwork of warring local barons, most of whom had been Putin’s loyal bodyguards since back in his Sankt-Piterburg days. No one really knows how many people died from violence versus from starvation as Russia collapsed into anarchy, but by 2045 it was estimated than only eight million Russians remained alive out of a pre-collapse population of around one hundred million.
I don’t really know what happened across Africa, nor much about South America’s collapse. In the countries of South America, heavily-armed drug cartels had been for years the de facto powers across the region and as the last vestiges of normality fell away they shifted from being predatory to being psychotic. I’d guess that similar events took place in Africa, with religious extremists looting military equipment and going on the rampage at a scale that caused total social breakdown. But nothing comes out of Africa any more, and we’ve not heard anything from South America since 2060.
All of this was driven by the screens. Flicker flicker flicker they went, filling people’s heads with lies, fear, and hatred. It quickly became unstoppable. In the West, media companies pursued revenues at any cost. In authoritarian regimes, leaders pursued control of their populations at any cost. But once set in motion there was no way to control the outcome. The most horrific things became quickly normalized and so even greater horrors had to be found for the next day’s entertainment. People believed the flickering screaming mental sewage they were assiduously fed by those seeking to profit from their gullibility, and they became ever-more angry, fearful, and hate-ridden.
Demagogues and media moguls all thought they could ride the tiger, but as always happens the tiger shook them off and then devoured them.
So here we are in the summer of 2073. It’s a beautiful day up here in the mountains. The flowers are out, the wind is fresh, the sun is warm on my face. I take comfort from knowing that whatever happens, whatever future stupidities are perpetrated by what’s left of our species, the Earth will keep turning in space and eventually nature will reclaim what we so eagerly despoiled. If it weren’t for the fact I can see the convoy coming in this direction, I think I could happily enjoy the summer up here. But with the last of the snow melted away, there’s nothing to stop them reaching my location by tomorrow. As they’re ordinary standard-issue human beings, I can’t imagine that me still being alive when they get here would be a pleasant fate.
I’m going to look out across the horizon one last time. Because this is the end of my personal history. And all I have left to say now is: screw you, Francis Fukuyama. You got everything one hundred per cent wrong.