Seven Steps to the Dawn of Dystopia


🔻 What’s Below 🔻
What shows our vulnerability 👨🏼‍🦳👨🏾‍🦳
What step we’re currently on 🎈
What the spark would be 💥


Ahhh, Dystopia, that imagined land where we watch zombies and Katniss and Mark Zuckerberg dance a creepy new form of the tango while asking ourselves, “If that’s what things are going to be like after The Fall, why in God’s name would I want to stay alive to be a part of it?”

Good question. So let’s talk about that.

I am by no means an economist, nor a “there’s-a-sex-trafficking-ring-in-the-pizza-place’s-non-existent-basement” conspiracy theorist. I’m just a guy who looks at the world around him and wonders exactly how hard of a push we as a society truly need to tumble over and turn our most desired mode of transportation away from the new Tesla and toward this:

And here’s the thing: Conditions exist to make the case that the push isn’t going to need to be hard.


First, some foundation. Americans aren’t necessarily the best at extracting lessons from significant historical events, and things that might appear obvious in the moment (for example, the power of unity in the wake of 9/11) have a nasty tendency to fade fast once power brokers start putting their spin on them and using them for ulterior motives (See: “There most assuredly, 100%, definitely are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whose government is in cahoots with al Qaeda”).

In the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, we quickly were shown images of this guy …

Once you see his nipple, you can’t not see his nipple.

… and a lot fewer images of, say, your high school science teacher who stood by his side. That allowed so, so many of us to quickly move on from the significance of the event by portraying it as a thing done by a bunch of fringe wackos — and to be fair, there were a fair amount of those.

What was missed on the grand scale of American society was exactly how close we came to the summary execution of national leaders because of fervor whipped up by 2016’s duly elected president who, I believe substantial members of both parties would agree, wouldn’t exactly object if a path were cleared for him — no matter how — to return the Oval Office.

Had one substantial military unit — or even a significant number of law enforcement near the scene — chosen to support the insurrectionists, what we all like to think of as The Greatest Society in the History of the World would have toppled faster than Joe Biden trying to climb a flight of stairs.


The point of that foundation is this: We are not as stable as a country as we think we are and we are perhaps closer to the brink of a complete breakdown than we have been since the Civil War.

If you zoom way out, you can look at America since the end of the Cold War and make a case that, once we became the world’s only superpower, our national identity evaporated, leading to internal rot, and we riled up a historically unique type of external enemy — the kind without a nation state — and then fundamentally mishandled our attempt to eradicate them, which caused further erosion of our societal unity.

And then came COVID, which not only was horribly mishandled by the president and his administration but also provided the general populace the extra time to sit around and take a look at some of the racial and economic disparities that have largely existed since the time our Founding Fathers claimed a godly mandate and steamrolled across the continent abusing, displacing and killing anyone with darker skin pigmentation.

In short, if you want to light a match to take a closer look at the current point in our national history, you could make the case that you just introduced a flame to a heaping pile of economic, political and cultural dynamite that might blow our country off the map.

Here’s how that could happen.


Step 1: Inflation

This one’s already happened, and smart people saw it coming a long time ago when the federal government, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and again after the housing foreclosure crisis (more on that in a bit), started pumping huge amounts of cash into the economy.

Inflation isn’t complicated. If I have $20 and no one else has $20, that $20 is very valuable; if I have $20 and the government gives a million other people $20, the value of my $20 has gone down. So when billions of dollars started flowing into the economy without a plan as to how to get them back out, the value of everyone’s dollar went down.

What happens when people have more dollars? They buy more stuff. Sounds great, and it is. Until it isn’t. When demand goes up and supply can’t meet it, prices go up because there are more dollars competing for not enough stuff. Good-ol’ capitalism contributes to the problem, because businesses recognize they have an opportunity to get more money for whatever they can produce.

Prices rise even more.

Then, COVID. and, along with it, billions and billions of more dollars pumped into the economy by the government (oh, those awesome stimmy checks), followed by huge supply chain problems pushing down attempts to make more stuff.

So whether it’s a trip to the grocery store to buy a good steak to grill (or a gallon of milk to feed the baby) or a venture to an open house to inquire about a nice three-bedroom home in a good school district, we all see it: Stuff costs more today than it did six months ago, a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. Your $20 does not go as far as it once did.

Which is fine, as long as wages keep up — as long as you keep getting more $20 bills to spend.

But they’re not.


Step 2: Wage and Energy Issues

One of the effects of Covid, besides killing off a small percentage of the workforce, was to make less-desirable, public-facing jobs that faced an increasingly irritable and irrational public less attractive. As in the “I’d-rather-stay-home-and-Netflix-and-chill” type of less attractive.

So right now, businesses are having to jack up wages to incentivize workers to be willing to have a burrito thrown at their head by a Chad. They’re up 4.2% in the past 12 months alone. That’s great for the worker (though the burrito part still sucks). More money in the paycheck means more money to save.

Pshaw! Gotcha!

It means more money to buy stuff.

But…

The business is now losing some of its profits to increased costs in the form of those higher wage. That’s OK and it might be able to be outpaced by higher sales due to more money in people’s pockets, but it’s not fine when it’s coupled with those supply chain problems and huge increases in energy prices.

Look. I get it. We’re killing the planet. And we really should do something to stop that, though I would contend it’s incredibly arrogant to think we can have that big of an impact when the majority of the existing species have gone extinct five times in our planet’s history and not one of them was caused by humans because nothing close to resembling a human even existed during those five mass-extinction events.


Breaking Down the Myth of Human Exceptionalism

Top 5 Things You’ll Learn If You Read This Whole Thing There have been five previous mass extinctions. We’re in the middle of the sixth. We evidently don’t know about 90 percent of the species on our planet. Knowing where babies come from is a relatively new thing. Humans aren’t that special. What if you…

Keep reading

The reality is that Mother Earth… well… she’s kind of like a moody teenager who never grows up. She likes to pop her zits (volcanos) and get cold and blow up again, and apparently she’s an incredible target for really big celestial bodies.

But fine. If we want to think we can stop the sixth extinction that was already happening before the industrial revolution and has been accelerated by only a small percentage because we’re horrible abusers of the environment, great. Let’s do that.

The reality is that, right now, the technology to do that costs a lot of money, and we’re not exactly eager as a developed nation to have less-than-100%-reliable electricity. I mean, think about how your neighbors react if a huge storm causes an outage that lasts more than 24 hours in, say, the middle of August. It’s not pretty.

But more important than the meat in your freezer going bad, businesses love reliable and affordable electricity. They kinda can’t do their thing without it.

Energy prices across the globe are already skyrocketing, and it doesn’t help this country that the majority of what we think we need is controlled by the people with a similar absence of fondness for Amuricah who correctly saw what we said was our just cause to avenge 9/11 as decades of attacks on people who had absolutely nothing to do with that.

So higher wages plus higher energy prices mean businesses are either going to become unprofitable and go bye-bye or … they’re going to raise prices, which fans the flames of inflation.

Remember that 4.2% increase to U.S. salaries and wages over the past 12 months I was talking about? The Consumer Price Index , a measure of inflation, has gone up 5.4% in that same period. It can (and will) get worse.

If that continues, suddenly, the once-booming businesses that were able to hand out raises and signing bonuses and $18 starting wages for the oh-so-difficult skill of brewing coffee suddenly are like, “Nope. Can’t do that any more.”

Which leads to …


Step 3: Wage Growth Stops

What happens when you make the same amount of money but stuff costs more?

Well, you’re American, so of course you’re going to put it on a credit card. And then when you don’t have more money when the credit card bill comes due, you’re going to keep right on diggin’ that hole.

The reason I’m saying this is not because I don’t like you. It’s because I know you. You’re an American, no more or less entitled than the next one down the street living in the home that he overpaid for.

So you go to your boss and ask for the raise you rightfully deserve. Because, like I said, I know you and you do make one helluva pumpkin spice latte every August through November. And ordinarily, your boss would reward your exemplary work with more money. But she can’t. Why? Because instead of taking up X% of her budget, your wages and the electricity to run your little latte machine now cost X+30% of her budget.

You can’t pay a raise with revenue you don’t have. Well, unless you’re the federal government. Then, as we’ve talked about, you just print more money and dump it into the economy with no plan to get it out.

So suddenly, your job is paying you the same and the price of stuff is still going up because of those energy prices and the drive to return some businesses to profitability.

“But this will just effect places like Starbucks. If push came to shove, I’ll just make my own coffee.”

First off, no you won’t. Don’t lie to me. And second, what do you think happened to Mary, the senior I.T. professional, when she saw Tracy, the barista, making just a tad too close to what she makes?

“Hey boss! The barista at the coffee shop I go to got a honkin’ raise just so she wouldn’t quit. What about me? I run the entire I.T. department and have been here for 15 years!”

And so to keep Mary around, the boss gave her the same percentage raise as the barista. Of course, Mary’s 10% added up to a whole truckload more dollars than the barista’s.

So all the way up the ladder and across the economy, higher wages dent profits until there’s no money left to give.

Introducing …. Stagflation!


Step 4: Economic Stagnation

Yeah, it’s called “Economic Stagnation,” but “Stagflation is just much more… edgy.

It occurs when there’s slow economic growth (meaning, the country is making less stuff) coupled with slow wage growth and high unemployment.

Oh. Wait. You thought you’d be able to hang onto that $18-an-hour barista job because you were … what? Special?

Bwaahahahaha.

Yeah, you might make a good PSL, but so can Bill. And Bill’s willing to do it for $10-an-hour. So not only are you gone, but so are two more of your $18-an-hour-lovin’ friends. Bill seems to be pretty motivated to do a lot more work than you were, so that coffee shop doesn’t need quite so many employees to keep the train rollin’. And guess who’s coming soon? These guys:

That’s right. We’re not too far away from robotic automation eliminating a ton of unskilled jobs (and sorry, making good PSLs for the caffeine-addicted masses is not a real skill). Even Cheap Bill isn’t as valuable as a robot who doesn’t need Saturdays off (or Sundays or Mondays or Tuesdays or Wednesdays or Thursdays or Fridays).

Oh, and Mary? The senior I.T. professional? Yeah, her company went bankrupt. So she and the other 1,500 people who used to work there lost their jobs.

“But Mary’s brilliant! She’ll land another job quickly.”

How brilliant is Mary really when suddenly there are 100 people applying for the one job that is similar to what she lost — a job that pays 10% less than her previous job? Because the boss just might take “kinda brilliant” at 15% less because she’s working hard to make shareholders happy on the road back to profitability. Even the person who lands that job is going to be bringing home less money to buy stuff that costs more.

So suddenly you have people with no jobs or worse-paying jobs coupled with a government that’s not exactly in the best place to start pumping money back into the economy in the form of lower interest rates that it just raised, and all of that fun is joined by stuff that still costs a lot because the price of everything to make that stuff remains high

Oh, and did we mention Mary’s now a few months behind on the mortgage for the home she bought in 2021 when the housing market was so hot? Dang, she loves that house. She loved it so much that she got in a bidding war with 15 other buyers and paid $50,000 over the list price. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Of course, now she can’t pay her debt. Or the heating bill. Or for the car that’s in the garage that she financed because that’s what Americans do.


Step 5: Foreclosures Abound!

Zillow — that real estate… thing — just announced it is underwater on more than $1 billion-with-a-B of homes it bought during this red-hot sellers market in the hopes of flipping them for a quick profit.

Now, investors are rightly asking, “Ummm, whatcha gonna do with all those houses when what you owe is greater than what they’re worth?”

Bring that home to Mary. She overpaid for her house. It seemed entirely logical at the time to pay $50,000 over list price. After all, wages were going up! And if she hadn’t bought it then, well, who knows how much it would have cost two years from then.

I do. It would have cost a lot less than what she paid for it. $100,000 less? $50,000 less? We’ll see. But the reality is, a lot less.

Housing prices skyrocketed for one reason, and it’s the same force that governs just about everything in life, the same force we already talked about: supply and demand. The demand for homes was huge because the government pushed interest rates artificially low, which made it attractive for people to buy because they could borrow money cheaply. Every home had 25 buyers lined up the moment the Realtor drove the “For Sale” sign into the lawn.

But if you know basic economics, you’ll know that when you flip the script — when the supply outpaces the demand — one thing happens: Prices (and, along with them, valuations) drop. When once there were 10 houses for every buyer, well, now you better do something to get that buyer interested in your house, and having the smell of fresh-baked cookies wafting out the door as soon as it opens ain’t gonna cut it.

No, if you want to sell your home, you’re going to have to lower the list price. Which you can do… up to a point.

What happens when people don’t have a job and can’t pay for their homes that are suddenly worth less than they paid for them and, more importantly, worth less than what they owe?

Foreclosures. Lots of them.

We saw it in 2008 and 2009.

Theoretically it won’t be as bad this time because regulations on whom bankers could lend money to tightened after that fiasco. But they’re not as tight as they were right after the crash. “Pro-business” government leadership relaxes them.

People are going to lose their homes. And they’re going to lose their homes after a prolonged period in which they aren’t paying to live there. People who don’t pay to live in a place also tend to not pay for something else: Maintenance. So what you’re going to have is a glut of poorly kept homes on the market, which will push prices even further down. Remember, higher supply = lower prices.

Ordinarily, this might cause a boom for those businesses that do things like fix up run-down homes. But those supply chain issues are making it — and could continue to make it — extremely difficult and expensive to get the stuff needed for the fix-ups. And if people know this, they won’t buy the run-down homes because they know they won’t be able to make them un-run-down.


Step 6: Homelessness

This is where I’m going to lose a lot of people. I know that. Many aren’t willing to think this can actually become a major societal thing in Mighty ‘Muricah. But stick with me, because it can.

People who can’t pay for homes get kicked out of those homes. They might be able to pay for a place to rent for awhile. They might be able to downsize into something they can afford.

But not likely.

Remember: They’re American. The house isn’t the only thing they can’t pay for — nor is it the only thing they haven’t paid for. Americans still have an astonishing amount of credit card debt. The average American has more than $5,300 of it. And those credit card companies don’t let you use their card (read: borrow their money) because they want your wallet to be not-so-thick with all those pesky bills. They do it because they expect you to pay them back — with interest. A lot of interest. And when you can’t pay them, they come after you and ruin your life.

So please don’t tell me that a spike in homelessness isn’t at least a possibility. It is. Some might have good relatives who let them crash on their couch. Great. Family should take care of family. Friend should take care of friend.

But what happens when that family or that friend is in the same situation?

Well, at least you’ll have company under the bridge.

And here are two statistical facts to go along with what’s going to come:

  1. The population that will be affected most by this will be the ones with that darker skin pigmentation that has been trampled by the American Dream and its Manifest Destiny since they first became unwilling cruise ship passengers.
  2. Whenever there is an increase in the homeless population and wherever the homeless population is the greatest, there’s a corresponding spike in crime.

And that, my friends, is not good news.


Step 7: Political Instability

Which brings us back to where we started — the missed lessons from the Jan. 6 insurrection and our blind spots caused by the fact that we were dealing with a pandemic when the most effective cry for racial justice happened since the Civil Rights Movement.

Our political system is already extremely fragile. I am neither Republican nor Democrat. I have been the former. I now reject those who would vote, not once, but twice for a president who had no qualms about driving a stake into the cracks of America’s foundation to open up a massive divide between human beings.

The base of the support for the Trumpian movement is created by those who bathe in even greater economic advantages without concern for the growing disparity between “haves” and “have-nots” and the dwindling of the “have-somes.” I am all for those who achieve success to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I am not for a nation in which those fruits are enjoyed in greater abundance by fewer and fewer while more and more starve.

These extremely, extremely wealthy individuals’ foot soldiers are a rabid group of ultranationalists and white supremacists whose banter leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, actions during the Jan. 6 insurrection and continued banter after the Jan. 6 insurrection, demonstrates their willingness to be the tip of the spear for an armed coup based on patently false propaganda.

Those in charge of the response to that insurrection have rightly been criticized for how slowly they addressed the situation. But let’s make one thing very clear: One of the reasons that response was slow was because there was fear in the more sensible parts of the government what the president would do with already-deployed National Guard troops technically still under his command.

Do we really think there’s it’s out of the realm of possibility that portions of the military or law enforcement could side with someone other than the duly elected president or pick the guy who’s stepping far outside the bounds of the Constitution in a desperate attempt to hold on to power — or return to it?

I imagine the British thought no one would ever take up arms against the king, too.

My point is not that this will happen. My point that there is enough social, economic and political instability that will only be heightened by joblessness, inflation, crime and the inequities inside each.

And then we’ll have a presidential election.

I’m sure that will go smoothly.


What Happens Then?

This is where the fun begins.

What we’ve talked about already are the ingredients in a recipe that, when cooked, become the breakdown of American civilization as we know it. And as goes America, so will go much the rest of the world — if not all of it. Besides, the same forces creating such instability here are also rocking other parts of the world — both developed nations and those with far less.

Covid, supply chain issues, inflation, political division, increasing polarization, climate concerns.

And to think all of it could come down to Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to keep The Facebook running.

Oh, you laugh?

What happened when his little machine went on the fritz for six hours late this summer? Sure, your teen couldn’t post her to-die-for outfit on Insta. But in many places, Facebook is the internet. It’s not only how people communicate, it’s how they do business. Which isn’t to suggest it’s not how we do business here, too. The estimated economic tally of, as a reminder, the six-hour outage, was $160 million.

What happens if the entire internet goes down?

Impossible, right?

Wrong.

Of course it’s possible. It’s a machine. One that relies on other machines that rely on other machines. No matter how much you try to control chaos, it always seems to be there. Remember, an inquisitive squirrel once set in motion the cascading machine problems that blacked out the whole eastern portion of these here United States.

The internet and its infrastructure are also a very attractive target to those who would like to actively inject some chaos into our world.

If you take away the internet in a country and a world with tremendous amounts of instability, you’re introducing match to fuse.

How are you going to get information about what happened and what is going to happene next? The TV? Nah. They need the internet to run. Newspapers? Um, you do know what’s happened to them over the past 15 years, yes? Besides there being hardly any actual journalists left in them, there are no old-school presses with type-setters and stuff. They all run at the push of a button through the — say it with me — internet.

Radio stations? Gone.

Ahhh, your cell phone!

Nope. Gone. Got a landline? Does the person you need to reach?

History tells us people who lack authoritative communication in the midst of a national emergency make incredibly bad decisions.

And do you think maybe-just-maybe people who are a little bit, shall we say, tense (and armed) might jump to the wrong conclusions or, worse, jump to the right conclusions about the cause of the outage? Do you think the types of people who invaded the Capitol — or those of similar enthusiasm from the other side of the aisle — could use that type of situation for their advantage?

What happens then as information — true or not — is slow to spread?


But let’s back away from that for a second and talk about how you’re going to check on Mom.

“What do you mean, “How am I going to check on Mom?’ She lives 15 minutes away.”

Sweet. Go over and see her. I hope your gas tank is full and that, if you plan to keep going to see Mom, you have a secret stash of unleaded somewhere. How are you going to pay for the gas you need to fuel the car? The internet can’t process your transactions. Got a wad of cash? Be careful how you use it because it’s going to be difficult to get more from ATMs that don’t work.

“I’ll just go to the bank.”

And so will everyone else. You think they have the actual amount of cash on hand to cover the accounts of all their customers? What might happen when people go to get their money and it’s not there? Are they just going to turn around and walk calmly back to their car and push it home?

Oh, and another thing… the electric grid is pretty dependent on the internet too. And those gas pumps are tied to electricity. So when this outage happens, let’s just hope it’s not too hot or too cold. Sweaty and freezing people also make bad decisions.

As do hungry ones. You do know that the food that appears on the shelves in Wal-Mart comes from places that make them with things that use electricity and transport them with trucks that run on gasoline, yes? Remember how Americans behaved when there was a toilet paper shortage during the early days of Covid? Have you seen a supermarket checkout line before a snowstorm comes? What if those folks are joined by those who realize there actually is something to worry about this time?

Americans don’t do well when they are denied access to the stuff they want, the things they feel they’re entitled to because they’re American. There really wasn’t a toilet paper shortage back in 2020. There was just an unwillingness to wipe American butts with anything other than the comfortable stuff we’re used to.

What if there’s a real shortage and no knowledge of what the government is planning to do about it? Do you think we’re all going to behave calmly and rationally as our own individual stashes of things that keep us alive dwindle? Are we going to be that Christian nation of our Founding Fathers that will take care of each other and give of our bounty to those without?

Not bloody likely. Not in the long run, not in sufficient quantity. And who knows what “the long run” is when the flow of reliable, authoritative information has stopped? What you’ll have is an offline, localized Twitter, which, before Twitter, was called the rumor mill. What Billy heard from Bobby who was at the gas station with his siphon trying to suck the last bits out of the underground tank will suddenly become gospel and then get passed forward as such — except incorrectly, because “Telephone Game.”


And this is where I leave you, at the Dawn of Dystopia. It’s not because I can’t take you further. I could play this game out to its end. But I think it’s a good place for each of us to walk for a while on our own.

Like I’ve repeatedly said: I don’t think this will happen. I’m saying it’s entirely possible that it could happen. No empire — and that’s what we are — has ever lasted. Similarly, no empire at the height of its power ever thought it would fall. But the one thing the Mongols have in common with with Romans and the Romans have in common with Ottomans and the Ottomans have with the British is that all once were on top and now they’re not.

America has been a land of hubris since its inception. We started as a rag-tag bunch of idealists (who, incidentally, never came close to practicing their ideals when it came to that “All men” thing, which set us on the road to where we are with racial disparities today). These guys used the benefit of close-by communication to beat an enemy headquartered an awfully long way away to win a war of independence.

Ever since that moment, we’ve been living beyond our means. When we ran out of room and stuff, we claimed that God had ordained us to “Go West, young man,” and discover new lands to house us and provide the stuff we “needed.”

That God had already had others “discover” that land was a mere obstacle for American exceptionalism to overcome. The fact that they had darker skin and acted so “uncivilized” made it easier for us to label them as essentially subhuman and destroy cultures that predated ours by thousands of years.

When we reached the limits of new shores on the other side of the continent, we extended our reach beyond them, conveniently subjugating those who inhabited places with stuff we wanted and claiming it was in their best interest to learn about our ways of life and government and religion, again, conveniently missing the point that these folks had perfectly fine ways of life and government and religion before they were so lucky to be “helped” by us.

All of this has birthed in us this belief that we’re somehow different, that our empire is for some reason permanent, because if we really did have the blessing from God (who makes no mention of us in our own holy books), how could we not be around until those mystical “End Days?”

To that I say, here’s how.

John Agliata is a professional storyteller with a background in newspaper journalism. You can reach him here.


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