Back in April I wrote a short story for ARC’s fiction contest, that while it didn’t win, was a lot of fun. They have a second contest up about the post-human condition, which has got me thinking seriously about where we’re going, and what we’ll become.
I’m going to start with two axioms
1) A post-human upgrade is about more than seeking a competitive or aesthetic edge, it is about the type of community that you want to belong to.
2) Late-stage capitalism is fucked, along with the ecosystem and 90% of the current population, and everybody with more than three brain cells knows it.
With those premises, what kind of world shakes out?
One option is space colonization, getting off this rock entirely. Now, there are a surprising number of weird cryptic billionaires backing private spaceflight, but this isn’t about sub-orbital hops for tourists, this is about saving humanity, and if you run the number of kilos to orbit per year times the number of years left before the global economy goes kablooie, it’s obvious that there isn’t enough lift for everybody who wants to be saved. Space colonization is inherently incredibly dangerous, and you need the best colonists to have a chance: experts in a variety of technical fields, in peak physical condition, fitting effortlessly into teams, working best under pressure, and with the self-discipline of a Zen master. NASA does this by selecting the best of the best military pilots and starry-eyed scientists, and running them though a brutal training lottery to earn a dwindling number of spaceflight seats, but our program is run by tech CEOs, and they do things differently.
The only best way to run the system would be a meritocratic lottery. Prospective applicants put themselves under constant technological surveillance to demonstrate that they have the Right Stuff emotionally to make it in the tight confines of a space colony. They master abstruse scientific fields, discipline their bodies with exercise and technology, and talk politics with their fellow Emigrants, trying to build up enough of a rep to qualify for a seat on a rocket out of here. And of course there’s no way a mere human could earn their way in, which is why these people enhance their brains with drugs and cybernetics, harden their body against radiation, reduce their caloric and oxygen intake, and otherwise demonstrate their commitment to the program. The whole system is orchestrated by Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos, and James Cameron, as they tweak the social scoring parameters on the whole system to cultivate an elite race that can thrive in the empty vastness of space.
It’s easy to imagine what these people look and act like. They spend all their time cooped up learning how to repair solar panels in vacuum and run a closed cycle life-support system, and when they get out of their rooms they argue with their friends about utopia and the end of the world. They think everything on Earth is going to shit, so they don’t care about material possessions or friendship, but they’re also all ambitious and socially adept and self-effacing, possessing a brittle layer of charisma over the zealous flame of the true believer. You can spot them on the street in an instant, thin and pale in their simple black clothing with the logo of the colony they hope to join, expensive electronics discretely recording everything they do, and the same haunted, hunted, look. Immortality awaits them, if they can please their masters.
The second route is to think seriously about what it will take to be in the 10% that survives the collapse of civilization. Part of it is physical: they need to be able to eat anything or nothing at all, because our agricultural system needs cheap oil and constant irrigation and a stable climate to work, and all of that’s going to change. Resistance to disease is critical because refugee camps breed epidemics. Plague is one of the Four Horsemen for a reason. Civilized psychology gets people killed when the savages take over; toughness and a willing to kill those who will try and kill you become virtues. The most important component is social. When the government breaks down, people turn to their primary loyalties, and unlike Somalia or Iraq, most people in the Western World are a long way from authentic tribalism. Losers will try and fake it with fandoms, or their job, or ethnicity, or some other dumb 20th century identity marker, but at the end of the day the survivors will need an unbreakable bond of trust with those who will be watching their back.
They’re out there, running through the woods and practicing martial arts and stockpiling weapons and tools for the end of the world. They pick subtle enhancements sensory and physical enhancements to give them an edge in combat and wilderness survival. They build trust with a combination of the oldest and newest methods, using orgies and designer drugs to bind each other into fighting packs closer than any family. By day, they go about their lives like anyone else, the only difference a certain gleam in their eyes as they calculate what sudden violence could get them in while standing in line at the supermarket, but when night comes, they’ll be ready. They will be the wolves, and everybody else will be the sheep.
Still trying to work out precisely what the story is; who the characters are, and what the tension pivots on, but I have until July 8. As if I don’t have enough on my plate…