THREE MINUTES FROM MARS

FORWARD NOTE: This was written specifically for a competition with the prompt, ‘the next great hashtag’. It was finished early December, 2018 before #TimesUP became a worldwide trend on the cover of every major publication relating to Theresa May, the EU and the #Metoo phenomenon. In the wake of the Copyright Directive vote and battles such as the Vox Adpocalypse – we are deep in the grip of a new censorship age.

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It emerged in late 2018, crawling out of the Twitter swamp. Admittedly more of a groan than a whisper. Coughed up rather than eloquently writ large across a broadsheet.

Of course, its final destination was always going to be a glossy cover spread with all the lofty serifs attempting to etch a dash of validity to an unglamorous origin, as if its own merit and messy birth were not enough to recommend it to history’s hide. That’s the awkward thing about headlines these days, they appear without permission. A real story rudely thrives in defiance of the press who are too often left stumbling behind the tide, chasing their fishing lines through stinking mud while rogue bloggers wave at them from bespoke barges, knocking back a few Chardies. Freelancers are back and this time they have flags lashed to misappropriated selfie-sticks.

#TimesUp.

You can see the text smashing back and forth in the stiff, salted air.

To the legacy press, the Internet may as well be a gentle swell tugged around the uncharted edges of the world, held together by nothing tangible except its own mass. Hashtag warriors patrol the foreshore and despite a few incursions by the systematic propaganda machines of Facebook et al, it remains largely a natural ecosystem.

Perhaps unique, the Internet was founded on the purest coalition of Western freedoms. It is an agreement between individuals and institutions unwisely devoted to the shrine of Open-Source from which unbridled opportunity surged – too late for anyone to draw the cautionary Pandora allegory. Difficult to describe and poorly understood, its enigmatic qualities protected it from the reach of slow-footed governments for twenty years. Within a blink of humanity’s reign, the Internet revolutionised the transmission of knowledge, altered the evolution of our language, exposed falsely peddled ideology that previously enjoyed the shade and tore the curtain on totalitarians who would very much like us to take the whole thing back.

They’ve asked us politely.

Nothing to worry about, eh? Not quite.

As our charming moral arbiters often remind us, #TimesUp. The oceans are evaporating. The coral is migrating North to #Gab while the libertarian whales are being speared through the #Patreon and dragged onto censorship trawlers leaving grisly stains in the water. Listen carefully, when Internet parents Vint Cert, Tim Berners-Lee, Jimmy Wales and Brewster Kahle give you a rap over the knuckles and warn that the Internet is being, ‘turned into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users’ it is probably time to shuffle forward and pay attention.

Whilst spot on with their doomsday date of 2020, #ClimateAlarmists somewhat misidentified the endangered species. #TimesUp indeed but for what? We’re not quite sure… Freedom or suppression? Globalism or national sovereignty? The Powers That Be have clued into our little free-market gig and naturally swung a sickle at our necks. We are in those opening bars of Ravel’s ‘Boléro’ where 280 characters acts as our percussionist, scaffolding the rising ebbs of dissatisfied protest into hashtags of rebellion, easily copied into larger articles mocking Twitter outrage. If you can see the embers, I suggest you turn around – feel the heat. The Internet’s defence is worth our attention or else don’t be surprised when the plebs pile furniture onto the pyre.

Chaos is our natural state of affairs. Those born in the last fifty years are the unlikely sailor who, having happened upon the Drake Passage at rest, wrongly believes her waters to be made of glass. Instead of reeling at the first ripple along the indelible border between sky and sea, he lingers to watch the evening roll in, unable to imagine the wrecks beneath the water and whispering ghosts of forgotten monoliths set to bed by a quick Wikipedia edit. Look for him now – drowned and silent. #TimesUp for those content to hang from the rafters and let the disaffected crowds sidle by. They have started chipping at the concrete slab and sawing off the scaffolding.

Our sharpest academics could not have predicted a world swayed by a president at the helm of a hashtag, undoing even the most careful of institutionalised propaganda with fragments of text – though I dare say that is only because they lack imagination. We should listen to the merchants, not the envoys of our stifled universities.

‘Diligence makes more lasting acquisitions than valour and the sloth has ruined more nations than the sword.’

From the mists of 1711, Sir Andrew Freeport enjoyed sufficient clarity of our future. He recognised the twin pillars of power. One resting atop quivering towers of tax, is gilded with beautiful distraction like the coffers of a temple vault, in this case manned by eurocrats and bureaucrats, protected by veils of process and legislation. The second waits. What it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in breadth and height, mistaken for a mountain range growing over the point where the tectonic forces of poverty meet hope. Now would be the time to pray, before the seismic slip. With nothing save the power to shift rock an entire castle of tyranny may be set upon and carried away, stone by stone. #TimesUp. The cracks are forming. The people have seen their own shadow cast across the water, outstripping the first.

How did we get here? We must assign some blame to ourselves for it is our own civil cowardice that allowed those entrusted with the keys to leave the door open. Edmund Burke’s praised observation that, ‘History is a pact between the dead, the living, and those yet unborn’ unravels the moment you realise tomorrow is promised to no one. Civilisation is little more than a collection of pillars clawing at the sky and you would be remiss to imagine them impervious to extinction.

When a population can distill its grievance into 280 characters, the ruling class has a problem. People can feel freedom die. They notice the wet fingers around their necks. A thread of censorship here. A firewall over there… If institutions like the European Union are foolish enough to insist upon securing power through silence they might find themselves brushing hashtags with #TimesUp.

Yes, it is possible that we threw the first stone into the pond. As widespread literacy tumbled entrenched theocracies it would be a dangerous persuasion to believe that the noise from Twitter is a storm in a teacup – or that a hashtag is a fleeting sigh of wind in the sail. For all the hashtags that bury themselves in the bedrock, the sea itself lifts, greater always than what came before. #TimesUp on collective retconning. Hashtags share RNA with viral entities, side-stepping time lines, algorithms and suppression orders before shuffling even the smallest voice to a brief climax. When dragged beneath the waves its mark of absence remains as a, ‘no longer available’ hole in our script.

This censorship is not imagined. We are all stuck in an archaic paradox of a virtual witch trial. Hear no evil. See no evil. Don’t even think of defining evil. No evil shall be done upon you – unless of course you follow a contrarian. Somehow we’ve allowed a version of China’s pernicious Social Credit Scheme to invade our psyche. Popularity is the new ‘truth’ and for those who blaspheme the executioner’s axe sits beneath several thousand poorly edited pages of benign looking waffle. #UN, the proliferators of digital barbed wire, package terror in plain sight. It has become fashionable to drape layers of incomprehensibility over law to ensure no objection is noted on the public record, much like a planning application in a government basement. Take caution, one day the building may be a pile of ash but the words you attempted to hide leave their press on history – this time headed by a hashtag.

#TimesUp for these cheap linguistic tricks.

Is Freedom not a flight of romance? Humanity stumbled into its spell, locking eyes across the scattered fields of war. We embraced its volatile love and indulged until strewn on the shore, watching it fade into the fog of memory. We lounge back now and recall fondly those wild years of Summer.

Western Civilisation is faced with a generation who ache for the tyranny of oppression and the virtue of silence. They are seduced by Socialism floating off the coast, unable to see the reality of those already shipwrecked upon her shores. The brutal torture of commonplace malice left to fester, unchecked – the nightmare of starvation, servitude, bones and decaying thrones. A fatal shore, if you will, drowning idealists drawn to her duplicitous mirage. There is comfort in this grave. Solace in the nothingness but give me the rabble any day. Give me the noise of freedom. Every. Last. Scream.

If you prefer, I can play the levity card. The meme war against the #EU and its propaganda champion, Axel Voss has been a riot with combatants resurrecting Microsoft Paint, roping the forgotten graphics programme into the fray to gift satire the wings to circumnavigate copyright. Off it went, squawking across the Twitterverse like a ravenous chorus of gulls. Falsities don’t enjoy mockery and memes have this refined within a breath of art. Be warned, I am absolutely sincere when I suggest that these fringe battles are the muddying waters of a far greater conflict between those who believe censorship is the yellow brick road to power and everyone else, who quite rightly, keep telling them to bugger off with a hashtag. #SaveYourInternet.

Speaking of, there’s a false premise knocking around that Earth is a species of glass marble. #GlobalWarming #ClimateChange alarmists would have us believe that if we breathe too hard the whole thing will shatter into an Al Gorean snowstorm and leave a ring of ice in orbit. Remember, these are the same people who think lassoing asteroids into our general vicinity is somehow a good idea. If it’s a cataclysm they’re after, they might want to visit The Australian Museum and ask a dinosaur how the Cretaceous ended. #TimesUp really will be the hashtag of un-ironic choice if we let these geniuses loose with a thousand pounds of rocket fuel.

Buried under this lunacy, humanity shares one cloistered desire. Freedom; the dream that we can never quite hold on to. It is as water to us. Sometimes we bathe and drink from it in excess. Sometimes it evaporates and taunts us from the deserts of the sky. It swells our flesh and in its withdrawal – we die. It is our birthright and with every fallen soldier to its cause, another drop is added to the ocean. As much as humanity neither learns nor improves the less helpful of its traits at least when we go to war it is with ideas. #TimesUp for this reverie.

Barring a coughing fit at Yellowstone, a global apocalypse is probably not on 2019’s to-do list. Don’t get too comfy. #Globalism may as well be scorched earth politics and it’s coming at us on a pretty clearly defined orbital path. I refuse to believe that Australia is to be shackled to this idealogical suicide pact dreamt up by the #UN, funded by the #EU and endorsed by a cohort of grasping politicians. Nations do not endure without constant care and our leaders’ illiteracy of online platforms is going to be our downfall.

Language is unplanned. Most often it is a defiance against rigid institutions who do their best to weigh words down with regulation. Early mobile phones placed character limits on humanity and we immediately adapted, condensing thoughts to bubbles of barely phonic clusters that mutated back to pictorial expressions. Our deepest language roots came full circle in the manifestation of emoticons. Instant messaging expanded our word count but enforced speed, creating an entirely new discourse of acronymic expression, irreverent memes and smoke stacks of in-jokes that eventually congealed into a culture entirely of its own, separate from a single country but fiercely loyal to its first flourish of freedom.

Enter Twitter – the re-imagined Roman forum. Here, the people were free to holler into the void like birds from the depths of the rainforest, looking for each other amid the violent tangle of green. Now the platform has wandered down the cliff and found itself in the harbour’s vengeful embrace.

Take a closer look at the barge and its growing cluster of bloggers. Notice those in the water, thrashing through the waves with a fin in pursuit – grasping at the floating bundle of tinder. Pay attention to the waterline inching between the wood – the bullet holes in the single white flag. #TimesUp. They’re sinking.

And so to this I offer a cautionary tale. Here is your story, in all its unpolished tardiness. Brevity cuts. Freedom is a hashtag.

#TimesUp.

– ellymelly (a concerned citizen)

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