The Jackpot

Massive spoilers for the Jackpot books by William Gibson below!

The Jackpot is a concept of the apocalypse that [[ William Gibson ]] coined in his novel The Peripheral (and extended in the follow-up Agency). Its core idea is that there is never an abrupt apocalyptic event but an extremely slow-moving demise that won’t be recognized until humanity is deep in it.

It’s a concept that seems to fit a lot of what is happening today, which others have observed under different names.

Introduction in The Peripheral

And first of all that it was no one thing. That it was multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end. More a climate than an event, so not the way apocalypse stories liked to have a big event, after which everybody ran around with guns, looking like Burton and his posse, or else were eaten alive by something caused by the big event. Not like that. […]

Because people in the past, clueless as to how that worked, had fucked it all up, then not been able to get it together to do anything about it, even after they knew, and now it was too late. […]

So now, in her day, he said, they were headed into androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit, like she sort of already knew, figured everybody did, except for people who still said it wasn’t happening, and those people were mostly expecting the Second Coming anyway. […]

No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.

Additions in Agency

Why aren’t they happy, there?” “The drivers for the jackpot are still in place, but with less torque at that particular point.” He took a seat at the table. “They’re still a bit in advance of the pandemics, at least.” […]

“Did we ever come to terms with the sheer cluelessness of it?” Verity asked. “The knowing, for decades, and then managing to do almost nothing to stop it?” “Not really,” said Rainey.

Articles referencing the Jackpot

From Facing the Jackpot with William Gibson by Rachael Nevins

As twenty-second-century Wilf Netherton explains to twenty-first-century Flynne Fisher, the jackpot was “no one thing”: “multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end. More a climate than an event, so not the way apocalypse stories liked to have a big event, after which everybody ran around with guns . . . or else were eaten alive by something caused by the big event. Not like that.” […]

Triggered mainly by climate change, the jackpot included: nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. […]

Over forty years, 80 percent of the human population died; the surviving 20 percent, meanwhile, benefited from the technologies that developed as the slaughterhouse of history unfolded: “cleaner, cheaper energy sources, more effective ways to get carbon out of the air, new drugs that did what antibiotics had done before, nanotechnology that was more than just car paint that healed itself or camo crawling on a ball cap.” Also, of course, the rich got richer, “there being fewer to own whatever there was.” […]

“Klept. What runs the world that isn’t China, up the line where Lowbeer is. Hereditary authoritarian government, roots in organized crime. The jackpot seemed to filter that out of what was already happening, made it dominant.”

Concepts similar to the Jackpot

From Article - Future Fail by Jacob Silverman:

Writing in the late seventies, Enzensberger remarked that the apocalypse “was once a singular event,” a dramatic rapture occurring through a swift act of God. But now, he observed, the end of the world is the promised byproduct of our own industrialization and obsessive drive for economic growth. The apocalypse, as a consequence, “is ever present, but never ‘actual’: a second reality, an image that we construct for ourselves, an incessant product of our fantasy, the catastrophe in the mind.”

From The Transapocalyptic Now by Alex Steffen:

A transapocalypse is a spectrum. Some parts of the world will experience death and suffering and tragic upheavals as horrible as any humanity ever seen, even while others experience unprecedented prosperity. This is already the nature of the world, and one of the worst things about this planetary crisis — this once-avoidable ecological tragedy that will chew through our world for generations to come — is that its transapocalyptic nature is now baked into its future. In the real world, we will be doing extraordinarily well over the coming decades if we can limit the number of people who wind up living in apocalyptic conditions to a merely vast number — say, tens of millions.

From Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher:

The catastrophe in Children of Men is neither waiting down the road, nor has it already happened. Rather, it is being lived through. There is no punctual moment of disaster; the world doesn’t end with a bang, it winks out, unravels, gradually falls apart.

If you came upon any references I could add, let me know, please.

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