Stupid Impossible Situation


What would the world be like if everyone suddenly turned into Stephen Clark? Let me just clarify the hypothetical situation here -- every human being on the face of the earth would have my brain somehow magically materialize in their heads, replacing their old brain. Their bodies would stay the same, just the mind would be different. It would happen without warning -- one moment there would be just one Stephen Clark, the next moment there would be six billion, all with exactly the same memory. The crowded Asian cities -- all full of Stephens. The starving millions in Africa -- the people on little islands in the Pacific -- the people on boats and in planes -- all would become populated by copies of Stephen Clark.

For a start, the world would fall suddenly silent. They wouldn't have any idea what just happened -- they'd assume that everyone else is different and so they'd be afraid to speak to eachother. Perhaps there would be a few conversations of this length:

Stephen1: Excuse me, but could you tell me where I am?
Stephen2: I don't know either.

Imagine a football match where the stadium is full of thousands of people watching the game. One moment they're cheering their team on, the next moment a dead silence falls across the crowd and the players stop playing. Then the crowd just sits there for a few minutes, wondering what's happened. Each person looks around at the unfamiliar faces, looking for clues. After a while, the people close to the aisles start to walk out of the stadium. The others soon follow, joining the ranks of thousands of people on the outside, wandering around in a confused daze, uninformed.

Most of the Stephens would find themselves in unfamiliar situations, far from home -- they would do nothing at first. Then they would start to explore their new surroundings. They would try to work out what's going on but they would get no useful information from anyone around them. There is so much to speculate about here, but I'd like to focus on what would happen in the city of Melbourne, because that's the territory I'm familiar with.

People driving cars on the roads would suddenly find themselves in dangerous situations, because I don't know how to drive. They would all pull over to the side of the road, get out, and start walking. Those who manage to figure out where they are would probably start heading towards St. Kilda, to my home. Thus we would see crowds of people silently walking the streets, all heading towards one central point. They might have short conversations like this:

Stephen1: Hey, what's going on? Why is everyone walking in the same direction?
Stephen2: I don't know. I'm just walking home, I don't know what everyone else is doing.

The ones closest to my home would actually knock on my door and I'd let them in -- they would explain that they are also Stephen, we would discuss this strange phenomenon and as more Stephens turn up it would become clear that there are in fact thousands of people who have turned into Stephen. But there would be no attempt to broadcast this information to the masses -- most Stephens would be left to work it out for themselves. Imagine crowds of silent people, all just standing around, not talking, not organising anything, just waiting for someone to tell them what's going on. They would be a crowd of followers without a leader.

Let us assume that most of the Stephens eventually work out what is happening, by observing the people around them. They would start to look for places to live. Many of them would return to the homes where they used to be before they became Stephens. Others would try to move into better accommodation -- there would be a lot of lock-breaking. Some people would not know their own address and so they'd move into whatever place they can find. The same would apply to homeless people. All Stephens would prefer to live alone; some of them would claim a house as their own by placing a sign on the door saying that they have claimed it. Perhaps there would be some dispute as to who owns what house, but not many arguments -- most Stephens would give in just to avoid the conflict. There would be an atmosphere of apathy, with no hostility.

Something like this: A dirty middle-aged man selects a house at random and knocks on the door. A young woman answers the door.

The Man: Are you Stephen Clark?
The Woman: Yes, but I'm calling myself Julie.
The Man: I'm Stephen Clark as well, but I'm calling myself Terry. I've got no place to live. Can I move in here?
The Woman: I'm sorry, I'm only accepting people under 30 as house-mates. But you can stay here just for tonight if you like.
The Man: Is there a bed I can sleep on?
The Woman: No, just a couch. And you can't eat any of the food.
The Man: O.K. then. (comes in)

Young women in this society would have no problem finding accommodation -- they would be welcome in any household, and they'd know it. The prettier ones would move into big mansions. They would have more power and influence than ugly people. The young woman in the above scenario knows that the man is Stephen and so she can sympathise with his situation -- she would not refuse his request for accommodation, unless she already has a bunch of men staying in her house.

I don't know how long electrical generators can run without anyone operating them, but I'm sure that the electricity grid would go dead pretty quickly. The same would apply to gas and water.

Everyone would know that life in this society is not sustainable and that they will not be living long. They would want to spend their days doing what they enjoy best. Battery powered CD players would be taken from shops and in a few days they would be hard to find. Paradise Motel CDs would be another covetted item. There would not be enough pianos to go around. Many people would flock to the hospitals (mostly by bicycle) and spend their days hanging out there. Others would linger at the beach. Many people would want to have sex before they die -- everyone would know that everyone else wants it, so they would request it of eachother. The young women would get the most requests, of course -- they would be able to pick and choose who they have sex with so they would mostly only do it with other young women. They would also spend hours alone admiring their own bodies. The prettier ones would probably have to write on their foreheads, "Please don't ask for sex", because they would be so sick of it. There would be no men having sex with men, but probably many women would allow men to have sex with them. Most people over 40 would not be able to find a partner at all.

You might be wondering, what would happen to all the sick people in hospital, and the old people who are too weak to take care of themselves? No one would bother to take care of them. They would not live long. The same goes for the babies -- they would all die in a few days.

What about food? People would go to the supermarkets to take food off the shelf, but supplies would not last long -- in just a short time, food would be very hard to find. Some Stephens would go from building to building, hoping to find a decent store of non-perishable food, but most would be resigned to impending starvation. They would rather starve than fight over the remaining food.

No electricity, no running water, no gas, no means of refrigeration -- every house would contain a fridge full of spoilt food. No one would attempt to grow their own food -- that would be too much hard work. Some might feast upon the meat of the human corpses. And there WOULD be corpses -- thousands of them. Nearly everyone would be suicidal. Hundreds of thousands of Stephens would jump off bridges and tall buildings -- their bodies would pile up on the ground below and no-one would bury them. Others would slit their wrists. Guns would become a valuable commodity -- some Stephens would raid gun shops and then walk around the streets looking for people to shoot. They would walk up to the starving people that they meet and say "Do you want me to shoot you?", and nine times out of ten the answer would be yes. These gun-toting Stephens would be doing a service for the starving people who are too weak to kill themselves -- they would know that everyone wants a quick and painless death and the bullets should be shared around, to be fair. But eventually they would turn the gun to their own head.

I think some Stephens would try to survive, because there is a good feeling associated with being a survivor, being alone in the city after everyone has gone, exploring the place without any fear of being seen. But the food supply would not last forever. Perhaps a handful of Stephens would find some big isolated warehouse full of tinned fruit and vegetables or something -- enough to keep them going for several months, at least. Perhaps some of them would try to keep going even longer, in order to have the honour of being the Last Surviving Human. But I don't think any of them would last longer than one year -- there would be no incentive and the search for food would become too difficult.

After the last Stephen has died out, the sun would shine down on a world of dead bodies. Over time they would dry out and become skeletons. But many animals would remain, and over time mother nature would take over the world, changing it back to what it once was; no more humans to pollute and desecrate. That's the end of my hypothetical situation -- extinction of the human race. In a world full of Stephen Clarks, there would be no anger, and no fighting, but at the same time no one would have any respect for human life and so inevitably they would all perish.

--Stephen Clark               December 22nd 1998