No huge surprises in the July recap. It’s stuff you could’ve seen coming in the spring, broadly speaking. But it’s still useful to take a moment to pause and consider what paths we’ve taken of late, and to consider some of the specific details of the dystopian trend.
So that being the case, here’s a run-down of some of July’s dystopian events.
*note: all links in this section are to mainstream news sites.
Events of note:
- Amazon gets permission from the FCC to set up 3,200 satellites. This one just happened—on Thursday (7/30). It’ll invest $10 billion in the project and provide internet to “underserved” areas of the world. This is something SpaceX is already working on with Starlink, and I’m sure we’ll see more where this has come from. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for advancing internet access. But must it come at the cost of giving Amazon even more control over the infrastructure of the internet?
- Donald Trump suggests postponing the election. I’m far from the typical r/politics liberal that does nothing but obsess over Trump’s latest viral antic. I’m not convinced Trump would successfully contest an election, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t worrying.
- Russia says it will be arming its navy with new hypersonic nukes. The testing of these weapons is apparently finishing up. Hypersonic missiles can supposedly travel at 5x the speed of sound, so they’re pretty hard to intercept. Maybe there’s some bluster to this, but I wouldn’t be too flippant about any news involving nukes and the world’s nuclear powers. I’m not listing this because I freak out about what every “bad” country does all the time. I’m listing it because it comes as US-Russia arms control deteriorates, and it’s never safe to assume nuclear war is a nonissue.
- Federal agents lift protestors into unmarked vans in Portland. This one is naturally more visceral, and I don’t think I need to explain much. The acting head of the Department of Homeland Security said, according to NPR, that this was done to “keep officers safe and away from crowds and to move detainees to a ‘safe location for questioning.’” Cool.
- Trump administration overhauls the National Environment Policy Act. This happened in the middle of the month, and slipped by most of us. For the unfamiliar, the NEPA is one of the most foundational pieces of environmental legislation in the US—part of the pretext for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In the words of one expert: “This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years.”
- Banks set aside $30 billion as they anticipate a bunch of defaults. Also in mid-July, reports emerged of America’s largest banks setting aside vast sums of money. Bank executives underestimated how severe the economic fallout would be, and have realized they must prepare for a massive surge in defaults and bankruptcies across the country. Guess being out of touch isn’t always a good thing.
- Worsening relations between US and China in general. I’m no tankie, but I don’t consider cold wars good. I would not like to see one develop with an emerging super-power like China, whatever China’s faults may be. Particularly in the middle of a global pandemic and economic collapse.
- McClatchy Newspapers sold to hedge fund, Jul 12-13. To be clear, McClatchy Newspapers was already a chain, of mostly local publications. But, it’s just one more notable casualty of an industry in decline—and it means that a host of local papers are owned by a hedge fund you haven’t heard of.
- Trump administration’s insistence on school reopenings. Even IF children would be unscathed, what about all the adults who have to run schools? Like, for instance…teachers? Janitors? Or the other adults around kids…parents, or something like that?
- Our insane coronavirus counts. It’s the most obvious one, but I still felt like it should be put in. It’s been going on since before this month, of course, and will sadly continue after this month. You can tell me the death rates aren’t as high as they used to be, but I’ll only hear that as “we went from a 9/11 a day to a 9/11 every few days.”
- Uber (Uber Eats) buys Postmates. Jul 6-7. There’s still a chance that federal antitrust authorities will block this deal, but if not, it’s quite a move. Remember that these companies don’t even turn big profits. The goal with food delivery apps is more or less for investors to burn cash to gain as much control of the market as possible. And while you may not care if the number of delivery apps you have access to slowly reduces, you should care if all the local restaurants and grocery stores in your area become completely subservient to these big companies. Which, by the way, they sort of are right now with everyone staying home.
- BONUS: On that note…the rise of “ghost kitchens.” A ghost kitchen is basically a kitchen intended just for food delivery. It’s a rapidly growing field as investors try to get into the next evolutionary stage of delivery. DoorDash, for example, has DoorDash Kitchens. Uber Eats uses app data to figure out what people want in a local area, then asks physical restaurants (who are presumably struggling to survive at the moment) if they’d like to launch a virtual restaurant. Uber’s founder and ex-CEO Travis Kalanick has set up a new startup called CloudKitchens, and in late 2019 Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund invested $400 million in it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ghost kitchens—they could be really cool. But at the moment, it seems like the model we’re entering is a ghost kitchen market created, and controlled, by big money. A model under which local restaurants will be increasingly subservient. Neo-feudalism and all that.
Some key takeaways from this short list: the concentration of economic power is a major theme. Economic concentration has been increasing for a while, was accelerated by the pandemic, and continues to barrel ahead to a future of megacorps.
I didn’t even touch federal interventions in assistance of the wealthy–you can check out an earlier post for a spring 2020 summary of that.
What’s more unique is that the concentration of power is occurring while the country continues to suffer from coronavirus. In March-April, it seemed like at least the upwards transfer of wealth and power was occurring while we tried to get a handle on the pandemic. Now it’s the same upwards transfer, but we’ve also seemed to accepted that we’ll just give up on the pandemic part. Talk about bleak.
The other major strand: global tensions. I didn’t even mention US tensions with Iran or American-Chinese tensions in the South China Sea. Mysterious explosions at Iran’s nuclear facilities are also a point of interest–likely Israel and/or the U.S. One wonders how much farther things can go without some retaliation if that is the case.
TL;DR — dystopian trends were indeed present in July, but nothing outlandish by the standards we’re getting used to.