Benevolent, Intelligent Tyranny, Save Us

What the world needs right now is a policy of global austerity, and possibly the imposition of universal dictatorship. Both these plans are contrary to my nature and customary beliefs. The latter, particularly, is repugnant, a concept I reject and despise. But we are a civilization stuck between a rock and a dead place, and the rule of benevolent dictators (however antithetical and perhaps mythical the concept may be) could be our only hope of improving, or wholly undoing and replacing, the systems of everything from economics and governance to the everyday lifestyle of every person on the planet.

Who shall be our overlord? Our undisputed ruler of the Earth?

No, dear reader, not me. I’m flattered by the nomination but recognize my limitations. Perhaps it’s that self-awareness and humility which would make me a great leader, but...

First of all, we need more than a single leader. I said dictatorship, not autocracy. Something more along the lines of China’s government than Russia’s. But better, obviously. Our leaders must and shall be a council of the earth’s most intelligent scientists. Ideally, they’ll also be the most ethically and morally good scientists, but we’ll have to take what we can get.

Humankind is on a precipice of no return. Like most who swandive off precipices, we’ll be too fucked up or dead to climb back up afterwards. There are too many destructive behaviors being done with habitual fever for gradual measures to be a viable remedy. The global destruction being inflicted upon the planet by corporations, governments, militaries, and civilians as a collective will kill most, if not all, of us, and a plethora of other species along with us. It’s a one-sided war on life. The opposition to it must be greater than “measured” or “practical.” The only truly practical response must be overpowering. All enemies of the Earth must be stopped immediately, and work begun just as swiftly to repair the damage already done.

The devastation we face will not be averted by small changes. This isn’t a matter of cutting down on using fossil fuel for travel and production, or curbing the use of single-use plastics. The situation demands that we stop entirely. Full stop. No more gas or diesel cars. No more planes criss-crossing the skies by the thousands. No stupid cruise ships. No more power plants using anything but renewable, non-polluting resources. No more drilling for oil or gas. No mining for coal. No mining, period. You know the slogan, Keep it in the ground. Apply that to everything. Keep every fucking thing in the ground. We’ve extracted enough materials and destroyed enough communities through mining; recycle what we already have or get new materials from a damn asteroid. No more plastic bags or forks or straws or packaging of any kind unless it either can and will be recycled or is biodegradable. No more factory farms and industrial agriculture. No more air conditioning unless it’s an actual life-threatening emergency.

Will this be difficult? Of course.

Will it ruin the economy? Yes. As it is.

Fuck the economy.

Our economy, much like the philosophy of capitalism and the very notion of money on which it’s based is little more than an idea, an irrational belief, a game that’s gone too far and we’re afraid to stop playing. Having gotten into the habit, it’s hard to break the shared delusion. But we have to acknowledge that it’s all based on bullshit and make-believe to begin with. Numbers and paper do not have tangible, existential value; breathable air, potable water and edible food do. For the pursuit of money, profit, capital, the economy, ephemeral and ultimately meaningless ideas, we are destroying everything of true value.

We need to take steps either forward or backward, because where we are standing right now will kill us. We advance beyond the harmful practices in which we’ve been mired since the industrial revolution, or we go back to the way we existed through most of history, when our carbon footprint was near nil because the most harmful technology we had was the bonfire.

To achieve the goals of planetary improvement, hopefully ultimately advancing more than we regress technologically, we’ll need the leadership of the dictatorial science council. It will be their duty to end all harmful practices, institute improved ones, and work to fix the damage that got us here. We can survive, even thrive, as a species under a global policy of austerity. We can recognize that what we would be giving up to achieve this isn’t actually that important, and can ultimately be much better. Because the relative comfort in which some of us now live is, with certainty, going to kill us.

You know a notable difference between classic and contemporary science fiction? More sex and cursing, yes. But also, in oldtimey scifi there was a common trope of the superiority of science and its connection to both power and practicality. When characters in old scifi would time-travel into the future, or go off on a rocketship to a planet with a far more advanced society, they’d often find that the leadership structure there was comprised of scientists. Everyone calling the shots a doctor or a professor of this or that. In modern scifi, it seems more common to find future civilizations and those on far-flung planets ruled by corporate interests and/or fascist regimes. If there are scientists in these dystopic settings, they’re more likely to be sinister lackeys than leaders. There’s an argument to be made that the common modern tropes are more “realistic,” in large part because realism is often conflated with cynicism. To be a true realist, I believe, takes a balance of pessimism and optimism. Acknowledge the worst case scenario so that you may work towards the best.

While it may seem far-fetched that the united people of the world will rise up against its oligarchs, the billionaires, industrialists and politicians, whose rule is based more on habit and complacency on our parts than competence or right on theirs, and install a quorum of altruistic scientists in their place, it should nevertheless be shot for as the ultimate goal. Settling for less than you want or need in the name of pragmatism is a path towards failure. You will almost always end up getting less, which is why you must begin any endeavor by demanding more.

A variation on the adage, hope for the best, but expect the worst: Beware the worst as you fight for the best.