I know this is going to sound a bit strange, but I got the idea for this post from watching a really low quality science fiction tv series imported from the BBC. The show is called Survivors (not Survivor as in the really stupid reality TV show about tribes on an island). The premise is that some kind of virus has killed most of the people in the world, and a very few people are now amongst the survivors. The story is told from the main perspective of two women (one formely very wealthy and the other somewhat dirt poor). The two women hook up somewhere around the third episode, and slowly they are traversing the outskirts of London looking for some way to survive.
The wealthy woman seems to have come to a conclusion about what needs to be done for the future, and this came from some old geezer guy who was maintaining a vigil at the school where her son was last seen (her son becomes the motivation for her to seek out any attempts to find him). The old man, realizing he’s too old to really do any “surviving” tells the rich woman, Abby that long term survival isn’t going to come from hoarding the stuff that’s left but in the ability of the survivors to reinvent the old days of basic manufacturing. An example the guy uses is that in order to build a table you not only need wood that was cut down from a tree, but you need to be able to make the ax you used to cut it down because eventually the supply of axes and tools will break and run down, meaning that we have to be able to make this stuff again. The victors will be the ones who relearn how to do such things so that we’re not just scavengers but producers as well, so that the future of humanity is not just gathering but creating as well. Well, Abby takes up this idea and pretty much tells everyone she comes across that this is needed for the future, and she becomes very convincing as a future leader for whatever institutions they create.
This doesn’t really resonate until they hit about the third episode when she comes across a former parliamentarian who has taken it upon himself to rebuild “society” by claiming control over certain sections of the local area. If you want to scavenge supplies from abandoned stores, you need to go through him and his goons, and quickly you start to realize that in all of the talk that they have about saving civilization, they are really just another version of lazy government officials who have taken it upon themselves to take control because they got there first, and everyone else is pretty much at their beck and call. Abby fights against this and decides to go it alone with her little ragtag group of people, and suddenly you start to see the beginnings of class and political struggle that results, and the reality the story shows is that no matter how much you try to avoid it, you’re forced into that paradigm one way or another.
Which caused me to start thinking about the moral that this story has to be telling to those of us who are living in civilized society where a virus hasn’t wiped out government yet. As I talk about from time to time, somewhere down the line we surrendered power to people who have had their hands on the reigns ever since. Sure, we can believe that we can “vote” them out, but in reality we have little ability to change anything because the vast numbers necessary to make a difference are practically insurmountable and incapable of being obtained. As Mancur Olson points out, we can get a lot of people to rally together for a cause, but once we get them together, there’s little way to keep them motivated on the end game, and even worse, as is pointed out by me, once you have those numbers of people gathered together, there’s no telling what they’re going to do on a whim. Look at the protests that took place during the first Gulf War that happened in San Francisco. At one point, there were thousands of people gathered in the streets; the next, people were climbing the railings of the Bay Bridge, disrupting traffic and getting arrested while doing absolutely nothing for the movement but everything for their critics. Look at the protests that took place in Berlin in the 1990s. People wanted to get together to protest the harsh conditions and the rumors that were circulating about future freedoms. The result: They tore down the wall and ended communism in East Germany overnight. All it took were random people throwing rocks and bricks before things went completely out of control. In Berlin, that was great for freedom. In Czechoslovakia decades earlier, it was disastrous as the government responded by opening fire on the crowds and arresting anyone who dared to protest such treatment.
Yet, there’s a problem that has emerged in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century that no one is addressing, and that’s that people are no longer quiet peasants who are uneducated and willing to do whatever the forces of power tell them to do. We’re seeing all sorts of random violence taking place all across the world at government summits and economic meetings where people are angry and no longer willing to just sit on the sidelines waiting for crumbs of information from those in the know and those in power. There are powder kegs all over the world that are waiting to explode, and some already have, yet we see these as isolated incidents and pay little attention to them. Partly because we aren’t concerned, and partly because I think a lot of people want to hope that such events do not lead to horrific futures that they refuse to imagine.
People often see the Obama victory in 2008 for the wrong reasons. So many people wanted to see it as a refutation of the Bush Administration, as if the country wised up and “threw out the bums”. Yet, these same people seem shocked when the masses are going through the motions of throwing out government officials from Obama’s side. To them, none of this makes sense and appears to point to a public that is unsure of what it wants. But a logical mind can look at these incidents and realize that something very simple is taking place: The masses are reacting against pretty much all authority and showing its dissatisfaction with anyone who is in power. If you want any explanation for why we got Trump in 2016, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. The people rejected a “business as usual” candidate for the guy that was going to tear the system apart.
Unfortunately, this is just a placebo that will work only long enough for people to realize that throwing some people out of office will only strengthen the ones that manage to stay in, and even worse, create a new group of cronies who will quickly grow into the types of people the masses don’t want in power. The masses can only get angry for so long before one of two things happens: Things REALLY change, or they take their anger out in other ways. The first alternative is the best course, but it hasn’t ever happened that way, and it isn’t happening that way. Lobbyists still control government in the shadows, and as long as they continue to do so, and the rich continue to use government to enrich themselves as the expense of the public, then the first alternative will never happen. Oh, we can hope for it and pretend it’s working, but convincing ourselves is not the same as convincing the angry masses who aren’t easily appeased with government cheese handouts and pretending that a loss of jobs is really an uptick in jobs because we turned the statistics chart upside down and said all is well. The second alternative is the dangerous one, and if things go that way, there is no going back to the first alternative because once things start moving down that road, they don’t stop. And there is no controlling events either because once things start to go into anarchy, only the gods of anarchy can be appeased, and they are appeased by chaos and uncertainty.
Could make for an interesting future.