It seems that the value of knowledge has fled from the world. Few of us remain who care about where we are and more significantly, how we got here. As I write this accounting of the downfall of man, of the guilt and the blame, I wonder; will anyone ever seek to read it and if so, will they care?
“There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy”
Alfred Henry Lewis, 1906
When the world fell it was not, as many had predicted, the result of nuclear or biological conflict. Humanity’s downfall was not an act of aggression but rather the lack of it. We sat comfortably in our homes, apathetic and greedy, as the earth exhausted its capacity to support our indulgence.
A significant marker in our self-interested spiral towards collapse was the point at which robots replaced humans in the majority of industries. From mining to fast food, humans stopped going to work and instead sent their personal robots out every morning, retreating further and further into social networks and an uninterrupted diet of reality TV and sporting spectacle. Robots grew, harvested and cooked our food, they taught our children, worked in our shops and served in our militaries.
Then one day it all stopped. We had always had a voracious appetite for fossil fuels and the ‘Robot Revolution’ had amped this up to previously inconceivable levels. Investment in renewable resources such as wind and hydroelectric power had been sporadic at best and these technologies were anaemic when faced with the challenge of filling the void that coal, oil and gas left behind. Predictably it did not take long for mankind to tear itself from the sofa and turn on its neighbours and for fifty years we indulged in a self-destructive conflict, a childlike grasping for the remaining sources of power our planet had to offer.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
Arthur C. Clarke, 1973
Many saw this coming but few decided to care. Those few with the resources to survive The Collapse had already retreated to secret bunkers and isolated hideouts, working feverishly to secure their future at the expense of ours. When the dust settled and Empyria floated into view off the German coast it became clear what had become of the elite, of the one percent. Now residing in their flying paradise, they have become gods to our World After, omnipotent overlords who enforce their will with iron discipline.
Many praise the Empyreans and The Edict. Certainly, the ferocity with which they uphold their interdiction is remarkable, but it seems disingenuous at best to assume they hold our best interests close to their hearts. For the time being at least they seem to have ensured the survival of our race, but for a species with such a storied history of violence I cannot conceive that outlawing murder will last; we are simply too good at killing each other. In this moment however we survive under the watchful eye of this floating citadel and invent new ways to compete for power.
And what of the rest of us? Down in the shadows of the world the remainder of mankind scratches out a forlorn existence, cowering at the heel of criminal syndicates, religious sects and amoral corporations. Rival factions soon learned that if they wanted to make a grab for power, they had better find ways to fight that didn’t involve puddles of blood. It wasn’t long before carefully hoarded fuels were diverted to powering up forgotten mainframes and with them, the robots that had gathered dust since The Collapse. In this World After, if you can power a Wrecker, you have influence and wealth.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”
Karl Marx, 1843
Now we fight in secret; elite Machinists drive their Wrecker Arrays in brutal metal on metal combat, risking feedback death every time they ride the grid. A twisted ‘honour’ system has formed where factions will arrange evenly matched battles to settle their disputes, far from the prying eyes of Empyrean Pacifier Cruisers. These matches are the new opium of the masses and draw huge crowds who pack into the bowels of container ships or hang from the rafters of industrial warehouses every time a bout is called. The Machinists are the celebrities of a fallen world, raised up into luxury by their patrons for their uncanny ability to co-ordinate the movement of multiple bots at once. For them, the threat of having their neural pathways fried in a losing match is a small price to pay for the fame and lifestyle that comes with driving a Wrecker Array. For the factions, a talented Machinist is worth their weight in oil. As for the Empyreans, who can know the minds of gods?
As I sit here pecking slowly at this dry-ribboned typewriter, hidden in the bowels of Westminster University, I begin to wonder, do the Empyreans know we struggle so hard to compete? Is this all just a twisted Darwinian spectacle to them? Never have I felt more that the bard had it right; we are just players in this performance and the world has become naught but a stage.
‘The Collapse: An Indictment of Apathy’
Head of Philosophy (Ex), University of Westminster