As the chef says, too many grandfathers spoil the paradox
In 2073 humanity finally learned how to conquer time. Once the interplay between quantum gravity and General Relativity was properly understood, and as mega-scale quantum computers permitted calculation of trillions of variables to yield probability wave-functions suitable for calculating not only when in the past an event occurred but also where that event had occurred in Lorenz coordinate spacetime, it became feasible to build a time machine.
The dream of science fiction writers for generations, time travel thus finally became a realistic option, albeit only back into the near-past. Quantum uncertainty meant that the further back one attempted to go, the less likely one was to arrive. So a practical limit of no more than one hundred years was established, meaning that in 2074 when the first functional machine was constructed, humans could travel back to 1974 and to any date thereafter.
By 2074 things were pretty bad on Earth. Democracy resulted, as Plato had correctly predicted nearly three thousand years earlier, in de facto tyranny nearly everywhere. Of course people still called it democracy and it was true that the system of one person, one vote still stood strong. The only drawback was that the one person was the tyrant and their vote was the only one that counted.
In the USA, Donut Turmp III was Emperor Stable Genius Smart Guy President For Life, presiding over an economy based mainly on income derived from public execution of people with dark skins for the gratification of elderly white folk who on average each weighed 400 pounds while boasting an IQ of nearly 63. As the USA’s infrastructure had degraded to the point where it was impossible to generate and distribute electricity, most executions comprised a happy group of evangelicals stoning the designated heretics before turning on each other with accusations of blasphemy and insufficient sexual dysfunction.
In Greater England, Bodice Joanstown was Prime Rib, stumbling from one champagne reception after another while proclaiming that a daily loss of nearly 10,000 jobs was an enormous triumph and besides, she had a cunning plan to create a trillion thousand new jobs every minute if only Parliament would vote for her magical new proposals. As Parliament by that time comprised the Prime Rib’s pet hamster, two confused pigeons who’d flown in to escape the rain, and eighteen rotting Conservative Party members who despite having died years ago were nevertheless legitimate Front Benchers, it was unclear why Joanstown couldn’t get her wonderful legislation through the approvals process.
In Russia a cryogenically stabilized Vladimir Putin was plotting a glorious popularity-boosting invasion of a run-down shopping mall on the outskirts of Vilnius while the grand-children of his half-dozen trusted bodyguards fought over control of Russia’s last ice-cream factory.
In China a cryogenically stabilized Xi Xinping personally shut off the nation’s last Internet router, thus saving the Middle Kingdom from the risk of anyone knowing what was happening anywhere. As most Chinese people were busy trying to eat each other because of chronic food shortages resulting from President and Stable Genius for Afterlife Xi’s Second Best Leap Forward, no one noticed.
In Argentina Baby Doc Peron continued to buy up the entire world’s supply of women’s shoes.
In France a small group of intellectuals were holed up in a dusty library in the 4th fighting to their last axiom against a roaming gang of chain-smoking post-structuralist professors who were claiming that nothing meant anything which in turn definitely meant they could all sleep with their graduate students and no one should object.
In Germany, despite the triumph of the Alternative fur Deutschland in 2055, things were pretty much as stable and organized as they’d always been aside from the compulsory monthly racism classes, National We Love Adolf Day, and the requirement that everyone including domestic pets should have a bloated belly patriotically hanging over their lederhosen.
This is why, despite everything most people would have believed a mere half-century earlier, the world’s first time machine was designed and constructed in New Zealand. This small island nation isolated far in the Pacific Ocean had continued against all odds to educate its people, adhere to civilized values, and discern between infantile lies and real-world facts. In this way, unlikely as it would have seemed to earlier generations, it became by default the intellectual capital of Planet Earth.
Looking around at the rest of the planet and seeing the degree to which grotesque stupidity had triumphed with predictably dire consequences, the team of New Zealand scientists dreamed large: what if, they asked themselves, they could use this marvelous new invention to go back in time and change the course of history?
Of course these scientists were deeply concerned about the so-called grandfather paradox. If they went back in time and successfully altered the past to prevent the Triumph of the Morons, this would mean that in the new present there would be no impetus to create a time machine and so in the new timeline no one would go back to alter the past which meant that the Triumph of the Morons would in fact occur, which would mean they would be in a timeline in which they would go back to prevent this outcome which would mean a new timeline in which they would not go back, and so on into an infinity of double-branch timelines.
This problem occupied the team for several weeks until someone said, “You know what? No matter what happens, nothing could possibly be worse than the planetary cluster-f*ck we’ve got today. So screw it, let’s do it!”
Thus decided, the team identified key moments in time when it would be possible to alter history with the minimum impact on the population of Earth as a whole yet produce the greatest possible benefits. Time-travel candidates were selected and carefully trained, and by June 7th 2074 the team was ready to begin the Traveler Program and save the world from stupidity.
Team One inserted into New York. Everything went perfectly. A single paragraph in the TriState Brainless-Wannabe Gazette noted that Donald John Trump, born 14th June 1946, died in alone in his apartment in a fatal diaper-overspill incident while energetically stroking his own ego and will be missed by precisely no one at all.
Team Two inserted into London and once again the operation went flawlessly. Alexander Boris de Pfeffer Johnson was expelled from Eton one week into his first term after claiming on his Remedial Mathematics for Idiots test that 4+7 = the best-ever plan for more numbers than Britain has ever seen before and I’ll die in a ditch before abandoning this good-for-Britain answer. After his expulsion Johnson lurched from one poor-quality educational establishment after another, always being expelled shortly after arrival. Johnson then failed at a series of meaningless jobs (slug-catcher’s assistant, horoscope writer, Conservative Party politician) before ending his days as the rear-end of a pantomime horse.
Team Three inserted into East Berlin where a zealous but unintelligent KGB agent was preparing to return to Mother Russia with a decadent but usefully functioning Western refrigerator strapped to the back of his Trabant. En route he encountered an attractive young woman who told him that she and all of her equally attractive young friends would really get the hots for any man who could become a successful importer and salesperson of Western domestic appliances. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin eventually became a successful businessman in Sankt-Piterburg, owning Russia’s largest chain of domestic appliance shops trading under the catchy slogan Putin’s Fridges: Even Colder than the Inside of a Siberian Gulag!
Team Four experienced the first of the Traveler Program’s failures, though this was not immediately apparent to the team while they were in situ. They located the infant Xi and encouraged him to draw. Over time, by endlessly creating self-portraits, the young Xi discovered he could produce perfect replicas of the inane Walt Disney Prozac version of Winnie-the-Pooh. This led to Xi being seconded to the Chinese Liberation Army’s First Elite Cartoon Division where he was tasked with producing ideologically correct versions of the classic A.A. Milne stories. He was so good at this that he was elevated to the Politbureau at the age of thirty-seven. After fifteen years of biding his time and carefully building up support, Xi staged a coup assisted by seventeen other Master Cartoonists in what came to be known as the Night of the Long Crayons. Thereafter Xi began purged all potential rivals under the guise of fighting corruption, oversaw the implementation of a surveillance State, crushed any semblance of freedom in Hong Kong, and directed most of the nation’s budget toward cutting-edge technological research with the goal of finding ways to ensure he could live forever.
When all the teams were back, the New Zealand scientists took stock. Knowing that the changes they made to the past would alter their present timeline and memories, they’d stored knowledge of the previous timeline on quantum memory devices that were theoretically impervious to timestream deviation. This enabled the team to compare the New Present with the present that existed before the Traveler teams went back in time and performed their world-altering interventions.
What they found crushed their spirits.
The new President of the USA was a drooling infantile halfwit elected by an equally dimwitted population eager to cling to their guns and gods and deeply mistrustful of anyone capable of uttering a sentence containing words of more than two syllables. The new British Prime Rib was a fatuous former transvestite professional wrestler who became leader of the Conservative Party after being trepanned in a road traffic accident and now wanted to declare war on “our historic enemy, France.” The new President of All the Russias was a former KGB officer stationed in Minsk who believed that rain was a Western plot to destabilize his beloved nation with corrupt imperialist moisture. And in China everything was precisely the same as it had been before the Traveler program commenced.
“We failed to analyze the problem correctly,” the team leader announced at the debrief meeting. “We thought the world fell apart because of the influence of a few malign individuals. Turns out, we were looking in the wrong direction entirely. Turns out, the problem is people.”
The team leader pointed to a large slide projected against one wall of the briefing room. “Item One: a complex globally inter-connected world. Item Two: human beings. Note the tiny ape-brain. Note how it craves simplicity in all things and fails to function when presented with complex ideas.”
Around the room, scientists slumped in their seats. A few laid their heads in their hands. Several began to weep openly, knowing their dream of helping to build a better world had just been reduced to ash.
The team leader continued, “Item Three: a system of government based on the hilariously misguided idea that people who can understand nothing should be permitted to vote for people who can do nothing.”
An audible groan filled the briefing room: the sound of over two hundred highly educated and highly intelligent scientists realizing they’d been check-mated by the equivalent of a brain-damaged gerbil.
The team leader concluded, “So no matter what we may do in the past, the present will always end up pretty much the same. People will always be people.”
Near the back of the room one distinguished female scientist tentatively raised her hand. “Excuse me, professor, but what if we go back in time and propose a more adequate system of governance? One in which the Internet removes the need for representatives, and in which only people who demonstrate the necessary level of competence can anonymously propose and then vote on legislation within specified subject domains?”
No one spoke. Another scientist accidentally dropped the pin that had been holding their name-badge onto their lapel. Everyone in the room heard it hit the ground.
“Logically that’s the solution,” the team leader acknowledged wearily, “but we’ve run the scenarios on the mainframe. There is zero point zero zero zero probability of anyone ever acknowledging that representative democracy is a hopelessly unfit system of governance and that a system based on knowledge and competence is essential if the world is to escape unnecessary horrors and suffering.”
The distinguished female scientist contemplated the implications of this answer, which she recognized as being eminently reasonable. After several moments, she said, “So basically, we’re all f*cked.”
And on that note the Traveler Program was disbanded and the team dispersed to consume as many alcoholic beverages as possible. They knew it wouldn’t be long before the rest of the world closed in on them and the last light of civilization would be extinguished.
No one would live to see it lit again.