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Nightmares of the Future: The Marsification of Earth

SPOILER WARNING: This post completely spoils the plot of the movie ALLEGIANT, the latest installment in The Divergent Series.

Much like the first post that initiated this “Nightmares of the Future” series, Deconstructing TRANSCENDENCE, this third movie in the Divergent series isn’t a great film – which is disappointing, because I actually quite enjoyed the first two much more than other instances of the now well-established post-apocalyptic young adult film genre. We’re talking about The Hunger Games of course, and stuff like The 5th Wave and Maze Runner too. The key point the film really serves to make is how played out that genre actually is now, at least its current form. Anyone looking to quickly cash in on it has probably missed the boat by now.

Yet what Allegiant is absolutely perfect for is to serve as an elaboration of the concepts core to the idea of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy that I’ve been developing – that the Elite are in the process of leaving behind a ruined planet and building their long dreamed of technocratic paradise on the Red Planet (or elsewhere). The film brings that all home; to Earth. It’s a rather banal realisation of what actually lies ahead for this planet and its denizens in a century or two, if nothing changes course. For that reason, I have zero hesitation in spoilering the absolute shit out of this film to demonstrate just how this is the case.

Just watch the trailer: it’s Fury Road meets Tomorrowland.

Perhaps you remember when I wrote about Fury Road‘s trailer here, asking of its world:

Is there another instance of humanity across the ocean, that has kept the high tech life of those that came before intact, but are dealing with their own set of uniquely horrifying problems? What is the geography of the end of the world?”

Mad Max : Fury Road slots disturbingly well into this filmic universe.

Immortan Joe could easily be made to work as a cult leader field-testing mind control techniques for the secret technocratic rulers of Earth, hidden away in their shielded, camouflaged cities, invisible tentacles of control reaching into every crevasse.

In the Plutocratic Exit Strategy series I have been sketching the idea a Technocratic Elite in the process of fleeing to Mars from an Earth whose ruined they’ve benefited from, establishing utopic technocratic colonies there. In the film Tomorrowland they’ve long been retreating to a parallel dimension to build their perfect world [Spoiler: it didn’t go too well]. In Allegiant, it’s shown they never left. They just holed up, and let the world burn. That’s vastly simplifying it, so allow me to unpack it all now, point by point.

It’s New Atlantis at the end of the World

In the 17th Century, Francis Bacon wrote a novel called New Atlantis that depicted his ideal vision of a technocratic community, hidden away on a remote island. He didn’t actually finish writing it before he died; it was published posthumously in its incomplete form and has arguably served as inspiration for much of the Technocratic Elite since. The community of New Atlantis were free to pursue their scientific pursuits absent from interference from the masses, and its members would periodically walk amongst the Earth in disguise, gathering new knowledge to bring back. It’s literally the prototype for a Breakaway Civilisation, as others have noted recently, and Allegiant might be its most perfect realisation yet.

As the above trailer shows, what the Divergent series’ heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior and her companions, discover upon escaping from the post-apocalyptic nightmare of a ruined Chicago is a shielded, highly technology advanced outpost for a technocratic civilisation. The brutal world she’s known has just been an experiment overseen from without by these New Atlanteans. Worse, her nightmarish reality has been serving as an entertainment program for its citizens, who’ve been able to watch the entire drama of her life unfold like they’re all ants in some glass colony. The post-apocalyptic Chicagoans are greeted as reality TV show stars by its inhabitants. That perspective on the life and death struggles of the bulk of humanity is a perfect rendering of how the Elite views the rest of the world. Like ants.

Or cattle. And as Tris quickly learns, she’s been exactly that: the product of a breeding program.

The Technocrats are Eugenicists

On arrival at the technocratic output established in the old O’Hare Airport, Pris is informed she is the first ‘Pure’ to be back-bred from the ‘Damaged’ that are the bulk of humanity now.

For undivulged reasons in the film – maybe they’re elaborated on in the books? – the blame for the breaking of the world is put on a period of time where the emergence of a genetically-engineered humanity went disastrously wrong. Some kind of transhuman civil war took place as people started modifying their children, resulting in not just the world being broken, but the bulk of humanity too. They’re all termed ‘Damaged’, and are treated as sub-human; fit only to be experimented on; or, as we’ll see later, otherwise interfered with.

The technocratic solution is to back-breed humanity to its original state, using experimental setups like the walled city of Chicago.

Now, anyone paying attention to the current science on the subject knows is total rubbish. Humanity has been in a constant state of evolution, and if anything is a mutant species; the result of cross breading between multiple hominid lineages. We’re finding traces of not just Neanderthal DNA, but Denisovan too, that have been key to our survival and adaptation to conditions across the globe, allowing us to achieve dominance of the Earth.

Regardless, this is a key trope within much of pop science fiction: GMO’d Humans are bad, m’kay. Star Trek long ago invented a similar transhuman war in its fictional history, for which Khan Noonien Singh is the embodiment. Evil or malicious or just weird Transhumans and proto-Posthumans are continuing to turn up everywhere in pop culture right now: from the Neolutionists in Orphan Black, to the transhuman civil war underway in the TV show adaptation of Limitless, and the time-traveling proto-Posthumans in the TV show adaptation of 12 Monkeys (they’re basically Terminators even), to just generally lurking around and being ominous in Agents of Shield.

There’s even a playable version of the scenario – which, as I noted previously in the TRANSCENDENCE piece, is called the Neanderthal’s Dilemma (per Ramez Naam’s Nexus series) – that’s forthcoming in the latest installment of the Deus Ex game series:

I’ve mentioned the rather problematic Nazi heritage that’s key to settlement of Mars before, and it’s pretty hard to ignore their ideas of racial purity in this context.

But when Elon Musk has talked about populating his Martian colony, it’s not been from a racial, but intellectual & financial perspective – sending those at first that can afford to go, along with those able build and run such an advanced outpost. But by whatever the criteria, it’s a set notion of how to populate an ideal world – just that instead of wiping the Earth of undesirables, as the Nazis intended before recreating it in their ideal image, they’re leaving them all behind. A new life awaits the %1 & their minions in the off-world colonies. Musk’s plan is to get enough such people on Mars to maintain genetic diversity – thus avoiding a Fury Road-like decay into War Boy weaklings with short life spans – just in case the ships stopping coming from Earth for some reason, and they’re cut off. Or they stop going back their, and use Mars as one big do-over, with the best and brightest safely in the colony and all their advanced technology and science.

In short: New Atlantis on Mars.

Now, if you wanna think that the mythology Allegiant’s technocratic overlords have spun is actually total bs meant to placate their own uninitiated-into-the-truth citizens, and really it was They that broke the world, and are casually biding their time in their domed cities full of toys, waiting for the rads to die down and the human population along with it… I won’t stop you.

They stole the wonder from the world

When the local technocratic overlord – played by Jeff Daniels in the film – takes his prize, Pris, to show off his experiment’s success to the ruling committee of the technocratic civilisation he says to her something like “soon all of Earth will be like this.”

What’s been holding them back? Why have they been hoarding all their advanced technology and constructing localised playgrounds full of technological wonder – buildings even float in the air! presumably with some sort of anti-grav tech? – and not repairing the entire planet?

Pure ideology. The exact kind of mindset that drives an Elite to flee to a new planet, rather than fixing the one they’re on. This is one of the issues I explored not too long ago in a podcast interview with the writer Quinn Norton: that no matter how badly the Earth gets broken, it’s so much easier to fix it than it is to settle Mars. Yet, “they” have a dream; a vision to fulfill and their key role in it – and the Noble Lie they’re pitching it under is that a multi-planetary civilisation acts as a bulwark against human extinction. The grim reality is that they’re dooming all they leave behind to that exact fate, unless there’s a change in priorities and redistribution of resources.

This was foreshadowed decades ago in the rather infamous in conspiratorial circles docu-drama Alternative 3 – which you can watch below in full:

A mysterious brain drain, where top scientific talents are enlisted to form an off-world colony… leaving the Earth to fend for itself, its top talent vanished. Again, that’s exactly how you doom it! It’s a freaking self-fulfilling prophecy!!!

Rather than go on any further myself, this is where I turn over the mic to Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington (played by James Spader), who formulated the perfect response to this type of scenario in an episode of The Blacklist:

Perhaps you’re familiar with the old saying: you can’t beat the house. No matter how many poor souls you turn into popsicles, the fix is in. The world in which you awaken will be one incapable of sustaining human life and why? Because at the critical tipping point one tragically quixotic megalomaniac cannibalized humanity of the very minds that might have been its salvation. You see, if you were a betting man you would understand that now trumps later every time. The future is a sucker’s bet, a maybe, a contingency. A what-if. The only thing that is real is the present. And you’ve plundered it. Robbed it of the very geniuses that might’ve averted the dystopia you so fear.

Indeed, perhaps even the very one that might’ve devised a means to revive your sad, tired, frozen ass.

Congratulations, Crispin, you’ve doubled down on extinction.

The thing is, technocrats have always been by definition above – or alienated from – the masses they seek to control with their advanced knowledge.

Technocrats don’t have to become Martians to act like Aliens

Whilst Pris is being treated as the lucky winner of a competition she never know she was in, her love interest – who goes simply by ‘Four’ – is learning the truth of the situation. As one of the Damaged, he’s fit only to serve the technocratic interests as a soldier – and soon learns exactly what that entails.

In their highly advanced, cloaked craft, they roam the wastelands, stealing children and wiping their minds before deploying them as resources in their plans for the world.

Again, these don’t involve repairing the Earth or healing the children even, but remaking it in their image, according to their will in strict adherence to their personal ideology and native mythology.

If you need a really simple, totally cartoonish example of this mindset, here’s Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time to demonstrate it for us all:

Flip the viewpoint and imagine that reality from the perspective of those being experimented upon. Children being abducted and having their memories erased or manipulated is a well-established part of Ufological lore. Which gives us this perversion of Clarke’s Third Law:

Now ask me why the Plutocratic Exit Strategy series had to take a necessary diversion in exactly this direction before it could continue? It’s all about finding the map to steal the wonder back.

Storming the technocratic castle

Just like every other post-apocalyptic young adult film of late – in fact, you can thank Harry Potter for this – the final book in the series the Divergent films are based on has been split into two films in its journey to the cinemas. So where Allegiant ends is part of the way through the story (and if you like, you can blame the producers for ruining the movie). If you wanna ramp up the metaphorical nature of it, within the context of the Hero’s Journey and the young adult quest for self-realisation and… oh, it really doesn’t matter, this is an average film no matter how you paint it… but still, I’m writing this, so bear with me… is with the shattering of all illusions and the confrontation with the Elders (another key YA trope).

Our young heroes return to Chicago, stopping the technocrats from resetting their experiment by, ya know, killing everyone there (I mean, they’re just ants, right?) and presumably restocking the place with freshly mind-wiped children from the Wastelands [that’s the plot of the film, btw]. Instead, they save their people from extinction, and the destroy the technology shielding the local technocratic outpost and presumably are about to lead an invasion to sack the place, like the barbarians they are (from the perspective of the Pure, anyway).

The ideal lesson here, the place from which I’m writing this, is much the same. Because we already have places like this – broken chunks of the world – where people struggle to survive. A single, illustrative example is the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – which just celebrated its 30th Anniversary – and its much vaster legacy. The Sami people who exist on the fringes of the Arctic, their livelihood almost ruined because the reindeer they’ve coexisted with for who-knows-how-long feed upon mushrooms and lichen – “two things that ravenously absorbed the fallout of Chernobyl.” Meanwhile, within the Zone itself – a perfect preview of what the full realisation of a broken planet looks like – the suitably science-fictional citizens known as Stalkers stumbled on something that shouldn’t be, yet the Authorities are permitting for under-the-table payments – the looting of a world slowly repairing itself to make another quick buck, turning it back to ruin in the process:

logging in a postapocalyptic forest would pose a number of health concerns. Trees, like moss, absorb radiation from the subsoil. Also, clear-cutting churns up soil, stirring radioactive dust and accelerating erosion.”

Whilst the retreat into climate-controlled, domed cities has begun – where else, but in Dubai:

The megastructure, planned for Dubai, will cover eight million square feet (743,224 metres) and the inside temperature will be carefully controlled…

The Mall of the World will house hundreds of buildings, 20,000 hotel rooms, a transit system, and the largest indoor theme park in the world.”

Sounds nice right, if you’re among those on the inside. It’s completely necessary infrastructure in a region which will be increasingly unfit for human habitation, available only to those that can afford it:

…the future climate for many locations in the Gulf would be like today’s extreme climate in the desert of Northern Afar, on the African side of the Red Sea, where there are no permanent human settlements at all. But the research also showed that cutting greenhouse gas emissions now could avoid this fate.”
“The new research examined how a combined measure of temperature and humidity, called wet bulb temperature (WBT), would increase if carbon emissions continue on current trends and the world warms by 4C this century.

At WBTs above 35C, the high heat and humidity make it physically impossible for even the fittest human body to cool itself by sweating, with fatal consequences after six hours. For less fit people, the fatal WBT is below 35C. A WBT temperature of 35C – the combination of 46C heat and 50% humidity – was almost reached in Bandar Mahshahr in Iran in July 2015.

The scientists used standard climate computer models to show that the fatal WBT extremes would occur every decade or two after 2070 along most of the Gulf coast, if global warming is not curbed. Using the normal measure of temperature, the study shows 45C would become the usual summer maximum in Gulf cities, with 60C being seen in places like Kuwait City in some years.”

It’s just the beginning, and the distributed network model of a Breakaway Civilisation proceeds on course. A startup in Montreal has been pitching its Techno-Socialist model for a series of technocratic city states as “[g]overnment representatives from Latvia and Madagascar stand nearby, actively mulling [these] proposals.” Slovakia is first in line for a Hyperloop. And so the world we live in closes the gap on what was previously only visible on the just imaginable science-fictional horizon – and many prayed was a mirage.

In summary then: the Marsification of Earth is a planet made increasingly uninhabitable, with a technocratic elite surviving inside domed cities, whilst the bulk of the population exists on the fringes left to them, their lives and livelihood destroyed, their numbers decreasing.

“The sky is bleeding,” one character says.
So yes, whilst this isn’t a great film by any means, it serves to illustrate the path we’re on quite effectively. And what we might to do to change course. One where the technological roll-out isn’t used to build a ratline to Mars – an escape available only to the chosen, select few – but to enable the survival of the entire human population and commence the repair of the planet we call home (and not mythologically referred to our as our homeworld).

These posts are called “Nightmares of the Future” because they each document a particular Anthropocene Horror Tale on the edge of becoming. The point of such nightmarish tales has always been for us to learn lessons from; to scare us into wakefulness, to keep us up at night planning how to avoid every being caught in such a situation – just as Cyberpunk fiction has always been, to my mind, meant to serve as a warning sign.

To close, a final thought from an excellent think-piece The Habits of Highly Cynical People:

…there is the naïve cynicism of those outside the mainstream who similarly doubt their own capacity to help bring about change, a view that conveniently spares them the hard work such change requires.

I recently posted on Facebook a passage from the February issue of Nature Climate Change in which a group of scientists outlined the impact of climate change over the next 10,000 years. Their portrait is terrifying, but it is not despairing: “This long-term view shows that the next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.” That’s a sentence about catastrophe but also about opportunity.”

Catastrophe and opportunity. Or as we Dark Extropians like to say: “all hope lies in doom.”

So see you in the Abyss, starring through the Void to look at the Stars.

(But wait, there’s more… if you enjoy critical readings of pop culture as a gateway to complex ideas necessary to building a brighter future, might I direct to you to my colleague Damien @Wolven William’s site A Future Worth Thinking About. You can start gently with his piece on Futurama & Philosophy perhaps.)

Contributing Editor

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