We’re not in the darkest timeline. The darkest timeline wouldn’t be Apple versus FBI and Hulk Hogan versus Gawker and Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. The darkest timeline would be drones blowing up American citizens (yes, I do focus on my own country like a dirty jingoist, thanks).

The premise of this newsletter is that cyberpunk is happening now, but that doesn’t mean we occupy the worst possible reality. Our reality is… well, I’d say mediocre. It’s bearable — given my white and middle-class privilege, anyway — but more B- than A+. We could do better. We could do worse, definitely, but we could also do better.

Image via Matt Lyon. Source unknown.

Image via Matt Lyon. Source unknown.

In the darkest timeline, “civil liberties” would be a meaningless phrase everywhere, not just in Turkey, Russia, and the like. The darkest timeline would mean that Trump wins instead of merely having a frighteningly successful candidacy. The darkest timeline would bear most of the features of modern life, plus a lot more dystopian power-fracturing. War, famine, and biological weapons would be unleashed on the poorest places as well as the richest. (I know, this does sound a lot like the future that we’re already building. Shh.)

Personal finance website The Billfold recently posted an interesting anonymous article about someone with a lot of student debt who ended up working in the expat war industry, albeit for an NGO:

“My job was ostensibly to plan the IT and communications infrastructure for the newly established Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq (IECI). Nationwide elections were scheduled for January 2005, only five months away. Given that no one had a firm grasp on how any of this was going to work, my job was initially little more than an intellectual exercise, but concepts had a disconcertingly rapid way of becoming reality in Baghdad. By the end of my second week, I was asked to stay on through February to build what I had planned.”

Aside from the professional pressure, the writer’s story describes bombings as a banal recurring element of daily life. Are we all headed there? I’m skeptical — for example, ISIS poses no material threat to the US. Police officers kill more citizens than terrorism. But we keep pushing ourselves toward escalated violence.

My friend Samio pointed out on Facebook that it’s pretty goddam rich for me to say all of this from the cushy United States. Here is a slightly edited version of his comment:

“In México City we have such poor breathing conditions that we’ll have to filter indoor air soon and only go out with breathing masks. We’re gonna have water shortages. Don’t even get me started on the murders of women, which have become normal. Hell, earlier today the metro line I was on had a major malfunction and chemical smoke burst out. I still can’t breathe fully.

AND EVEN THAT IS NOTHING compared to what someone in Palestine or a Chinese mega-slum is having to deal with right now. The general sentiment that our world is a brutal and nasty place, that life is cheap and everything is gonna get worse, is what the phrase ‘darkest timeline’ seeks to express. In that sense, yes, we’re undeniably fucked.”

Fair enough, Samio. (This is why it’s good to know people with different life experiences! You find out when you’re being arrogant in your assessments of the world!)