Mr. Watts, I know this is going to stumble across your radar at some point. And really, you’ve probably already had a bazillion people point you at this.
Er, hi. Hey, everyone else. I’ve talked to (well, e-mailed) Peter Watts a couple times over the last decade. I’m a fan of his work even though it’s very disturbing at times 1 – not least because his fiction is usually grounded in science and geopolitical fact. Could we all be a biological switch away from a sociopath? Is there really a “you”, or just an illusion of “you” so good that it fools… well, yourself? Stuff like that. (You can read huge swaths of it for free on his site.)
One of the most “duh” things about the Rifters timeline is this: “The developing world” is pissed at, um… you. And me. Pretty much anyone in America and the EU. And they have every reason to.
See, it’s pretty damn obvious that we’ve been living on the wage surplus of the third world for over half a century. Probably more. All this nice surplus – this bloody damn Starbucks I’m writing this in, for example – is from not paying some other worker a fair wage.
Don’t bother feeling guilty. That was never enough, and it’s far too damn late for something that mild.
See, there’s two other things that make this different than the rest of history.
1. We’re dependent on that surplus. And by we, I mean “humanity”. All of us. For every wasteful Starbucks, there’s a hundred improvements allowing us to do so much damn more than we would have otherwise.
2. It’s all visible.
The first one should be concerning to you (and me). Aside from the possibility of a continent or two of humanity realizing that they’ve been screwed for a couple of centuries and it’s time to do something about it now all over your carcass, there’s the very real problem that we can’t afford this surplus yet. We’re running fast towards the post-scarcity horizon, but until it’s reached, we’re maxing out the credit cards all the way and hoping they don’t come break our society’s legs when the call the debt due.
The second one is an issue when you consider this: Scarcity or surplus rarely cause violence. It’s times of transition that correlate to unrest. When the poorer folks see that they could be doing better… but aren’t yet? That’s when it gets real, my friend.
So now we’ve got the entire north coast of Africa waking up. They’ve been connected long enough to realize what they’ve been kept from – and that it is possible for them to achieve prosperity and freedom.
So far, they see (and rightly so) the old guard – the dictators and despots and rulers and kings – as the ones holding them back.
Folks – and I don’t give a damn what side of the political spectrum you’re on, this is business – they’re not stupid. They know we’ve supported the dictators they’re overthrowing. They know we’ve benefited from their poverty. They know our pharmaceutical companies could be treating – hell, curing – malaria, but it’s just “not profitable enough”. They know we’re too damn cheap to sacrifice just a little of our luxury while half the world grinds by on less than a dollar a day. They know everyone wants to cut “foreign aid” while spending more on our military than any other nation in the world.
They already know this. It’s too damn late for marches and speeches and half-hearted gestures. You idiots who are thinking “we’ll just fight ’em with our big-ass military”, just sit the hell down. Violent oppression won’t work. Further oppression isn’t going to work. Ask the capitalists of the early 20th centuries, who tried to suppress mine strikes with the Pinkertons, or fought the Wobblies in Chicago. Let me impress this on you: This is not a moral argument, this is a practical one.2 For this to go as big and as violent as Peter imagined in the Rifters trilogy is bad for everyone. You, me, the developed work, the developing world. It’s a lose-lose situation for our species.
There is only one practical course of action. It’s the ones managers and capitalists have always done when the masses have begun to wake up. Marx’s failed prediction of a worldwide worker’s revolt has only failed to come true because of this one word:
Compromise. Work out a win-win situation. We got rid of child labor, instituted weekends, a forty hour work week, and a host of other reforms whenever the people got a little too upset.
Now it’s time for us to do that on a larger scale.
Do I sound shrill? Probably. We’ve waited too long already. We waited until we were forced to compromise. It’s already almost too late.
Maybe I’m wrong.3
I sure as hell hope so.
1 Large parts of the Rifters trilogy has trigger warnings, and really, a good third of Behemoth is a trigger warning for sexual assault and abuse, both real and imagined. It’s still good, but be warned.
2 Conveniently, it fits my morality, but still.
3 I wasn’t about the dot-com crash, the housing crash, and only partially wrong about the political changes during the first decade of this century.