The chants and shouts from the crowd died down as the Prime Minister’s unreadable face appeared across the city centre on the strategically-placed Tru-Vu screens, each one gathering data on those below and beaming out party propaganda in return. Born in 2000, Prime Minister John Jeffries and his cohort had vastly different views on society than did previous generations. Gone were the days of the welfare state—John Jeffries senior had seen to that.
“People, your attention!” Silence followed the voice like a well-trained dog. “You will have witnessed the awful, unforgivable scenes taking place across this great city.” The crowd murmured, if you listened carefully. Unknown to them, similar scenes had taken place across the British Federation but news reports rarely told of life in faraway places.
The PM looked out across what was, had he actually been looking, a sea of grey. “It is now 15 years since The Adaptation began—these shortages and cut-backs are nothing new. We must adjust to our new normal of degrowth, a process it is futile to fight. These are frightening times, for all of us, but I can assure you that this Government is doing everything it can to keep all legals safe and provided for during these times of scarcity”, he said as a camera light glinted on a cuff-covered gold wrist strap.
The grey clouds released their cargo on the crowd below, further dampening the mood. “This guy’s scary as hell,” one old protester muttered to his neighbour. “So cold, so rational, when he’s talking about things like denying free healthcare to people over sixty. Do you think he has parents?” The man pulled a pair of shabby red gloves over a pair of shabby red hands.
“I’m sure he does”, replied the other man, who seemed to be wearing a Rupert the Bear scarf, “and I’m sure he and his family have the money to pay for the best of care. If you’ve got money, The Adaptation was nothing.”
The Adaptation certainly wasn’t ‘nothing’, not to anyone, but by the time it happened the control of information had become so tailored to the individual contract-riddled consumer, that it was easy to split people’s news streams up—one story for the ‘haves’ and one for the ‘have-nots’; one for the compliant, another for the discordant. If you control the information, you control the people but that control is easier to gain if the group in question believes that they are doing better than the rest.
So, The Adaptation was many things, depending who you were talking to. The main geophysical event was two metres of global sea level rise in less than five years—none of the climate models had dared to build in ‘unknown unknowns’. And the response by all who could respond was mostly building massive sea defences with what resources were left, followed by figuring out how to grow food and deal with waste in this newly-warmed world of walled islands, where billions died during years of floods, famines, disease and a new breed of hurricane—the hurricane wind scale no longer stopped at five.
All debt had been cancelled, which was not as much fun for the indebted as you might think. Similarly, UniPay gave everyone a basic income in exchange for so many hours working for the common cause. Again, sounds good and, indeed, it was until the Youth First party came on the scene in 2032. For forty years, since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, individual young people had taken part in international negotiations on various environmental and sustainable development issues. Groups and alliances formed, books were written about our children’s stolen future, climate activism rose and fell in the public’s awareness, but it was always there for the children—shadowing their futures ever darker. Then, as so often happens, one person seemed to be in the right place at the right time to seed a movement. It was in August 2018, twenty-two years ago, when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg began her school strike. For a while, it seemed like the grown-ups might wake up, but that’s not how things go, is it?
The PM continued, “You must understand what a privilege it is to have the right to voice your opinions. Many countries no longer allow such flagrant shows of democracy…”
That was true, at the moment, but only because Britain had clung on to the illusion of growth economics longer than the rest of Europe, thanks to the Bank of England’s ability to print money. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank seemed to substitute positive for negative investment returns, plumping for $15 trillion of the latter. So as each country collapsed thanks to its own brand of economic idiocy, controlled dissent was allowed for a while, primarily to allow infiltration and intelligence gathering. After a few years of determined despotism in those countries which had prioritised their digital infrastructure over non-essentials such as lights and incubators, all dissent had been rooted out and all dissenters re-educated or recycled.
“…in a controlled and orderly way. However, should public violence and disorder ever erupt again, I shall have no alternative but to call the Army in again—this time, immediately. My tardiness before allowed the death of several police officers….”
You see, it is easy to create an illusion if you have all the props: a massive energy bank is key, energy being the ability to do work or make change happen; willing engineers duped into building completely unsustainable technologies in the true belief that these miracle machines will bring peace and prosperity to all; people the world over brainwashed into thinking that humans, Homo sapiens, are intrinsically incapable of cooperating and must be controlled; and last but not least, hide the fundamental truth that every species on Earth is interconnected. Sentimentalism always hinders profit.
“The violent protesters have shown that they do not care for life and harmony. We, the Youth Party, do care about life and harmony, even if the means to that end involve death and violence. I thank you for your time.” The PM and his expressionless face finished with the Youth Party’s salute: the raised fist of solidarity held out at shoulder height. The backdrop bearing the party’s logo—an angular hourglass in a circle—faded to black.
Mandy Meikle wrote this in response to the following exercise: “The year is 2040. There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East. Protesters have attacked public buildings. Several policemen have died. Consequently, the Government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have stopped but 25 protesters have been killed by the Army. You are Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.” What’s most worrying about all this is that the exercise apparently comes from a 2011 exam paper for 13-year old children with aspirations for Eton.
Addendum: That said, https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/luke-sandford/eton-exam-question_b_3358711.html is interesting as it sets some context: the candidates had also been questioned on Machiavelli’s The Prince on whether it is better to be feared than loved (if you have to pick one) and were apparently asked both to summarise the argument and explain why it is unappealing. And it’s for a scholarship exam, not just getting in but getting a scholarship to get in. All very debate-worthy!
And no, I don’t know what the Rupert the Bear scarf means – yet.