What’s the end game of late-stage capitalism? What provisions are The Powers That Be making for the Coming Collapse; for Climate Chaos and other Catastrophes? This is the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. In this series we’ll see how they plan on making their getaway, and how we can work to steal the future back.
The story so far: In the first post of this series we took a ride on the Hyperloop, and talked about the philosophies of the California Ideology and SMI2LE, then began to sketch out the ideas of the Breakaway Civilisation, the Shadow State and the Secret Space Program.
In this post we’ll get up close with the Coming Collapse; examining the interrelation between Plague and Progress, both metaphorically and literally.
The language we’re constructing to describe the wider view of reality we’re developing in this series will increase in scope.
We’ll make specific readings of some films and TV shows to illustrate some key variations of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. By comparing and contrasting them, we’ll begin to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these plans, furthering our understanding of how they unfold (and thus how we might subvert them and steal our future back).
Just like the previous post, in the following we’ll largely draw from the fictional universes of Tomorrowland and Kingsman: The Secret Service. This time we’ll also dip into my previous analysis of Fortitude. Elysium gets a bit of a mention, too. As does Moonraker.
Up Close With The Coming Collapse: Plague & Progress
If you’ve read this far, you’re not allergic to spoilers. There was a high dosage of them in Part 1, after all. So as we proceed in our discussion of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy we’ll increase our exposure to them to near toxic levels, as we reveal and analyse most of the key plot points of the two films that we’ve been using to expand the grammar we’re building to describe the post-cyberpunk condition. Building up a language enabling a richer discussion of the technological transfer currently under way, that would appear to be originating fully-formed from the various mythic, science-fictional realms we’ve identified.
As we keenly examine the narrative engines of these fictions – deconstructing their workings in detail – we’ll become able to draw in other, related explorations of these issues and put them together to see both how the whole thing operates, and more crucially, where it breaks down or malfunctions.
As this series progresses we’ll see that Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, as we discussed it in Part 1, is just one of a set of complex puzzle pieces: fantastical Infrastructure and Technology suddenly emerging into the world that will either be the making of its salvation, kick starting the restoration of the planet, or be the making of its doom and the demise of all its inhabitants.
“Mankind is the virus.”
Global Warming is the fever. Mankind is the virus.” ~ Valentine, playing supervillain to the Kingsman
To save civilisation I would show its Collapse.” ~ David Nix, former governor of Tomorrowland
Presenting the case for necessary evil to accomplish a greater, long term good, this clip details the dark plan at the heart of Kingsman: The Secret Service, as schemed up by the self-styled supervillain, Valentine:
Valentine: “When you get a virus, you get a fever. That’s the human body raising its core temperature to kill the virus. Planet Earth works the same way. Global Warming is the fever. Mankind is the Virus. We’re making our planet sick. A cull is our only hope. If we don’t reduce our population ourselves there’s only one of two ways this can go: the host kills the virus or the virus kills the host. Either way…”
Arthur: “…the result is the same. The virus dies.
Eggsy: “So Valentine’s going take care of the population problem himself?”
Arthur: “Well if we don’t do something, nature will. Sometimes a culling is the only way to ensure that the species survives.
And history will see Valentine as a man who saved humanity from Extinction.”
Eggsy: “And he gets to pick and choose who gets culled, does he? All his rich mates, they get to live? And anyone he thinks is worth saving, he’s keeping them safe. Whether they agree with him or not.”
Though Valentine plays the nemesis to the Kingsman’s valorous, modern-day Knights of the Round Table, to his own mind he’s just taking the extraordinary, but necessary steps required to preserve the human race from complete extinction. Though he never actually quotes Nietzsche – that I can detect, anyway – he definitely acts as someone who considers themselves Beyond Good & Evil.
Or as a more contemporary writer puts it:
Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories.” ~ George R. R. Martin
What Valentine is elaborating in his plan is: the Plutocratic Exit Strategy sans Secret Space Program.
They bunker down in their Infrastructure of the Apocalypse for a short, but necessary period, with all their luxuries, then emerge to claim the Earth – rightly theirs already, to their way of viewing reality.
Just as the rich collude in their control of the world, in how it lives, so they would collude in determining its destruction.
Drax reveals that he seeks to destroy the entire human race except for a small group of carefully selected humans, both male and female, that would leave Earth on six shuttles and have sanctuary on a space station in orbit over Earth. Using chemical weapons created by Drax’s scientists—derived from the toxin of a rare South American plant, the Black Orchid—at an installation in Italy, he would wipe out the remainder of humanity. The biological agents were to be dispersed around the earth from a series of 50 strategically placed globes, each containing enough toxin to kill 100 million people. After a period of time, when the chemical agents had become harmless, Drax and his master race would return to Earth to reinhabit the planet.
Drax – who in the original novel is actually a Nazi who managed to escape the War dressed as a British Soldier – has built himself a High Castle in the Sky – the perfect metaphor for Elysium too – from which to wait out the Apocalyptic Event he’s engineered with his chosen few.
What Moonraker offers us by way of Drax’s scheme is an informative contrast to Valentine’s variant of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy.
Where Valentine spends the first part of the film recruiting the Elite to join him and be saved, Drax goes it alone; it’s a Plutocratic Exit of One. He is defeated when two of the world’s best spies – one from the CIA, one from MI6 – unite against him; acting as the tip of the spear for their home country’s power base, utilising all the strength of their military industrial complex. Valentine is able to call on the resources of all the complicit nations’ intelligence agencies – the Kingsman (as we defined them in Part 1) are a true Shadow State, intentionally existing outside the world’s power structure, their independence one of their greatest strengths. Of course, as we’ve just seen, once Valentine learns of them, this splinter group of the Elite comes onboard with his program just as willingly.
What Drax dramatically demonstrates is the Plutocratic Exit Strategy sans Shadow State backing. The fact that Drax has a Secret Space Program gets him nowhere.
So we begin to understand how all the pieces have to fit together for a modern Aristocracy to truly elevate itself above the masses.
There’s another term then we can add to our growing lexicon that neatly encapsulates this idea; how, as we’ve mentioned, the rich – the so-called Elite – collude. It comes to us via the work of David Graeber, from his book Debt: The First 5000 Years. Graeber’s addition to on our model of reality, is the Communism of the Rich; as he defines it here:
The peasants’ visions of communistic brotherhood did not come out of nowhere. They were rooted in real daily experience: of the maintenance of common fields and forests, of everyday cooperation and neighborly solidarity. It is out of such homely experience of everyday communism that grand mythic visions are always built. Obviously, rural communities were also divided, squabbling places, since communities always are—but insofar as they are communities at all, they are necessarily founded on a ground of mutual aid. The same, incidentally, can be said of members of the aristocracy, who might have fought endlessly over love, land, honor, and religion, but nonetheless still cooperated remarkably well with one another when it really mattered (most of all, when their position as aristocrats was threatened); just as the merchants and bankers, much as they competed with one another, managed to close ranks when it really mattered. This is what I refer to as the “communism of the rich,” and it is a powerful force in human history.
But not every member of the Elite thinks in terms of such brutal, natural law; of nature “red in tooth and claw”:
…Tennyson’s famous phrase, sums up an evolutionary
perspective that holds that life is based on unmitigated competition, often in the form of violence. In contrast to what is predicted by this traditional view, increasing evidence across disciplines suggests that mutually beneficial behaviors such as cooperation, helping, and sharing, as well as behaviors that keep aggression in check or reestablish nonviolent relations and tolerance following conflict are ubiquitous in nature and part and parcel of human nature
The narrative engine at the core of Tomorrowland is exposed when Governor Nix (played by Hugh Laurie), gives this, his “Supervillain speech.” He explains – with palpable despair – how he constructed, in vain, a machine to broadcast a warning to our world; to call upon the “mutually beneficial behaviours” that are just as prevalent in human nature as the winner-take-all attitude. The treatment he devises is a kind of shock therapy; one that he prayed would Wake the Sleepers and Find the Others to fight for the future with him:
Let’s imagine… if you glimpsed the future and were frightened by what you saw, what would you do with that information? You would go to ..who? Politicians..? Captains of industry..? And how would you convince them? With data? Facts? Good luck. The only facts they won’t challenge are the ones that keep the wheels greased and the dollars rolling in. But, what if?!
What if there was a way of skipping the middleman and putting the critical news directly into everyone’s heads?
The probability of widespread annihilation kept going up. The only way to stop it, was to show it. To scare people straight. What reasonable human being wouldn’t be galvanized by the potential destruction of everything we’ve ever known or loved.
To save civilization, I would show its collapse.
But how do you think this vision was received? How do you think people responded to the prospect of imminent doom? They gobbled it up, like a chocolate éclair.
They didn’t fear their demise, they repackaged it. It can be enjoyed as video games, as TV shows, books, movies. The entire world wholeheartedly embraced the apocalypse, and sprinted towards it with gleeful abandon. Meanwhile, your earth was crumbling all around you. You got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one!
Bees and butterflies start to disappear. The glaciers melt. Algae blooms. All around you. The coal mine canaries are dropping dead, and you won’t take the hint!
In every moment, there is the possibility of a better future. But you people won’t believe it.
And because you won’t believe it, you wouldn’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. So you dwell on this so terrible future. You resign yourselves to it. For one reason. Because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today.
Yes, you saw the iceberg, you warn the Titanic… but you all just steered for it anyway. Full steam ahead. Why? Because you want to sink.
You gave up.
The great irony that exists within the plot of Tomorrowland is that its notional villain is more accurately a fallen hero. (And its heroes just might be the real villains.) David Nix has spent at least thirty years of his now seemingly ageless, near-immortal life trying to alert the world to its actual condition. He’s given up in frustration at its clear lack of success, watching helplessly from another dimension for the world he came from to die.
Governor Nix, then, has been in a long, secret, heroic, ultimately futile war with the apathetic attitude seemingly inherent to much of humanity, and the paralysing effects of the apocalyptic mindset.
The goal of his medical intervention was to reactivate the immune system of the world; its citizens, the people who have always had to demand change by any means necessary when their leadership was calcified or corrupt.
Instead, the result is more like an autoimmune response. The treatment he forces on the world – never asking its permission – only accelerates the onset of its disease.
By the way, the image I selected that accompanies the earlier audio clip detailing Valentine’s grim calculus, is taken from this report: “The earth is warming so fast it’s breaking our chart”. A graphic example that perfectly demonstrates Valentine’s argument that mankind is in fact a virus, and has given the Earth a fever.
His analysis of the cause of climate chaos, and the Coming Collapse it is inevitably engineering – according to his logic – along with his solution of DePopulation isn’t unique either. Far from it. As this survey of the current Zeitgeist I took in my recent analysis of the TV show Fortitude demonstrates, DePopulating the Earth to save it for the chosen set of survivors is a popular trope at the moment:
…in the second season [of Helix], the greater plot revolves around a group (of immortals, btw) that will deploy this virus worldwide – a la 12 Monkeys – to thin the human herd, and the race to not fight it, but instead find a more benign cure for the human infestation; widespread sterility. And finally, sterilising the bulk of the human race to save the Earth is the plot driver of the excellent UK TV series Utopia.
[Secret sterilisation to lower the population was also the main plot point at the heart of Dan Brown’s most recent mass-market fiction, ‘Inferno’ — Ed.]
As a culture we seem to be in one of our periodic examinations of what constitutes a viable population for the planet, given the resources available to it and the challenges ahead of it. A conversation taking place at the highest levels, that impacts the fate of us all.
As we’ll see in a moment, there are, in fact, real world analogies to the plot devices of most of these TV shows. Almost apparent materialisations resulting from the workings of something like Nix’s machine.
The vision of the Coming Collapse that haunts us is the fever dream of an infected society. The symptoms are everywhere, but so are the attempts to cure it, acting at a variety of levels, through multiple mechanisms.
An optimistic notion would be that the Zeitgeist is being populated with examples of the global unconsciousness processing the problems the world faces, trying to offer back solutions to those still unconscious of them.
A bloodless alternative to mass murder is the end result of this grim evaluation of the peak-oil problem made by Philip Carvel (architect of the events that unfold in Utopia):
Let me explain something to you. The sun throws a certain amount of energy onto this planet. We turn it into food, clothing, shelter, et cetera. It supports an amount of us and it took 30,000 years for that amount to become one billion. Then we found a way to use ancient sunlight, sunlight trapped in oil and coal. We started to live off that.
What happened? In just 130 years, our population doubled. The next billion took 30 years. The fourth billion has taken just 14.
So, here’s the question: What do you think is going to happen when that oil and coal runs out in, say, 100 years? When there’s 10 billion living on a planet that can support only one?”
“I think we’re going to tear each other to shreds.”
“At last. Someone with an ounce of fucking brain. Malaria? The only disease that needs curing is us.”
The ‘cure’ that Carvel constructs is to engineer a global pandemic that sterilises all but a tiny minority of the Earth’s population, in an attempt to stop the world from tearing itself to shreds.
Where Valentine creates a techno-virus, hacking human consciousness to induce homicidal rage, Carvel hacks our biology to prevent such horrors. He’s the more benevolent of the two geniuses intent on culling the human race down to sustainable levels.
The thing is, our technological development and the resultant culture are having the same effect… just at a much slower rate. Something I explored in another blog post (which gets a little NSFWish).
…a world where so much of the human population is now at sub-replacement fertility levels.
A very timely graphic to contemplate when vast chunks of the so-called Developed World are hastily erecting barriers to stop an imagined tsunami of people, an epic wave of migration – when just such a population boost is in fact what such declining cultures direly require.
To drive the point home – remember, you need a replacement rate of above 2 just to maintain the current population. The blue countries are the ones in the decline. They’re also mostly the ones building the walls right now. The green ones are stable, for the moment, but also just as fervently flirting with protectionism.
We’ll visit the cultural nightmare of an impending immigration invasion in detail in the next post in this series. The Collapse is already under way. The signs of our decline are everywhere:
Japan’s rate is currently 1.4…
A high tech country [Japan] trying to invent its way, not out of extinction, just to a more orderly transition. Gently carried over the threshold. A whole culture on robot-assisted palliative care.
We’re just largely unconscious of it.
India doesn’t need Tinder and sexual & emotional replacement devices for a significant drop in the fertility rate; TV ownership alone is enough. A fact that has not been broadcast across the West.
As The Breakthrough Institute write, explaining in detail why nearly all populations are trending this way – Population Bomb? So Wrong – How Electricity, Development, and TV Reduce Fertility:
I suspect that the rapid drop in fertility in such countries as India and Brazil, as well as its association with television, has been missed in mainstream U.S. commentary in part because it flies in the face of deeply ingrained expectations. That television viewing would help generate demographic stabilization would have come as a shock to those who warned of the ticking global population bomb in the 1960s.
…or were planning to engineer the near-extinction of the human race.
As climate change warms Arctic and sub-Arctic regions at more than twice the global average, permafrost is becoming less permanent. Last year, the same team of French virus-hunters discovered another giant virus strain, Pithovirus sibericum, in the same sample of Arctic permafrost.
As the authors of the study said in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “the fact that two different viruses could be easily revived from prehistoric permafrost should be of concern in [the] context of global warming.”
Noting that Mollivirus sibericum is the fourth such virus to be discovered, they added: “Our finding suggests that prehistory ‘live’ viruses are not a rare occurrence.” Further, they warned, “we cannot rule out that distant viruses of ancient Siberian human populations could re-emerge as Arctic permafrost layers melt and/or are disrupted by industrial activities.”
Like Nix’s transmission, it too is a piece of shock therapy; but with the shock comes the realisation of what we can do to prevent it. The question it poses then is: will the world need actual outbreaks of prehistoric plagues to give it a kind of aversion therapy?
If scientists walking the Earth as potential plague carriers – presumably trying to get some of that sweet big-pharma research money – or oil drilling or any other such exploitation of the Arctic unleashing an ancient evil aren’t nightmarish scenarios enough, we have one vector of transmission to add to the mix: good-old-fashioned bureaucratic incompetence:
In an extraordinary admission on Wednesday, the Pentagon revealed what it called an “inadvertent transfer of samples containing live Bacillus anthracis”, or anthrax, took place at an unspecified time from a US Defense Department laboratory in Dugway, Utah.
Nine unspecified states received samples of the bioweapon, which can be fatal if untreated. One sample was also sent to Osan air base in Pyeongtaek, about 65km south of Seoul.
Here then we have Plague as a symptom of greater Illnesses: greed and neglect, corruption and ignorance. Of a rot that’s set in to our Institutions and Culture. Rampant xenophobia is a particularly alarming symptom we’ll explore in the next post in this ongoing series.
It would be such a shame for this all to end, for the bulk of us anyway. That after reaching to the Moon, for however briefly we held it in our grasp, and sending our robot emissaries across the solar system, after such grand accomplishments and the promise of more to come, it would all turn to dust.
We shouldn’t be yearning for this great, multicultural, Global Civilisation to go the way of the dinosaurs’.
To drive the metaphor home we’ve been using this whole time: scientists are now beginning to understand that “plague may have played a larger role in the past than we imagined”:
Flea-like creatures found in conventional stone fossils date back to the time of the dinosaurs, Poinar said, and the role of insects in general, and as carriers of disease, may have played a role in the demise of the ancient reptiles.
In 2008, Poinar and his wife, Roberta Poinar, wrote a book “What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous.” It explored the evolutionary rise of insects around the same time that dinosaurs went extinct. The thesis developed in the book added insect-borne diseases as a likely component, that, along with other biotic and abiotic factors such as climate change, asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions, led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Some modern diseases such as leishmaniasis and malaria clearly date to those times.
Bubonic plague in modern times can infect and kill a wide range of animals, in addition to humans. It is still endemic in many countries, including the United States where it’s been found in prairie dogs and some other animals. Even though today it is treatable with antibiotics, in the U.S. four people have died from plague so far this year.
During the Middle Ages, however, three phases of the disease – bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic plague – earned a feared reputation. Periodic waves of what was called the Black Death, for the gruesome condition in which it left its victims, swept through Europe and Asia, altogether killing an estimated 75 to 200 million people.
Scholars say that religious, social and economic changes caused by the plague altered the course of world history.
Plague as metaphor, plague as actual threat. All this knowledge of the complex interweaving of past apocalyptic events contributes to our understanding of the forces of history. It offers lessons on how to repair and reform the Institutions and Culture that constitute the world we still live in. For now…
Navigating the End Times
It’s absolutely no surprise to find this very week Elon Musk demoing an exciting new feature in the latest version of the Tesla vehicle, Model X.
The button should come in handy “if there’s ever an apocalyptic scenario of some kind,” he said. All you apparently have to do is push the button and the Model X’s air filter — which is about 10 times larger than a normal car’s air filter — should be able to keep you safe. The company claims it’s 300 times better at filtering bacteria, 500 times better at filtering allergens, 700 times better at filtering smog, and 800 times better at filtering viruses.
“We’re trying to be a leader in apocalyptic defense scenarios,” Musk continued. Because what else do you want from a futuristic, semi-autonomous, all-electric car that’s as fast as a Porsche than the ability to survive biological warfare?
How much would you expect to pay for such empathic separation from the natural world and its dangers?
…the P90D with Ludicrous Mode runs $US 142,000, which is rich people money.
However… it’s also the makings of some seriously proto-Elysium technology.
If I’m correct — and I think I am — the future for Model X owners won’t involve them being the only drivers of their own cars. It will involve them renting out their cars to everyone else for a price — with Tesla taking a cut — and the car driving itself. As Musk so often says, cars spend most of their productive lives sitting unused in people’s driveways. Which is crazy for such an expensive piece of hardware.
Model X will be a self-driving car with doors that open when you approach, seats that configure for the number of passengers who can then easily ingress and egress through Falcon doors, with lots of in-car stowage available, that runs on batteries in the floor charged by solar fuelled battery packs at supercharger stations (and elsewhere)…
Tesla vehicles run (or will ultimately run) on freely available solar energy — for no charge to its owners at supercharging stations.
And one has to imagine that the Model X has much if not all of the hardware necessary that — should a certain over-the-air update arrive at some point in the future — then the thing will just drive itself around.
Gavin helps us make the case for the Model X being an earlier incarnation of the Elysium medical shuttle arriving today. Infrastructure capable of coordinating automatically to almost instantly arrive, doors open, to ferry medical staff just as they get the call themselves. Picking up supplies to treat and contain any medical emergency, helping save the people of the city using infrastructure they themselves own. Such a self-funded Uber for Plagues system might be the difference between a small outbreak and a pop-up Hot Zone; or worse.
Especially when, with fully automated ambulances – let’s say remote operated in the immediate term – no humans are directly required to transport any infected to a treatment centre full of trained and equipped personnel, reducing the risk of infection and spread of the disease drastically.
This is a perfect example of Infrastructure for the Apocalypse just as easily being Infrastructure for Building Through The Collapse.
The question as always is: who gets access to it?
Just note that in this post we’ve identified two of the major forces of history to be the Collusion of the Elite – aka the Communism of the Rich – and Plague, as you reflect back on this discussion.
A conversation we will attempt to progress in Part 3, as we continue to explore The Plutocratic Exit Strategy…
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Acknowledgements: Thanks to Gordon from Rune Soup for his Archonology series in particular, and subsequent discussions since. Also to my colleagues at Anomalous Engineering.