A few years ago, I got into a conversation with my boss about teleportation. We were imagining what the world would be like if people could suddenly teleport, a la Star Trek.
He started imagining all sorts of utopian benefits, but as usual, I had a different take. He didn’t strike me as the type of man who’d ever been really poor, can’t-get-your-bad-teeth-pulled poor, and that never leaves you. It makes you cynical. New techology? As always, my first thought was, how would this be used to screw the poor?
Continuing on our thought experiment, I imagined that even if teleportation existed, it would be very expensive. Therefore, wealthy people could afford daily or even hourly access to it, while regular folks couldn’t. Perhaps normal travel would even get more expensive for regular folks, as teleportation bit into economies of scale for air and train travel.
So, I envisioned a world where the wealthy, no longer tied to jobs in big cities, would all move to the places with the most natural beauty. Places that used to be beautiful, but remote — and therefore affordable — would become expensive. By contrast, The Poors would be the only ones tied to physical jobs where you had to live nearby. Cities would be for the poor and mountain towns near Yellowstone would be for the rich.
Weirdly, this is exactly what has happened with Covid times. We don’t teleport our bodies to places where our minds need to be, but rather the reverse. And I see this trend continuing, at least for the upper echelons of society. Now that we’ve given the wealthy something special they couldn’t have before — year-round skiing and walks on the beach — they’re not likely to give it back. The rich aren’t into takesee-backsees. They only want more, ever more, not less.
For those poor schlubs who find themselves contained to the physical world of physical employment, I don’t know what the future holds. However, instinct says it’s grim. We have no reliable nationalized proof of vaccine. If you could just have scanners for your phones at store entrances, workers would be protected. Instead, we have the reverse. Governors (like mine) passing laws to outlaw vaccine requirements. The Death Cult continues.
As the saying goes, It’s not enough that you succeed; others must fail. Schadenfreude has now reached its apotheosis and become enshrined into public policy. It’s not enough that people are kicked off unemployment early and forced to work shit jobs; they must also be terrified. Nobody who has to work with the public gets to have any sort of choice about whether they remain safe from a deadly illness. And nobody who is immune-compromised gets to have any sort of choices at all.
By contrast, I bet places like Catalina Island and Fisher Island and other wealthy gated communities will institute their own laws, enforced not by police (the rich don’t care about police) but by the threat of expulsion from the in-group (the rich care very much about the in-group). Everyone in certain communities will need incontrovertible proof of vaccination. Thus the rich will attempt to create a new kind of gated community; inside the gate, life can continue as it did before, based on an enforced social contract that leaves infection rates vanishingly low. Inside the gate, it’s safe.
It’s not enough that I be safe; you must be unsafe.
Outside the gate, the propaganda virus is allowed to spread. “Vaccine passports mean I’m not free,” etc. etc. This causes the virus-virus to spread. The bottom 90% live in a world with endemic Covid, where daily life is just riskier than before, where at any moment you can get sick with a virus that can kill you — or worse, cripple you for life. Meanwhile, the rich jet from safe haven to safe haven, protected, above the rest of us.
The only real hope normal folks have in this dynamic is that vaccines end up being effective enough that one’s own individual choices can keep one safe, or safe enough. Because right now, the powers that be have made it clear that they’ll sabotage any group efforts to keep us safe and protected. Because group solidarity leads inexorably to more group solidarity! If we privilege the group to keep folks from dying of Covid, next thing you know, you’ll see people striking for better working conditions! So best to nip all sense of communality in the bud.
Best to put forth the lie of individual freedom as we brazenly and wantonly murder an entire set of individuals with neglect. Best that any problems that require communal responses just…remain problems. Whatever could we do? Change? Don’t be ridiculous.
Of course, everything about this is merely a dry run for the communal response needed to address climate change. Or rather, a dry run for trying to kill the communal response that’s needed, because it would mess up the stock portfolios that makes Catalina Island and Fisher Island possible.
With climate change, the calculus will be the same. The wealthy will seek out those little geographical pockets that are less affected. The Pacific Northwest, which will slowly turn into a mediterranean climate. Buffalo, NY, which will still have plentiful fresh water. Second homes in Canada will be the newest status symbol.
Or, if natural disasters get to be too intense to avoid, then the wealthy lifestyle will become nomadic — California in the winter, Canada in the summer. The rich will live everywhere, while only the poor will be tied to one location, and forced to endure annual catastrophes: tornadoes in OK, floods in FL, hurricanes in LA, wildfires in OR….
Escaping the seasonal catastrophes, the wealthy will turn into migrants. Not migrant workers, but migrant un-workers, migrant resort-goers, migrant parasites. Leeches-to-go. To get to their seasonally, intermittently-safe resting places, they’ll contribute to the problem — with low-mileage Winnebagos and high-carbon jets. Escaping the problem they themselves created, they’ll contribute even more to the problem in the meantime. Calls for reduction of carbon footprints will fall on deaf planes.
And the rest of us? Poverty will mean staying in one place, having a fixed address, and being forced to endure.