THE ROAD TO TOTALITARIANISM

 Spain, January 2035 

“Smart Lockdown” is in place once again for the beginning of the year, with the flu and other viruses being particularly deadly in Western Europe. Fortunately, many people are allowed to go out for outdoor activities as long as their tracking app greenlights this. 

Those who are either in particular danger- the elderly especially- or those who are likely to carry viruses will have a red light on their phone. They need to stay inside. How this is calculated is purposefully made unclear. All we know is that you are either “green” or “red”. Technically you can refuse to consent to be traced. That does mean, however, that you can only use smartphones made before 2023, when the tracking app became mandatory for every new phone sold. Moreover, it effectively means you have to stay at home. If the police catch you without evidence that you are “green,” you will be arrested.

Every morning, new-tech-toilets test each individual’s urine. These data are then stored and used by authorities to evaluate the PIL (Pandemic Infection Level) for the next 24 hours. The template for this system came from the War on Terror earlier in the century, with a range from 1 to 5. Threat levels establish the balance between individual rights and authority power. At 1/5, the balance between people and the government is roughly what it was by the turn of the millennium. At 5/5, there is no legal recourse and emergency powers are in effect. For the past few years, it has been consistently at 5/5 during winter, and 4/5 during summer. Needless to say, it is unlikely to ever go back to anything below that. 

Who establishes the threat levels, and how, is unclear. There is a medical government committee, dubbed “The Guardians” who control the processes. Their methodology is not publicly available. The official reason for this is that it is based on complex algorithms that could lead to confusion and destructive behaviour of individuals trying to game the system. 

Punishment for breaking the rules has become more severe. Given the potential for overwhelmed legal systems, the police no longer need to justify any arrest shorter than two weeks, or any fine under five thousand euros. Not that it really matters; most people’s daily lives now occur within the walls of their own home. Social gatherings mostly occur online through government sanctioned video conferencing platforms such as Doom. 

Deaths caused by viruses have fallen to negligible levels. Fewer people die from the flu or other such causes than they do from suicide. Then again, that is a misleading statistic given that suicides have become widespread, as mental illness has skyrocketed. The government is currently working on monitoring devices to intervene when people fall below their “Depression Threshold Levels” (DTL).  

Overall life expectancy has gone down. Extreme poverty- caused by a combination of automation and economic depression- means that millions of people are without healthy nutrition nor have access to basic medicine. Still, generally, people feel that measures have been sensible. After all, the nightmare of 2020 when 500 thousand, mostly elderly, people died from Covid19 should never be repeated. It is considered right that we do everything in our power to prevent future pandemics. Protecting the elderly and ensuring their right to life- no matter how old or fragile they are- is considered a sign of a civilised society. Yes, it is true that these measures make the elderly particularly prone to loneliness and depression. Nonetheless, the consensus among the middle classes is that the right-to-life trumps quality-of-life any day of the week. 

Spain, September 2040

The newly elected president- the monarchy was disbanded after corruption scandals led to 80% of the royal family to be arrested- has just held a major speech about the direction of the country. He has announced that the General Threat Level (GTL, an aggregate measure considering air pollution, current pandemics and terrorist activity) will be permanently at maximum for the foreseeable future. It turns out that there are radical elements in society who use air pollution to spread artificially created viruses. “The Guardians”- the medical control committee- have confirmed the high risk that ordinary citizens run because of those extremists. “The Guardians” powers have now been expanded beyond medical analysis and they are now responsible for keeping people alive in general. They reaffirmed that it is fundamental to take extreme measures until the current terrorist threat has been eradicated.

It is unclear what evidence exists to support these government claims, but the mood in the streets (or rather, the mood in the living rooms, as not much happens in streets these days) is that it is better safe than sorry. We did not demand evidence during the War on Terror, nor during the Great Covid19 Crisis, so why start now? We trust the authorities and, especially, “The Guardians”, to do the right thing. They are scientific experts, after all. That is what we think, anyway. No one really knows who they are… 

The president has announced a whole range of new measures. First of all, since the tracking and tracing apps did not prevent this new threat from occurring, a radical overhaul will now require any Spanish resident to be implanted with a permanent chip which directly monitors body functions, mental state and location. 

Secondly, parliamentary debates have been suspended for the time being. There is no time for unproductive debates and waffling during a crisis of this magnitude. Even though no one really knows the magnitude of the crisis, it could potentially be horrible. Therefore, it is better to be safe than sorry. Opposition parties are now free to speak directly to government officials, no need for formal settings. Efficiency is key. 

Thirdly, the evolution of police powers (started in 2001, strengthened in 2020 and then further developed during the years since) will now be formally unburdened by legal restrictions. Justice is still in place to settle civil and economic disputes, but it is considered fundamental that the police can do their work unencumbered by red tape. Otherwise millions might die unnecessarily at the hands of virus-carrying, air-polluting radicals. 

Fourthly, fact-checkers will be assigned by “The Guardians” to ensure that the media report accurate information. The last thing we need during a crisis like this is misreporting or fake news leading to confusion and unnecessary panic. Media outlets that are found to be in breach of the newly introduced “Clear Information Act” (CIA) will be shut down and criminal proceedings against their proprietors will be initiated. 

Spain, July 2084

Students learn in history books about a notion called “open democracy”. A passage reads: 

“Open Democracy was a morally dubious and failed attempt at Social Darwinism during the late 20th century in certain countries. It sacrificed naïve civilians as fodder for terrorists while the elderly were structurally killed off through uncontrolled pandemics such as Covid19. It was only after a dramatic 0.00625 percent of the global population was murdered during the horrific 2020 Corona Genocide that the world came to understand that free society is unethical. Back then, there were some who believed that extending life is not the only thing that matters. Fortunately, now, in 2084, it is obvious to everyone that we need strong authorities to protect our fragile human bodies. Everything else is secondary. This is the essence of any righteous and modern civilization. After all, if you are not alive, nothing else matters.”

Balder Hageraats

Director of RAIA Group