You are reading a State of Dystopia post. These entries note the news events that put us on the cyberpunk dystopia timeline. Read them now to see the future we’re going towards. Or read them in the future to figure out where things went wrong.
In our insane 24/7 news cycle, it’s hard to pause and take stock. This has proven especially true in 2020, with damn-near every month looking calamitous.
And that’s especially relevant now: this is being published on Election Day, 2020. People are worried, understandably, about unrest and perhaps even outright street violence.
But the truth of the matter is that, independent of the 2020 election’s outcome or the reaction to it, cyberpunk dystopia was a long way coming.
So before you freak out about elections this week, consider the things that happened in October that have been in-line with the road to dystopia.
October’s dystopian developments:
- 8 million Americans fall into poverty. That rise in poverty has occurred within the last 3 months, and is tied clearly to federal aid drying up.
- NYC schools reopen…unequally. As local governments grapple with managing school reopenings, NYC has seen a trend that is both unsurprising and foreboding. Rich schools have mostly returned to in-person teaching, while the poorest are considerably more virtualized.
- California faces more blackouts, evacuations. Nothing much to say here that’s new.
- A record-setting Atlantic storm season.
- The first week of October, Hurricane Delta broke a record for being the earliest 25th named storm in a season.
- Delta also marked the first time on record that 10 storms made landfall in the U.S. in a single storm season.
- That record was broken just a couple weeks later by Hurricane Zeta, which became the 11th storm to make landfall in the U.S. in a season.
- Zeta also became the earliest 27th named Atlantic storm.
- Now Tropical Storm Eta is the 28th named storm, and is expected to hit Central America as a category 4 hurricane.
- Eta ties us with 2005’s record storm season, in terms of the number of named storms. But the Atlantic storm season continues for another month–so we’ll likely beat it.
- The Arctic begins releasing methane. This would be the third discovery, if confirmed, of Arctic methane release. Climate scientists believe global warming will cause ice to melt in the Arctic, releasing previously-stored methane. Methane has a significantly stronger warming effect than carbon, so this would contribute to a feedback loop of warming and emissions build-up.
- The outcomes of such a feedback loop are incredibly difficult to predict in climate models: it’s one of the more ominous wild cards in climate change.
- Study finds Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals in the last 20 years. Despite covering just 0.01% of the ocean floor, reefs host 25% of all marine fish species. It’s a huge loss for biodiversity.
- The Hunter Biden story gets suppressed. It’s dangerous to think that this is only relevant to right-wing nuts. Several prominent left-wing voices have spoken out as well (e.g., Greenwald, Taibbi). Simply put, a typical corruption expose was published by right-wing media outlets, and Twitter and Facebook suppressed the sharing of the story on dubious grounds. Today it’s against Republicans. Tomorrow it might be against you.
- Yelp to flag businesses accused of racism. The question here is simple: is there any better way of combating racism than allowing possibly dubious complaints (in a time of rapidly changing social norms) to stick to businesses, during the worst economic crisis in decades? There are some companies who will not be significantly phased by these complaints. Those companies are named McDonald’s, Taco Bell, etc.
- SpaceX collaborates with the Pentagon.
- The Pentagon awarded a $149 million contract to SpaceX to have the company build satellites that can track missiles.
- The Pentagon also wants SpaceX’s help to use rockets to transport cargo. Rather than taking several hours to get to the other side of the world by plane, supplies could be sent to troops in 30 minutes by blasting off into low-earth orbit and then re-entering the desired part of the world.
- The co-founder of Uber quietly spurs on a feudal economy. Travis Kalanick owns a startup called CloudKitchens. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that entities linked to CloudKitchens have paid more than $130 million to acquire 40+ properties over the last two years. Why?
- Because he’s preparing to usher in the next big thing in food delivery: ghost kitchens. Restaurants that are delivery-only. They don’t need the space for seating, or the labor for waiters, so they’re cheaper to run. CloudKitchens will lease the space to kitchen-only restaurants.
- It’s a model that could undercut an already-struggling restaurant industry. It’s one that digitizes our lives even further, with yet another real-world set of interactions removed for convenience. Meanwhile, tech companies wouldn’t just control the delivery–they’d own the restaurants’ property, too. And it seems fair to assume this would be sustained by precarious gig-work.
- Rideshare fights Prop 22. Proposition 22 is a California referendum intended to overrule earlier state legislation that classified gig workers as employees. Sponsored by rideshare and delivery app companies, the efforts to which the companies have gone to protect their labor model offers us a glimpse into the road ahead.
- By Oct 29th, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart had spent $203 million campaigning for Prop 22.
- In contrast, the opposition has spent $20 million.
- It is by far the most spent on a California ballot measure: the previous fundraising record was $111 million, in 2018.
- Uber and Lyft have made users confirm they read a pop-up message explaining why Prop 22 is bad before requesting rides.
- Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft drivers in the state have received similar notifications and in-app warnings.
Some good news?
Being aware of dystopian trends is important. But accuracy ought to take priority in doing so, and that means appreciating the good news when it happens.
For good news in October, there are just a few items. But each is important:
- Federal action against Big Tech. From a bipartisan Senate committee that subpoenaed the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google; to a powerful House panel recommending the breakup of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple; to the Department of Justice formally launching an anti-trust lawsuit against Google…There is growing appetite across the aisle to reign in Big Tech.
- Does this mean there will be meaningful reform or regulation? Not necessarily, of course. Slate‘s Aaron Mak points out how the DOJ’s lawsuit against Google looks rushed and inadequate.
- Nonetheless, it’s a significant step-up in what has been an age of leniency, and could herald stronger actions to come: for that reason, it’s worth noting as positive.
- The U.S. and Russia get closer to renewing an arms control treaty. The New START treaty is the last remaining nuclear arms pact between the U.S. and Russia, which account for 93% of the world’s nukes. Arms control has fallen by the wayside in recent years, and tensions between nuclear-armed states has risen. Nuclear war is still a far bigger risk than many realize—and anything that can reduce that risk is good.
- Maybe: China and Japan vow carbon neutrality: China pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060 and Japan pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. Will they meet these goals? That’s certainly up to debate. But, there’s good reason to believe they’ll make substantial progress de-carbonizing. As they are the 2nd and 3rd largest economies, and China is the largest carbon emitter in the world, any reduction here is essential.
Good reads from October
- The New Republic: Jeff Bezos and the Golden Age of Climate Hypocrisy.
- Amazon may have nice-sounding climate pledges, but it has no qualms financially backing politicians that will hold back climate policies.
- Grist: Tackling climate change seemed expensive. Then COVID happened.
- A mere fraction of the spending on covid stimulus could do tremendous good in limiting carbon emissions.
- National Geographic: Drug-resistant superbug thriving in hospitals hit hard by COVID-19.
- It’s less the particular yeast infection discussed here that matters, but the trend of antibacterial resistance.
- Jacobin: Trying To Get Workers Fired Is the Wrong Way To Fight Racism.
- Empowering employers to fire employees more easily may not be the grand anti-racism strategy it’s been portrayed as.
- Current Affairs: The Federal Killing of a Protester Should Alarm Us All.
- Michael Reinoehl was an antifa supporter who killed a member of Patriot Prayer in Portland this summer. Questions abound–it may have been a cold blooded execution, or self defense. But the response is ominous: federal forces swarmed a suspect and gunned him down immediately, without even bothering to detain him.
- The New York Times corroborated that last part.
- The Guardian: Covid-19 has exposed the catastrophic impact of privatising vital services.
- As the headline says. Authored by current and former UN rapporteurs on poverty, the right to food, right to housing, right to safe water, and more.
And that’s October. Stay tuned, and stay sane this week.