I believe it’s important to have a future vision of the life you want to live and that the same principle applies to society as a whole. If the last few months (I’m writing this in June of 2020 for future reference) are any indicator, we’re at an important crossroads on planet earth and I think the decisions we as a society make soon will determine whether we’ll soon live in a hell on earth.
I’m not trying to be dramatic or terrifying here, but I don’t think I’m alone by saying I see a lot of things potentially and currently going off the rails in our society. The purpose of this essay is to clarify my thinking on the dangers and just be more aware of any potential events that could cause a “hell on earth” scenario. Perhaps by being more aware of the dangers, we can maybe work on preventing them from happening.
While I was researching, I thought I should then try to present some scenarios where things go really well, perhaps the exact opposite of hell; maybe a heaven on earth. I know that will sound hopelessly utopian and that most of us understand that trying to impose a heaven on earth usually gets us a hell on earth (see: Communism). That said, I can’t really think of any leaders giving a clear vision of a better future on earth. Mostly it’s just political infighting and putting out the various fires happening around the world as many of our institutions implode.
Remember, this all sounds terrifying, but these are some worst case scenarios and I only present them to show how bad it could get and to prompt awareness and hopefully, action. I don’t think people understand how close we are to some of these scenarios and some with the inability to back out.
Hell on Earth Scenarios
- China Supremacy – A China vs USA trade war, cold war, hot war or various other scenarios where the 100-million strong Chinese Communist Party (CCP) otherwise ends up dominating the planet directly or indirectly through various means. The Chinese economy will eclipse the USA’s very shortly and they’ll likely become significantly larger and more powerful soon after that (they have roughly 4X the US population). If you’ve seen how China treats its own citizens I wouldn’t want to think how they would treat citizens of other countries, especially ones that disagree with them. They’re making huge inroads into Africa now, for example.
- Environmental Disasters – Whether you believe in various climate change scenarios, it’s undeniable that the environment can wreak havoc and is fairly unpredictable. Some of these are already problems or starting to be. There are scenarios of global warming (including rising sea levels), global cooling (with its own set of problems), hurricanes, solar flares (which can disable electronics like an electromagnetic pulse), water shortages, topsoil depletion (leading to food shortages), over-population, over-farming, ecosystem destruction (extinction of species), and a host of other threats, most of which we cannot predict. I’ll tack on earthquakes or an asteroid hitting the earth just to solidify the point.
- Economic Disasters – Our global economy is fragile in many ways because there is so much interdependency enabled mostly by cheap oil. Wealth inequality is exploding in many places and only seems to be getting worse as one class of people leaves the others behind (see #6 below). A global depression (many can argue we’re in one now) or outright economic collapse has happened many times throughout history (back when we could usually at least feed ourselves, now we’re totally dependent on the supply-chain) and when the economy tanks you get inequality, anger and poverty which usually gets you…
- War and Terrorism – Probably the worst case scenario would be a global war utilizing nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) or other weapons. NBC weapons will likely be easier to acquire or manufacture so we have the situation where a small band of terrorists can cause tremendous damage; terrorists with superpowers. Usage of things like drone swarms (perhaps armed with NBC) and computer hacking could make this situation get out of hand quickly. Power vacuums from the US being less dominant (and not being the “global cop”) may embolden China, Russia and others to invade countries.
- Pandemics – We’re living in one right now (coronavirus) and there’s no reason to believe this will be our last or most deadly. Our global interconnectedness is a big source of the spread and a source of weakness in this regard. Note that various bad actors are probably paying attention now at how even a relatively mild pandemic (less than 1% death rate) can paralyze the planet, so they may be looking to weaponize a much more deadly virus like Ebola (which has a death rate of 50%).
- Corporate and Elite Oligopoly – As our government institutions are showing their weakness and becoming sclerotic, there seems to be few limits to rising corporate power. Corporations (and their elite shareholders) are becoming more and more efficient, effective and ruthless while the countries they operate in are becoming more powerless to stop them. Global economy makes it easy for corporations to simply switch countries to more favorable environments. As governments prove more ineffective, they’re increasingly going to the private sector for solutions (the RoboCop scenario).
- Global Prison Planet – In China and other places, the government simply owns the corporations so they have “state capitalism” which is combining the worst parts of capitalism and communism. You now have autocratic governments with the money and skills of a ruthless private sector. So, you get a powerful government with unlimited technical capabilities monitoring everything you do and everywhere you go by basically building a digital Panopticon. Once the planet is under surveillance and control, it’s pretty easy to see what the next steps are for treatment of various people that are unpleasant to the ruling class.
- Government Dissolution or Secession – As governments lose power to corporations or by simple incompetence, you’ll likely see some outright dissolving (see Somalia) or seceding from their parent country via various separatist movements. Even in countries like the US, support for state-level secession is increasing.
- Neverending Culture Wars – As the world becomes more diverse and more connected, the ability to join new “tribes” or be influenced by other ideologies (primarily via the internet) is creating internal argument and a lack of social cohesion in many countries that risks disrupting everything that a country (or people) used to stand for. We’re seeing this play out in the social justice movement currently in the US and elsewhere where simply disagreeing with or even not approving someone is enough for the modern equivalent of a struggle session (firing, jailing or worse). Now imagine these people in power and extrapolate that forward a few years. Censorship and free speech don’t exist so you never learn or speak the truth about anything because it hurts some people’s feelings. If the consensus is that math is racist then your society is probably not going to do well in the future. It’s important to note that many leftist “revolutions” never stop (they spiral out of control because they run out of enemies and begin to “eat their own”), so they have to be eventually put down by an authoritarian.
- Eloi vs Morlocks – After years of increasing global intelligence quotient (IQ), known as the “Flynn Effect”, we’re now beginning to see a halt and even a decline in global IQ. Remember there are many countries with well below an 85 IQ already so this is disheartening. As the more intelligent inter-marry, continue to dominate commerce and increase control of the planet (the richest 10% of the planet currently own 85% of the global wealth, with the bottom 50% owning barely 1%), I think you can see where this eventually goes, considering #6 and #7 above. As IQ declines life becomes much more difficult (the Idiocracy scenario).
- Artificial intelligence Takeover or Manipulation – It’s one thing to imagine an AI that eventually takes over the world (The Matrix scenario), but I don’t think people realize that current machine learning is already figuring out how to manipulate people in subtle ways. For example, what if an algorithm on a social network learns that you buy more if you’re depressed, it will simply do it’s duty and optimize to show you more content that makes you depressed. Now think about this with some real intelligence or malice, even up to the level of a Singleton and we could be in real trouble.
- Getting Everything You Want – Human desires are pretty much unlimited and there seems to be no shortage of ways for us to entertain ourselves, even to death if necessary. Virtual Reality (VR) and near ubiquitous devices, super-addictive foods and more are already starting to trap some people in their homes, living a life of almost constant stimulation and allowing them to have almost anything they want on demand. Imagine when true VR and other technologies come online, I can imagine there will be a whole class of people who simply refuse to do anything else. A somewhat self-imposed Matrix. Why would a human go out and accomplish anything if they can have the life of a god plugged in to their VR helmet and intravenous food supply. This is why I’m somewhat opposed to the concept of a universal basic income (UBI).
- Fact-Free Reality – Simply living through the Covid-19 pandemic it’s clear to see that not only are a lot of people not making decisions based on facts, they’re actually living in their own reality where facts don’t matter. The internet makes this easier to connect with people who persuade you, feed you disinformation, filter out any information they disagree with and then actively try to gaslight you. You can see where this goes after too long: a world where the truth (or anything close to it) either doesn’t exist or is too impolite to say to the majority of people (see #9 above).
- Black Swan – Humans are terrible at predicting so you can almost guarantee that all the scenarios above won’t happen as written or at all. In fact, we’re so bad at predicting that the thing that ends up causing the most havoc are things that we likely don’t or can’t predict which some call a Black Swan.
- Combination Platter – Probably more likely, we’ll have a combination of various scenarios above (at various severity levels from mild to hot), perhaps many of them happening all at once with all the chaos that goes along with that.
Okay, that was horrible to even write. So, how do we stop or mitigate the above? That will be the topic of Part 2 of this article.