A while ago I started writing a few science fiction stories about life after The Gauntlet. The basic premise was that the 21st century – particularly toward the end – became a time of harrowing hardships. Climate change fueled an era of famine, disease, and warfare during which human civilization as we know it today more or less ended. It wasn’t a complete breakdown but more a breaking apart. With every continent ravaged by conflict and climate disasters, the capacity for international aid more or less went away, and humanity shrank back into a set of regional communities, all focused on their own problems. Technology survived, but was adapted to new conditions, and society was largely shaped by the hazards of local environments.
Running the gauntlet is a form of corporal punishment that has been used as a way to brutalize wrongdoers, and as a rite of passage. The basic premise is that the victim must run between two rows of people, usually armed with some form of blunt weapon like a rod. The rows of people forming “the gauntlet” attack the victim, and continue to do so as long as he is within their reach, until he makes it out the other end. In my climate metaphor, humanity is both the victim, attempting to get from one place to the next, and we are our tormentors, supplying the violence and pain that makes the whole process into an ordeal. Because of the actions of those in the past – pollution, old grudges, concentrations of power, and so on – many of the hits that are coming our way cannot be avoided. Just as the COVID-19 virus outbreak could not be stopped, once it began, so too will certain climate-fueled disasters happen no matter what we do at this point.
I don’t know whether we’ve entered an era like that or not, but at the moment it’s not hard to feel as if we have. I think that, within a year, maybe two, we will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis to a different world. We will be grieving those lost. We will be assessing what remains. We will be reaching out to those we love, and trying to strengthen the bonds we feel are important. We will also be re-examining what was done during the crisis, as we have already been doing from in the middle of it. Laws have been passed, rules have been changed, expectations have been adjusted, and power grabs have been made. All of that will continue in the days, weeks, and months ahead, and we are still in the beginning of this crisis.
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