Wednesday, August 3, 2011

800 Words: The Weekend America Was Young - Part 3

Jacopo: So all that murder happened in the span of a year?

Esteban: The events of 2016 shaped our century, just as 1914 did for the century before.

Jacopo: Except the violence was much more unremitting.

Esteban: Absolutely. What was shocking about 2016 is that we were simply unaccustomed to forty million people pointlessly slaughtered in the span of a year. But one gets desensitized when just as many people are slaughtered every year for three decades. Life goes on regardless of if the dead are still alive. How can you claim a special right for grievance when everybody else is grieving too? I’m certain that there wasn’t a single person in the entire world who did not bury some close friend or family member in those years.

Jacopo: How did the death toll stay at such a high level for so long?

Esteban: Because the system broke. My parents’ generation had to worry about the Soviet Union and the United States beginning a nuclear war and destroying the world between them. But it was precisely that worry which caused a half-century of peace. It used to be that the United States and the Soviet Union were able to keep world peace by dividing the world between them. The United States ran the Western Hemisphere like an empire, and the Soviet Union did the same in the East. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, America was the only nation left who conceivably had the ability to control the world. But the world is far too large a place for one nation to control it. There was a popular movie when I was a kid called Jurassic Park, and it had a wonderful saying: “Mother Nature Always Finds a Way.” It’s exactly when the problems of the world seem within reach of solving that the world becomes most dangerous. Back in 1909, a guy named Norman Angell wrote a book that was ironically called “The Great Illusion.” He argued that the world had become so interconnected that war had ceased to be a rational option. Yet the fact that countries were so interconnected made the war much more lethal, because each country had to destroy the productivity that their former alliances created.

Jacopo: And with the advent of....

Esteban: ….Exactly, the Internet. The Internet was supposed to make repression that much more difficult. It was supposed to open the lines of communication and make secret-keeping impossible for governments. And events in the internet’s early days seemed to bear this out. The 2010-14 revolutions of the Middle East were made possible by websites like Twitter and Facebook, which allowed demonstrators to coordinate with each other online. The old Arab-Nationalist dictatorships didn’t undertand the first thing about how to use the internet, but later dictators did not repeat their mistake.

Jacopo: What did later dictators learn?

Esteban: They simply used the internet as we did, but for their own purposes. No intelligence service in the history of the world could gather dossiers as thorough as what people put about themselves on Facebook. No propaganda machine could be as effective at manipulating public opinion as they became from anonymous wikipedia edits. No amount of wiretapping could equal the information people would gather in chatrooms. All it took was a little money to informants, and they could find out whatever they wished about whomever they wished. The world had become dependent on the Internet so quickly that once governments mastered how to control the flow of information online, there was still no superior means of communication.

Jacopo: Was there any chance at all to resist? Couldn't people just not post things about themselves?

Esteban: Not much. The information people had already posted was there. If you had ever made a statement about politics, it was known, and if it was against the government, people knew that you were an enemy. As a result, you would have to post an unremitting diet of propaganda if you hoped to avoid the suspicion of the authorities. And since the government became so good at monitoring online activity, organized resistance became just as lethal and futile during the Third World War as it had been during the Second.

Jacopo: Couldn’t the corporations have refused to collaborate?

Esteban: Actually, many executives tried. But if they didn’t do what they could to maximize profit-margins, they were simply fired and replaced by less scrupulous administrators. That’s precisely what happened at Google. Larry Page refused to comply with the law President Ryan passed in 2025. According to the law, internet companies must hand over all personal information to the government. It looked as though they might win until Google’s stockholders held a meeting at which they voted to fire Page and install Mark Zuckerberg as Google’s CEO. Many people defended the board’s decision as the legitimate right of stockholders to maximize their profits, but the result was that the government attained access to 20 years of facebook archives, including the deleted posts.

Jacopo: A lot of people feel that the hiring of Zuckerberg at Google was the beginning of the end for America.

Esteban: The beginning of the end was probably when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. But it was certainly a crucial turning point.

Jacopo: Something I never understood was how the political views of most Americans stayed roughly the same for a hundred years yet its government kept advancing rightward.

Esteban: Apathy. Apathy. Apathy. There has never been any poll that accurately measures the intensity of people’s opinions. The people who believe in their causes most fervently are willing to do much more to see their dreams a reality. And the more fervently they believe, the more they inspire contempt and despair in non-believers. This was eventually how every major world power collapsed. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Jacopo: Would Paul Ryan’s presidency have been possible without the assassination of Barack Obama?

Esteban: Absolutely not. By 2020, it was a major question as to whether or not there would even be an election. There were reports that President Bachmann was readying the military to block entrance to all polling booths. Barack Obama had announced his candidacy back in February of 2018, and it was immediately clear that he would trounce President Bachmann. The President accused Barack Obama of inciting riots in poor black areas, but it was clear that he was trying to do precisely the opposite. He made speeches pointing out the plight of the poor all throughout the country. Perhaps the empowerment they derived caused the 2019 Midwest Riots, and I think it’s clear that Obama was far too slow to call for people to stop rioting. But if you read the text of his Restore Hope speeches, there is absolutely no inflammatory language in what Obama said. But as a result, there were orders in place for the East Coast Riots of 2020 for the army to fire indiscriminately: not only on rioters but also on peaceful protestors. In New York, that’s exactly what they did, and 15,000 people died, mostly black but some white as well. But in Philadelphia, the commading officer refused to obey the order. This triggered a chain reaction all up and down the East Coast. The rioting ceased to be violent, and there were peaceful demonstrations all across the country for the resignation of President Bachmann. Some say that there were as many as 140 million people attending, but my guess is that it was closer to 80 million. President Bachmann resigned in October, and her Vice-President, Louie Gohmert, had no chance against Obama in an election. In 2020, Barack Obama became the first presidential candidate to receive a unanimous electoral vote since George Washington.

Jacopo: A lot of people say that President Obama might have been able to hold the United States together had he lived through his term.

Esteban: He might have, but history is mysterious. If Obama had managed to save the United States, there might have been another reckoning still further in the future. And that might have been still more lethal.

Jacopo: Was there any indication of Obama being such a great leader in his first term?

Esteban: Plenty. Believe it or not, Obama’s first term was far more difficult in many ways. The Tea Party was not yet a force which had clearly established itself as anti-democratic. So Obama had to pretend they were rational. The fact that he managed to pass health-care, raise taxes, ferment the Arab revolutions and prevent two depressions in the face of such opposition is a staggering achievement....In any event, I’m getting tired again.

Jacopo: I can imagine, it was such a wonderful party yesterday.

Esteban: Let’s join everybody for some leftovers.

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