Are you familiar with 'Without Sky', the astonishing (and astonishingly short - you can read it in 5 minutes) piece of micro-fiction/philosophical treatise/prophecy/strategy document penned by Vladislav Surkov, one of Vladimir Putin's closest advisors?
Set aside for a moment conspiracy thinking about Russian influence over Western democracy, which I think has always said more about the insecurity of Western democracy in our current moment than the activities of the Russian state. What is abundantly clear is that the people in charge in Russia appear to have grasped something about the instability of advanced modernity that those of us in more pampered societies are only beginning to understand. A few days ago, off the cuff, I was chatting to a friend about the state of our country (the UK) and I found myself making the observation that it feels as though we are at war, but against nobody. I was suddenly reminded of Surkov's story, and the image it depicts of a war in which there are not two sides, but many ever-fluctuating coalitions; in which some sides fight not to win, but to lose; and in which the belligerents are not states, but individual cities, professions, generations or sexes. It sounds very unlike our world, and yet also somehow reminiscent of it.
Nick Bostrom has an interesting thought experiment. In it, humans are engaged in a continual process of taking balls out of an urn. Some of the balls they take out are white: these represent inventions that are beneficial on the whole. (The discovery of antibiotics, for instance.) Some are grey: these represent inventions for which the results are mixed (for example, TV or nuclear power). None so far have been black: this would be an invention that invariably or by default destroys the society which invented it. Bostrom's concern is that AI, or one particularly AI, could be such an invention. But in my darker moments, I sometimes wonder whether we haven't already pulled a black ball out of the urn, and we just haven't got the point yet of realising that it will end up in our ruination: social media, and the way it has turned us, over the course of only 15 years or so, utterly loopy.
Be that as it may, the idea of the post-apocalypse not as the aftermath of an extinction-level event (nuclear war, plague, global warming, new ice age, whatever) but as an ongoing and unending descent into non-linear war and thenceforth chaos increasingly interests me. For a long time, as long-term readers will be know, I have been playing around with Behind Gently Smiling Jaws, a campaign setting which exists within the memory of an ancient crocodile demigod, into which an ancient race (the Naacals) entered, and into which YOU TOO can adventure. These days I wonder if the more interesting question would be: what if what was inside the crocodile's memory palace leaked out into our reality? Not immediately, but slowly, and progressively. In a random and haphazard, jumbled-up sort of way. As if one were to wake up one day, look out of the window, and realise that half the local park had become a fragment of a city populated by birds. Or one were to switch on the news one evening to see images of an army of early hominids led by Ethiopian knights marching on Kathmandu, or Caracas, or Bergen? Or if one were sent a whatsapp message by a friend with a link to a pornographic website showing people mating with hideous amphibian beasts of the Carboniferous period. Or if one received a phone call from a colleague when about to set off on the morning commute, telling you not to come into work because there were men in the building wearing face paint and feathers and armed with blowguns and clubs, slowly killing everyone, room by room, floor by floor. Then, what if you accelerated that process over the course of 10, 50 or 100 years and imagined how the world would then look, and used that as the start of the campaign?
Just some idle thoughts on a Wednesday lunch time.