Friday, March 26, 2010

"The Free," Antichrist, pt. 2, 426 words

“Well, as the saying goes, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a conspiracy. And when the angels and demons came out to play, we knew for certain who the conspirators were.

“There are no estimates for how many people are left. If it's anything worldwide like what I've seen in the past year of travels, then I'd estimate less than a billion. Far, far less. And so, if you are hearing this, you are a survivor of the biggest war in history.

“Those who side with the angels, both kinds, claim that those taken were lifted up to Heaven or conscripted into Hell to escape this broken remnant of a world and join the winning side. They were the saved. The elect.

“I've talked to angels. And I've talked to demons. The Rapture was the opening salvo.

“There are no more good people in the world anymore. There are no more bad people. There are only us: those caught in between, the unacknowledged bastard children. Us... and the invaders.

“I'm no savior. I'm no messiah. I'm not here to offer you succor or one last chance at salvation. I'm here for one thing only: to tell you, ask you, plead you – beg of you on my knees, if need be – to stop.

“Stop playing the game. No matter which side you play, they win and you lose. Playing at all is a loss.

“There's a phrase, a title thrown about too-casually in pre-End politics, especially here in the United States. It refers to the one who, at the end of everything, rises up in defiance of God's plan. There were whole industries based upon speculating about their identity, the signs of their coming, their plans and goals.

“The word you are thinking of is Antichrist.

“My name is David Arthur Freeh, and I name myself Antichrist. I defy the powers of Heaven and of Hell, I spit on the names of God and Satan both. I refuse to follow their plan.

“And I beg of you, if you hear this message: join me. Defy the invaders. Flee them if you must, fight them if you can. Become antichrist. Even if they drive the last of us to extinction, die with the simple dignity of knowing that even in the face of Armageddon, you stood before them instead of cowering at their sides.

“This is our world. If we can't stop them, we can at least die free.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"The Free," Antichrist, pt. 1, 430 words

“Ladies and gentlemen... Ah, pardon me. That's not quite accurate anymore. The world has no more place for gentlefolk. You know this, as well as I. So let me address you appropriately:

“Survivors.

“For that is what we are. Make no mistake. Best estimates at the time held that, just over two years ago, approximately three and a half billion people disappeared from the face of the Earth. You've known that many, many people disappeared, but most of you have not had an idea how many.

“Let that sink in for a moment. Between one second and the next, just about a third of the world population just faded away, as if they had never been. Even more miraculously, the disappearances seem to have crosscut almost every demographic criterion you could name. Race, age, sex, sexuality, wealth, nation, religion, politics... Name it. About half of them went missing. This much the various world governments were able to discern before they finally collapsed from one third of their bureaucracies disappearing, too unbalanced by the loss of officials at all levels. Too much lost track of in the chaos that followed.

“Approximately another half billion died in the days and weeks afterward as a direct or indirect consequence of the disappearances. Not so many planes went down as one might imagine, but highway accidents shot through the roof in that instant. Chaos and panic. Rioting by terrified people afraid of a second wave of disappearances, and opportunists reveling in the madness and egging it on to greater heights. Military actions by despots convinced that if their blessed homeland had been so scourged, then those in the next nation over must have been taken even worse.

“Famine, as modern agriculture and distribution chains gradually broke down. Plague, as modern medicine met similar difficulties. The Eastern Seaboard of the United States shut down in a night as a flaw in a transmission station, that should have been spotted by a now-missing technician, finally gave over and caused a surge that cascaded across the power grid and shut everything down.

“It seemed like, on top of the disappearances in general, they had struck precisely amongst those whose loss would cause the greatest trials and tribulations for the rest of the world. It was improbable, perhaps even impossible.

“Nobody had a rational answer. The best one anyone could offer was that all of it must have been acts of God. The disappearances were the Rapture, clearing the elect out so they would be spared what was to come.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

"Do You Remember Peace?" Introduction, pt. 6, 424 words

However, an open-sourcing project eventually produced and published cracked forms of the NMR software, followed by new software standards which were released and propagated across much of the Internet. News distribution and ranking sites were flooded with the technical information, and before it could hope to be suppressed (many NMR companies employing cease and desist orders and injunctions against the publishing of their proprietary software), the information flashed across social networking and filesharing systems in an unstoppable torrent. The genie was out of the bottle irrevocably, and the Post was finally to begin.

Anyone could now produce whatever they needed to survive and thrive, a state in which we exist to this day. Nanotech colonies were reproduced and shared in moments, and the unlocked software to run them was anywhere to be found. All one needed was spare matter for the colonies to work with, and that was available in abundance. Trash, dirt, even the very air could be used to manufacture high-grade electronics and gourmet cuisine, when the tools could reassemble matter at the atomic level. While there was great turmoil out of this state of affairs for most of the next century, as some explored the destructive potential of NMR assemblers – including the creation of disassemblers – the world as we now know it was seeded in those tumultuous days.

It is tempting to romanticize the turmoil of those times, but one must bear in mind the accounts of those who lived through it. It was the last war that humanity would ever have to know, and one of the worst. And yet out of it came a new peace. And so, as every great cycle begins in war, so another must end in war. But now, war is incomprehensible to the common person. What need for war in this age?

This is, after a fashion, truly the end of history, and perhaps it is a happy ending that will go on for quite a long time – an end without end. So many of our ancestors saw one age end and another begin without knowing quite what happened around them, only that it was a time ending and another birthing in pain. It is, I think, not an unreasonable hope to believe that we have broken that horrible cycle and may continue to grow and mature as a species without such catastrophes in our path.

Excerpted from Fallout: the Post and the legacy of the Atomic Age, by Doctor Sasha Yǐn; published 6 January 2372, two days before First Contact

Saturday, March 06, 2010

"Do You Remember Peace?" Introduction, pt. 5, 476 words

The advent of the Internet brought globalization down to the middle class, and eventually even further. Those who could afford computers, or who lived in communities that offered free computer access in some form, could take part in a global community that focused on the exchange of information and ideas. Purchasing power went global as well – eventually, that is.

Previously, most people remained stuck within a very small range within which to select merchants. Massive corporate chains put down roots in most major communities within their operating region, but by and large people were restricted to what was in their immediate surroundings. That meant what they purchased was limited by what was offered, the market dictated almost wholly by supply and not so much by demand except when a merchant was willing to place special orders. And even those merchants were limited by their distributors. Such situations were supplemented by mail-order and similar services, but these were ultimately a rather small piece of the market.

Suddenly, the Internet opened up wide new markets, for merchants and customers both. Niche markets became easier to cater to, making hyper-specialization a sustainable practice for a merchant, while customers found it easier to explore a wider variety of options. For a brief period, known as the Dot Com Bubble, the Internet was the fastest-growing economic sector in the First World. Even after the Bubble “burst,” so to speak, various online merchants thrived, and many found a new life in filling an empty niche. And the social and intellectual life of the Internet grew in leaps and bounds in comparison, especially with the creation of social networking sites. There were no end of troubles, as is normal in any fledgeling system, but the bounties were numerous.

In comparison, the Post has been an almost complete economic reversal of the Internet, while only spreading its social and intellectual aspects to the ultimate end. The technology that enabled this matter is formally known, after the official project designation of its developers, as Nanoscale Matter Recombination. More popularly, minifacture or nanotech. (From a technical standpoint, “minifacture” refers to manufacturing performed by nanotech assembly tools, but the term has undergone genericization.)

Economically speaking, nanotech has destroyed all varieties of manufacturing industry. The last surviving such businesses were NMR producers themselves. Even this did not last very long. Attempts to control the propagation of nanotech colonies and production were soon brought low by the Internet itself. The NMR companies believed they had created “unpirateable” and uncrackable software locks with which to control the distribution and use of their minifacturing colonies, which were technically only leased and licensed for specific uses. By maintaining a rolling system of constant update and invalidation of old software standards and licenses, they were able to hold dominance over the market for a few short but disastrous years.

Friday, March 05, 2010

"Do You Remember Peace?" Introduction, pt. 4, 387 words

Post-war. Post-scarcity. Post-agriculture. Post-industry. Perhaps even post-human, as the potentials of our technology and understanding continue to unfold. Post-everything.

Comparisons to the rise of the Internet and the Information Age are inevitable, when it comes to understanding the advent of minifacture and the Post in a historical perspective. We can see, from the lofty perch afforded us by a mere two centuries, when the Post began and what it did to human life worldwide. At the same time, those present for the founding of the Post were turning their critical eye upon the founding of the Information Age, picking it apart in similar manner, studying its every intricacy.

There is a saying. “Human behavior is economic behavior.” It summarizes the essential basis of most of the major political and economic theories of the Industrial and Atomic Ages. From Marxism to Objectivism, and every descendant theory that sprung up after them, the zeitgeist of the last few centuries before the Post was determined increasingly by the competition of different theories of how people should order themselves economically. Government power on all sides of the divide waxed mighty from the argument, and the lengths to which each side was prepared to go in protecting and propagating their view. And so, this saying held true, to the extent that people allowed these theories to hold sway over and shape their governments, politics, worldviews – and, yes, their economic habits. There was even a religious movement known as the “prosperity gospel” which promised God's favor in the form of material wealth in exchange for donations to the churches which preached such gospel.

So, in light of economic behavior may we best compare and contrast the rise of the Information Age and the Post, to achieve a greater understanding of each. These two eras changed both the economic and ideological landscapes of humanity drastically, in relatively short periods of time.

The development of the Internet was, in its way, a natural consequence of the increasing globalization of the time, as well as a contributor. The Internet and globalization fed into one another. Previously, globalization had primarily been a force at work at higher levels than the common person, where more large corporations went multinational and could act on a worldwide scale, gaining influence over politics due to their overshadowing presence.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Do You Remember Peace?" Introduction, pt. 3, 399 words

Through all this, causing and caused by such expenditures and disparities, tensions remained high. Detente was the exception, not the rule, until well into the Post. When the Great Enemy of the capitalist First World fell apart, another was swiftly found – and, to a certain extent, manufactured. Hegemony justifies any act taken to maintain it, in the hegemon's eyes.

It took a dramatic restructuring of human thought and economics to end this sorry state of affairs, an act which almost did not come to pass. Indeed, the change in economy had to come first, an event that drew human thought in its wake like a planet sweeping up meteors. Prevailing culture has to race to keep up with its own creations. Like the founding of the Internet, which subdivided the Atomic Age into the Cold War and Information Ages, the development of reliable minifacturing technologies eventually ushered in the Post.

The profound change brought upon by widespread minifacturing – more formally, Nanoscale Matter Recombination – cannot be understated. We exist in an age where subsistence is not a struggle, where waste is unknown and unknowable, where weal no longer depends upon monetary power. This state of affairs seems as natural as breathing, as automatic as the beat of one's heart. We are taught but do not understand the years of turmoil that resulted from the selective control of minifacturing. We forget, as a fish forgets water, the intensive cultural engineering employed to keep the abundance we experience from warping our societal values into a sense of finalized achievement and mass ennui.

This is the world we live in: the Post, an era so named for its position as the capstone of human achievement. It is, philosophically speaking, the end of history. By this I mean that history, as presented for so many centuries as a succession of “kings and wars and dates,” no longer properly describes the course of human events. Indeed, the very name of our time derives from its immediate philosophical and cultural predecessor, postmodernism.

As postmodernism's heralds defined it in reaction to the era that came before, so did our founding philosophers name our time in reaction to its predecessors. However, we speak of the Post not strictly in relation to postmodernism – post-postmodernism being something already formulated and explored in the early Information Age – but in relation to everything that came before.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"Do You Remember Peace?" Introduction, pt. 2, 430 words

A popular question in the latter decades of the Atomic Age, when anti-intellectualism was cresting at a new peak, was why spend so much money on pure research? Why build a space station that does nothing but eat money? Why build massive particle accelerators looking for the Higgs boson? These efforts were seen as sinecures for the intelligentsia, funds thrown to academics to justify the need to throw more funds at academics. A similar question could be asked of how one expected war to produce useful peacetime technologies. How does making a better bomb to drop on foreign soil translate into a better life at home?

The answer to both was in fact the same. The research necessary to reach these goals necessitated following related lines of research that could spawn a variety of technologies. Research, after all, is not a straight line towards a marked-out target. It is a confluence of many lines that then branch off again once they intersect. Atomic bombs contributed to atomic power. Particle physics provided a great boon to nuclear medicine, instrumental in the detection and treatment of cancer, heart disease, and many other illnesses.

Yet the equivalence otherwise rings hollow. Military research is predicated upon an institution that requires massive expenditure in countless other areas. In the most egregious cases, such research might only be a tenth of the total military budget, and still be more than twice that of any and every other form of general research budget to which the government devoted its funds. For every unit of currency spent on that military research, nine more went to the entire rest of the military endeavor. It remains the most monetarily inefficient form of research in human history, while simultaneously lionized as the source of greatest progress by those of the era.

In other words, the Atomic Age's view of the primacy of military conflict and development as an efficient source of progress was an article of faith. It was never directly put to the test in a scientific manner, whether this system of conflict-growth was truly more efficient and effective at producing knowledge, wealth, and progress than a peacetime effort where pure science funding exceeded (or even achieved parity with) military research funding – to say nothing of being comparable to aggregate military funding in general! And it was a self-reinforcing system, where one nation that kept a high military budget induced paranoia in all other nations, forcing all to keep military expenditure high. Just the materiel maintenance costs of some large nations would have crippled the economies of smaller nations.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"Do You Remember Peace?" Introduction, pt. 1, 410 words

Conventional wisdom through the Atomic Age held that war was good for business, to sum it up in a cliché. The Atomic Age was founded on war, after all, and so war overshadowed all its thinking. And for much of the First World, those societies that came out of the war flush with power and influence, it really was good for business – and science, and politics, and everything else. Many technological advances, whose progress in leaps and bounds were the hallmark of the Age, came out of developments during and immediately after the war.

Easily overlooked in this war-worship was the corollary that peace was good for business as well. The Second Great War was lionized as the source of all good in the modern Western world, while simultaneously generating a complementary evil that one could fight and thus be good against. Those who bothered to look back any further stopped on the First Great War, and pointed to the decade of abundance and weal known as the “Roaring Twenties” immediately afterward, and supposed they saw a pattern that held: war created good for the victors, and victors were good. Oh, it would eventually come apart, as any tower might eventually fall, but it could be drawn back up out of the mire and even closer to heaven with a new war.

Some took this as a lesson that eternal war was the answer. If not a single conflict fought constantly, then a variety of conflicts fought in staggering succession. A war-driven economy would flourish, because there would always be demand for more bullets, more weapons, more people. If no war was being fought, then present the threat of war, and the promise to stay ever vigilant, ever prepared. To stay ever prepared, then, one must always develop new, better weapons, and build enough to replace the old stock. And the other benefits of war, the technological achievements made in its name and the affluence that came from overseas influence, would filter into society.

The problem with such a state is that it does not confer upon a society the benefits of constant war as readily as a cycle of punctuated conflict and peace grants. Power develops and grows, yes, but it concentrates as well – the powers that be need more of it to carry on a state of eternal conflict. In contrast, embracing peace after war will carry the advancements of war into society more immediately.