To the disbelief of the entire world, the riots in Seattle had reached a precipice and the city began to devolve into full anarchy. There was no hiding it. No amount of spin could soften it. It turned out the revolution wouldn’t just be televised, it would be live-streamed through a million smart devices. Like a virus, these riots began to spread across the country at an alarming rate – more contagious than even the worst case of H.E.R.O.E.S. – and suspiciously well-coordinated. Everyone had their theories – some thought it was the tipping point of civil unrest, others thought they were foreign actors, some still even attributed them to a doomsday cult. They were organized agents of chaos and it became plainly obvious that whatever they were, they were effective.
Soon after Baker turned out to be right, the supply chain was routed and the riots had reached Saint Louis.
It was 1:10am and just like the night before I couldn’t sleep. It didn’t seem like anyone could – a deep heartache weighed on the chest of every American as we stayed glued to our screens, watching as city after city devolves into chaos. Unrecognizable chaos. It was haunting enough when the rioting was contained to a few states out west – we had had those before – but the rate that it spread shocked everyone. Everyone seemed to be so keen to cheer on a revolution until it came to their doorstep. It was a reality show from hell – before my eyes I was watching an on-demand dissolution of my own country being live-streamed to the world. A police scanner in the background was all that kept me company in my dimly lit room. There was something oddly soothing about hearing it bark at me, regardless of each new development, steadily rocking me to my core. When I was young my dad and I used to stay up late and listen along with a scanner while we pretended to be detectives, listening in for the next big crime to solve. It was a familiar comfort I had in a deeply foreign time.
I stopped watching the news when it became abundantly clear during the riots that their objective wasn’t the preservation of our country, but rather it was in their best interests to prolong them – even incite them. It had become routine for them in the past few years to add theater to pieces to gain more traction, as the advent of readily accessible internet personality journalism made it hard for the main networks to compete.
One of the most devastating things in American society was how dogged our media was in trying to convince both sides that America was a failing autocratic state. With no great enemy to fight we resorted to demonizing the other half of our own country. It started as a light flame but over time more and more kerosene was added by way of outrage mobs, terrorist attacks, misleading news, and sensationalism. It could be my naivety, but even after all this time I still don’t think the media networks had overly malicious intentions. I don’t think they had any idea how systematically destructive it would prove to be to our country. I just think they were thinking short term – looking for immediate gratification like everyone else. Outrage and negativity clearly tracked better and got more clicks than facts and logic. The more outrageous and theatrical, the more people would tune in. The cauldron was bubbling over and H.E.R.O.E.S. was one of the final ingredients added – the last thing this country needed was to stew in isolation for months on end, inundated with a constant barrage of inflammatory propaganda meant to fracture families. America may have turned most of its back on God, but Religion itself never left – we replaced spirituality with rampant consumerism as an outlet for our fervor. Our deity became the brands that provided this gratification and now we had reached the flames of the altar. These factors all combined together to raise a weak generation of aimless men and women. If I was going to survive, I would have to rise above this
It’s hard to believe someone like me would take this kind of position, but it became clearer after the coffee shop meeting and the rapidly changing world around us. Baker’s words stayed with me and I began to second guess everything, maybe for the first time ever.
It could have been anything that finally set us off, but for us, it was a shooting that ultimately sent us careening overboard. People were looking for anything to justify their anger.
After the shooting, I saw leaders attempt to rise to quell their communities. They were heroes, without question, and their speeches were some of the most empowering I had ever heard. They spoke with a burning passion for their communities, for justice, for peace. But the division that had been sewn in this country for decades had reached critical mass and I couldn’t help but feel these powerful words fall onto deaf ears.
How many times have we found ourselves in this position of in-fighting? How many times has this exact same scenario played out? It was the same old story in America it seemed and we couldn’t help but continue to be stuck in this loop. Same problem, new decade. Was this just an inevitability? Or was this the final one? Historically it has been speculated that the level of social unrest emulates the Gini index of wealth inequality, and since H.E.R.O.E.S. this disparity had increased tenfold. But it seemed like it was obvious who the real culprits were – you’d think that in this digital age of information it should have been easy for the average person to see. The billionaires they hated so much had made an immense profit off of the nation while millions were left unemployed and the wealth divide had never been greater. But there-in lies the problem – it requires much more planning to face an existential threat like that. It’s much easier and immediate to attack your neighbor as long as you can be convinced that he has some slight culpability to your suffering.
Is it just an immutable fact that it’s impossible to organize the many against the few? At this point it was a waste of effort to dwell on these questions because the time for playing political whack-a-mole to assign blame had long since passed. Cities were burning and Maslow decreed that I shift focus to my immediate preservation. There will be a time to fight back, but now is the time for survival. As chaos filtered throughout the country, it became abundantly transparent that we could not rely on the government to protect it’s citizens anymore.
Fortunately, there was still time. Time to pick up the last few things I needed and meet Baker outside the city.
There were other people I tried to reach as Baker reached me, but I proved to be much less persuasive. People were skeptical – to the point of complete resistance – to even the notion of entertaining that kind of radical change was possible. Reality was just above the surface, beckoning to those entrenched in the belief that the status quo could be reestablished. There’s no way our life will ever change – the Roman farmer says.
I was no hero and I couldn’t blame them – there were so many ways I felt completely overwhelmed and ill-equipped at the prospect of surviving on my own. But the alternative was to wait and relinquish any agency I had left to chance. If I approached it one day at a time it became much more manageable. The tools that I used to complain about invading my privacy could be wielded to help me escape. I had given up arguing about politics online and scrubbed my old accounts as best as I could to make myself appear as vanilla as possible. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask – in the end it was an irrelevant debate and not worth the loss of friends and family over. Likewise, I wasn’t sure who I’d run into and I wanted to be as agreeable and unremarkable as possible to anyone I’d encounter – I didn’t need to invent extra reasons for people to be wary of me.
I would follow the rest of Baker’s tenets as well. I would make a point to avoid gatherings and protests – just as much as there is strength in numbers there is also incredible vulnerability. A 100-strong protest will not be sizably strengthened by the addition of just one more member, yet my own personal risk goes up exponentially if I join up with a mob. I was no hero, and certainly had no desire to be a martyr – I would have to make a point to not stand out unless absolutely necessary. I would make more of an effort to pursue physical strength – in retrospect I still contend that the greatest trick on the modern man was making him assume that being strong and intellectual were mutually exclusive qualities and that one would negate the other.
The remaining social media account I had – Snapchat – was used as a bootleg news aggregate. One of the app’s standout features was the geo-locating service called SnapMap – it allowed participants to see a heat map of the immediate area of users uploading content in real-time. The stronger the heat signature, the more active the users. And too many of them could not help but broadcast every waking moment – rioting included – through portrait mode. I could see where they were and what the group was doing right down to the street corners. Even if I did trust the news media at this point, I was still at least ten to fifteen minutes ahead of any attempt at breaking news they could muster about how the riots were evolving. I made a point to load as many podcasts, books on tape, and offline media onto my smartphone because once I had reunited with Baker, I would disable the phone’s network functionality and switch over to my prepaid clamshell from here on out. The prospect of phantom pain from losing my phone seemed to already unnerve me, but I managed without it before and I can learn to do it again.
Once the riots started to increase in intensity around the country Baker once again reached out to me – this time via encrypted email. One last desperate attempt to get me to see reason, I suppose. He swore to me that there would be a massive false flag attack on our country if the damage got to be too great – something to unite us against a common enemy in our eleventh hour. It wouldn’t be the real enemy that got us into this mess, he claimed, but it would be “enough” of an enemy to get us to stop fighting each other at least. It sounded absolutely insane to me, but his statements reverberated through the fog around me, I had to once again pause and look at reality. The world had already changed so much and I already was such a far cry from my persona a year ago – an aimless man sitting in a coffee shop preoccupied with pointless suburban gossip – that I was through second guessing him at this point.
But we as humans are nothing if not adaptable.