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Chapter 2 - After the Famine
Entering a University is very challenging. There are only a handful of Universities and they set very high entrance standards. Bianca has been coaching young William McNamara, a precocious school boy who wishes to become a Grad like her.
He's just submitted an assignment: to write an essay about the world today and she's reviewing it. He'll need to write very well if he wants to study at the University. These are now restricted to educating those dedicated to a life of research and scholarship or those requiring the same skills, knowledge and understanding. Graduates of a university need to master these old skills as they are the providers of basic research and acquirers of new knowledge of the kind that is not yet available in The Cloud, for example, how does the human brain actually work or the origin of 'dark energy'.
The great bulk of the population rely instead on their Virtual Personal Assistant, hosted in The Cloud, for the knowledge that they need to function from day to day. Just as pocket calculators obviated the need to know how to multiply large numbers or to calculate angles during the late twentieth century, so a century later handheld devices such as small screens have obviated the need for most people to be able to read or write. Obviously one does not have to be a graduate to be able to enunciate the theories of Sigmund Freud or to know about Greek mythology or any other already available knowledge. One can simply ask your VPA who will look those up for you in The Cloud and read to you in your own language, explaining any difficult concepts by reference to the Central Encyclopaedia. Not that the average person has any interest in such things.
The other areas that employ graduates are in: government policy and administration; information technology; and some creative fields such as writing. This is where William would like to excel.
Bianca is sitting in her favourite coffee shop reading William's paper.
After the Famine
by William McNamara - December 2069
As the new decade approaches it is back to 'business as usual' for the developed world, indeed across the entire unified world economy.
People have recovered from the loss of so many relatives in The Great Famine and the economic turmoil of the 50's. The population fell dramatically at that time with some regions being effectively depopulated. World order has been restored and a new World Common Market is proving to provide unprecedented market opportunities for the entrepreneur, despite the steady decline in the number of consumers as we head towards the target of two billion people by 2110.
Many Government programmes are directed to reducing World population to sustainable levels. For example, women who fall pregnant must be able to demonstrate that at least two qualified adults have committed to adequately support the child until the age of eighteen, in order to qualify for a baby licence. The alternative is a termination at one of numerous Voluntary Euthanasia (VE) clinics or banishment. Unwanted pregnancies and unlicensed births are virtually unknown.
There is no longer an underprivileged working class nor any abject poverty. Since the New Economy was established after The Great Famine, when basic personal support (food clothing and basic housing) became everyone's inheritance and right under the Modified Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there has been little need to accumulate surplus credit. Indeed excessive credit surpluses may be confiscated under the Scrooge Protocol.
Almost anything an enterprising person can imagine can be ordered from the automated factories that are known collectively as 'China Works'. Who knows why? They produce a lot more than tableware.
The great mass of the people are known as 'Bogans'. Typically, Bogans are functionally illiterate and innumerate. They recognise many common words, such as team names and subway stops, and certain common phrases but are unable or unwilling to bother with complex sentences and most can't add two six digit numbers together. Yet they are great communicators, spending a huge part of their day just chatting on their communications device. Each has a virtual personal assistant known as their VPA, resident in The Cloud, 'who' can be called to help from any Cloud connected device, for example from their pocket communicator, an MV screen or a refrigerator door. Because each VPA has a lifelike Avatar in cyberspace most regard them as another person: a servant who appears in any device and is dedicated to their needs 24/7. Their VPA reads out script in any language or style and calculates and translates for them, so they have no need of those skills.
Bogans are consummate home owners and may have several 'holiday homes', in addition to their principal residence. They take great pride in their property and their values are similar to those of the old middle classes - conservative and loyal to society. They just want to get on with enjoying their life.
Almost all of them have well paid jobs in the media, sport or entertainment or religion or providing personal services like beauty therapy. They are amazingly fashion conscious and must have the latest fad - great consumers with enormous disposable income now that basic needs like food, clothing and shelter can in theory be met by less than a tenth of the basic earnings. I say in theory - because no one would want to live like that - with only two bathrooms and no year-round, self-cleaning swimming pool.
Most Bogans like to have a block big enough for a large house to provide room for all their stuff and sufficient surrounding area for their assorted land, water and air vehicles. Now that two thirds of the pre-famine housing stock has been demolished in those cities that survive this is not a luxury.
But bedrooms are not a priority. Family size is restricted to two children per couple unless the parents are prepared to commit to voluntary euthanasia (VE) the day their youngest child reaches adulthood. This is known as a Ten-Two Contract.
Naturally, when the prime social imperative is to quickly restore world population to a sustainable number, anyone providing life-extending medicine to people with chronic diseases has committed a criminal act.
There is an exemption for assisting the victims of bona-fide accidents or malicious attacks and automated emergency hospitals, supervised by a small squad of mobile technicians, address this need. Just as long ago patients ceased to trust a human pharmacist to compound their drugs in a back room, it's many years since people trusted a human 'doctor' to interpret the findings of hospital body scanning machines and try to think of treatments; or a human 'surgeon' carryout invasive microsurgery. You might as well let some person with a soldering iron attempt to repair your hand held communicator. And of course modern robotic recovery-cribs care for patients 24/7 without growing inattentive or having shift changeovers. No wonder there was so much cross infection and super-bugs in those primitive hospitals with human nursing staff moving from patient to patient, acting as disease vectors.
Medical experts are still employed in the administration of World and regional health but they are more likely to be a PhD than an MD.
The result is that almost everyone but the most stoic will end their life in a VE Clinic, popularly known as a 'Departure Lounge' when those final pains or forgetfulness degrade their life sufficiently. Then they can complete their life in dignity, surrounded by their loved ones, in ceremonies more like weddings than the old-style funerals that used to be held after a death.
Of course VE is freely available to everyone at any time and the Clinics can be found in many locations. Most have a religious affiliation and are known as churches but there are secular Clinics too. All must have a licensed VE Celebrant who is to ensure that the person wishing to die is an adult and has either come to them uncoerced or because they are under a legal obligation, for example to avoid banishment or because they elected to have more than the regulation number of children.
The Celebrant is licensed to administer synthetic hemlock - a delicious concoction that is fast acting and painless. The Clinics also act as collection points for the corpse recycling facilities that reprocess the flesh, blood and bone. At the peak of the disaster when half a billion people were dying a month this was a major logistical problem but these days the number is much more manageable, a little over a hundred million a year worldwide.
In addition to Bogans there are two other socially distinct classes. But that's more of a cultural or life choice thing. The average Bogan has a bigger home and a lot more material stuff than the so called upper class known as the Grads.
Universities have located near their market, the cities in which Continental and Local governments are located and Grads are employed. Grads tend to gravitate here seeking people having similar tastes and interests. Bogans hate these places, not because they 'fear to tread' but because it's just so glassy and alien and colourless and there is no pulsing beat and no theme or entertainment parks or mega-shopping malls.
When a Bogan might occasionally meet a Grad - who represent slightly over only one in a thousand in the total population and are very rare where Bogans 'hang out' - they can't believe how drab and unfashionable they are. Many have a sort of self-imposed uniform and wear the same drab styles of 'business' or 'leisure' clothes for months or even years on end and seem to have no interest in the weekly fashion watch.
Most Grads, for their part, find the rapidly changing Bogan scene highly confusing, their games pointless and their shops bewilderingly full of 'stuff' that they have no use for that seems to exist very briefly between the retailer and the recycling collector. It all seems a waste of time to a Grad, who seldom has to think twice about what clothes to wear or how to do their hair.
Bianca stopped reading. William may find this so but her recent shopping trip with Margery had been anything than straight forward. Yet Margery was right. She probably did need a business suit if she's to fit in with the other Grads in her Division who are mostly in the policy area. At the moment she still dresses like a student or perhaps a developer.
But William is right there. No Bogan would want to be see dead in either of her unfashionable 'Grad's uniforms'.
This started her thinking about today's class differences.
During the first part of the twenty-first century food was so readily available in some countries that obesity became a serious social problem particularly among the lowest socio-economic classes. Similarly basic clothing was inexpensive and readily available to all. In the higher echelons people were careful to moderate their calorie intake and to seek quality rather than quantity when it came to food and clothes. The parallel today is housing and material goods. Housing 'obesity', together with the rapid consumption of material things, runs rampant in the suburbs of our cities, encouraged of course by government that sees ongoing economic growth, in the face of declining population, as the key to maximising happiness and thus, social stability.
Of course everyone, including Grads, has more living space now than before the Famine. Those high-rise apartments that remain are usually the homes of Busies or Grads. Now they generally occupy a space that may once have been several apartments and have fittings and fixtures of lasting quality. But most Bogans find the space afforded by an entire floor of an apartment block far too small. And why on earth would anyone want to keep the same kitchens or bathrooms for more than six months? It's unhygienic. That's why you need two plus six. A spare kitchen is essential when the other is under renovation and you need at least one working toilet per adult and a couple for guests to 'barbies' and other parties.
Bianca's fascinated by the Bogan class. So much so that like Shakespeare's Henry V who disguised himself as a commoner to walks among his soldiers before battle, she recently dressed and make-up like a Bogan to 'hang out' at a mega-shopping-mall to learn to how the other 99.9% live.
It's not as easy as it sounds. Bogan fashions change weekly and anyone in week old garments is spotted immediately for ridicule. It also takes preparation to apply realistic fake tattoos, studs and piercings. She can't fake the latest hair style so she's had wear a wig to work for the past month while her 'hair disaster' grew out.
It was very interesting. Someone called Zaire was telling her friends about Grads, like her.
"…but the worst thing about them is their personal grooming. They let their hair grow naturally for months on end then do nothing but trim it! I mean ALL their hair. And they have exposed areas of naked skin with no tattoos or studs or other adornments at all - disgusting." They all gasped in unison.
Her friend Willow told them a joke:
"Where can you hide a credit voucher from a Grad?"
Tiger-lily didn't know.
"Under their beauty therapist's skin lotion!" They all laughed 'til they cried.
When she could speak again Zaire started them laughing all over again by saying: "Most of them don't even know what a beauty therapist is!"
Willow became confidential:
"Ayla told me that Luna said that they can scan those lines of words on things with their eyes and silently 'read' them - without using their VPA. She said you can't talk to them - they have strange interests and often speak gobbledygook or techie. If you ask them what they just said because they slipped in one of their strange words, they'll go on for the next two minutes - by which time you've forgotten what it was about in the first place."
They all laughed again.
"Anyway she said it's never anything interesting. They haven't a clue about the latest score, in any game at all, or which celebrity is sleeping with another ones partner."
At this point their eyes just went up towards the over-hanging plants in the eco-mall-hall and their hands folded out like little wings from their shoulders. Grads were beyond the Pale.
Bianca returned to William's essay. "In between these extremes is the business class, known as the Busies," she read.
…They are usually following a family tradition and are usually once Bogans who have moved into business but they can also be entrepreneurial Grads who invented something.
This entrepreneurial, financial and technical services class includes tradespeople and artisans people with specific expertise. These are people who see the Bogans as a market to be exploited but share some or their characteristics. Most have advanced reading abilities specific to their expertise. For example, architects can read tables and engineering drawings but they usually rely on their VPA for everything else. Now that most production and management is carried out by Bots and Avatars hosted in The Cloud this group has shrunk to maybe one or two in a hundred of the World population.
There are three level of government: World, Continental and Local. The money supply - overall credit - is managed at a World level via the central financial authority. But credit is actually created by private credit providers, once called banks, which abound to support the Busies by advancing repayable credit, or loans, underwritten by the central authority.
Compared to the government sector prior to the Famine when there were separate countries some of them comparatively small, the public sector is now miniscule. Similarly, even the largest corporations have very small head offices. As a result most high rise offices towers have been demolished, leaving those that remain standing in spacious parklands.
City planners now talk of 'urban smear' in which a decreasing population is spread more thinly over relatively large conurbations. This is made possible by continually improving transport, particularly private aircraft and very high speed land vehicles, and of course the ubiquitous Cloud, enabling virtual visits between friends and business associates anywhere, worldwide. The Cloud also hosts our helpful Professional Avatars, computer created virtual entities having expertise in various fields such as engineering, medicine or law.
Since the recovery, everything like this is managed by 'computers' (virtual machines) or 'algorithms' hosted in The Cloud. Computers manage things like the factories; food or fibre production; recycling; minerals extraction; and energy supply. Market economics is largely restricted to the consumer goods, services and IT sectors. Services like sport and recreation, religion, entertainment, games, personal grooming and so on is by far the largest part of the economy and employs the vast bulk of the workforce.
Manufacturing is no longer a significant employer. China Works are all fully automated. The plants are hazardous to humans and cannot be entered. Products, usually conceived of and requested by Busies, are managed, designed and continuously improved and innovated by entities called bots or 'industrial design avatars' within The Cloud.
Competitive pressure to improve technology and bring down costs in the virtual space is maintained by a computer game that pits a variety of virtual suppliers against each other on price, functionality and quality. Suppliers compete for their very existence attempting to capture more credit to purchase CPU time and functional memory within the China Works sector. New competitors are continually launched by self-evolving functions and try to capture a share of the resources from the dominant paradigm. Most fail to survive but if one is more successful than the dominant paradigm it becomes dominant in turn. Dominant paradigms are prohibited by design from using nonmarket methods like collusion; restrictive customer contracts; or suppressing new entrants; to compete.
Similarly ESSRRPs, ecologically sustainable scientifically run rural production businesses, otherwise known as the FFF's, food and fibre factories are located on a Regional and Continental basis and competitively supply all foods to all markets year-round so most foods are always in season.
Hunting wild animals or fish or taking plants from a wilderness can result in banishment, society's most extreme legal sanction. All commercial farming must take place within the ESSRRP's.
Large parts of the continents of Africa, South America, Asia and Australasia and most of the oceans have been restored to wilderness and cannot be accessed without permission. Since the Great Famine, and the restoration of World Social Order and the Modified Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our laws have been based on the Utilitarian Principle derived from these that: "the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong". This is The Golden Algorithm.
All law is dispensed, uniformly across the world and for all classes of person, without prejudice, by Court Computers using The Golden Algorithm. The Algorithm calculates the greatest happiness of the greatest number and dictates correctional measures if the harm done by a miscreant exceeds the current societal benchmark (SB), calculated to be consistent with social harmony.
The old concepts of jail, corporal and capital punishment have been abandoned. Crime is treated as a social disease. Perpetrators are no longer kept together as this has been found to result in cross infection and delayed recovery. There is no particular sentence or term of confinement for a criminal offence. Miscreants are treated until they are determined to be cured of their antisocial behaviour. Treatment takes place at their principal place of residence or a similar dwelling acquired by the Court for the purpose and consists of social sensitivity reconditioning and other treatments, such as chemical castration, specific to their illness.
As they recover they are initially allowed day release, leading to full freedom, sometimes with a radio identification 'chip' to continuously locate them in future, as their illness abates.
Petty crimes, like hooliganism, are heard by local Courts but there is an appeal mechanism, in case there has been a human error, to Regional Courts. These also handle more serious crime. Obviously the Court Computers themselves are virtual entities within The Cloud and don't err in what is after all, a straightforward social impact calculation.
Very serious crimes where the culprits causing harm fail to respond to correction, or relapse and are determined to be permanently antisocial, be it through some quirk of genetics or circumstance, are referred up to the Supreme Computer. Those who are clearly determined to reject society are likely to be banished from it.
Banishment means being cast into a very remote, extreme wilderness totally naked, with no products of the society they have rejected, for example no VPA or tools or clothing or materials or shelter of any kind. Most people sentenced to banishment choose VE instead.
This novel treatment of crime has had its biggest impact in the area of addiction that was once the principal driver of petty crime as the addicted were driven to crime to pay for their next hit. Obviously there is no longer the same concern should addiction lead to an overdose or suicide as there was before the Famine. Suicide of unhappy people is now to be encouraged.
The test is how many people are made miserable against how much enjoyment the addicted person may have experienced prior to dying. This was actually the implicit societal test already used before the Famine. Some addictive substances such as: alcohol; tobacco; prescription drugs; tea, coffee and corn syrup; and practices such as: gambling; excessive exercise as promoted by gyms; and of course pornography and sex; were democratically permitted, as they were enjoyed by many more people than were perceived to be harmed.
Yet some substances were classified as illegal drugs and some practices, that harmed no one but the user, were prohibited. This led to black-markets; criminal gangs; and addicts driven to crime. Such prohibitions no longer exist.
Of course some sanctions still do exist based on The Golden Algorithm. The police Avatars hosted in The Cloud and their robot enforcers will take action if the unhappiness caused by a third party, promoting a particular drug or practice, exceeds the apparent pleasure that the addicted are deriving from that drug or practice. For example, forcing someone to do something against their will invites immediate investigation by the Police and the local Court. Is this enforcement intended to be, and likely to result in, the person's or society's greater net happiness in future? Children up to the age of sixteen are protected from seduction and their guardians are excluded from the prohibition on enforcement provided it is permissible within the terms of their child rearing licence.
The Golden Algorithm applies to all entities hosted within The Cloud, including factories, architecture and construction bots, energy collection, recycling and so no. This ensures that seriously injurious foods and drugs are no longer manufactured; unhealthy lifestyle choices are discouraged; and the population is uniformly healthier and fitter than they have ever been in recorded history.
The Cloud is worldwide and overseen by the tiny bureaucracy supporting the elected parliamentarians of the World government.
As she reached the end Bianca decided that the essay was not without merit. She particularly liked William's grasp of the competition engine that was now a feature of governance within The Cloud but calling it 'a game' was inappropriate.
He needed to make it more clear that it was essential that Bogans were supplied with a continuing stream of innovative new goods and services at lower and lower real prices. It's accepted wisdom that the economy needs to grow in the face of rapidly declining population. Thus Bogans need to have incentive to use 'it' once and then look around for a better one. With close to 100% recycling of their discards it all comes back to energy consumption. There's now plenty of that with modern solar-accumulators and fusion. The human economy is now dedicated to getting through available energy resources at ever grater rates. Accelerated entropy. Helping the Universe cool faster.
A paragraph or two on energy would be a good enhancement.
And although he's mentioned the demise of medicine and the law and the recovery of religion, he hasn't mentioned the other great employers of the past. But he's young and wouldn't remember diplomats or the military professions or their supporting arms industries. No young person these days had ever seen a weapon outside of a museum.