Asia Times Online recently received an unexpected package recently, sent from the future. It details a story, The Surreal Symphony, that is evidently popular some 40 years from now; thankfully, we also have some of the reading notes attached to the tale that help us to make some sense of the story …

…. Gather around kids, for I am going to tell you a tale.

There was once a country called Stoneland, which had some of the most intelligent, innovative, charming, personable people in the world. The dark side of Stoneland was that it was also a country where pretty much all denizens were constantly drugged out of their brains. Over the years, Stoneland had gone from being a country happy to make cool products to one that didn’t know how to make anything; even all its drugs were bought from a country called Drugland.

Now, Drugland was ruled by a tyrant, albeit one considered benevolent by most people, barring, of course, the ones who crossed him – they soon lost their liberty, or worse, their lives. The sole moneymaking business of Drugland was to make drugs that were consumed by the people of Stoneland.

At one point, Drugland had sold all the drugs it could to the denizens of Stoneland who could pay with cash. This reduced any chance of further growth in Drugland. That’s when someone in Stoneland came up with the idea of Stone-backed-securities (SBS), which depended on the future cash flow from stoned people. Immediately, the tyrant of Drugland noticed the potential for selling more drugs to the people of Stoneland by expanding the target market to people who couldn’t pay today but possibly could in a few years.

There was a problem of course – who would buy these SBS issued on the stoners’ income? Drugland could buy some, but not all of these “assets”. That’s when Oldland stepped in – these were old people who lived in a place between Drugland and Stoneland (if the crow flew west) both physically and semantically. Oldland had a lot of savings and very little use for those savings in their own country. They were too scared to invest in Drugland because of the tyrant, but the idea of buying SBS seemed very appealing – after all, the stoners were living in Stoneland, not in Drugland.

This radical idea immediately helped to increase sales of drugs in Stoneland, and of course benefited Drugland. Initially at least, the people of Oldland were quite happy because they were getting some money back on the SBS; this encouraged them to buy more SBS, which of course made Drugland even more happy.

Slowly though, the denizens of Stoneland started getting worried about both their drug habits and the rapidly escalating amounts of money they now owed to Drugland and Oldland. So one day they started not paying their debt; leading to falling prices of SBS. They also decided to cut back on their drug purchases, hurting Drugland.

This was termed the “Global Sobriety Crisis”, and very soon there was panic all around the world. There were a number of conferences arranged urgently in the capitals of Stoneland, Oldland and Drugland, all of which asked the same basic questions:

  • Could the Stonelanders simply have lost all sense, or was the latent demand for sobriety actually something worth thinking about?
  • Did they not know that stopping their use of mind-altering drugs could actually cause them to behave responsibly in future?
  • What would happen to the citizens of Drugland who would be rendered unemployed by this new eagerness for Stonelanders to become sober?
  • What about the Oldlanders – how would they ever get their money on the SBS back?
  • Lastly, how would drug peddlers – the biggest part of the Stoneland economy – bounce back to their billion-dollar bonuses?

In the initial phase of the sobriety crisis, the government of Stoneland adopted the tactic of allowing the country’s drug peddlers simply to go bankrupt. However, there was a big hue and cry after one of the five biggest drug peddlers went bust, which led to everyone around the world questioning the financial soundness of all drug peddlers everywhere.

This was clearly a problem in the world where drug peddlers had risen to great prominence and taken over the reins of politics in any country not directly ruled by a tyrant. So the great and the good determined that, rather than allow the risks of sobriety from spreading responsibility and good behavior, the world’s governments resolved the following:
1. That all drug peddlers in Stoneland, Oldland and Drugland would be guaranteed by their respective governments in order to ensure that their vital functions would continue uninterrupted;
2. That the government of Stoneland would start borrowing money from Oldland and Drugland to then compensate the buyers of SBS in those two countries;
3. That the government of Stoneland would simply start putting drugs into its own water supply and specifically ensure that younger people would grow up with both high amounts of debt and low sobriety.

Within a few weeks of this decision, the citizens of Stoneland went back to borrowing money and spending it all on drugs. Thus it was that the great sobriety crisis was defeated by the courageous action of the governments of these countries.

Here endeth the tale.

Reading notes on the tale, 2050 edition

The Surreal Symphony is often considered a work of fiction that has been disguised as a news item, in the style of “blog” columns that were popular on the first and second versions of the Internet circa 40 years ago.

Many authors and historians have debated The Surreal Symphony, alleging that the countries named are based on real countries; the general consensus is that Stoneland refers to the United States of America, Drugland to China and Oldland to Germany. There are many other theories for what were the real countries; or indeed if more than one country fits into the description.

What is clear for latter-day students is that the events described in The Surreal Symphony led directly caused the Trade Wars that racked the world between 2012 and 2025, which itself culminated in World War III in 2025. The deaths of two-thirds of humanity in that war, and the wide use of nuclear weapons resulted in today’s climate of dust.

Similarly, the “sobriety crisis” is believed to refer to the Great Financial Crisis of 2007, which history shows only ended in 2020 with the worldwide destruction of financial institutions. Many authors therefore believe that The Surreal Symphony was written a good 10 years before the end of the financial institutions known as “banks”.

These “banks” are of course the “drug peddlers” referred to in the tale, although many modern authors believe that it would have been impossible for such a small group of people to have acquired and then misused all that power.