Monday, April 06, 2009

Tomorrow

There's this interesting Stephen King short science fiction story called The Jaunt, which is about the discovery of teleportation just at a crucial point in mankind's history, when oil was about to become too expensive to be viable. Fiction has a way of solving off-hand crises with either a deux ex machina or an apocalypse.

Until a month ago, I would have said that I had barely seen any signs of the recession. The place where I work has always been a ghost town; fuel prices were dropping and the interest rate was about to become barely significant. Yet, driving around Northants now is a weird sight; the number of empty shops and buildings; the number of closing down sales; restaurants and pubs just ceasing trading without a moment's notice. But the worst thing is the feeling that, unlike the last recession, some of these places will stay empty for a long time.

This county is prolific in industrial estates and business parks, many of them new ones that are now half finished and show no sign of builder activity; the new housing market is dead in the water, despite cheap mortgages and many wannabe first time buyers. People are not buying houses; they're not starting up new businesses and they're not doing anything much than centring their resources on their core essentials - which means supermarkets will survive (while they still have goods to sell).

The press don't help; they don't deal in optimism, at least not at this point in the 21st century. Misery sells. The thing is the last biggie, the one they called the Great Depression, happened in a time when we weren't as technologically advanced; when the entire world's economy wasn't just a balancing act and because it would take a week to discover that the stock market had crashed on Wall Street. Arguably the 1930s populace could cope better with those conditions than 21st century man.

The problem this old pessimist has is that if the world continues to slip into a global depression, one of two homespun hypotheses could happen: there's an almighty shift in economic power causing unease amongst the former heavyweights, or the world's economy will collapse and that will lead to the eventual breakdown of society as we know it. I'm not forecasting anarchy or fighting on the streets, but I am proposing that if governments have no finance, then it won't be long before they can no longer control society. There will be factions that terrorise and extort, but the odds are that communities will begin trading with other communities for necessities; a kind of barter system could replace conventional coinage. Society may well regress in some ways, but without money there's a high reduction of all the trappings that go with it, meaning that one of the roots of all evil will have become an insignificant player.

Of course, if the world's economy changed so drastically, the other root of all evil would thrive - religion would run rampant and the majority of civil unrest will be racial, cultural or religion centred. In the UK, without proper government some parts of the infrastructure of the country would begin to decay - public services would disappear; travel would become very expensive and unpredictable; local councils would become autonomous from central government and the creation of local political parties will become rife. There would be a rise in xenophobia and many far right wing political parties would attempt to emerge to reunite the country. Isolationism would become normal for countries or alliances that are self-sufficient in most things. Commerce would still run the planet, but it would have constraints and it would prohibit the distribution of commodities depending on the risks and costs involved.

The world will become a very different place. Then there will be a war. A big war. A jihad style war that will annihilate huge swathes of the human race; decimate massive areas of the planet and leave those who remain the task of saving what's left of humanity...

Next blog: we're all going to die!

But seriously, this could happen in my lifetime; that's about 30 more years if I'm lucky. We're a race that is essentially pillaging everything. We are eventually going to eat the entire planet, while simultaneously building living space in any available square foot. If the means, the way the world operates, is severed, there is nothing else to prevent society from changing in unexpected ways. There'll be no deux ex machina in real life.

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