Advertisement
This story is over 5 years old
VICE Future Week

Is Humanity Headed for Utopia or Dystopia?

How nuclear explosions, global warming and solar flares could save us all.

by Gavin Haynes
23 January 2013, 10:00am

If there's one thing the past teaches us, it's that human beings are cruel and capricious assholes, short-sighted and bloody-minded for whom everything always ends in tears. Our grandparents still remember a war that killed everyone who wasn't our grandparents and ate a third of the entire population of Poland. On the evidence of the past, when you're predicting the future, it really is hard to be too gloomy.

On the other hand, if there's one thing that the past teaches us, it's that predictions of doom are nearly always dumb, pessimistic scare-stories that nearly never work out so bad. From the supposed "global cooling" of the 60s and 70s, to Y2K via Malthusian predictions of world famine, oftentimes the factor we miss is man's ability to innovate, overcome and, in fact, make life better: from GM crops fighting off global hunger to smallpox vaccination to WWII giving birth to universal human rights and international courts – history shows again and again how crises can become opportunities.

Which is why we've decided to take a high-road/low-road view of some of the big scenarios for planetary doom. Are we zooming up the golden highway to future perfect in our Space Cadillac? Or are we, on closer inspection, driving a Fiat Uno with a baby chair in the backseat partially obscuring a light dusting of parking tickets and old cigarette boxes? Who knows.


THE US DEBT DEFAULT
The Potential Dystopia
The US national debt now stands at $16,000,000,000,000. That's right. Sixteen trillion dollars. That's some $52,331 (£33,060) for every American now born. And remember – many of these Americans are either children or losers; they don't have a pot to piss in. If you told them they owed you 20 dollars, they'd probably burst into tears. So the more exact number, once you've excluded Americans who are out of work, wear a name badge at work, work in the cocaine retail industry or work as professional children, is probably closer to 100k per person. No American would ever give the government $100,000. After all, The American Dream is to meet the guy responsible for your tax bill, buddy.

Anyway, one day someone in a bond market with a calculator will do the basic maths I've just put you through and realise that America is the MC Hammer of countries. But you can't just send two large Lebanese gentlemen around in bailiff's uniforms to repossess the Golden Gate Bridge; you’re gonna have to share that debt around so that everyone else will lose their shirts. American bonds will turn to dust in our hands, and European, Chinese and African investors who thought they were buying a sure thing will watch their savings turn to shit.

No one will be able to finance any new investment. No one will be able to get a pension. The global economy will simply lay about, flapping its death-throes like a roach that's just been hit with Target. It will make the Great Crash Of '08 look like that time Alan Greenspan tripped up over the lectern. They'd run out of superlatives to describe it on day three, your local hospital would run out of paracetamol by day five and, after that, doctors would spend most of their time doing mercy killings with the last scalpel, before – by day 14 – holding a sex-favour auction in which the excess meat was distributed to the highest bidders.

The Potential Utopia
As David Icke can tell you, if there's one thing that the powers behind the powers-that-be want, it's to move everyone towards a unified global currency and one world government. Which is obviously a fantastic idea.

If the rest of the world got together and agreed to bail out America, then they could exact whatever terms they wanted. And the first thing they'd want would be to put a stop to the power of the dollar – this silly little jumped-up prick of a currency that means America can print its way out of trouble while deflating the value of the reserves everyone else holds. So, they might propose a return to pegging the dollar and strict limits on the US Fed. Once that was in place, it'd be a pretty easy jump for some other smartass to suggest creating a Euro-style pegged exchange currency union between the US and its main creditors. After which, other countries would, like the Euro, be incentivised to form an orderly queue at the door for this currency union.

Pretty soon, everyone would be trying to make the reforms that would allow them inside the tent and, as with the EU, once they were all inside, there'd effectively be a unified world government to sort out all our problems. Meaning that – within this ever-growing bloc – war would effectively be over. Forever. With their economic interests aligned, everyone could forget about killing each other and get on with trying to have sex with each other. And David Icke? Well, we'd cut his cock off. Hahahahaha.


AN INDIAN-PAKISTANI NUKEFEST
The Potential Dystopia
Pakistan is one of the silliest countries on Earth. Don't believe me?

That is a Pakistani guardsman at the Wagah border post, still the only crossing between a nation of 200 million and a nation of one billion. Look at his leg. I mean, I wouldn't like to be his chiropractor or his cobbler, that's all I'm saying. And as for the Indian bloke next to him, he seems to be laying it on a bit thick, too, doesn't he? When you have two countries with such fierce animosity towards each other that they are hyper-competitive even in leg-lifting, then what you have, my friend, is a recipe for fucking disaster. Just thank god they don't have nuclear weapons. Oh, wait...

Yup, they do. And yup, they're probably dumb enough to use them.

Oh.

And it isn't too hard to posit that when Pakistan's faltering democracy takes another falter, the government will attempt to stoke some popularity by rattling sabres, rattle too loudly and then find themselves unable to back out. The Indian subcontinent will turn into a green, glowing fudge of radioactive rikshaws and badly burnt cows that no one feels spiritually empowered enough to shoot. Of course, it will at least clean up the Ganges a bit.

The Potential Utopia
A New Golden Age Of Economic Development. With a billion people wiped off the global population ticker at a stroke, everyone will suddenly be able to kick back a lot more. Not in Delhi, obviously. No. We'll just build a few thousand miles of razor wire round the whole sorry mess, wait for the survivors to eat each other and try not to play our George Harrison records too much. But everywhere else, the price of so many essential commodities – rice, wheat, meat, oil, corn, copper, wool, wood, coal – will drop by about a third, as the great plains of Canada and Russia and the American Midwest no longer have to feed all those hungry mouths.

And that will allow the rest of the world to spend more of their income on other items and to save more. Economics is pretty linear in this department: the more you save, the more your nation can invest, so the net effect would be to stimulate a massive boom in the Third World in productivity-enhancing technology. The sort of productive savings this could bring us would make the 1950s look like piss. Really, it is no understatement to say that the selfish desire of 1.2 billion people to go on living is what's stopping Africa from finally becoming an economic powerhouse. Yet it could so easily happen. All we would need would be to inaugurate this new Age of Aquarius with 20 kiltonnes of explosive power. 


GLOBAL WARMING
The Potential Dystopia
Mainly George Monbiot, if we're honest. Oh, and we may run out of – well, I've not quite paid it enough attention, but apparently it's gonna be quite bad and you should eat less/more bran?

The Potential Utopia
What is the biggest country in the world? Yes. Russia. And the second? Still Canada, so far as anyone can tell. So what are the three most under-populated countries on Earth? Yup, Canada, Russia and Greenland. Today, 90 percent of the world's most vast and thrillingly open expanses remain clamped beneath a northern permafrost. It's a shocking waste. Frankly, you just want to get the guy who designed our land masses, grab him by the lapels and go: “Did you ever think of putting the big ones in temperate zones, buddy? Huh? Did you? We're not fucking polar bears, you know?” But whatever. Fuck that guy.

With another five-degree rise in global temperatures, all that wonderful open expanse becomes the new frontier-towns. At the moment, 80 percent of Canada's population lives within 100 miles of America. At the moment, 97 percent of Russians wouldn't go near Siberia if you paid them. That could change almost overnight. These hardy immigrant frontiers-people would invoke the can-do spirit of America's drive westward 150 years ago. Along the way, they'd probably discover lots of nice new minerals buried under the earth. They'd see a virgin world untouched by human eyes and build bold, forward-looking chrome and glass cities in their shiny new mining ports. Those lucky, lucky people.


SOLAR FLARE MELTDOWN
The Potential Dystopia
Anyone who has spilled a small amount of liquid over a laptop will know the strange, far-off tingling of recognition at the back of the brain when you realise that all that separates the motor of your life's entire productive capacity from a rather well-designed lump of useless metal is a minor environmental change. Well, as you may have noticed, our entire society now operates thanks to this new-fangled sorcery. And we may be just months away from a metaphorical Big Spill.

Solar flares are big bursts of energy that shoot off the sun towards us, and when they hit us, they cause interference. Which is fine, if it's 1800 and you haven't rigged the world with wires and cables and circuit boards and chips and electromagnets and disks of every shape and flavour imaginable. And if it’s 2013? Well, the high-street is going to start getting a even less busy.

The nearest example we have – the 1859 "Carrington Event" – was a magnetic storm that struck Earth and caused telegraph systems all across Europe and America to fail. It was so dark that The Northern Lights were reportedly seen as far south as Florida. So, there was that one, when there was a pifflingly small number of wires on Earth – and it was a fucking catastrophe. Now? In 2009, a report funded by NASA claimed similar storms today would lead to "planetary disaster". This isn't paranoid, "what if" millenniallism, this has actually already happened. And statistically, it is only a matter of time until it happens again.

So, on the one hand, you would probably really learn to appreciate just how magical our new interconnected techno-conjoined world is/was. On the other, your aeroplane would drop out of the sky and society would collapse. So, a mixed picture, but overall, probably one that leads to civilians gathering into small bands in market squares, making shields out of MacBook Air cases and burning lithium ion batteries to stay warm.

The Potential Utopia
But wait. Assuming we could get through the initial shock and manage to reboot everything, all we would have lost was an awful lot of data. Overnight, what you might call The Digitisation Years – 1990 to 2012 – would become a collective hole in the global memory banks. And freed from our photos, our stories, our emails and the enormous weight of data, we would have a collective, planetary moment of zen. Yes – why were we stood at the back of the concert, videoing everything on our Sony Ericsonn K800i in 2006? Why weren't we just living in the moment that The Young Knives had given us? Why did we spend hours every week combing Tumblr for pictures we could reblog to our audience of no one? And our Wordpress? And our Instagram? How did we let our obsession with archiving and the weight of our collected instant nostalgia drown our sense of what it is to be alive?

A whole generation, chastened and awakened by the loss of the entire life they had so monastically documented, will never buy another recording device again. Culture will become almost instinctively instant, social, collectivist. Rather than wanting to affirm the profile-you through cheap, postable ego-hits, the world's youth culture will become about developing the only thing that a solar flare can't tar: the fathoms-deep inner you. Third eye. New world. Nirvana. Boom.

Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes

Illustrations by Cei Willis.

More from VICE Future Week:

The Future of the Internet

The Future of Drugs

Things That Need to Die Before British Culture Can Move Forwards

Is This the Century of Africa's Rise?