The public services are the heart of this country. We rely on the police to uphold the law when we become victims and when others do wrong. We rely on the NHS to save our lives, cure our ailments and provide care. When we have a child, the doctors and nurses of the NHS bring it into the world. When our relatives die, doctors and nurses make sure that they go with dignity. Could we ask for anything more?
Indisputably, Austerity has done incalculable damage to the public services. Police budgets have fallen by 19% since 2010 despite a (albeit sometimes slowly) rising GDP. Police numbers have been slashed and the remaining numbers are stretching themselves across an expanding population. Because of this, the standard of policing is going down along with morale within forces throughout the U.K. This means that the quality in policing is in decline.
There are fewer bobbies on the beat thus reducing community policing effectiveness. This would usually be apparent by a reduction in the levels of gang affiliation and thus criminal acts such as knife and moped attacks. Community policing is also speculated to help in the war against terrorists.
It has now emerged in the ‘i weekend’ that businesses are now paying for police paroles. Easyjet, ASDA, development giant the Berkeley Group and the Westfield Shopping Centres are a few.
Whilst this might seem innocuous at first glance, it is indicative of the pursuit of private interests in what should be a publicly financed, impartial and equal policing system. To bring in corporate interest is to essentially allow bias into the process as well as taking members of the police away from communities that would be better served by community police initiatives.
There is no widespread collective effort to battle the privatisation of public services because the change is happening incrementally. That is the evil of gradualism; people are less likely to notice or even care about change if it happens slowly. It stops becoming the evil you see and more about the evil you had no idea existed until you are being asked to provide medical insurance forms when you go into A&E.
In 2012 the Health and Social Care Act was passed which allowed “any contract over £615,000” to be tendered out to private companies. As Paul Gallagher writes, the process of privatisation has been aided with the passing out of multiple contracts worth around £128m under the watch of Health Secretary, Matt Hancock.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that we might be seeing the Americanisation of our public sector.
Never before have we seen so many advances and changes to our world as we are seeing today. Climate change, the rise of biotech and infotech. The proliferation of automation and the move toward artificial-intelligence which could either improve our wayso of life, or challenge who we are as humans. The mainstreaming of electric cars and the growing awareness of plastic pollution. Widespread movements to give previously overlooked or unrepresented factions of society equal rights. The rise of Asian economies which may soon rival our own in strength, and may even become superior which could change the ways we conduct business and alter long-standing loyalties. I was even shocked recently to find out that China even has plans to build a base on the moon and mine our little white dot in the sky for hydrogen.
This is the stuff of science-fiction!
The point is: we are in a transitional phase and are suffering the existential question of how to cope with the challenges we read about in our papers and see on our television screens and social media feeds. When faced with an uncertain future, people often look to their past. To “traditional values” to guide them through the turbulence. But what exactly are traditional values and do they offer us any guidance for the future?
Nationalism seems to be on the rise in the West and has led to two of the most significant changes that we have seen in our lifetimes: the U.K’s vote to leave the European Union and the vote in America for Donald Trump as President. As an answer to perceived outside threats, two major powers have turned to isolationism.
Globalisation was a worn out word by the end of the referendum of 2016. As was elites. Sometimes we heard “global elites”. The European Union, as pushed by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and sundry others, was a product of globalisation.
Leavers pointed to levels of immigration and told the people that it was the European Union’s open border policy that was to blame. Leavers pointed out the disenfranchised peoples of towns that had been left behind when the U.K turned from a material and production economy to a service driven economy. The European Union was blamed again for moving production facilities abroad. The decline of U.K fisheries, blame the E.U. Red passports, blame the E.U. Curved bananas, blame the E.U. Hospital waiting times, blame the E.U. Rise in crime rates, blame immigration, thus blaming the E.U.
So, can the problems listed above be solved by a move toward nationalism as was what happened in 2016?
In regards to immigration, yes, technically nationalism has the potential to cut numbers of immigrants or stop them altogether.
But is that really in the national interest? Or is it in the interest of nationalist groups? For instance, whilst the cutting might benefit those who just want see less faces of colour or to hear different languages on their streets (the nationalists) the nationalist approach itself does not do much for our economy, our public services or for our reputation as “global players” which was a phrase championed by Leavers during the referendum campaign and even now.
Whilst the phrase “global player” was used extensively throughout the referendum, the truth is that the actual action of leaving the biggest and most successful trading bloc in the world was seen by many around the globe as an act of closing one’s own doors on trade.
The NHS is dependent on nurses and doctors from the E.U and further abroad but since the Brexit vote we have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of people applying for university courses in nursing and a drop in job applications from outside the U.K. This is indicative of the trend that those from within Europe and outside the Union were no longer interested in investing in the U.K.
Nationalists might see this drop in foreign applications as a good thing as there is potential for British citizens to take the jobs. The problem however is that it takes years to train doctors and nurses and, in the meantime, care within the NHS would have plummeted. Ironically, it would be those older voters which chose leave who would suffer the most. With around 100,000 vacancies already within the NHS, this further reduction could potentially cripple certain elements of patient care.
As is being witnessed, the idea of being both nationalist and a “global player” is not compatible.
The main problem of the referendum, however, was that it focused anger outward toward the largely neutral E.U, when the truth was that the problems that the U.K faced were actually born and bred within its own borders.
Austerity due to bailing out the banks that had lead us into the financial crash of 2008. The rise in crime as a result of Conservative initiative to cut policing numbers so that there were fewer bobbies on the beat. (Remember Theresa May telling the police federation to stop “crying wolf” in 2015 regarding police cuts). Disenfranchisement of communities as the economy changed toward services and offices were centralised toward London. Those who were workers within communities who worked within extraction and production were never provided the means to retrain, and were instead left to become outdated.
A lethal combination occurred when the finger was pointed at immigrants for pushing wages down. The fact that immigrants were benign agents in the entire mess of things was rarely pointed out and the fact that it was actually exploitative practices being undertaken by business owners. Business owners have been largely left alone by the most recent governments, after all, it is good practice to be the party of business.
This goes to show that the so-called “global-elites” were actually the people within our own borders. Our very own Prime Minster of the day, David Cameron found to be putting money into offshore Panamanian accounts. For years we watched as the government refused to impose proper tax initiatives that would have seen large companies paying their fair share of tax which could have put toward social ventures for our children, thus keeping them out of gangs and preventing such a sharp increase in knife-crime. Not only were companies doing so, but the Conservatives were helping them maintain the status quo.
Britain has for years now been deeply entrenched in off-shore bank account activity that it the global master on managing assets and transferring money to keep it from the hands of nations. It is estimated that half of all global wealth could be locked up in off-shore accounts.
In the face of problems that originated within our own national system, people turned to nationalism to sort out the problem. That is a new one for me.
In 2013, the E.U offered to give a £22million cash injection into food banks in order to make sure that they were stocked and operational. This was turned down by David Cameron. Whilst our own government strangled the country, the E.U at least offered some kind of help. But that’s not all. The E.U has also been funnelling money into community projects including social groups and buildings, but this is rarely mentioned. The E.U is also a propagator of worker’s rights and is constantly moving to improve pay throughout its jurisdictions. When we are faced with military or cyber warfare, as we have seen from Russia during the referendum campaign and which the U.S witnessed during the presidential campaign, the E.U has close proximity to share information and make sure that each of its member states has the necessary tools to help fight back.
So, nationalism does not actually offer any real solutions to our national problems. Does it offer solutions to wider world issues? In an age of transnationalism, could countries learn from nationalist ideals?
Climate change is not an issue, it is the issue which will determine the very future of human civilisation. And climate change does not recognise borders drawn by man. A tropical storm does not stop when it hits the American coast. It ploughs through and wreaks untold damage. Plastic does not stop at the English Channel. It sweeps in and becomes part of our ecosystem. Just as much as melted ice does not stay in the Arctic Circle but raises water levels around the world.
And when islands start submerging and already challenged countries face drought and famine, we are going to see mass exodus unlike anything witnessed in documented history.
Unfortunately, nationalist interests have often disregard climate change in order to focus on more provincial initiatives such as kick-starting coal mining operations or doubling down on fuel extraction efforts. In the United States, nationalism is often synonymous with climate change denial as is evidential with Donald Trump’s repeated claims that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese.
In regards to solutions to the climate crisis, nationalist approaches fall short. If nationalists really wanted to make a difference, they would join the global effort to battle climate change which would in turn mean that they are less likely to experience such a high influx of immigrants to their borders. Instead of becoming isolationist, it is within nationalist’s best interests to take part in a multi-national approach in order to combat the effects of climate change.
But then what would be the point in being nationalist when all we are going to do is have to work with countries around the globe and put measures in place which, whether we like it or not, would see the adoption of plans to take in refugees fleeing the effects of an unstable and changing climate?
Throughout history, civilisations have moved and shifted as the cattle migrates or as the living conditions change. After all, if the U.K were to become a dessert wasteland, would we not seek refuge in other countries? But we are the beginning of the catastrophic change where the decisions we make today will effect the next generation. We have the ability to make positive differences to the ways we tackle this threat. But are we capable of doing this as nationalists? Surely we are better prepared against the challenges if we work on an international scale?
The Cold War was a war of information and misinformation. Intelligence and counter-intelligence. The ideologies of communism and liberal democracy head to head in a bid to win the hearts of the world whilst doing their best to manoeuvre people and warheads like chess pieces across the globe.
To be able to know your enemy’s next move is to be prepared and to feed your enemy misinformation is to throw your adversary off balance. When the mind is diverted one way, you can move the other and potentially gain the advantage. Russia, America and Europe were all embroiled in this war of secrecy and spy-craft.
The methods of warfare have changed. Where once troops were sent in to stomp the ground, wipe-out enemy placements or just generally shake the hornet nest, we hack phones, use drones and wipe out our enemies with cold efficiency.
During the Brexit referendum and the presidential election campaign of 2016 we were witness to a campaign of misinformation the likes of which we have never seen. Bot related activity increased tweeting and retweeting far-right stories, many of which were not even true. Bots threw ludicrous promises into the cloud where they landed and formed puddles of disinformation. The old saying that a lie can get half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on has never been so apt.
Lies are fast and easy. Seeking the truth is a more tricky and dastardly affair. Russian bots launched disinformation in high volumes, essentially flooding social media with content that was aimed at directing people’s anger and fear toward anyone that wasn’t Leave or Trump, especially Muslims, Mexicans and foreigners in general.
During the span of the 2016 presidential elections and the referendum to leave the European Union, Russian bot activity was at its highest. Twitter handles like NovostiKirov, (Novosti is Russian for “news”) @RussialsBeauty were among those quickly pointed out. Other bots gave themselves American titles in the hope of coming across as nationals or else giving themselves an air of authenticity. DailyNewsDenver, DallasTopNews and JackieCowboy are only a few.
The fact that most of the twitter accounts went dark after the referendum and presidential campaign is evidence that these accounts were not owned by people in the fight for long-haul change but instead had a simple one-track directive. To not see this kind of intervention for what it is would be catastrophic as it would mean that our political processes are being interrupted and swayed by outside forces, essentially mean that those people who talk of championing national pride were, in fact, aided by foreign superpowers.
That is a worrying prospect indeed.
Robert Mueller’s report has been a long sought after document and it recently showed that there was no conclusive evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia. This is a good sign (though yet to be completely verified) but it does not change the fact that Russian intervention in our democratic processes is still taking place. URL’s of the bots were tracked back to the IRA (Internet Research Agency) based in St. Petersburg. The IRA is a branch of the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) whose digital fingerprints can be found on “Kremlin-ordered operations around the world.”
It is clear that we are seeing a new war of being waged. But it is a one-sided war of counter-intelligence. A bombardment of (I hate to say it) Fake News.
While the Cold War was a war of intelligence and counter-intelligence we are now living in the post-truth era where narrative (real or imagined) clings with stronger fingers than fact. That is how the war is being waged. Not with the threat of nuclear war, but with the erosion of intelligence and the altering of perception.
Disinformation is lethal. Without truth we are unable to make concise decisions. If we believe in “alternative facts”, post truths and outright lies or worse yet, if we ignore experts like Michael Gove would have it, any truth can become reality. Like believing that Trump was good for the nation despite being aided, directly or indirectly, by Vladimir Putin.
Russia wanted the U.S to pick Donald Trump. Russia wanted the U.K to vote for Brexit. Russia has been proven to have been involved in these processes and sought after the two very outcomes that the U.K and the U.S.A chose in the pivotal year of 2016.
We need to ask ourselves why it is that Russia wanted these outcomes. And when we look at the outcome, that our people are divided, that we are entrenched in our political spheres and no longer considering bipartisanship as a way forward and that we cannot singularly agree on any way forward…well… I think we have our answer.
It is almost universally accepted that the public were fed a lie regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It would be hard going to find someone who didn’t believe that there is some kind of cover-up or some greater conspiracy at play.
Was it the appearance and disappearance of the Babushka Lady? Or perhaps it was the astronomical coincidence that the most notorious assassination in a generation was also the scene of the “magic bullet” which bounced around the car and struck Kennedy multiple times? And all this was pulled off by Lee Harvey Oswald, a man described as a mediocre marksman yet who was able to pull off two very accurate shots in quick succession on a moving target.
And we are more convinced of a cover up now than immediately after the shootings because we have the gift of hindsight.
With quick access to information (and disinformation) at our fingertips, the world has become a rife breeding ground for conspiracy theories and we are constantly faced with having to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Slender Man has a tailor on Saville Row.
Russia helped Donald Trump get into the Oval Office.
The world is run by reptilian overlords wearing flesh suits.
China are manipulating the weather.
Up to half of all global wealth is kept in offshore bank accounts and trusts.
Pyramids were built by aliens.
North Korea are experimenting with chemicals that will turn the world’s insects into a swarm of blood-thirsty killers hell bent on taking down the capitalist west.
We can separate the absolutely nonsensical claims from those that hold water. But what about those strange intermediary claims that could sit on the fence between theory and realism?
Well, China are manipulating the weather, but so are governments across the world. It is called cloud-seeding and it has been used to brilliant effect to get more rainfall over arid lands. There is also HAARP. Is HAARP a weapon that can be aimed anywhere the American government wishes? Unlikely. But does the HAARP having weather changing and atmosphere disturbing qualities? Yep. After all its sole focus is to heat up portions of the atmosphere. That is bound to have some kind of knock-on effect.
Above: HAARP – High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme
The difference between conspiracy theory and conspiracy realism is the application of Ockham Razor thinking followed by a small amount of research. And a touch of cynicism.
Do we really think that Area 51 is reverse-engineering alien flight technology and dissecting bodies, or is Area 51 a military base whose purpose is to create and test state-of-the-art, top-secret war machines?
This photo from the 1950’s shows investigators looking at remains of a so-called alien spacecraft.
Whilst people may have believed this story in the 1950’s when there was a lot more trust in governments and figures of authority, nowadays we can look at that photo we can see that the material they are inspecting is the kind of foil used for weather balloons/stations.
The problem that many of us face nowadays is that disinformation can be spread so quickly that the proliferation of conspiracy theories can far exceed those claims that have been scrutinised.
We know that Trump colluded with Russia. If the Mueller Report shows no direct link between Russian involvement and the presidential campaign of 2016, we still know that Trump has laundered money for Russian parties before he took the White House. The difference between conspiracy theory and conspiracy realism is that the answer is often in the middle ground.
Using the above example of Area 51, are we looking at a top-secret facility? Yes. Is it likely that they are experimenting on alien craft? No. Is it more likely that they are working on terrestrial projects like high-tech unmanned surveillance drones? Yes. Then why is it so secretive? Why don’t they open up the facility to show that they have nothing to hide? Because that would mean that America runs the risk of losing the strategic edge in future wars.
Cynicism is also a great weapon when judging claims. If you question what EVERYONE says, chances are you will come to a sound conclusion somewhere in the middle.
Alex Jones of InfoWars, a name as strange as can be for an organisation purportedly providing news, claimed that the government is “turning frogs gay”.
Alex Jones saw this as a move by governments to try and turn the populace gay which would in turn mean that there would be a drop in the population. Alex has also made claims that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama “smell like sulphur” in a bid to show that they were satanic.
But because a person’s claims border on the bizarre-fanatic spectrum, does that really mean we should discount everything that that person says? Not necessarily. Breaking apart the claim that government is turning frogs gay, you should first ask yourself whether that claim is even possible. Before asking yourself whether it is probable.
Alex Jones had actually come to the conclusion that the government was “turning frogs gay” after it was found out that there have been negative side effects of agricultural practises where runoff has turned out to be toxic and, as a result, messes with hormonal patterns in certain species. The fact that the government is purposefully doing this in a bid to lower birth rates is absolutely unprovable and therefore would demand an investigation of its own whereas we are certain that North Korea is chemically altering and instilling anti-capitalist sentiment into insects… right?
So, are there aliens out there? Of course. It is a statistical probability that life must exist elsewhere in the universe as we can observe it today, let alone in the possibly infinite expanse of the universe beyond what we can observe. Have the Americans reverse engineered alien machines? Well, if they had succeeded in doing so the chances are we still wouldn’t be so backward that we have to use fossil fuels, hydrogen or solar power to keep the machines in the sky.
I actually love conspiracy theories. I’m not just saying that. I really do. I love the possibility that there is so much more out there than what is written in journals or what has been documented throughout history. But sometimes the truth is much more interesting and magical than any fiction we create.
Think of the pyramids of the Egyptian and Mayan civilisations. Even today scientists and engineers have opposing ideas about just how it the peoples of these times managed to build such impressive structures and to such a great degree of detail. Much like the religious will often fill any blanks in the knowledge with ‘God’, there are certain sects who are quick to jump to the conclusion that aliens had come down to earth and showed humans how to undertake such feats of construction.
It is a lack of faith in humanity that leads to such answers. It makes more sense that an ancient tribe would first wonder from whence they came and, not seeing any real-time answer to the question, would turn their eyes to the stars. If there was (and still is) some magic to be marvelled at, it was those twinkling lights in the sky. If something was indeed watching them, it would be somewhere “up there”. Which would explain why Egyptian and Mayan constructions would follow the stars and why the Nazca people created such large and beautiful pictures – the Nazca Lines – aimed at pleasing the people in the sky.
You might think that this all points toward alien intervention. But why would a distant traveller in possession of vast knowledge and technological prowess request that the people sacrifice certain members of their tribes to worship them?
History is dotted with geniuses. Da Vinci, Gallileo, Einstein. Why could people of such genius not have belonged to these civilisations and created something incredible? Why can we not just understand that these civilisations were capable of amazing things like advanced construction? And of course some not so amazing things like human sacrifice?
The main argument though is that you should never discount fantastical claims just because they sound too “out there”. Every idea that is against the general norms is considered a conspiracy theory until it is proved to be fact. After all, the world was once considered to be the centre of the universe (and flat) and saying otherwise was not only considered ridiculous but was in fact heresy.
Should we consider conspiracy theories as true? Absolutely. But only until they start overstepping what is possible, and what is probable.
The kettle clicked and Troy busied himself making cups of tea. Marcus sat at the kitchenette table, dozing. Hitesh sat opposite flicking through a dog-eared health and safety manual.
‘I saw a documentary about some cargo trains in China,’ Troy said, putting a cup of tea in front of Hitesh.
‘You still going on about this?’
Hitesh cupped the piping tea and glanced at the electric radiator panel. The orange light was on but Hitesh had yet to feel any heat.
‘Yeah. Of course. I get scared thinking about it. It was huge. I’ve never seen anything like it before.’
‘All kinds of companies run trains up and down the track.’
Troy shook his head and slumped in a plastic chair. Marcus plucked his mug from the table. They drank their teas and went through a brief plan. When they were finished they cleaned their mugs and headed back out into the cold.
Marcus stuck a key in the lock of a large storage container, opened the doors and flicked on the light. A dull bulb eeked yellow and stained the space with shadows. Marcus pulled out a generator and wheeled it outside.
‘It’s fucking freezing,’ Troy said. He rubbed at his arms and jogged on the spot.
‘Let’s get working then.’
They rummaged and pulled out two work-lights from the racking and headed out. The generator stood in the weak glow beyond the doors.
‘Where’s Marcus?’ Troy asked. Hitesh looked over to the toilet cabin. There was no light on. He turned and looked down the sides of the container whilst Troy looked through the kitchenette window. ‘Not in there.’
Hitesh cupped his mouth. ‘Marcus!’
Only the sway of the unseen trees and wind brushing against the small compound answered. Troy walked over.
‘Maybe he’s taking a piss.’
‘Marcus!’ Hitesh called again.
‘Or playing a prank.’
Hitesh doubted it. Marcus wasn’t a joker. He was grumpy to the point of morose and the only time Hitesh had known Marcus to laugh was when his ex-wife asked for a divorce.
‘There,’ Troy said, pointing to the mass of shadows that was the treeline. Marcus’ orange clad form could just be seen slipping between the trees, away and up the steep incline.
‘Marcus! What the hell are you doing?’ Hitesh called.
‘We can see you, you bellend!’ Troy shouted through laughter. Hitesh wasn’t laughing. The orange form didn’t turn. Didn’t react. Just trudged upwards. The darkness swallowed him a few seconds later. Hitesh pulled his torch from his pocket and clicked it on.
‘He’s just pranking us,’ Troy said.
Hitesh’s beam caught something moving. Another. And another. Everywhere he pointed the beam was another one. A man carrying a dog lead and clad in a heavy wax jacket. Another man in pyjama shorts and a T-Shirt. A woman wearing a nightie turned transparent by rain. An old lady with a bend at the top of her spine pushing her almost double stomped the ground as she ascended.
‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ Troy whispered.
All the people were heading toward the top of the ridge.
Dystopian works feature many end-of-the-world themes. Nuclear fallout, volcanic eruptions, solar flares, the heating of Earth’s core (because of solar flares), the slowing down of Earth’s liquid magma, the uprising of machines, asteroids, alien invasion, climate change. And of course, my favourite: zombie virus.
Last year I read Paulo Bacigalupi’s, The Water Knife. A novel based (as the name would suggest) on corporate interests battling for water rights in a world which has been ravaged by climate crises, and is now facing drought.
The whole way through Bacigalupi’s novel I found my mouth parched by descriptions of dry and arid lands, of characters longing for drink and the constant awareness of rationing what little water is available. But more than anything, I was intrigued and appalled by the depictions of corporate greed and consequential foul-play.
Is this the kind of future with which we should become accustomed?
Spurred by The Water Knife, I read Bacigalupi’s other dystopian masterpiece, The Windup Girl. In this novel, Bacigalupi creates a world bashed and beaten by corporate espionage which takes form in the poisoning of crops, (leading to something horrendous called “blister rust”) outperforming one another by creating genetically modified food and by using money to influence politics.
In both novels (and throughout the Ship Breaker series), the planet has essentially been ruined for financial gain. That ol’ bird, Capitalism. Not the kind of capitalism that frees the shackles from the poor mind you, more the neo-liberal, unchecked-market kind of capitalism.
George Orwell showed us a world ruled by Communism and it could be said that Ray Bradbury introduced us to the world of rampant capitalism with the focus on fast rides and fun times, but the works of more modern writers feels less like a prophecy for the not too distant future and more like something that could take place with the signing of a few pieces of trade legislature.
For example, Catherine Webb/Clare North’s 84K shows a Britain at the whim of mass production and insurance companies who dictate what level of existence is given to people judged by how much money they earn or how much money they owe. Need I say more?
A more comic approach to rampant capitalist-dystopia is Max Barry’s Jennifer Government. Neo-liberalism has won and the world is split between corporations to the extent that all life is split between corporations to the extent that to be employed is to take the corporate name, for example; Hack Nike. The government and police, on the other-hand, have become something that more resembles charity than any real form of leadership. If people want crimes investigated, they must pay.
Science-fiction and dystopian-fiction does the wonderful thing of attempting prophecy. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is more relevant now more than when it was written, especially given the advances in biotech taking us ever closer toward designer human beings. With that in mind, are we much removed from the capitalist dystopias as portrayed by so many other dystopia fiction novelists?
Motor insurance companies monitor drivers through apps in order to gain data. This is done with the premise of decreasing insurance costs depending on how you accelerate, decelerate, how sharply you brake and your average speed. We already allow devices to count our steps and monitor our sleeping habits in order to improve our overall health. Are we really that far from allowing insurance companies to monitor our health so that they can determine our general health habits? And how would that effect our insurance costs? And what other information can be garnered from such apps?
When it comes to corporate influence, are we that far removed from the landscapes of Bacigalupi and Barry when we already witness the political might of the NRA and oil conglomerates over presidential candidates in the United States? What is to stop such forces from gaining more momentum under Trump?
Capitalist-dystopia is so effective because it allows us to entertain the future possibilities of an ideology with which we are already attached. These novels should have the same kind of resounding clout as George Orwell’s warning of Communism faced by the world post World War 2.
The world is cheering. Air parted by clapping hands and screams of joy. I stand in the middle of the field along with so many others and stare as Muse soars for the celestial heavens.
A handful curse the ascent. A preacher has materialised from the wood work and is running a sermon on heresy. She’s got a crowd and they cluster round her like iron filings caught in a magnets grasp. Anyone who turns their eyes to the sky would see this was mans pinnacle achievement. Disbelievers be damned.
The Muse vessel is pushed by a billowing snake of hydrogen surging the ship into the sky and through the atmosphere. It was as if mankind had awakened some elemental being, born from the baked earth but destined to transcend.
A local production company had erected a huge screen in the middle of the field. It shows the Chosen Ones. Sixteen hundred colonisers sitting in rows. Cheers and smiles can be made out through faceplates. Tears of happiness and fear. Some raise their hands treating it like the single biggest and most expensive roller coaster ride the world had ever seen. Which, of course, it is. And why not? They have a ticket into the history books, they are going to have statues erected in their honour in every country on earth.
The first colonisers.
Lucy clasps my hand. Her eyes are skyward, her face a mask of anxious hope. Her sister, Freiya, is a Chosen One. Her name had been chewed over by the Muse mission databanks and ejected at the lottery. She had the right “genetic qualifications”. No history of hereditary disease in the family, no psychiatric problems. Good blood. Her father a Ghanaian athlete, her mother a diplomat for the Australian government. Mixed. Strong. My wife could have be one of them but they didn’t allow more than one member of any family.
I can’t imagine watching Lucy being shot away from me. To experience the frightful nothingness of space and to start anew on Tierron whilst I died here on Earth.
Muse is in its final arch. I can’t make out the vessel from this far down so I watch the new image on the screen. A zoom shot of the outside of the vessel. Sun shattering against the external mounted solar panels, friction scorching the outer hull. A diamond in the blue sky. My wife squeezes harder, the breath catches in my throat and I feel tears stinging behind my eyes. A voice comes over the loudspeakers.
‘Ladies and gentlemen. The Muse Project has le-‘
Explosion. Highly volatile fuel burns white across miles of airspace as if a star has erupted into being within our atmosphere. Stunned silence. A hiss of static from the dead camera feeds. A thud in my finger. Broken. But the pain is distant, as if it had happened to someone else.
I turn to Lucy. Tears tumble down her cheeks. I can see the quick intake of breath fill her chest before she screams. The sound is pure agony. I move to hold her but she drops to her knees.
Above, debris shoots to all points of the compass.
The screen changes. A face. Everyone knows him. He’s crying. His voice is coarse with pain.
‘Ladies and gentlemen.’ People’s screams and pleas and sobs ebb away as they turn to the screen, wrenching their eyes from the flower of debris descending back to earth. Lucy doesn’t look. She stays on the floor and screams into the dust.
‘The Muse Project…has failed.’ A hush blankets the crowd, a few whimpers that sound like wounded animals. The preacher on the far side doesn’t miss a beat and fills the stunned silence with a screech of laughter. I glance over, someone is moving toward her, shoulders hunched. I don’t care. I don’t feel anything. I turn back to the screen.
‘It is with a heavy heart…that I tell you now that this project was humanity’s last hope at survival.’
A ripple of confusion, a few exchanged glances.
‘You were told this was to be the biggest colonial effort that mankind has ever attempted, the next big step as humanity reaches into the galaxy. You have been told a lie. The Muse Project was an arc mission. A mission to send survivors to Tierron. A last ditch attempt to save humanity’s future…away from earth.’
A woman screams. A man next to her plucks up a camping chair and hurls it at a bank of electrical equipment. Everyone ducks as gunshots fire out. Pockmarks pepper the crying man’s face. He keeps talking.
‘The Agriculture Initiative has failed. The last remaining stocks—‘
Another man kickd the generator and the screen goes blank. I wrap my arms around Lucy’s waist and pull her to her feet.