All civilisations have their end. One would arise, prosper for a while, then decay from within until it collapses into a new dark age. After a while, a new one would take it's place. Rinse and repeat.
Our end was upon us. For a century at the least, we had mortgaged our future to pay for the passing pleasures of today, but eventually we had to end up living in our own repossessed future. Our infrastructure, stretched as it was across continents, was vulnerable to attack by small cells of guerrillas. T As law and order broke down, the poor – which included those who used to consider themselves middle class - became either bandits or their victims. The wealthy, a large number of whom grew fat off the loot that was extracted under the guise of taxation from the rest of society, retreated to well appointed lily-pads guarded by mercenaries. The ethnic differences between these groups – guerilla, bandit, the rich, the poor - were used by demagogues to inflame tensions, and soon we were in the throes of a low level multi sided race war.
When the oil supply was cut, no-one cared much whether it was due to peak oil or terrorists. The end result was the same – a spike in food prices and an end to cheap transportation. The economy, already failing due attacks on the infrastructure, very few people could get a job, but the state could not afford to give them money to survive. Roving camps of homeless people walked from town to town, hoping that the people of the next town wouldn't drive them out again. Diseases which we had under our control suddenly became fatal again, as health and sanitation vanished. People gave up on any hope of the future, turning to drugs to numb the pain, and suicide when that didn't work. We were almost in the dark ages, if not already there.
Until we chose differently. Until we looked at ourselves, and looked at our ancestors, and decided that we would not follow the path that many had trod before us. Until we asked, “Why must the corpse rot completely before a new civilisation could be birthed? Why must the darkness fall for so long until the sunrise comes again?”
The pre-existing institutions were no good. We had to go deeper back in time, searching the thousands of years of recorded history to discern what worked and what didn't, what lessons the Gods of the Copybook Headings had to teach us over and over again. There we discovered virtue. Restraint, the virtue of prudence; and humility, the seed from which wisdom may grow. There we discovered once more the value of tradition, of asking why a gate is closed before deciding to open it. There, we discovered once more the tools we needed to rebuild our society, a new respect for nature, and a greater understanding of our place in the universe – and the potential that we possess.
Armed with this new confidence, we set out to make our planet great again. Abandoned lots were cleared of concrete and debris and seeded to form new forests. Bandits found out that their defenceless targets were now defended. The badly functioning infrastructure was bypassed with local systems, as houses and towns took themselves off the failing grid. The internet was reconfigured, with wireless mesh networks joined together with powerful microwave links into a new network with even greater resilience. Railway lines were repaired, and extended, linking regions together. Towns remodelled themselves, embracing the vernacular architecture of their regions and densifying with grace, their townhouses and courtyard apartments rising several stories above revitalised streets, patrolled by the men and women of the Town Watch. No longer were streets a place to be feared, but once again a pleasant backdrop to the bustle of everyday life – a bustle which could be quickly escaped by means of a short walk into the smallholdings, allotments, and woods which surrounded these small towns and cities.
Technological development accelerated, as people faced the challengers of providing clean water, food, clothing, housing, healthcare, and the myriad of other things which are required for a decent and long life, in a severely resource constrained world. Inventors, doing what they do simply for the joy of it, and in the hopes of making a better world, released their designs for free – not that patenting them would have stopped anyone copying them. As their work made life easier, reducing the hours that were needed to simply survive, others could use their time to learn new skills and create new art. New universities were founded, focusing on cultivating the sort of men and women who would be wise enough to lead humanity forward – and humble enough to be willing to step aside. Scientific research, struggling with funding and corruption under the old establishment, leapt forward as new research institutes were founded. Space exploration, a dream which was thought to have fizzled out for a second time, was revitalised, and colonies were founded on nearby worlds.
Rather than an age of banditry, it is an age of pioneers. Rather than the basest instincts of humanity ruling the day, our essential nobility shines through in the darkness of the universe. Though there are still places where despots rule, most of humanity live in benevolent city-states – and though they have differences in how exactly society should be run, it is rare for cities to war against each other. Far from being a dark age, there is no better time to be alive than now.