Many years ago, in a library sale, I came across a booklet of … well, science fiction scenarios. From the context — not being absolutely stupid — I could get that it had been commissioned before the election in 80, and had probably been distributed for free by the Democratic party. I am afraid to look it up, first because it’s the sort of quest that could take me something like three years (and be lots of fun, but no work would happen) and second because I’d hate to see which ones of my colleagues lent themselves to that rather preposterous effort. Fortunately I lost the book in one of our many, many moves since then, so I don’t have to know.
Now, when I bought it, I was thirty, just about, but younger than that in craft, as I hadn’t started seriously thinking about world building and scenarios of world building till 22 or so, and I wasn’t yet… fully immersed in American culture. For instance, how preposterous the scenarios were didn’t hit me at all. (Yes, I used to be an innocent. I actually thought anthologies about the coming Ice Age or about how we needed to disarm had no ulterior motives. Probably self defense. It allowed me to enjoy some art and literature, while, if I’d been fully conscious of its intent, I’d have thrown it across the room. More on that later.)
So I read it and re-read it, admiring the extrapolation and trying to figure out how to do this in my own writing. (Rest easy, I know better now.)
They really were preposterous scenarios. For instance the one where Reagan had gone elected went (Natch) into this scenario of endless war and of American soldiers sent home in sealed caskets which, if the grieving mothers dared open them showed corpses killed by a weapon beyond our comprehension. (Which makes perfect sense, because you know, the USSR was so much more advan– Oh, wait, no, it was complete and unadulterated BS.)
Some of the scenarios I liked. At this time I had virtually no political sophistication, and though I’d started reading Reason had no clue what “libertarianism” was. And yet, instinctively I liked the scenario that I THINK was called “The center cannot hold.”
I think, so help me Bog, I was supposed to recoil from it. Partly because it also started with Reagan’ s election. But then DC and all the great cities get nuked, and the US devolves to a regional-centered organization. First, this scenario was about as likely as feathers on a horse — because there was no invasion from outside following on the destruction of our centers of political organization — and second I think the picture the author was striving for was something out of mad max, or something. Instead, what I saw was small, decentralized, and less regulation. I saw thriving small centers of civilization. I saw more individual freedom. I ignored the rest.
Again, this scenario (All of them, really) was completely impractical, not to say impossible. There is no way — no way at all — that kind of destruction would have led to regionally centered anything. Yeah, I know a lot of dreams on the right and left start that way, but right now, the way we are, it’s more likely that widespread famine and invasion, and the other horsemen of the apocalypse would follow.
So it is funny that these days, looking at this great fractured polity of ours I keep thinking “The Center Cannot Hold” and it evokes both Yeats great mythical poem, and the scenario above, which means I end up dissolving in giggle fits at the unlikelihood of the scenario and missing the … ominous thoughts that the line should provoke.
And there are omens enough in the line. And for a long time, I’ve been listening to that poem at the back of my mind as I read the news or think over some recent event.
Because if there is something that describes our current days it is exactly “The center cannot hold.” And yea, anyone who trolls twitter can agree that
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
And yet, just like the future scenario that was supposed to scare me spitless and make me not vote for Reagan (I didn’t, of course. I was only an exchange student. I did, however, work for his campaign) I look at this shattering and I listen to the ominous lines rolling in the back of my mind, and then I start grinning.
I’m not a nihilist. I don’t smile at the end of the world.
But what is very important to remember is that his is not the end of the world. It’s the end of a world. (And if any of you ever read Ray Bradbury’s Almost The End of the World, that was closer to what is happening in terms of major movements, than any apocalyptic scenarios. Oh, not in WHAT happened, but in the metaphor of it.) However, behind that dying world, around it, beneath it, over it, unsuspected, unseen by the glitterati and the gatekeepers, another world is being born.
Okay, so our major cities didn’t get hit, thanks be to all divinities, since I think the result would be chaos and destruction. Also, because I have friends in almost every large US city.
But the center is losing its grip anyway. Mostly in culture. But that culture is starting to influence politics, which is why there is this appearance of total chaos and the establishment (both sides) aren’t having it all their own ways. Granted, the left still gets more compliance than the right. It’s the nature of the beast and also part of how the culture fractured.
Which bring us to why we do have this impression everything is fracturing, and the “center cannot hold.”
This is a scenario not one of those big brains came up with. Not a big stain on them, mind, since even after the computer revolution was well under way, even as Amazon was starting to take the pillars out from under the pillars of the publishing push model (the model according to which you could only find in the bookstore shelves, not what you might want to read but the books that the publishers had thought worth it to “push” onto the distributors.), most of the people whose job it was to foretell the future were saying that Amazon was maybe like one large brick and mortar shop, and it would make no difference.
As for ebooks, we got the whole thing about how books are a tactile and scent experience. (Yes, I know some of you agree, but for the love of teardrops, I can’t see it.) And how ebooks would never displace “Real books” (listen, sonny, the scroll is here to stay and the printing press is a fad. Shut up and copy.)
Blogs? Some unwashed people in their pajamas. Not like those newspapers with layers and layers of fact checkers. You know, the newspapers who were wrong so many times they’re bleeding money faster than they can plug it. The newspapers no one under fifty really subscribes to anymore. THOSE newspapers.
And the TV stations… Yes, yes, Dan Rather. Fake but accurate. Or something.
And then there’s the universities. Oh, they’re holding on. But the competition is coming up fast. And I think they’re the next industry to truly get overwhelmed by catastrophic change.
Now, before we start dancing around the witch with the farmhouse planted on her snout, let’s be clear: none of these systems are dead yet. It is a mistake to underestimate the enemy, particularly the wounded enemy.
There are still people — I know some of them — for whom the mainstream media is still the main means of information. These are smart, thoughtful people, but they believe the weirdest things. And that same media can do as much damage by ignoring stories as by beating the drum wrongly. Benghazi, for instance. It should be a shock and a horror, particularly the way that government officials lied to us and said it was all about a video. But the media has refused to report on it.
And if you’re looking at that stuff, at the power still left in the mainstream institutions, you might get desperate. You might think it’s all lost.
Except that the reason you feel that way is… that things are getting better.
Yes, I know that’s paradoxical. But here’s the thing — cast your mind back to the time before we had internet — there were rumbles that, say, during Clinton’s time, the militias weren’t the big bad problem he painted it as, and there are more holes in the stories of incidents during that administration than there are — to paraphrase Heinlein — bastards in an European royal line.
BUT the point is you couldn’t know. There wasn’t a web. There wasn’t reporting first person what was happening.
In those days, the barrage would have held and we STILL WOULD THINK that Benghazi was the result of a bad video on youtube (only there wouldn’t be youtube.) We would have no idea — as weird as this is — that there was anything wrong with Fast and Furious. We’d just think that guns were being sold from the US down there.
In fact, you could say the reason their cunning plans keep misfiring is that they still control the media and therefore think they control everything.
Like publishers with the “paper books are coming back” fetish, most of the rest of the gatekeepers everywhere from publishing, to education, to politics are stuck in that place where they control all the means of communication, all the media, all the education and of course all government. Because politics comes from culture.
They are so focused on the traditional way they don’t see that things have changed.
And so they miss one important thing. We no longer feel alone. We’re as disorganized as cats. We’re as fractured as shattered glass, but we know we’re not alone. And we know that the facade they have built — probably not as a big conspiracy; probably just because they all want to advance the “progressive” future-that’s-supposed-to-be so badly — is broken.
And that’s enough. It’s enough for us to start talking about alternate solutions, to start building alternate structures, to network, to create, to keep our jobs even when we speak out.
Look, it only looks like everything is falling apart because the false consensus has been broken. But at the same time that break is what allows us to build under, to build around, to build over.
One thing we know is that the structures they’ve taken over are no longer in contact with reality at any level. Yeah, things look scary out there, and I’m not going to lie to you, they are scary, particularly on the international level.
Because the so called consensus was unchecked by dissenting voices, it has spun well away from reality.
But the new tech has given us a means of correcting that. It might be almost too late. And unless we have a miracle, there’s going to be the devil to pay for this.
Still, the correction is already in progress. Their way is passing. Our way is just starting out.
Funny how believers in dialectical systems didn’t see that coming.
Work. Create. Build under, build around, build over. It’s all going to come apart more before some sort of sense can be made of this mess. But the sense that’s coming, the ah spirit of the age embodied in its technology is moving away from big organizations and towards the individual.
And the individual? That we’re fine with.
In the end we win, they lose.
Be not afraid.