The Rutland Arms, near Sheffield station, has its own gravitational pull for me.

It’s a place where I go to sit alone and work, to catch up with old friends, to have lunch with my family. But last time I was there, two regular blokes pillaged my sanctuary.

They were in their late forties. They sat at the bar, chatting amiably about various beers, then the weather, then some car or other. They engaged the barman in banter about the food menu. Then one puffed himself up and said to the other, “What gets to me is these Syrian refugees. I mean, why don’t they stay there, you know, to defend their homes and country, instead of running away over here, coming over here for an easy life? If someone started attacking my home, I’d damn well stand and fight.”

“Well,” chuckled the other, “Remember that one I showed you a picture of last week? She’d be more than welcome, eh?”

Maybe I should have lashed out, but I stewed silently. You see I have, to quote David Byrne, a beautiful house, a beautiful wife – and a beautiful daughter too. If bombs started falling on my beautiful house and my beautiful city, day after day, I’d grab my beautiful wife and beautiful daughter and run like hell. So you would you, and so would those two goons at the bar.

Some scientists are working on a hypothesis that the world we experience is actually a vast simulation, developed by an advanced post-human civilisation. It’s suggested that our video games will soon be indistinguishable from reality, that in the near future I might not recognise a fleshy human from his synthetic or hologrammatic drinking buddy. They could both drink me under the table, but what if the table wasn’t real either?

If our future selves have meticulously simulated the whole of nature and the cosmos, we’re a very, very long way from their computing power at the moment, as well as the depth of knowledge they’ve had to base their virtual reality on. It seems a naive and childish view of a human-centred universe and I don’t see where it gets us. But would running simulations of human history be an interesting project? Surely they’d just find the same patterns repeating over and again: the overwhelming majority of people just getting on peacefully with their lives, raising families, making homes and looking out for each other, while a powerful few manipulate our beliefs and fears to exert control and build empires.

The closer we’re made to feel to impending doom, to a tipping point in a crisis, the more likely we are to accept extreme measures to solve things. Cue any politician who says, ‘Enough’s enough, something has to change.’ Yet in the end, humans never change.

2016 has been a strange year, when so many good, creative influences have died, and destructive, divisive ones have dominated the news. It feels like we’re in the midst of a time that will be written about in the history books, when lessons we were supposed to have learned in the 1930s were forgotten, when political parties wilfully destroyed themselves from within and casual sexism and xenophobia once again became acceptable conversation in the pub.

Maybe the variables in the simulation are being tweaked, just to see what happens. And what happens is this: we thicken our skins, poke fun at authority, hold our loved ones a little closer, and carry on.

Andrew Wood