THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD
THE GREAT UNRAVELLING
Artemis T Fielding
The world as we knew it ended early in the 21st Century. Not from a single disaster, but from innumerable issues that pulled at the threads of society. There was no day of Armageddon, no specific moment that could be considered The End. Just a series of escalating conflicts and failures that has come to be known as the ‘Great Unravelling’.
What follows is my take on what transpired.
Trust – The Unnatural Resource
The Great Unravelling was evident in many ways, but one common theme could be found at the source of them all. Trust, and the lack thereof. The Information Age should have been an antidote. The capacity for unfiltered news should have helped eradicate distrust. Instead it emboldened it. Considerable truths provoked stronger lies. Available evidence fuelled greater fictions. It should have been difficult, but people have a knack for believing in only that they wish to. It made lying to them all too easy.
It was a slow change at first. The internet played a big part in giving everyone a platform to share their views, and quickly those views became considered factual. We became more preoccupied with what our favoured celebrities thought about a matter than the details of the matter at hand. Despite the scope of intelligence at our fingertips we vastly preferred our perspective of the world around us in soundbites and snappy headlines.
The world became binary. Each increasingly smaller event becoming a matter of two sides. A war of minds and intellects. Votes and allegiances bought with propaganda. Brand loyalty discounted in exchange for ignorance. The measure of a person could now be devolved into a binary string – Right or left wing? Coke or Pepsi? For every matter there were two sides that catered to how you wished to see the world. Our trust in ideals had been replaced with devotion to a side.
Before the Great Unravelling you could ask anyone if they trusted the government and typically the answer would be an emphatic “No.” Yet they would still display shock and anger should the traffic lights at the end of their road cease to work for an afternoon. Even then, they would see fit to sit in traffic and grumble, safe in the knowledge that someone other than themselves would eventually fix things. Like it or not everyone was dependent on someone else for their way of living – and that took a certain amount of trust.
People became increasingly dependent on others. Not through necessity, but in pursuit of luxury. Our dwindling resources of Trust were spread thin as we invited corporations into our homes, gave away our personal lives, and entrusted others to fulfil our constantly evolving desires. We wanted more and more, trusting that someone somewhere would provide for us, and when they did, we became dependent on them - our desires turned to expectation.
It’s a hard thing to quantify; a lack of trust. You often don’t realise it has run out until more is required. It was witnessed first on the global stage when wars broke out that couldn’t be resolved. Nothing we hadn’t seen before but now there was no common ground to meet on. Any two sides in a conflict had their advocates and dissidents and the resolution of such events became a matter of politics. The handling of world affairs was polled for reaction and twisted for greatest effect. The culture of binary thinking saw no nuance in such matters and so with every struggle half a nation would become further disillusioned with their leaders.
When governments flipped from one to zero, the sides flipped with them. The naysayers became fans and the advocates became critics. The only thing they could agree on is that at some stage in their life they had been ‘on the wrong side’. Everyone’s trust had been challenged in some way at some time. “They’re all the same.” Often said to justify a blind loyalty, but indicative of a greater problem: The people were losing trust in the concept of government entirely.
Corporations followed shortly after. They fed on the trust placed in them by the consumer, and when they failed that trust they would continue unabashed. A faux apology. A refund and coupon for renewed compliance. A buffer of complacency comforted their actions. Each mistake could be covered for a fraction of the profit it netted them, and their businesses would continue free of any real repercussion. Trust eroded each time they abused their immunity, the buffer weakened, and eventually broke.
In hindsight, this all seems very clear, but at the time the world seemed to work just fine right up until the moment it broke. This happened at different times for different people. Some were so close to the line that they were the first to feel the repercussions as society crumbled. Currencies dropped, assistance failed, and necessities were delayed. They were largely written off and covered up. “Austerity”, they said. A justifiable phase in our countries plan to be better.
It wasn’t until the shortages began that people began to take notice. Luxury items at first – Foods once considered exotic that were now commonplace stopped appearing on shelves. Electronic goods only manufactured abroad stopped being made available. Base ingredients and components became unavailable, grinding industries to a halt. Trade wars broke out between nations and our own exports halted, expounding the problem overseas. We might have survived. Replaced governments and written laws. Reprimanded companies and seen fit to work with our neighbours, but the trust required to do so had already run dry and no resolutions were met.
The Lockdown was a final attempt at maintaining civility. Depending on your perspective it was an effort to prevent people from panicking, or a method of protecting those in power against an uprising. Another binary viewpoint that needn’t have been worried over as it missed a greater point altogether: Society is built on a set of rules that we have entrusted some among us to enforce, and as with all other authorities we had lost our trust in them too.
Protests quickly turned into riots. Riots into looting. A total breakdown of law and order as people sort to feed their dependencies when others would no longer do it for them. The early days saw fights over frivolous items made rarer over the recent months. Squabbles over electronics would turn violent despite the fact there would soon be no electricity to power them with. When food became scarce the panic became real, and desperation set in.
In the next year or so humanity became increasingly isolated from one another. Early attempts at providing relief and aid had proven easy pickings for anyone ruthless enough to simply take what they needed. Neighbours eyed each other with distrust and friends realised they were little more than acquaintances they shared a social media feed with. Some small groups formed, but they became targets to the hungry, or simply lacked the wherewithal to survive. The big cities were emptied of resources quickly. A focal point for early scavengers and the desperate, they have become tightly contested battlegrounds and crucibles of sickness.
The population quickly became a fraction of what it was and what remains now struggles to adapt to a world that many have to tread in isolation.
The Plots (and Sally Randall)
Pre-Unravelling, Recipro City was much smaller in scale. The land had gone unused for so long it had fallen into decay. Nothing more than an overgrown clearing in seclusion. Sally Randall, a person to which we still owe an immeasurable debt, would be sure to make it clear that she did not discover the location, but she was the first to put it to use.
Not wanting to see the land put to waste she started a secret allotment, masked first by the trees and then by the long grasses that once covered the territory. It was a place of solace. A place to reflect. Over the course of a few months she began to find others that would use the spot for their own escapes, and one by one they would join her allotment; widening it’s reach and expanding its produce.
It wasn’t long before the allotments would be attended every day. The small community that built around them ranged from avid gardeners to bored youths that had initially been looking for somewhere quiet to smoke less than legal substances and relax. Before long the allotments had been given a name. The Plots.
When Sally spoke about these first ventures she did so with an air of melancholy. These “were the simple days” she would say, as everything that would soon follow only served to complicate her ideal retreat.
The Great Unravelling claimed people’s attention before it did actual lives. Members of The Plots moved away to stay with family, or simply disappeared. The plants wilted, left uncared for as the pressures of the growing apocalypse left little time for maintenance. When it came for Sally she initially wanted to retrieve her tools, claim her crops and see the place one last time before finding somewhere she could see out what at the time were still considered temporary worldwide complications. What she found, was her haven in ruins.
Someone had lifted every scrap they could from the site. The tools, both shared and personal were gone, and the plants had been pulled from the earth. Those that had yet to reach harvestable age had been tossed aside, and anything edible or useful had been taken.
Sally never suggested she knew who might have committed such an act. There were few with knowledge of the location, but her attention had been elsewhere in recent months and the chances that someone else might have stumbled upon it in desperation were not insignificant. It would not have been amiss for her to accept her losses and move on. So many had lost so much already as a result of the Great Unravelling this event would not have been notable if it were not for what she did next.
The Birth of Recipro City
Sally rarely left the allotment after finding it. Her daughter, Evie, says she became almost immediately single-purposed. She set about rebuilding the site. Her justification, that the soil was good and the area secluded held some merit, but it’s common belief now that there was more than opportunity supporting her actions; there was conviction.
In what, is a little harder to determine. Sally was always a little tight-lipped about the early days of the settlement. She believed too many looked to her for guidance she felt unfit to give, and encouraged them to find their own answers. Evie has helped shed a little more light. She believes her mother simply wanted to be there the next time that someone would stumble upon the site, hungry and desperate. She believes Sally wanted to show them that they could be fed and sheltered without needing to take from others, that we could work cooperatively to sustain ourselves.
There is no clearer evidence that this is the case than the name she eventually gave the settlement. Recipro City i.e. Reciprocity – the act of mutual giving and receiving.
The 7 Rules
It took time for the settlement to grow. The first few months resembled a small campsite, but as residents invited family, friends, neighbours; it began to grow. With the increase in numbers came an increase in problems, and as de-facto leader Sally had her work cut out for her trying to tend to every individual need. There was also confusion among the camp as to what was permitted as groups were beginning to salvage and scavenge to build up the site – acts that were technically illegal but according to laws that were no longer enforced.
The story is that Sally retreated into her tent in contemplation and emerged two full days later with a piece of plywood, upon which she had written seven rules. This tale has been disputed, namely by Sally herself, but it has a legend-like quality that has allowed it to persevere over the years, and as such the exact details are lost. The seven rules however remain unchanged.
I will do my best to explain my understanding of them.
Rule 1 - Needs Over Wants
This one is simple. The old world blurred the lines between what was luxury and what was essential. If a person or the camp needs something, then it must be fulfilled as a priority over something that is merely desired. If a person is hungry and another starving, feed the starving person first.
Rule 2 – Help and Be Helped
At first this seems like a simple call to help others, but that is only one half of the requirement. The other is to be helped. Too often people won’t accept help due to pride or arrogance and this weakens the camp as a whole. Help others that require it, but also be prepared to accept aid that is offered your way should you need it.
Rule 3 – Speak Your Mind
Recipro City was not built by experts or by tyrants. Everyone is free to respectfully voice their opinions. The combined effort of all of us has successfully seen us this far into the New Age, we would be remiss not to hear each other out.
Rule 4 – Sow Seeds Not Lies
Deceit can be a killer.
A close-knit community such as our own relies upon Trust – a commodity in short supply. There should be little reason to lie in a community that already seeks to offer you the best it can in return for the best you can offer. There is no fairer deal. Also grow stuff.
Rule 5 – Stand Equal, Not Divided
The world we left behind was imperfect. We were segregated by class, race, religion, sex and more in numerous fields. The Great Unravelling has undone us all and now we each stand with nothing unless we are willing to work together. Whilst we may disagree, we should never see those that hold other opinions or are simply different as enemies.
Rule 6 – Learn From Mistakes
We will make many whilst we try to adapt to a way of life we do not fully understand. It is important we learn from what we get wrong to stand the best chance of not repeating our errors.
Rule 7 – Everyone Prospers
We are more than the sum of our individual parts. By working together and sticking to these rules we can all prosper where alone we would likely fail. The key word here is ‘Everyone’. Nobody should be permitted to flourish at the expense of others.
The rules may not be the same carefully worded legal constructs of the time before the Unravelling, but they are fit for the simpler existence we find ourselves in now. Understanding the rules is key to understanding our community. Those that cannot abide by them have no place here for whilst there is no measure of punishment to be served for breaking these rules, the only penalty for the repeated or egregious breaking of them is banishment, and that serves as deterrent enough for most.
Building a City
In a little over six years, Recipro City has grown from a collection of allotment fields to a thriving settlement. What stands today is testament to the hard work of the residents, many areas of which would not have been thought possible without their input.
Life in Recipro is still difficult, but there is much to be thankful for and further development is always afoot. The once wild scrubland has been largely trampled flat, and the many pathways between areas have become worn, forming streets and byways throughout our tent metropolis. The layout of the encampment has shifted over the years to adopt new features and allow for more residents, but the footprint it has now has remained largely unchanged for the longest time.
Recipro was lucky to adopt Jakub Kowalski some four years ago. His first year here was largely uneventful but he has proven himself an excellent strategist, scavenger, and when the time has called for it, combatant. In just a few years he has redeveloped the scavenging teams and brought new tactics to those that seek out supplies and defend our camp. So successful were his early ventures leading teams that we had to build what we now call ‘The Depot’ to house their spoils. Before his arrival goods would be used up as soon as they were brough back into the camp, but with his assistance we now stockpile provisions and equipment where possible.
Home to one Artemis T Fielding – Technician and author of these files. I arrived two, nearly three years ago. Rescued by one of Jakub’s teams. I immediately saw great merit in this place and began to turn my skill to aiding where possible. They gave me a tent to work from, and when that became insufficient gave me another. I now run what is charmingly referred to as Tinkertown. My favourite accomplishment? The short wave radio transmitter I have erected for the camp. It is used to keep in communication with remote teams and to attract other survivors. It is my ambition to one day help reunite the world once more over the airwaves.
The Canvas District
Tents apparently used to pop up at random around the city until a project was undertaken to move them all to what is now known as The Canvas District. This gave more room for the common areas to be developed, and someone had the smart idea of organising the residential tents into ‘streets’ so now it’s easier to find who you are looking for.
Prospect Park was a contentious addition to the city. Geared towards the younger residents it was seen by more than a few as non-essential, a flagrant breaking of Rule 1. It took a long time to complete as resources and time were routinely distributed to more pressing matters, but once done the results were inarguable. Prospect Park is a place for our children to play and retain what they can of their childhood. The Great Unravelling stole our homes, our jobs, our communities and we sought to rebuild them, but it wasn’t until the completion of the Park that some, myself included, realised how badly we had needed to give back our children their chance to be young.
In the earlier days, before my arrival, people would trade items on a one to one basis. You would have to find someone that had what you sought and hope they also wanted what you could spare. As the camp grew more organised ways of bartering took hold, allowing a far quicker exchange of goods and sometimes services. For the most part the camp provides the basics for everyone, commandeering peoples time and expertise to make that happen, but offering what those people can’t find or achieve for themselves. Barter Boulevard is for the items that don’t fall under branch of necessity, but people have increasingly found uses for what can be produced and picked up, driving a demand for new and interesting wares.
The Fodder Quadrant
As part of the creation of the Canvas District, The Fodder Quadrant was also born. Previously disparate campfires and cooking equipment was centralised and organised. The cooking and preparation of food is cleaner and now more efficient and consensus is that the quality of the dishes served up has increased too. You may notice that Tinkertown is not that far from the rich aromas of the ‘Fod-Quad’ and that’s not by chance.
Losing a Leader
Four months ago, we lost Sally Randall. We all knew she was ill but it was largely unmentioned around the camp. Her illness had become more pronounced, not that she would let it show in public, but without further medication there was little that could be done to halt the inevitable.
I once asked Jakub where his teams had looked for the necessary drugs and he told me they hadn’t. Or more specifically they hadn’t been asked to look for those medicines in particular. He had approached Sally asking for the details and she had simply waved it off, not in defiance of her illness (Rule 2 would not allow that) but because she believed the efforts of the scavengers were better focused on the Cities requirements, not her own.
That didn’t stop them planning their excursion through every pharmacy, GP clinic, and dispensary in the area but if they found the right pills Sally never said. Or they didn’t work. Either way, she went out on terms she at least found agreeable.
Evie was understandably devastated, but she grieved with the whole camp. Sally had been our leader and in some ways Mother to more than just the one daughter. Evie’s grief was short-lived, at least on the outside, and she plied herself into her duties before many of us had fully recovered ourselves.
With Sally gone, there is a noticeable absence of direction for the first time in Recipro City.
This will be my third 7Fest and the event is still a wonder to behold. Each year we gather to celebrate the seven rules that have seen us through another cycle. It’s the one time of year we celebrate what we have achieved without any pre-Unravelling holiday notions being tied to it. It is a holiday of our own invention and we play music and indulge in a way that we can love because we have earned it.
This year will be the first without Sally, but she would want us to continue the tradition. In some ways this is now her holiday, and I fully expect her to be held in deep respect at this time of year for as long as the City is still standing.
It was Evie’s idea to hold an election. Many looked to her as our next leader – not by gift of birthright, but because she was the only other person here at the very beginning. She shared a tent with her mother those first few cold weeks before attracting more to their plight, and in many ways everything we adored Sally for, Evie was right there too holding her hand.
But she doesn’t want the responsibility of leading the camp. She believes that as sad as her mothers passing is, it has offered us an opportunity to decide how we want to continue forging our collective path. We have the chance to self-govern, to determine how we want to meet our future.
Evie is somewhat shy, but her wisdom rivals even Sally’s. She has placed her own name into consideration and pledged to do what she believes is right if she is picked, and aid whoever is if she is not.
Jakub has been nominated by the scavenging teams, and he carries support within the wider camps as he has managed to both defend and supply Recipro now for years without major incident.
I have also put my name in for consideration. What we have here is a wonderful community and I intend to share our practices with those out there that have not been so lucky with the people they have met on the road.
The election is being held over 7Fest this year, making it all the more important.
Whoever the people choose, we can certainly expect to see a new era unfold for Recipro City.