"The Relive Box", 6th Mass Extinction, Capitalism, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Corporate State, Corporatocracy, Dystopic Future, Environmental Collapse, Gross Inequality, Inverted Totalitarianism, Luis Suarez-Villa, Passenger Pigeon, Peak Oil, Richard Heinberg, Richard Wolff, T. C. Boyle, Tasmanian Aborigines, Techno-Optimists, Technocapitalism, Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism, Technophelia
“Life is tragic and absurd and none of it has any purpose at all. Science has killed religion, there’s no hope for the future with seven billion of us on the planet, and the only thing you can do is to laugh in the face of it all.”
~ TC Boyle
This past Thursday night I went to a reading by author T.C. Boyle at Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library. Outside the entrance of the auditorium were a couple of tables lined with signed copies of his numerous novels and collections of short stories and manned by a few young people, perhaps college students, taking people’s money. I had already bought a copy of T.C. Boyle Stories at the local bookstore before coming and read a few of the short stories before the auditorium doors opened. I seldom go to such events, but what had first caught my eye were the titles of some of his books, one of which is A friend of the Earth whose premise is rather dystopic.
While waiting in line for the event, I opened up my book and read “The Extinction Tales” from the author’s first volume of short stories. The title of this particular short story states exactly what it’s about, taking the reader across continents and centuries from the massacre of the passenger pigeon to the genocide of the aboriginal Tasmanians. A couple of modern-day vignettes serve as the bookends to this vast sweep of history, at the beginning the hunting skills of a lighthouse caretaker’s pet cat snuff out the remaining population of the island’s unique bird species and at the end a man is haunted by the death of his father whose funeral he neglected to attend.
The doors opened and perhaps 100 to 200 people filled the seats. After a few fawning introductions by a couple of NAU faculty members, Tom Coraghessan Boyle took the lectern. Tall and lanky with a goatee, wearing red sneakers, and dressed in black with the glowing cat eyes of a printed t-shirt peaking through his opened sports jacket, he appeared more hipster than a sixty-something tenured English professor, but spoke as eloquently and articulately as one would expect.
He read two stories, but the second one resonated with me the most. “The Relive Box” is an allegorical tale of a middle-aged single father who becomes obsessed with the latest hi-tech escapism device which mentally transports people back to any specified time in their life by reading their memories. He’s stuck reliving various moments of his past while his present life falls apart. The ‘here and now’ simply becomes lifeless space and time to be filled by the ‘relive box’.
The parallels with today’s addiction to computers, video games, iPhones, and social media are obvious; our inseparable relationship with technology has made us virtual cyborgs. Our enslavement to technology extends to a societal level with the wide-held assumption that geoengineering and adaptive technologies will evolve in time to spare us from the worst of a collapsing environment, allowing business-as-usual to continue no matter how dire current scientific reports and future projections may be. Unarmed by a blind faith in technology, industrial civilization barrels headlong into a world growing more violent and unstable by the day. Technocapitalists live by the sword of technology and will die by it as well.
In the hands of corporate capitalists, our socio-economic system brings us terminator seeds from Monsanto, predatory banking instead of public banking, the military industrial complex’s war for profit instead of national defense, viagra instead of antibiotics, a government for the ultra wealthy and not the majority, corporate rule with Citizens United instead of representative democracy, and so on.
Technology is no different in capitalism’s overriding dependency on the successful accumulation of capital:
The system within which institutions, cultures, and people operate determines its policies, beliefs, and behaviors. Those operating within a capitalist system conform to the dictates of corporations. Capitalism cannot be reformed and its resiliency to stay afloat during environmental collapse is remarkable:
Nonetheless, in the final analysis, our entire way of life based on fossil fuels and infinite growth on a planet of finite resources is untenable…
“A small minority — people who are at the margins of the system and who are thus able to observe it as if from outside, who are not tied into any of the major influence groups, and who have learned to seek out alternative sources of information and think critically — will gradually come to the conclusion that the entire system of industrial civilization is inherently unsustainable.”
~ Richard Heinberg, Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World
A “post-carbon world” may very well not include people, but building an alternative system demands that we believe a post-collapse world does include survivors.