Semper Fi: The Last Day of the 21st Century

Semper Fi: The Last Day of the 21st Century
December 31st, 2099.
New York, NY, USA.

Miguel O’Hara looked into the future, but all he saw was the past. He
was poised on the dawn of a new era, a new century, a new beginning.
Or at least that’s what all the vids and downloads said. He didn’t
buy it. The new century was going to be just a big old repeat of the
last. A sick joke on a species which had danced the tune more times
than was good for it but that couldn’t seem to find the nerve to try
a new scene.

Winter thoughts, but they fit the day. It was 43ºF, cold for
December, and his old jacket just wasn’t keeping out the chill like
it used to. [1] It needed a new temp controller but Miguel was too
cheap to buy a new one.

No, Miguel shook his head. Better to be honest. He was too broke to
buy a new one. His saving had dwindled to nothing and he had gotten
deep into debt thanks to six more months of Basic Med School than he
had planned for. [2] He should have graduated in June, but instead
here he was in December waiting for word that he had passed his final
exam. He was pretty sure that he had passed, so there was no putting
it off any longer. He wasn’t a kid anymore, school was over and it
was time to get moving with his life. He just had to figure out where
to go.

There was the party at Lin Yao’s pad that he had been planning on
attending. But he really didn’t feel like being around people today.
He could take a drink of Gregarious-juice of course, and suddenly
everybody would be his friend and Lin’s party would sound exactly
right to him. But he didn’t want to take any mood alterers right
now. He knew people who came to rely too much on alts and they always
seemed a little cracked at the edges. Sometimes Miguel just liked to
let his feelings wash over him and if he was down for a while before he
came back up it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

End of . . . hey that was right. Today was the end of the Freedom
Tower. It was scheduled to be demolished in a little over an hour or
so. Miguel knew he couldn’t make it in time to get a good view but
maybe he could catch a glimpse of it. It wasn’t everyday that you go
to see a building be destroyed after all.

Taxi or Subway? The Taxi would get him there faster of course, even on
New Year’s Eve the auto-drive system kept the streets zooming along
faster than any human could have done, but it a lot cheaper to take the
subway and he really couldn’t afford to waste money right now. He
had 30,000 dollars on his credit cards and really didn’t want to add
any more to them. [3] Subway it would be.

The ride was smooth and comfortable. There was a faint smell of urine
in the station entrance as he got on, some clean-bot wasn’t doing its
job, but Miguel didn’t care enough to make an effort to tell someone
in authority about it, and chances are that everyone else would be too
busy with their own problems as well, so the station entrance would
probably remain soiled for a while.
He got off and walked as close as he could to the Freedom Tower but the
crowd was so packed that the best view he could get was by tilting his
head to the right and standing on the base of a lamppost, and even then
some guy’s goofy hat blocked a decent chunk of the building.

Miguel should have known better. New York, like most of the East and
West Coast of America was pretty packed these days. The population of
the US was double that of a century ago, and the cities had just grown
and grown.

And none of them had grown as much as New York. He didn’t know how
many more people could live here, but everyday thousands more were
found who wanted give it a shot.

More power to them in Miguel’s opinion. In all the world, he
couldn’t think of a city filled with as much life and vibrancy as New
York. Mumbai and São Paulo were the only cities that could come close
to matching its 16 million people, but they just weren’t as
cosmopolitan or as worldly or as rich as New York was. [4]

Miguel had been thinking about going to Europe a lot lately. Things
were so much more easier going over there. He would have to learn
French, it was the lingua franca of Europe after all.

Miguel only spoke English and squeaked by with a C- in his mandatory
language class in High School, but he had never cared much about
learning Hindi back in the day. If he really needed to he could just
take some Linglossa pills while living in Paris or Amsterdam and pick
up the language in a few months. [5] And once he had learned French
all of Europe would be open to him. He could bum around for a few
years, do some med work on the side, earn a few bucks under the counter
here and there . . . take a vacation from life basically. But,
wasn’t that what he had been doing for the last six months?

And if he left New York, he’d leave all of this! Just looking around
he saw groups of Hasidic Jews next to recent immigrants from Sub-Sahara
Africa, Sikhs and Indians, Chinese and Middle Easterners, and even a
few obviously FOB Europeans. Europe . . . it was nice but the gated
community nature of it scared him a little. Heck, he with a typical
American mutt background might actually be exotic over there!

He could see country after country in Europe, but why go to see the
world when the world would eventually come to New York anyways? Lady
Liberty still stood in her harbor, welcoming immigrants as bright as
she had when she was first built. Brighter really, as the latest
restoration added some new copper-ish material that was supposed to not
oxidize until the end of the next century. And here were many of those
immigrants, who had seen that statues gleam, turned into your typical
New Yorker waiting to see the tower come down.

Miguel remembered seeing an interview on Good Morning America a few
days ago with one of the last living survivors who had been in the
World Trade Center when it went down. [6] It was an old, old woman
who had been 7 years old on the day the towers were destroyed. She
talked in a crackly old voice of being carried down stairs by some man
she had never met and yelling for her Mommy who never made it out.
Then the old woman had started crying and they cut to a commercial.

It was strange for Miguel to think of something that he had only known
about from the history books as still being a traumatic experience in
some living person’s life. He tried to remember who had been
responsible for the World Trade Center attack, but it just wasn’t
coming to him. It was the Iraqis, right? Or maybe it was the Meccans?
[7]

Whoever it was, they had managed to bring the World Trade Center
crashing down but the Freedom Tower had withstood everything the 21st
century could throw at her. Except time. Time was an enemy that won
all wars. When the tower was first built she was the tallest building
in New York, but now she was dwarfed by her neighbors. [8]

Yet aside from scale, those neighbors didn’t look that different from
her. They might be a taller, and shinier, and have more electronics in
them, but the basic look wasn’t that different from what it had been
100 or even 200 years ago.

A crash, a boom, and suddenly the building was falling. He could see
the structure of it collapsing as it sunk into itself. The massive
structure fell to the earth, almost as if in slow motion. When it was
all done, and the Freedom Tower was on the ground, the crowd let go of
its collectively held breath and gave a cheer. There was something
joyous about seeing a controlled collapse of a building.

Soon, even as far away as he was, Miguel could taste some dust in the
air. He clicked his tongue and then twitched his fingers in a complex
motion that was second nature to him, and soon a replay from different
angles of the implosion was shown on his contacts. He shut them off
quickly though. It was one thing to see something on a vid, another to
see it in person. And he had. It was a hell of a sight, and he’d
remember it for the rest of his life. Perhaps today would be a good
day after all.

He walked away quickly, trying to escape the crowd and half succeeding.
He jumped back onto the subway and even managed to find a seat. He
still had a couple hours to kill and didn’t want to spend any money
doing it. More from apathy than any strong motivation, he found
himself going to Central Park.

Even in the cold weather people were still walking around the park.
Some were playing Frisbee, some were jacked into a 3D Otaku game and
looked really dorky fighting invisible dragons or mechas or whatever
they were doing, and some were playing splorg. [9] Miguel watched the
green glob of goo wrap itself around a players stick. It stretched and
bent but never quite lost its basic form before the player pushed his
power button and shocked the splorg back into a solid ball, causing it
to spring towards the next player.

Miguel thought about seeing if he could join in the game, but still
that sense of wanting to be by himself held him back. He walked away
from the game and into a grove of cherry trees. Their bloom smelled
fresh and inviting, even in the cold of winter. [10]

He was surprised that he had found this spot, it was a rare New Yorker
who did not enjoy to get away to the green for a while. For that
matter it was a rare American who did not enjoy the same thing.
America was rightly famous for it’s parks and Americans were
fanatical about protecting these green spaces. Despite the growing
population the parks and wilderness had grown faster.

Perhaps it was some leftover guilt or reaction against the eco-crisis
of the ’40’s. Miguel could still remember his visit to the Great
Wall of Florida and just seeing how that mass of stone, steel, and
concrete kept the ocean at bay had profoundly effected him. For those
generations that had lived through the worst of it . . . well it was no
wonder that they gave the US John Muir-ism with teeth.

The green was good but the city beckoned to Miguel. He exited the park
when he saw a beggar holding a sign say “Crippled in the May SoHo car
crash. Hurt bad. Lost job. Need food.” The man was standing a
little off, but otherwise looked alright. Car accidents were rare, but
that much scarier because of it. [11] Of course if the beggar was
actually in that accident he would have received immediate and swift
medical attention. The right to great medical coverage wasn’t in the
constitution, but it might as well have been.

Nonetheless, even with the best of care getting hurt still sucked. He
tossed a Tyler Stone coin into the man’s hat. [12] What the heck,
maybe the guy actually was in the SoHo crash after all.

Time was passing quickly now and Miguel had to decide what he was going
to do tonight. So far he had seen a building come down and decided to
not go to Europe. Surely such a memorable day deserved to have an
appropriate coda. He couldn’t just spend the last day of the century
by himself.

A quick change at his apartment and he dashed off to Lin Yao’s pad.
The party grew steadily over the night and people kept keeping half an
eye on their contact vids of the celebrations. There were various
entertainers and stars at the Times Square celebrations, including one
VR star, Xina Kwan, who Miguel actually got to perform with once. That
had been a memorable trip. Anyone could be in a VR scenario but it
took a certain personality to pull everyone in and make it all mesh in
exactly the right way. [13]

Xina made some funny joke and Miguel laughed in the middle of a girl at
the party’s anecdote, which was a little rude as it showed he had
been paying attention to something on his contacts instead of her, but
it was New Year’s Eve after all and normal decorum could slide a bit
tonight.

Some people in the back were taking shots of truth-juice, for example,
and then launching into long detailed explanations of their inner most
secrets. That was a little to intense for Miguel so he found a corner
and paid more attention to the vids. [14]

They were talking again about what the new century could expect to
bring, and what it couldn’t. Someone made a tired old joke about
wanting a flying car, and another about building bubbled cities on
Mars. It was silly really. Technology just didn’t change that way.
Growth was slow, and didn’t come in leaps and bounds. That was the
story that everyone, except a very few surviving ancients, knew from
personal experience.

Hell, it was probably a good thing that technology moved so slow,
otherwise the human race probably wouldn’t realize what safety
measures had to be implemented to avoid the environmental and social
disasters tech advances could bring about.

The ball began to come down and Miguel raised a glass to the departing
century, even if it hadn’t been all that good, it hadn’t been all
that bad either.

[1] The US still has not converted to metric and global warming has
resulted in a New York City that is a good deal warmer than ours.

[2] Miguel isn’t becoming a doctor, but is finishing up what is
basically a para-Doctoral program (closer to a para-legal than a
nurse). The medical industry is a much larger % of national wealth
than in the present and this has resulted in some differences with how
it is run compared to our time.

[3] That’s $30,000 dollars in 2006 money. The average American
makes around $90,000 a year at this point so that’s a third of a
year’s income, if he gets a good job, that Miguel has on his credit
cards.

[4] China, Russia, Korea, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, and Japan have all
seen significant population decreases by the end of the 21st century,
so Shanghai, Moscow, Seoul, Lima, Mexico City, and Jakarta just can’t
compete with NY City in terms of population anymore. Karachi and Delhi
were destroyed by quite powerful and dirty nuclear weapons and have not
recovered their previous positions, although both have been restored to
varying degrees.

[5] Thanks to Carlos for the idea at

http://groups.google.com/group/soc.history.what-if/msg/c7acd929c232902c?dmode=source&hl=en

[6] I don’t think it’s unreasonable for 9-11 to still have a place
in the popular conscious of the late 21st century, roughly on par with
say the Titanic at the end of the 20th. That is to say, it’s
remembered and mythologized even if some of the details are a little
off.

[7] Saudi Arabia is long gone by this point, so the phrase “Saudi”
is about as far away from Miguel’s usage as “Ottoman” is from
ours. He’d probably recognize it if he read it, but it’s not part
of his every day vocabulary. Meccan is a citizen of the Islamic
Republic of Mecca.

[8] The problem with land is they just aren’t making more of it.
With a population double that of today New York City has just grown
taller and taller. Some material breakthroughs have made taller
buildings much cheaper to build in this future so as a result even
crowded cities often have more space per person than we do today.

[9] I figure that the odds are that some new sport will become
popular over the next 100 years. Splorg is weird to us much as a
Frisbee would be to someone from the 19th century.

[10] Semper-fi does have some useful, and frivolous, genetic
engineering. It’s just that none of it is in the “live forever and
never age” category. Still, as Jonathan Swift said, “Whosoever
could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot
of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind,
and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of
politicians put together.” Semper-fi farming is around twice as
productive as ours, and given that they have about the same number of
people as 2006 this means that a lot of land that was formerly
low-productive farming reverted to wilderness or alternate development.

[11] Self-driving cars with a much higher safety record than humans
are actually a fairly major change. If they are 1/10th as dangerous as
humans it would result in literally millions of saved lived over the
21st century.

[12] President Tyler Stone is on a US coin worth approximately $5.00.
It is the highest value US coin in circulations, and many Americans
don’t like it for exactly that reason.

[13] Think of the difference between a good game master and a bad game
master. Now imagine if the best game master you’ve ever been with
not only could cause your VR system to actually see whatever they
wanted but also knew that he or she could make their living being a
game master if they honed their skill enough. Now imagine the top 1%
of that group. Those are the VR stars and it’s very expensive and
very hard to get on one of their games. In some ways they are Veblen
goods. Miguel just got lucky with a present from a rich uncle for his
21st birthday.

[14] The development of a working truth serum caused a major social,
and to some extent even an economic, revolution in the US and the world
a generation or so ago. Its ripple effects are even now being felt.
Taking shots of it, as compared to other mood alts or pick-me-uppers,
is still considered a little risqué depending on the company.

Mike Ralls

From alt.history.future  09.06.2006

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Pillars of Naturalism

Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin are considered the pillars
of modern western thought. They differed in many ways but had one thing
in common-they were reductionists who claimed that all higher realms
of existence could be explained by lower natural causes. They were the
pillars of naturalism.

But their ideas were tested during the twentieth century and found
wanting. Freud was the first fall. Incidents in his career were cited
to call into question both his integrity and his scientific competence,
and psychiatry seemed to make more progress through medication than
through Freudian analysis. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late
1980s inflicted a death blow on Marxism, which is now seen as not only
failing to deliver its promised utopia but as creating an inhumane
tyranny. Darwin is the last man standing, but his theory is rapidly
eroding as modern biological science reveals amazing complexity and
design that cannot possibly be explained by Darwin’s proposed
mechanism of random mutations and natural selection. This led Phillip
Johnson to summarize the situation one day with the phrase that appears
on this shirt: “Freud is dead, Marx is dead, and Darwin is not
feeling very well.”

From alt.history.future By “Sound of Trumpet” <soundoftrumpet@lycos.com>

28.02.2006

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