This is where things could go if they go very, very wrong for the American people — not quite the wrongest. The worst case, as usual, is
And, as a Cold War kid, that image and possible end is always with me. Yep, we could end up eating squirrels and burying half our kids before they turn five, just like the old days. Traveling in nomadic packs. Living the Mad Max life until the gasoline runs out, then just running around in silly overdone armor hammered out of crap dug out of junkyards because it’s a lot easier than trying to find iron ore and making new stuff now that civilization has dug up all the easy to find metal deposits.
BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT I’M HERE TO TALK ABOUT, I said to myself.
I’m talking about, what if this health care
reform deform sets a trend? This massive wealth distribution to the already very wealthy that slashes Medicaid to the bone and reinstalls lifetime and yearly coverage caps for care and calls for pre-existing condition rate hikes that will price cancer survivors and people with genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia and, you know, old people right out of coverage altogether?
What if this “American Health Care Act (AHCA) is just the beginning? (By the way, GOP? I know you’re all on this “learning and education and expertise are bad” jag, but in American English “healthcare” is commonly ONE FREAKIN WORD SERIOUSLY YOU’RE THE ONES TELLING EVERYONE TO SPEAK ENGLISH? Learn to speak and write English, but not too well or everyone will think you’re one of those EVIL EDUCATED SMART PEOPLE AIEE OH GOD RUN BEFORE IT INFECTS YOU WITH LEARNING.)
But I digress. Again. Unfortunately I’m really good at that.
What if this AHCA passes, and sets a trend, and things just keep going that “if you wanted to be healthy you’d have had sense enough to pick wealthy parents” way for a few decades? How bad could it get?
Let’s imagine. Because that’s my business.
But let’s not imagine this healthcare deform will be alone. No, it will come with other things that are developing in our society. Let’s look.
So. Boom. It passes. Very wealthy people enjoy the windfall of anywhere from six hundred billion to a trillion dollars collectively. Sockaroonie, right into the hands of people who make more than a quarter million a year, but mostly into the hands of people who make a million or more a year. And more for billionaires than for you paltry millionaires.
They squirrel a bunch of it away into accounts in the Caymans and elsewhere (I hear Russia is enjoying a vogue in certain bad-hair-tiny-handed circles for some reason).
They open some new factories in China because First Lady Ivanka (is it Co-First Lady? First Lady of Daddy’s Heart? It’s so hard to keep track) has some there and she says it’s a great place to do business, not like that annoying USA where she’d rather drop dead than have a product made. And elsewhere, wherever the labor is cheap.
They invest some at home, though, too. Building some factories, but soon enough robots can build them, not people. So, mostly buying robots from overseas. But when they build a steel mill or an automobile factory or a social media farm to send out #MAGA tweets or whatever in the USA, rest assured they’ll need dozens of people to run a really enormous factory. Mostly fixing robots and tweaking their programs. It might take a little while to get the robot fixing robots on line, like an extra generation.
The robots aren’t quite there yet, in many professions. But we’re getting there fast.
When the people who are babies now go out to find jobs — and there may not be quite as many of them as we thought, the AHCA and its successors may well redistribute more wealth upward with bigger and better cuts and outright elimination of things like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, EBT/Food Stamps, and so forth, which means higher infant mortality and more kids who die before adulthood — they may find robots doing them.
And not just the poor kids. The less poor kids, the scions of the dying middle class and the bottom of the upper class, the ones making only a paltry quarter million a year, may find their jobs being done by robots as well. It’s easy to imagine robots digging ditches and selling fries, but they can also order supplies and pay bills and manage expenses and plan advertising campaigns and handle routine legal cases and do surgery and repair cars and dispense prescribed medications.
They’re close to that today. In a generation they’ll be able to do it. Once robots are popular enough, the economy of scale kicks in as it is right now with solar and wind power, and prices drop precipitously, and then everyone will want robot workers and nobody will want humans with their messy bathroom breaks and headaches and needing to attend funerals and weddings and wanting retirement funds and asking for raises because the kid needs braces.
So not only will the money be for the top 1%, but the jobs and the healthcare will be for the top 1%. If you’re really lucky. Maybe all those things will be for the top .1%.
And everyone else?
Well, the ones with the money and the jobs and the healthcare will have to figure out what to do with you.
Maybe human servants will come into vogue and we can all get jobs serving the very rich for room and board and maybe some basic medical care. But probably not for cancer or disability or chronic illness. Servants are cheap. When one goes bad, you throw it away and get another one.
Because now life is cheap, and all the gains of society are routed into the pockets of the megawealthy, and all the cool stuff the robots make goes to them as well.
And if you don’t like it? Robots can make more than cool stuff. They can make war as well. Without risking any precious rich skin. Even the military, traditional route out of poverty, can be handled by robots and very, very few humans indeed.
There are a few million more people who can do without healthcare — or at least, who will have to, to free up some more money to give away to the already very wealthy.
Remember, this is a worst case imagining. Things might turn out better than this. But for that to happen, we’re going to have to fight for it. Hopefully figuratively, with words and protests and votes and candidates who can imagine a better purpose for our society than slashing healthcare for half of the nation in order to put a trillion dollars into the pockets of billionaires.
Tags: ACA, AHCA, Anti-Intellectualism, Automated Law Enforcement, Automated War, Automation, Child mortality, Class warfare, Cold War, Donald Trump, Early death, Factories, Future, Futurism, Generation X, Genetic disease, Health insurance, Healthcare reform, Infant mortality, Ivanka Trump, MAGA, Middle Class, Millennials, Nuclear War, Politics, Poor, Poverty, Reverse Robin Hood, Rich, Robotics, Robots, Russia, Servants, Social media, Socialism for the rich, Society, Tax cut, The 1%, The 99%, Wealth, Wealth redistribution
(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on the 5th of this month. Patrons get to see my posts 3 days early — and when I publish a new ebook, they get to see it 30 days ahead of time. PLUS they get a FREE .pdf copy EVEN IF IT’S FREE ELSEWHERE. They also get the satisfaction of helping a creator create — you’d better believe an extra income stream helps me spare the time to write more. Patreon is helping me buy a power steering pump for the family minivan this month. Without it, I’d likely be spending most of my precious writing time walking or taking the bus to the grocery store (because we, like many people, like to eat food a few times daily) — or watching the little ones alone while my wife went — instead of writing.)
I do a goodly amount of Tweeting, for those reading this who don’t know. I’m going to talk about spamminess there, mainly, because it’s my social media backyard. But what I’m talking about here applies just about anywhere online. WordPress, Facebook, Tumblr, and so on – even comments sections and old-fashioned forums.
The TLDR version: nobody likes a spammer.
The thing that inspired me to sit down and write this: the Twitter lists (“PeopleWhoWrite” 1-3) that I use to aggregate and read tweets by and about writers and writing were becoming unusable. By “unusable” I mean a couple of things: the tweets I really wanted to see were becoming lost in a sea of promotional tweets, and I was finding myself avoiding reading tweets from those lists. I’d think, I should look in on the writing crowd and my mind would immediately shoot back, UGH IT’S FULL OF THE TWITTER VERSION OF JUNK MAIL WHY BOTHER.
Now: let me be clear. I’m not saying there’s no place for promoting yourself as a writer – or whatever else it is you might do – on social media. As a matter of fact it turns out social media isn’t quite as helpful to writers as it is to, say, people who create visual art in all its wondrous forms. Sometimes I’m a bit jealous, but what am I going to do? Not suddenly switch to a new art form. I’ve gotten goodish at this writing thing.
Back to topic, social media is a godsend for the little people, the just-starting-outs and the indies. It’s pretty damn good for the already-made-its and the traditional-route-to-success crowd as well, or you wouldn’t see so many spending their time and promoting their various projects on Twitter and other social media.
Twitter happens to be my personal favorite among the not-a-blog-or-forum crop of online modes of communication. It’s great for conversation, something everything else other than a decently-designed forum is crap at. I started using it before I started to write seriously again, and like many tweeters I twote about whatever was on my mind or happening in my life at the moment. When I started self-publishing I tweeted about my efforts sporadically, with no real plan or anything beyond a rudimentary consciousness that it might be a good idea. Eventually I started scheduling tweets about blog post X or short story Y every two or three hours. Lately I’ve come to see that as too much promotional stuff and I’ve settled on an interval of roughly four hours and fifteen minutes – the fifteen minutes to prevent my tweets from appearing at the same exact six times every day because if I have the option to be a little bit unpredictable I’ll take it. I’m allergic to ruts, which, paradoxically, is my rut.
For some peoples’ taste, that’s still too much promo. Too much, they might say, spam.
Well, that’s a personal perception, and I can’t do anything about it except make sure my tweets have more me in them than amateur marketing. Sure, I could do less. Some folks with work to publicize and/or sell keep it down to one or two tweets about their work, or none at all – they prefer to just let a link in their bio do the talking for them. That approach, I think, works best if your name is already out there. If you’re Wil Wheaton or John Scalzi, a ton of people already know who you are and go looking for that link if they want to see more of what you do. If you’re Joe Schmoe, that’s not something that really happens to you, so maybe you make my Joe Schmoe inspired choice and tweet up the promos a little bit.
And sometimes, if you’re Joe Schmoe and not really into this social media thing too much, you kind of miss the point, or buy into some marketer’s admonitions that all that matters is your promotional whatever being seen, so you need to tweet only promotional tweets. Preferably with big colorful images attached. Attention getters: shirtless beefslab dudes, big boobs, big explosions, big spaceships spurting flames, whatever. There are organized groups and services, for which you can elect to pay a chunk of money each month. And they tweet your promotions and retweet other folks’ promotions to the tune of thousands of tweets weekly. They “churn” (follow a bunch of accounts daily and unfollow anyone who doesn’t follow back right away) and automatically follow each other to gin up big follower counts, like attention-starved pufferfish – HEY LOOK AT ME I’M BIG AND NOISY.
Some of these people don’t want to bother running their own social media accounts, so it’s all automated (I recently booted one of those from my lists because, no kidding, the bio asked me to look for his new novel coming out in October 2014. Dude, update your shit. Pretend to care a little.) They are spambots roaming cyberspace, shotgunning anyone who looks at them with a big, fast mess of BUY MEs. Other writers might tweet on their own once in a while to offer some safe, bland tweets. Recent examples, altered slightly to protect the guilty: “What do you like to eat for breakfast?” “Where is your favorite place to read?” This person had a response or two to some of those tweets – but wasn’t answering any of the responders. The first word in “social media” is “social.” Be social. If someone talks to you, talk back or at least “favorite” or “like” what they said (unless they’re being horrid, which is a different ball of social media wax) so they know there’s someone alive over there. And who knows, what I was taking for an author trying to inject a little personality, however feebly, into their Twitter persona may have simply been a bot carefully crafted to lend the appearance of life to an entirely automated account. Whichever is true – who really gives a damn? It’s not interesting.
Some advice occasionally given to authors looking for an audience is to avoid contentious subjects, just be personable. And some authors agree with that advice to a fault. It might be wise to avoid talking politics and religion on social media. I’m afraid I’m not that species of wise – and writing, fiction or non-, has long been a politically and socially charged field. If I’m not wise, then at least I’m in good company.
But struggling back to the point again: an all-promo Twitter account is at best boring, and if not at its best it’s an annoying turnoff. These promotional groups retweet each other all over the place, and I’m sure the authors sit back and go, “look at those numbers! Twitter says I got 100 retweets today! And 100 favorites! And 50,000 impressions (how many times tweets were, not seen, but POTENTIALLY VISIBLE to a follower or a follower of a follower)! I’m kicking ass!”
But they’re not kicking ass. They’re just stinking the place up and those retweets and favorites and impressions were 99.99% just other bot-run accounts, writers not looking at their own automated account, and random bystanders who quickly scoot by thinking, “Oh, god. Another spam tweet from that jackass.” The saying goes that all publicity is good publicity, but it isn’t. Not when you’re trying to persuade people that what you do is worth them shelling out a few shekels and your “marketing” just teaches them to wrinkle their noses at the very mention of your name.
Some time ago, I went through a phase where I put a bunch of them in my lists thinking, charitably, hey, maybe they’ll actually start tweeting for themselves at some point. And they do write. And if they shut up with the promotions for a few seconds, push the bots out of the driver’s seat, maybe I’ll get to see who they are. So what the hell.
What the hell is, I want those lists to be filled with human beings, so I can see what human being writers are writing about on this Twitter thing. And I can’t do that if a dozen clusterbombing spambots are stinking the joint up. So they had to go.
If you’re a writer or other creative, don’t turn to spam “marketing”. Just be a human. Be yourself as best as you can be. Honestly strive to find a balance between “hey look at what I wrote” and “hey look at my opinion on stuff” and “hey let’s have a conversation.” Tweet (or whatever) about what’s going on with you. Sure, mention you have a story coming out. But also talk about what’s in the news or what’s going on in your favorite genre of whatever or bitch about the weather or car repairs (uncoincidentally, I’m trying to repair the family car now. Hoped it was a belt, then hoped it was a pulley, now hoping it’s only the power steering pump which my brother in law and I will be installing, hopefully, in the next few days. In a minivan, which are the very devil to work on. Because I can’t afford to have it towed into a shop and pay shop labor rates – or, for that matter, to own a vehicle less than 20 years old).
It’s advice so old and cliché that it has virtually ceased to have meaning – but be yourself. Be “authentic,” as the marketing crowd likes to say (I think they do – I’m not a marketer).
Unless you’re a dick or a spammer (they’re often the same thing). In that case, try being someone else.
A 13 word story:
Decades arguing at strangers
Found dead on his laptop
Stroked out on trollrage
I’ve had my share of internet arguments. Some of them were lengthy, acrimonious, and frankly, in hindsight, utterly ridiculous. Happily, I haven’t gone full ridiculous in quite some time, and I don’t think I’ll be going back in the future.
I still don’t hesitate to disagree online, or even to argue. But these last few years, I have come to understand that no matter how outrageous I find the other person’s position or statements to be, there’s no profit in giving in to anger. “Argument” doesn’t have to be about rage. It’s possible to argue with a bit of sense. And when it’s apparent that the other person is trolling and raging, well, that’s what the block button is for. Just about every place you can have an internet argument has some version of blocking.
I used to avoid using block functions, as if doing so was some badge of open-minded honor. Well, I do take some pride in maintaining an open mind in general. But that doesn’t mean I have to waste my time dealing with abusive people, or with people whose primary or even sole recreation is making other people angry on the internet, or with people who just want to argue to argue.
There are enough trolls online that the trolls can find their own kind to bother after I’ve blocked them, and enough reasonable people, even reasonable people with whom I have deep and fundamental differences of opinion, to find good conversation online no matter how many thousands of people I block on social media and elsewhere.
For as long as I can remember, I have been quick to anger, and my anger can burn very hot. My father was the same way; some of it is my disposition, but it is also a behavior reinforced by his example in my childhood. Later in life, he began to learn to step back from his anger and engage his brain before his temper got him in trouble.
As I recall, he started to really ‘get it’ in his 40s. Well, that’s where I am now.
I guess the apple only fell so far from the tree.
Anyhow. I have no intention of ending up stroked out from rage in front of my computer — because I know how easy it would be for me to end that way if I were to give in to the troll side of the Force.
By my headline, I’m not asking if there are any current stories about dystopian science fiction in the news. I’m asking if perhaps the things we see on the news are influencing the science fiction we writers write. Science fiction is speculation about what the future may bring, but like all literature and art it is a reflection of the context of the writer. It is a reflection of cultural context, of what the writer thinks the world is now and what that might develop into as time proceeds.
A while back, I asked if pessimism in US-authored science fiction might reflect a perception — arguably, a reality — that the USA is declining from a peak of prosperity and power. I think that thought has merit, and I think it’s linked to what I’m talking about here.
Yes, this post is sadly inspired by the injustice and violence we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri over the last four months; the scene above from the events of November 24th is rapidly becoming an iconic symbol of social order at any cost, militarization of police, and the deep frustration of people — here, the black community of Ferguson — who feel that working within the system has failed them, the system has failed them, and the system will not validate even something so basic as their right to be the equal of every other US citizen under the law.
That’s dystopianism. People denied their rights, human or legal, that those above them have. We see it rearing its head in the United States, and many of us hoped, somehow, that the worst was over. That privilege and oppression were the language of the past in our country, and that the exceptions we saw were just that: exceptions.
But that has always been the hope of the sheltered, the hope of those who are less oppressed, the hope of those who see opportunity. Too many of us have never really known those hopes. Before the internet, before the explosion of social media and hand-portable smartphones capable of livestreaming video in the hands of ordinary citizens, it was easier to be sheltered.
Year by year, it is more difficult to be sheltered, more difficult to deny uncomfortable truths of inequality that the internet holds in front of our faces. Not only in the USA, but abroad, we more and more frequently see tweets and Facebook updates and blogs and YouTube videos and so on and so forth from oppressed people and groups around the world.
The internet and the smartphone are doing for this generation what television did for the Vietnam War. We’re getting a look, collectively, all of us who have access to the internet, a look at dirt that has traditionally been swept under the rug and stayed there, invisible. It’s far easier to see it for what it is now than it has ever been before.
And that’s sort of depressing. Right now, many of us are depressed by what we see in the world, and we’re afraid it’s only going to get worse. Perhaps this exposure will continue to grow and my little ones will grow up in a time marked by reform and renewed optimism. I can hope. I’ll try to write about that.
But right now, I’m just sad and it is FAR too easy to proceed from watching dystopian current events to writing dystopian science fiction.
This post isn’t about legalizing or not legalizing marijuana, despite my choice of picture—that’s a topic that’s way off topic for this blog. Suffice it to say that I’m in favor of applying rational thought to our various concerns.
The reason I used this image is that it employs hyperbole. Many of us know enough about marijuana to know that it doesn’t cause “Insanity! Death!” And that reminded me of arguing with people on the internet.
I check in on Twitter every day. I probably check in on it a bit more than I really should. One notable thing about it is the same thing that is notable about other social platforms and discussion forums online. As well as much of our politics.
Over and over again, people resort to hyperbole. Overstating their various cases for effect— or, very often, on the assumption that the person who reads the hyperbole won’t investigate for themselves and might be fooled. People tell themselves that hyperbole serves a purpose, that it’s a good idea if the cause is good, and other nonsense like that. It has its moments when used for comedic effect, but when it’s presented as truth to deceive it’s a different matter.
The fact is that hyperbole backfires in the long run. Because it’s a lie, and people don’t like it when they discover they’ve been lied to. It’s easier than ever for people to find the facts for themselves since the internet became a big thing. Maybe it’s time to give hyperbole tactics a rest. Maybe it’s time to admit that persuading people with half-truths and overstatements and distortion may be part of the advertising arsenal that we’ve been culturally trained in, but they’re ultimately unproductive. They produce cynical and jaded minds.
Sometimes I feel pretty cynical myself, wading through the sea of propaganda that is a large part of the online (and offline) world.
And I’d rather not. So do it for me: calm down, and let the truth speak for itself.