An ABC of the modern world on planet Earth (and colonies): chapter 1
A field guide to understanding modern life for Terrans, Aliens and grandparents.
Chapter 1: Alzheimer’s to Ayn Rand
is for Alzheimer’s. What did you say? And even though we must all know by now to exercise and sleep more, cut down sugar and carbs, to avoid benzodiazepines, to learn foreign languages and to keep our creative drive youthful and dynamic…still, Alzheimer’s grows, like…like something that grows, erm…
is for AI, which we’re going to need if Alzheimer’s continues its progression. It’s arguable that all intelligence is artificial unless you believe that babies are born Nobel prize winners. Do machines do it better than us? Does it matter?
is for Alienation, practically short-hand for ‘Modern’. Writers have been describing its effects since WWI. See, amongst many other works: The Wasteland (TS Eliot); The Man Without Qualities (Robert Musil); The Stranger (Albert Camus); A Bend in the River (VS Naipaul); Text (Carol Ann Duffy). Its direct cause is the atomisation of society.
is for Algorithms: the new masters of the universe, all the more sinister for being nothing more than lines of codes created by young mathematicians reclining on bean bags while eating avocadoes (see also: Gender Gap, Millennials, etc.). When in doubt, blame it on an algorithm. It can’t fight back.
is for Anarchism, the opposite of alienation and atomisation. Many of us suspect that Anarchism — at least in its more peaceable forms — is the only socio-political system that has a chance of saving the planet and its inhabitants without authoritarian systems. It relies on the essential human characteristic of cooperation, it’s egalitarian and it balances both with the human desire for freedom. See: under Mutual Aid; see also Radical Care.
is for Audiobooks, which have exploded as a means of enjoying books. Are they a good thing? Undoubtedly. My mother became blind after 60, and audiobooks, along with radio and podcasts, have given her a lifeline to knowledge and entertainment. They’re also a useful housework aid: you can zap all that cooking, cleaning and tidying while Stephen King chills your marrow. Like all good things, audiobooks have a dark lining: listening through headphones can be horribly addictive and cut us off from what is happening around us. What’s that you said? What rainbow? Wait! I’m about to find out who the bad guy is!
is for Awesome: one of a group of words that used to mean ‘terrifying’, then ‘extraordinary’, and now means ‘very good’. Part of a larger group of overused words that have become meaningless. See also: fabulous, fantastic, tremendous, etc. Is the trend amazeballs or clichéd?
is for Ayn Rand. A famous right-wing libertarian woman who promoted selfishness as an ideology and rejected any sort of human mutual aid, cooperation, state aid or welfare in theory, but in practice spent her last years in the US supported by state benefits. She had many followers, mostly naive young men who are now ageing Boomers. Some of them never outgrew their childish fascination: to this day, they continue to promote it.