Night has fallen here now, but as it did so, somewhere behind the grey-brown rainclouds a sunset was trying to add some kind of wow factor. You couldn’t see the sun, but the effect on the overall light-show was to pump an injection of crisp, primary colour into the dank banality created by drizzle. The grass changed from fuzzy green to emerald, and the leaves upon it leapt up a gear from grubby primrose to gold.
Despite the overall soaking from the diffused but determined rain, I was stopped in my tracks and….what was I? Stunned? Impressed? Analytical? Maybe all of those things in a headlong rush (light, after all, doesn’t leave you much time to think) but mainly I was mesmerised.
I silently willed the effect to last, but of course it didn’t. So I got into the car, and drove off to the only shop in the area equally willfully defying the the 6.00pm curfew.
There I sat, driving towards the local town. A gizmo on the steering wheel allowed me to change tracks. The Satnav told me what road I was on. The headlights came on automatically. A little message said the service was overdue. As I parked near to the store and reversed to straighten up, something beep-beeped over the sound of Verdi’s Othello to warn when I was in danger of hitting the car behind. The headlights and music disappeared as I switched the engine off. I got out and, just before I clicked the locking beam, the car dingle-dangle-dongled to remind me to lock the car.
And for some reason, I was transported back to an early JFK weekly news conference in 1961, after the US launched its first chimp into space as part of the Mercury & Gemini projects that preceded Apollo. A hack asked the President if he could give some feedback on the flight progress. Kennedy said, “Aw, sure – aw, the launch went well and the chimp reports all systems go for splashdown tomorrow”.
Tom Wolfe’s wonderful book The Right Stuff records with gripping accuracy how the sub-orbital pilots of the USAAF ever afterwards referred to the astronauts as “tin can chimps”. That fiction was blown by the endurance, resourcefulness and sheer grit of the Apollo 13 crew; but there’s little doubt that the early space capsules used men as part of the Space Race to somehow show that the US would soon have a home-grown Yuri Gagarin.
I am here to tell you that today, sixty years on, you could teach the average chimp to drive a contemporary car in less than a week. We sit in our tin cans, with everything done for us, and we no longer have to think ahead. The auto manufacturers have done everything up to but not quite including a banana reward when we brake to avoid old ladies on crossings.
It goes way beyond cars. My new laptop tells me – when I plug in headphones – that I have inserted a peripheral into the ongoing usage space, and the name given to it is ‘headphones’. It’s almost like the AI thinks I did it by accident, and need to be warned. But if the motive underlying that information supply is the creation of fear, equally patronising is the panel that pops up to announce that ‘An unknown error has occurred’: for surely the key communication there is that Johnny should not worry his little head about it because it’s way beyond his pay scale.
So let’s see now: little Hal in the computer has me down as a stickleback that jumped out of the aquarium and is now flubbering about all over the keyboard in wild panic. With my self-esteem in my socks, I plough ever onwards. But at every turn, I am tangentially reminded that I am a dummy.
How would I like to download this set-up? And the options are
- Easy (Recommended)
- Advanced (Don’t be silly)
- Manual (Silicon Valley only)
Not being blessed with the factory-fitted pointyhead feature, of course most of us immediately go for the recommended, simple and automated ‘easy’ route….in which all kinds of added-value services that don’t add so much as a dime to your life get, so to speak, added without your permission. You’re a stickleback and you demand full approval? Get TF real, fishy. Suddenly Bing is your default browser – an outcome that doesn’t so much add value to your life as take all the fun out of death.
I’ll try not to go on too long here: my point is simple. In 2020, we have gone beyond the kind of labour-saving devices (that helped everyone from bored housewives to writers like me create the additional time required for liberation) and on into a moral, social and species quicksand that renders careful thought, planning and avoidance of minefields redundant.
Now none of this is conspiracy theory. I truly do not believe that Klaus Schwab gets on the phone to the BSDs at Mercedes and says, “Vot ve are needink here is ze funf und achtzig increase in ze Dummkopf typologie, also mussen sie auf dem Case gegetten”. What I’m suggesting is that the Davos Herrenvolk’s lives are made one helluva lot easier by the existing tendency of so many folks to unconsciously believe that monied purchases and taxes paid will relieve them of the brain-hurting chore of decisions about personal destiny.
Here’s the bottom line: Monied purchases are your corporate interface, and taxes paid are your State relationship. Put them together, and you have the Corporacratic State. Mix in a lot of apathy, greed and technology, and you have the Totalitarian State.
Our 2020 present is rhyming history in the making. But this time, there are no jackbooted ranks screaming “Sieg heil!” There are instead virtue signallers trying to persuade you that what you really want is a life of calm, banality and Soma tablets*. What you really want not very deep down is a correctly vertiginous world free from the reality of disease and normality of natural evolution.
That, and mating with robots.
*A reference to the plot of Brave New World, a novel written by Aldous Huxley 90 years ago