Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Politics of Consumption, Part II




The Politics of Consumption, Part II
By Adam Wasserman

It was while the threat of the Communist persisted that the Capitalist was able to pervert the people into consumers. Alas, this was the single worst and most important development leading up to the present - and the most brilliant stroke on his part, if I might say so. A stunning feat at a time when it seemed certain he had been put in a more proper place. For this careless, egotistical, isolationist mindset allowed most of the things which I will soon tell you about to come to pass without so much as a whimper of protest from anyone, and the further they went and the more of the consumers' humanity the Gang of Three was able to deprive them of, the more consequential grew their endeavors. The consumer was the creature and the creation of the Capitalist, and they adored him even as he reviled them. Not that they minded. The consumer, you see, was notoriously able to craft his reality inside his own head and project it onto everyone else. And invariably, each individual consumer was at the center of his own homespun universe in which he was constantly adored, so it naturally followed that all the idiocy in the world was everyone else's.
Even though the Politician and the Holy Man believed themselves to have checkmated him, the Capitalist walked out of the room with the table and the chairs inside the building with the gates and the guards with his hands firmly grasped around the foundations of his future power. Later on he figured out how best to use them. You see, the Politician believed that the best way to subvert the Communist was through military might, the oldest and most primitive weapon of the demagogue. And the key to a successful military was not only advanced technology, but also the capality to produce its artifacts in remarkable numbers. In the beginning, the production and development of these new technologies was to remain the domein of the Politician, with the Capitalist providing the necessary support and expertise. So, having more time on his hands than he was used to, the Capitalist reached far back into his brain and touched on a fairly creative cluster of neurons. Yes, yes, believe it or not when he wasn't in a position to pose a danger to anyone else, the Capitalist was capable of displaying the despondant good quality. At any rate, when he presented these new inventions to the public they fell instantly in love with them and clamored for more.
The Capitalist, stunned, fell mesmerized under the gentle whirring of the wheels and the cogs in his head, churning. He had never been loved before. Why just now they had embraced him with wild shouts of joy. Why? He wasn't entirely sure, but he was certain it could be used to his advantage. For when the Capitalist looked back in history and saw all the manifold revolutions that had unseated his predecessors when their abuse had grown intolerable, he saw one thing in common: the people had had the will and the means. Take them both away, and the natural order of things would comfortably follow. The Capitalist, then, wanted to begin expanding his activities from wartime production to the production of numerous cheap trinkets he billed as clever inventions. Because the fact is that there were only so many useful ideas, and far too few for the comfort of the Capitalist's wallet, not to mention that they were tedious to come by. The Politician, for his part, was very enthusiastic about the Capitalist's proposals, especially when he saw the potential in revenue and kickbacks. He especially enjoyed the fact that the Capitalist was arranging everything himself. You see, he wasn't at all sure how the Capitalist could convince anyone to actually spend Money on these products, and he wanted to distance himself in case of a great and embarrassing failure. In fact, all the Capitalist required from him were some new laws and loopholes in the regulations that no one would notice for what they were until they had long been hallowed and sanctioned by usage. And wouldn't you know it? He happened to have a copy of the proposed legislation with him. The Politician praised the Capitalist for his clemency and humanity, and the Capitalist, draped in gold chains, puffing on a huge cigar, winked and nodded his head.
The Politician, you see, had overlooked a very important detail when he and the Holy Man overthrew the Capitalist. They left him in charge of his media networks. Under the banner of free expression, the Capitalist was able to use these networks to creep into the minds of his consumer. The slogans that advertised his products and speckled his proganda networks varied in form and in word, but were pretty much universal in their meaning. Draped in superalives, the language of the Capitalist promised a dreamy nothing to which they all clung and which insured that they lived in a world where everyone thought he was a god. His was, of course, the opposing extreme to that presented by the Communist, buried under his great fur hat and all his brewing anger. For they reminded the consumer that his every wish and desire could be fulfilled - could did I say? Should is more like it! Let other consumers worry about themselves.
The weaker will be exposed and shouldn't be allowed to have children. That's how it works on the plains of Africa, isn't it?
There are no consequences.
So that's how it started. And really, at first being a consumer didn't feel at all very different from being a person in the least sense, except that one's material situation was vastly improved, and that was no mean improvement. Yes, for a while - albeit a few generations at most - humanity in that part of the world actually achieved some degree of dignity, and the consumers were introduced to a world where they could develop themselves as individuals, and explore the manifold aspects of their natures. A human being should perform useful labor, yes, but in those days it was considered just another aspect of a well-rounded existence. For a human being is a sink of all kinds of knowledge and observation, which he acquires in a myriad of ways. The more varied his experience, the more subtle and powerful his thinking becomes. And work is not merely something performed in the name of a company, either. Work is any activity that produces something fairly lasting, even if it's only an impression. Human beings wanted to be responsible for themselves and to explore the range of possibilities towards which their various personalities inclined them. We were once a race of explorers and adventurers. There were even some who believed that it was the purpose and duty of every human being to enrich himself as much and as best he could and thereby contribute to the purpose of the whole, that happiness was an obligation to oneself and the Universe which made him and not merely something to be ashamed of. I can't tell you if that is true or not. But at any rate, one wasn't expected to pretend to be hopelessly dedicated to one's work. One was merely expected to perform it well. One was expected to show up for his shift and maybe once in a while he was asked to do some overtime, a request which he felt quite in his right mind to refuse. For the consumer was educated, he had vacation, he had free time, and he even had some Money left over. It is a wonder that, having all this, the Capitalist through his invention of popular "culture" was able to deprive them of any real interests whatsoever, so that, combined with his propaganda about laziness, the consumer felt uneasy and bored if he wasn't in his workplace slaving away and being told what to do.
And as for businesses themselves, they showed much promise as vehicles for growth and exploration, and they opened up many doors of possibility to the consumer of which he otherwise might have remained ignorant. But there was a Capitalist squatting at the top of every one of those businesses, a man who behind closed doors slowly but determinedly perverted their thrust and aims towards his own selfish designs. The consumer at work found himself entrenched in a hierarchy, and he quickly realized that this hierarchy was more important than the work itself. If he wanted to climb up, there was no alternative than to participate on its terms. The hopes and principles he brought with him from university were gradually extorted from him; there was always a higher salary to obtain, a new title with the prospect of yet more underlings. For the consumer knew that ambition never comes to an end, that the most successful consumers were never satisifed with their incomes or the number and impressiveness of their possessions.
Now, looking back through history the Capitalist learned that both the Politician and the Holy Man had devised complex systems of belief upon which they could justify their power and influence. When he saw, too, how useful the practice had proven he decided he must do the same for himself. So, the Capitalist paid a great many people to devise a theory and invent a science that explained why his corporations were a benefit to humankind and not a scourge, why they were in fact the basis of a new and enlightened social order that promoted efficiency, creativity, and justice. He spent quite some time whipping up his new science, and - just like the Politician and the Holy Man before him - even after he presented it to the consumers (who received it with wild applause) he was forced time and again to ammend it. Because economics is no science at all, of course, but an aspect and reflection of human nature in a certain context. And since it was hardly suspected that it could deliver a reliable profit, no one was really interested in delving into the mysteries of human nature. Not to mention that the Holy Man felt threatened by any such proposition and strictly forbade it.
In a word, the Capitalist proclaimed that the only real driver of the human spirit was competition. Human beings, he maintained, were inclined towards laziness, and if left comfortably to their own devices no one would ever amount to much of anything. But competition ensures that human beings perform to the best of their ability. Not only that, competition naturally promotes the acceptance of best practices, resulting in the best quality for the consumer for the lowest price. Innovation, he maintained, was only really possible in an environment where those who deserve it are amply rewarded. The Capitalist frequently alluded to sports and exploits in war. And when industries were still emerging and small, governed by the proper laws he might even have been right. But industries didn't stay small or new for very long, the Capitalist giving himself over to a tendency to merge and combine to form yet larger corporations. As it was, all the players in a particular industry would eventually collude, erasing competition completely. This was the natural result of human nature, of course. Those in privileged positions eventually come to recognize that they have far more to lose than they could ever hope to gain, or that they have far more to gain by pooling resources than by going at it individually. And although at first the Politician was occasionally forced to take some kind of action against these huge conglomerates, it was only when some peddling activist forced his hand. Anyway, the changes were always cosmetic and he was rewarded handsomely for it. Once these huge monopolies and cartels had formed, it was impossible for someone with a good idea outside that privileged group to set up a rival. For in order to build anything resembling a competitor the sums he would have to amass could easily amount to the entire personal income of a small country, and anyway the Capitalist was the one who lent all the Money. As for being rewarded, it was an illusion the consumer cherished, and the Capitalist was ever busy finding the occasional example to send through his propaganda networks.
Because in reality, the system set up by the Gang of Three encouraged mediocrity. Products had, after all, to appeal to the widest possible audience, and anyway it was far more effective to spend Money on propaganda than on the quality of the item being pandered. In fact, huge, sprawling departments dedicated to this single pursuit came to envelop the corporations of the Capitalist. The consumers who worked in these departments were constantly obsessed with a thing called "markets". There was, apparently, a market for everything. At first there were only markets for things that were immediately useful, but later on the Capitalist invented "marketing", which is just a fancy and less offensive word for "propaganda", in order to create markets for goods and services that people had to be convinced they needed. But I think I've already mentioned this. At any rate, it goes to show how dangerously ignorant indeed the consumer had grown. Because the open contempt that the Capitalist had for the consumer could not escape the persons who worked these propaganda machines. Behind closed doors they would laugh and snicker to each other, never quite realizing that they were the targets of every other marketing department in Oceania.
And whether it was a marketing department or not, at least half of the consumers slaving away in the corporate farms of the Capitalist (whose portrait hung atop every entrance, decorated in chains and biting happily into a leg of turkey and giving a thumbs-up) were called "managers". Like their predecessors on the assembly line, these persons accomplished no real work themselves but spent most of their day talking to each other about the work that others had done, or that they would yet blackmail them into doing. These persons dressed themselves in roughly the same style of outfit and had similar haircuts and accessories, so that like soldiers in an army all vestiges of personality and identity were dim and transparent. Much of the manager's day was spent worrying about organizational charts and titles and who was a vassal and to whom he owned allegiance. He could not understand why when he went home, exhausted, he felt no satisfaction in day well spent.
But as I said, for a time most of the parties involved were happy. The consumers were endorsing the notion that the person who didn't need anyone else was the stronger, the Holy Man enjoyed austere and superficial respect and devotion, and the Politician sat above them all like a king smiling and oggling and trying to stretch his smile a little more. Of course, the Capitalist was there, too, in the background as it were, and things were pretty good for him, as I think I've described, although not as good as they always had been, and that's why I didn't mention him in that jolly list; for the Capitalist, despite his good fortune, did not count himself either happy or lucky.
How much of what I am going to tell you came to pass as the inevitable result of human nature and how much through our own choice? An interesting question.
At any rate, the more the consumer wanted, the more expensive the products became that the Capitalist continually dangled in front of his eyes, and the more Money he was forced to earn. Eventually, not only one, but both parents had to turn themselves over to the clutches of the Capitalist, even though in one of his nationalistic speeches the Politician was known to claim that the consumers were richer now than they had ever been before. Their children never saw them, and when they did a vile mixture of guilt, stress, and exhaustion created a fertile ground for tumult. But, well, everyone agreed that products had to be bought and consumed. The Capitalist got the Politician to pass laws that allowed the Capitalist to ruthlessly collect what was owed to him, so that although the Politician was able to loudly declare that they all lived in a free society (yes, they were free to choose between two different kinds of packaging), the consumers lived in a quiet and simmering fear that never quite let up. But it was the consumer's dream that one day he himself would sit in a privileged position over other consumers in similar situations, and then there would be ample opportunity for payback. I imagine that thought alone kept a lot of them on their feet.
In fact, the Capitalist achieved this all so subtely and applied his propaganda in all the right places that the consumers never once blamed him, but turned all their scorn and contempt upon the Politician. Which was an easy enough victory to accomplish, seeing that the Politician lent himself so readily to ridicule. You see, the Capitalist kept pointing to his homemade science and reminded them all that the only reason they had these wonderful gadgets in the first place is because of the incentive of profit that rewarded the bravest, the most resourceful - clearly, in a word, the best people, who applied their talents in what was really the only worthy public arena left to them. To this thinking the consumers concurred, partly because of the propaganda, partly because they had grown so spiritually depraved that they happily rejected their social responsibilities. Anyway, such thinking reflected their lives at the office. Misery loves company.
You see, the consumers had lost much of the knowledge and wisdom that a few thousand years before had been plain to many. The consumers abandoned the present and fancied the future; the consumers did not recognize that many of the forces that shaped their lives lay beyond their control; the consumers cared too much about what other consumers thought of them. That is probably why they were so easy to manipulate. Part of this was the fault of the Holy Man, who liked to have it both ways (you are not responsible at all, he told his listeners on some days, and on others it was: you are responsible for everything). But the Politician was by far the Capitalist's greatest cheerleader. He felt that the Capitalist was a way of life. He openly condoned the belief that the profit justified the means. Which is rather ironic, because the Politician was also the only bulwark between the Capitalist and the certain destruction he would have faced had he challenged the consumers as he intended to before they had been properly conditioned. The Capitalist never knew how lucky he was that he had to contend for so long with the private obstructions of the Politician. Anyway, society - a notion which I think I described to you before - began to dissolve. It was because of this notion that the consumers used to greet each other on the streets, or take care of their parents in their old age, or refrain from having sex with others if they happened to be obligated to someone else, or resist the temptation to terminate someone's employment a few years from his pension.
Alas, the silly consumer. What a disgraceful animal. The chief characteristic of the consumer was that he was selfish. Also, he defined his identity almost entirely in terms of generic name brands and a kind of perverse, mass-produced culture - produced and directed by the Capitalist - that limited thinking as much as possible. A secondary characteristic of the consumer was that he was not at all inclined to exert himself, being used to taking everything he could possibly want pre-packaged off the shelf, whether he paid for it or not. As a result, the consumer had a loud mouth but was in actuality very tame and didn't know how to stand up for anything except his paycheck. The consumer was very concerned with image and didn't care much for substance. This was most particularly the case with his opinions, the range of which were dictated to him by the Capitalist's propaganda networks in between the endless incantations of slogans. There were only a very few number of accepted opinions, but the consumers took great pride in the variety of ways they could disguise them, or in the cleverness of the delivery as they rehashed them to their friends. They all thought they were being original, and the Politician loudly proclaimed they lived in a society where everyone was free to express himself.
So there you have it. In the end, in the part of the world that by conquest of free trade agreements was quickly becoming Oceania, a huge mass of the unsatisfied husks of human beings were walking past each other without taking notice except perhaps to steal a glance here and there (for sex, too, eventually was to become a commodity, something to be bought and sold and coldly discarded when it wasn't needed any more, to lie idle somewhere unseen until it was called for again), talking loudly on whatever communication devices were in vogue at the time, bumping into one another by accident and just walking away, as if another person were a pole, or an atom, absently rubbing off and never saying a word. All saying pretty much the same things with the same limited vocabularies and vomiting up those same prepackaged laughs and trying to get one up on his best friend.
Yes, the consumers were always talking. They had a lot to say about everything, especially those things they knew the least about or had heard from somebody else. Because as every consumer knew, it was much more fun to embellish than to actually spend time trying to go after the truth. Which was a cumbersome process anyway and seemed to require genuine interest. From a distance the consumers all tried to act like each other, to conform to the same model, so that even though in theory they celebrated their individuality they were really just cattle, like the Communist had openly declared for himself. And the consumers, despite a very vague but permanent feeling of disatisfaction, honestly believed that they had far better lives than the people in the other, as yet "uncivilized" parts of the world, where they still depended upon one another.
For even if the people had lived in squalor and had suffered from bad breath and belched and wore ragged clothes, they had still been people and accepted their own natures as animals. Not so the consumer. The consumer was very clean and groomed himself and dressed in all the proper name brands. He looked back with disdain upon the days when his ancestors had lived in the country. Great hairy apes, they thought to themselves, who hadn't the proper sense to have their sweat glands removed or that operation to eliminate flatulence. The consumer did not accept his humanity and was uncomfortable on those few occasions when he was forcibly confronted with it. Fortunately for the consumer, it is part of human nature to weave intricate illusions with the help of others.
Okay, perhaps I have judged the consumer too harshly. After all, he was under someone else's control. But this question of responsibility, it plagues me. If this was our destiny, if this had from the very beginning been the only way, then I should not complain, for it must merely have been a step in the Universe's own development. But if it was not... Well, let me say this about the consumer: time dragged on for him, during which he was constantly tossed about and buffeted by what his heart was telling him and the realities of his life. Before he knew it he was elderly and had not many years left, and yet he had the vague but impending sense that he hadn't actually lived. And then the consumer died.
The Capitalist belched heartily. Tiny flecks of meat sprayed from his mouth, pummeling the filthy surface of the table in front of him like ragged comets striking the surface of a devastated moon. A fat hand reminiscent of a bundle of sausages jiggled the sack of flesh still held together by a loose packet of unidentifiable grey fur. "Well, it's a damned waste, and that's always a shame when it's Money in question." The Capitalist was fatter than natural human proportion should ever have allowed. His sturdy silver chair had been replaced several times already until now he took up one whole side of the table. When he wasn't sitting in it (which was rare) one would have mistaken it for an ugly park bench, albeit one made of reinforced steel, but when he was sitting in it he was often to be heard muttering under his breath about how the sides pinched. In fact, the Capitalist had taken up permanent residence in the room with the table and the chairs inside the great grey building with the fence and the guards. He never left. Perhaps he feared he would no longer fit through the opening. Perhaps he knew better. Anyway, the Capitalist was loath to be away from the seat of his power and did not miss fresh air or a change of scenery or the warmth of the sun or a glimpse of green. Alright, perhaps a little, but it was never enough to overcome his more civilized desires.
The Politician and the Holy Man were crowded together on the other side. The Politician hadn't changed much over the decades except that his smile was even wider, his hair greasier and even more perfectly sculpted, his clothes still conservative, but finer and more sumptuous. Of course, he was a great deal richer these days, perhaps not as rich as he was wont to expect in ages gone by, but certainly he had nothing to complain about. He had a steady stream of income now provided by the Capitalist, something he had never known before. The security of that income had softened the Politician even as it increased his isolation from reality.
At the moment, the Politician was engaged in a seemingly perpetual attempt to keep a rocking boat from sinking. Calmly, almost simply, he was speaking to the Capitalist, as if he were addressing a strong but errant child whose heart was basically in the right place. "Well, I don't see how you will get the workers you need if we don't educate them. Some of what you do requires specific skills, does it not?" If the Politician had had glasses he would have peered patiently over them at the Capitalist. He had to settle with twisting a lock of hair between his forefingers.
"I'm not saying they shouldn't be trained for their life's work!" exclaimed the Capitalist, waving his arms emphatically and wiping his dripping face with a handkerchief. Now he brought the packet of fur to his face and stuck his gaping mouth inside and ripped out a sizeable chunk of flesh. Flinging his arms wide again, bits of soft grey fur were left spinning stupidly in the air, zigzagging their way carelessly towards the ground. "Naturally I need trained workers! Some of them, that is. But I don't see why they have to learn all this other stuff. It takes too long and it's free which means we have to pay for it. Not to mention the fact that when they are sitting in those silly classrooms, it's time that they aren't spending in my offices!" He spoke while he was chewing, which means he was spitting. It's part of the reason why the Politician and the Holy Man sat so far away. That, and the smell, of course.
The Politician coughed uncomfortably. The consumers, he knew, had come to expect a general education from him because he had promised it as part of the new social contract that had been thrust upon him. "The consumers are much attached to their educations."
"Bullshit," belched the Capitalist and ripped another bite out of the packet of fur. "No one likes to go to school. Believe me, they'll all be overjoyed when you make the announcement." The Capitalist shrugged. "Just throw up a few more stadiums and let me set up some more teams - whatever sports happen to be in fashion, you know. We'll let them in for free but we'd have to sell the snacks and articles of clothing and such, and -"
"Let them in for free?" The Politician, as often happened, didn't quite understand. "I thought the whole point -"
"If they are spending their time cheering madly in a stadium or engaged in some useful - " the Capitalist belched again - "and constant labor, they won't have much time to sit around and think, will they? Anyway, they'll love you for it. Much more than they claim to now for this education."
"Education is the light that illuminates the mind," hissed the Holy Man suddenly. He, too, looked very much as he always had, except that now he wore sunglasses (even indoors) and he had his legs up on the table much more frequently. He spoke rarely these days, and when he did it was vaguely and in a voice that purred. It was a voice that seemed not to care much one way or the other. If you happened to be speaking to him, you might easily have come away with the impression that behind the walls of the darkened glass he was staring off at the ceiling towards someplace far away, someplace that made him giggle occassionally and for seemingly no reason at all. The soft, red and white embroidered robes were still magnificent but neglected and fading in some places.
The Capitalist grimmaced. "Why do you have to come out and speak such nonesense? I can never understand what you say."
The Holy Man shrugged.
"Why can't you just say what you mean?"
The Holy Man shrugged again.
The Capitalist turned to the Politician. "Why can't he just say what he means?"
Now it was the Politician's turn to shrug. "He thinks it makes him sound wiser. Anyway, the consumers get educated and that's that."
The Capitalist cast an iron glance in the Politician's direction. The Holy Man, smoothing his robes, giggled. "You don't know what a thorn in my side this whole education business is. These students, they get these strange ideas in their heads at those universities. It takes time to beat it out of them."
"They get an education," repeated the Politician resolutely. He squirmed slightly in his chair.
The Capitalist took note. "Ah, excuse me, but weren't you the one who started taking Money away from the universities in the first place?" The man's voice was frothing with sarcasm. "And did anyone complain?"
The Politician remained frozen in place, but inside his mind was racing. Yes, it was true he had started to reduce the quality of education available to everyone. Still, it was there for those who really needed it, he told himself. And the Money was being used for other parts of the social contract. The social contract. In a sudden flash of intuition, he realized it was degrading. "I don't see your point," he said at last.
The Capitalist seemed to hiss when he spoke next, his eyes narrowed and his breath came more slowly. "Let's be honest here," he suggested. "An aware, free-thinking electorate is not in your best interests, as we've been made all too painfully aware of. I'm simply suggesting we complete a task started half asked!"
But the Politician felt slightly ill. Everything the Capitalist had said was true, but he most certainly didn't put it to himself like that. To be confronted by his own motivation without the benefit of some charming disguise, it was, was - "They get an education." The Politician's voice was needlessly petulant.
"Fine then. But not for free."
The Politician, brushing away his own personal bitterness, considered again. The Capitalist was right, of course. He was simply afraid of the fallout. But it was a proposition he could probably squeeze by the consumers, accompanied by the right propaganda, of course. The Capitalist's news broadcasts could begin to emphasize the luxurious and do-nothing lifestyle of the professional student, sucking off society like a parasite, and cast this image on all students everywhere. Immediately, he saw an array of arguments he could arm himself with. He could claim it was a matter of justice; he could claim that students would value their education the more by it; he could claim that there weren't enough resources to educate everyone, and that therefore only those who deserved it should have access to them first. "Fine, they'll have to pay."
The Capitalist nodded and grimaced again. "Don't worry," he snorted, "you'll get your cut, too." So, the students would keep streaming out the universities with ideas of their own, but at least their number would begin to dwindle and anyway, now he would reap a profit from it. Education had, at least, become a legitimate business. There would come another time to deal with the remainder of the problem. The Capitalist had learned to bide his time. He took another bite of meat.
"What is that?" purred the Holy Man with disgust. He couldn't hold it back anymore.
"I found it pissing on a tree outside."
"You know," the Politician told him, "some little boy or girl is probably missing it right now."
The Capitalist giggled. "I know. It's the best part."
The Politician hurried onward. "The consumers have not been too receptive of our housing plans."
The Capitalist shrugged. "Well, we won't give them any choice, will we?"
"I don't see what you mean."
"If they want to keep renting, let them rent." The Capitalist, although he made a hearty profit from the business, didn't like renters. They didn't feel fettered down by a debt that would take half their lifetimes to pay off, during which time they had to constantly be employed. And there would be no room for forgiveness, either. One missed payment and the consumer had nothing, no matter how much he had already sunk into the matter, not to mention all the legal remedies available to the Capitalist to recover his property. The Capitalist would make sure the conditions were such that this happened fairly often. Often enough, in fact, that the consumer could never quite feel independent of his master, and despite all the propaganda which courted him otherwise. "We'll just change the zoning laws and limit the number of units available. All the good housing will be for sale. If they want to live in filthy neighborhoods, let them rent." The Capitalist smiled. There was a special place in his heart for the land barons, right next to the insurance barons and the law barons.
The Politician nodded his head and made some notes.
"And as far as the hospitals go -" belched the Capitalist, beginning to wave a flabbergasted arm about himself.
But the Politician interrupted him sternly. A riveting finger stabbed in his direction. "Absolutely not. You're grubby hands stay off." The consumers, it seemed, were especially attached to the various devices that had been invented for prolonging and improving the general health of their lives. They would not so easily forget the man who would take them away from them.
The Capitalist sneered. "Nothing for free," he rasped, his face twisting in a mass of shifting folds. He was especially piqued at the fact that health care remained out of his grasp. It openly flouted the proposition that he himself was the only tenable road to invention. The idea made him edgy that someone would be motivated out of any other reason than greed. But he also imagined that to get his grip on the very blood and bones of his workers would install greater fear in them - and thus greater obedience.
"You have your insurances," the Politician reminded him.
"No one really needs them," the Capitalist whined. "I'm having trouble getting the consumers to take out policies." Then and there the Capitalist resolved that all the most useful technologies would from then on be produced in his laboratories. Yes, of course. It would require a sizeable investment up front, but what better excuse with which to arm himself later on when he wanted to reap limitless profits from them? With a patent in the proper places, slowly but surely he would take over the new terrain medicine was venturing into, and leave the Politician to rot in the old, the realm of surgery with knives and drugs with massive side effects. "I'll start with the genes," he said aloud. "Yes, I'll put out patents on runny noses and black hair."
"Excuse me?" It was the Holy Man. He hadn't really been paying much attention, but the sentence jumped out at him.
The Capitalist couldn't help from giggling. The irony amused him. Shaking his head as if to throw off a mat of cobwebs, he moved on. "Pathetic little consumers," he sighed with a trace of resentment ringing through his voice. "Nothing more than overdressed peasants is what they are." The Capitalist was surprised to hear both the Holy Man and the Politician chuckle. Looking up, he saw them staring at him with open amusement. "What?"
"Yes," concurred the Politician, grinning grotesquely as he was wont to do. "Big little peasants with electronic gadgets. Nothing has changed except the gadgets." He threw a glance at the Holy Man.
"Nothing has changed," repeated the Holy Man simply.
Now the Politician had broken out into open laughter. He had to watch out that his jiggling head didn't lean too much to one side. "Fashions may change my friend, but those ignorant peasants, they remain. Masks, just masks. As they grow bolder we have to speak nicer words to them, I guess, but -"
"Nothing's changed except now they wear underwear." It was the Holy Man.
The Capitalist held his breath a moment before himself bursting out laughing. Now they were all three of them laughing, having a merry old time. Yes, it was an ages old human tradition, a bunch of people come together to collectively feel superior to everyone else.
"It's nice to see that you're catching up," the Politician told the Capitalist once they had calmed down.
The Capitalist, immensely pleased, feeling a bit more at home, grinned and bit into his hunk of flesh.
And in a like manner were many such things decided.
Now, it was about this time that the Politician began to seriously devote his attention to the business of acquiring an empire. It is the most time-honored and noble duty of the Policitian, or so it was often said, although I can't for the life of me imagine why. At any rate, the building of a successful empire was the key to a position of unassailable strength for the Politician, and never before had his propects seemed so good. For when the Politician had empire, he was respected and feared by those from whom respect and fear were the most helpful. As he well knew, the seat of the Politician's power was firmly planted in the minds of his subjects and his rivals. Like the Holy Man, his existence depended almost entirely on the consumers' belief. But there was a more insidious reason: war and discord, if the consumers were behind him, provided a suitable mask for supressing dissent.
Yes, believe it or not, there was such a thing as dissent, although the word has passed from our carefully clipped vocabularies. You see, there once was a time when it was not assumed that there was only one opinion about any particular matter. In fact, it was once believed to be one of the strengths of human nature that there were as many points of view as there were persons, and that through discourse and other forms of interaction (including violent ones, yes, it is part of our nature nonetheless) human beings would come to some agreement with each other. This is why it was so important, it was felt, that human beings develop themselves so fully and so completely, so that by knowing who they were, what strengths and weaknesses they possessed, they were best able to represent their particular points of view on the appropriate occasions. For the Universe had vested itself in each and every one of them, tiny sparks of light that were working towards some greater purpose.
Alas, I am talking over your head, and I apologize. I can see your eyes glazing over, and that isn't an encouraging sign. I must hurry onward.
The Politician, then, decided to act when he did because of the presence and popularity of the Capitalist. Ah, the silly man, like Pompeius Magnus he never realized that he was setting up a dangerous rival. He trusted too much to his own reputation. He did not see how the consumers sighed with delight when the Capitalist reported how much he had grown in the previous year. He did not understand the subtle jibes constantly made in his direction. For the consumers, even if they acted stupidly, were not actually stupid, and they could see quite clearly what was going on. The only time they ever showed any liking for the Politician was when the Capitalist convinced him to give them largess in the form of tax breaks. But the consumer's pride in the Capitalist did provide the Politician with one new weapon, and that was nationalism. The consumers seemed to think that their country was a sports team and there was nothing they loved more than to see their country winning. Their love for their material possessions and their envy at the fact that outside their borders there were still people in the world (they came into restless and uncomfortable contact with them whenever the consumers ventured there on vacation) encouraged the Politician to resort to empire as a way to shore up his own sagging position in the Gang of Three. The only condition was that no consumers should be killed. People, now that was a different story, and anyway they were foreigners. As long as the Capitalist's propaganda networks shielded the consumers of Oceania from the human devastation of the Politician's wily ways, they would suffer no discomfort at the hand of their consciences, and happy life could go on as always.
During this time the Politician gave an extraordinary number of speeches. We all know that words mean very little and they come cheaply, which is why the Politician was so free with them. Standing there on the rostra haranguing the consumers, that was what he was best at. He never felt compelled to act based on anything he seemed to promise in his speeches, and now that the consumer's minds were bent from exhaustion and emptiness they weren't apt to take him to task for anything he said or even to bother remembering it. His favorite topic was "freedom", of course. The consumers of Oceania had been born into a strong tradition of "freedom", although the word (for some reason) rang strangely hollow in the mouth. Which is why they craved the speeches of the Politician as they did. They needed to be reassured that they possessed this fleeting jewel, the meaning of which eluded them.
The Politician pointed out to them the towering corporate farms that were beginning to crowd the ever-expanding cities. These, he reminded them, provided them with all the devices and gadgets with which they entertained themselves and with which they paired their mass-produced identities. Not far away the imposing goal posts of the nearest stadium stabbed into the air. This, the Politician told them warmly, is where they were provided with free public spectacles of sport and physical prowess. For those who wanted less from their lives, he pointed out the government buildings and the universities and the libraries and the hospitals. But the Politician didn't dwell much on these. Government services, you see, were almost non-existent, since the general feeling was that only the Capitalist could render any service efficiently and anyway, if a service couldn't earn a reliable profit then it wasn't worth having. The universities had become dull bastions of archaic thought, since thinking about anything other than making Money had long since been left to the weaklings of Oceania. All the best minds labored for the Capitalist, waiting up at night ready to do his bidding. And anyway, the costs of attending these universities was so extremely high that few consumers could afford it. And yet, the Politician was rightly able to claim that the universities existed with their doors open. Libraries were solemn graveyards for the aging wardens of the books. Each year they would bury a few more underneath the moldy shelves.
As for the hospitals, well, over the years the Capitalist had taken out patents on genes and gene therapy and the workings of the mind and all the technologies that were useful to anyone. The administrators and doctors in these hospitals became the minions of the Capitalist even though officially they worked under the auspices of the Politician. But everyone agreed, the Capitalist had invested so much Money in producing these wonderful new advances, it was only right that he recouped what he had spent as well as a decent profit on top for himself and the Politician and the Holy Man. According to the law, the Capitalist actually owned the bodies of the persons who ventured into his hospitals, and because he owned them he was entitled to do with them what he wanted. If he needed a gene or an organ he took it without asking and without warning. As it was, the price for access to these technologies was such that only the consumers who played his game got the treatment they required. Because as everyone knew, a consumer's worth was only to be measured by how much Money he had, and a consumer couldn't obtain Money without laying himself first on the altar of the Capitalist. Anyway, it worked out extremely well. Between kidneys and mortgages, the Capitalist had a pretty reliable way of ensuring that no one passed on any wealth or independence to his children.
Yes, freedom. The word sent chills tumbling up and down the spines of more than a few persons listening. Yes, some of them received the word with a very specific skepticism, even a sickening dread that brought to mind late night beatings and electric shocks. More than a few knew exactly what kind of freedom they should expect within the confines of Oceania. For the Politician had been busy over the years decreeing laws on behalf of the Gang of Three. Yes, their laws filled books and books and rooms and rooms and archives and archives, and still they passed more. There were laws on absolutely every subject imaginable and every situation. Yes, the citizens of Oceania were free to obey the laws that had been created to govern every aspect of their lives. Although initially they were rarely applied, the fact was that if any one of the Gang wanted to put anyone away for any amount of time, the laws were there to ensure that every citizen was conveniently guilty of at least a few infractions. Yes, there were some there in the audience listening who knew exactly what kind of freedom they enjoyed, but they dared not utter any dissenting remarks. The number of prison farms in Oceania was quickly approaching the number of corporate farms, and the Capitalist made quite a profit from them, since the labor of the inmates incurred him little cost. And like the environment, if anyone forced the Politician to begin considering proposals that would correct the situation, the Capitalist would shout at the top of his voice that his profits would suffer and he'd have to kick a whole slew of consumers out of his corporate farms. They consumers knew what that meant. No work meant no food and no more fancy gadgets. So that was usually the end of that.
The Politician ended his speeches with a long, hypnotic tribute to National Capitalism, a phrase he had coined himself long ago in a slightly different fashion but had now found useful to recycle. And the consumers, even if they might have grown uncomfortable hearing about "freedom", or had survived the brutal innards of any one of the many prison farms, would suddenly go mad with delight, shouting and clapping their hands and waving flags and generally feeling very good about themselves and Oceania and their Gang of Three. For by now every other land had a Gang of Three as well. They, too, had begun to conglomerate. But they were poor, backwards barbarians, far behind the shining beacon of progress that was Oceania and her provinces.
Of to the side of the rostra sat the Holy Man, slouching back in his chair with his legs thrown wide. Remember him? His splendid robes were faded and wrinkled, and he had grown a beard again. Except this time it was hardly impressive. Long, wiry threads that cupped his chin and captured odors and gave something else to look at besides the empty expression behind his eyes. He hardly moved, he hardly spoke, but he was there, he was always there, watching without seeming to care. Perhaps you noticed how the Holy Man was not being himself. Perhaps you noticed how silent and inattentive he was at the meetings of the Gang of Three. The Capitalist had joked now and then through the vidscreens about removing him from the Gang altogether, but the Politician hadn't laughed. He no longer savored the idea of being alone with the Capitalist inside the building with the gate and the guards. The Holy Man had only looked blankly between the Politician and the vidscreens and hummed some ancient reggae tune, as if were all the same to him.
But it wasn't all the same to him, and that's why he had crawled into himself. The Holy Man was acutely absorbed in his relationship with the Universe, or he had been once. Now he couldn't understand why it was allowing him to be slowly erased. Oh, he didn't believe anymore that there was this all-powerful, conscious entity looking down loading the dice. That was, of course, a silly notion. But there was a plan nonetheless, for the machinery was there, that was plain. The workings of the Universe were subtely and vastly complex, light years beyond the scope of his imagination, he knew now, and yet all that happened everywhere across suns and galaxies was geared in the same direction. The direction was there and he knew now that there was no point pretending we had any control over it or that it even mattered if we knew where it went. We were simply a part of it, and merely by living.
Which is why he couldn't stand that the Capitalist was winning out over the rest of them.
He had wrestled first with the notion that because there were no gods to appease, because there was no judgement, that it naturally followed that it was pointless to philosophize and to speculate over the nature of being human. After all, the myth behind his power relied entirely upon this point. But after some time he decided that it was not so, and he thought back through the centuries to the time when he had stressed to those who would listen that a human being must learn to confront the ego in himself if he is ever to achieve any enduring peace, that he must recognize where his sphere of action lies. The present is all that we have; the past is a ghost and the future may never come.
There was a flutter near his head. A shadow fell over him and darkened his vision. Far back in his mind the image was projected - what was it? Familiar, yes, vague shadows standing before a tribunal. Someone was on trial. Yes, there was the faint, burnt smell of judgement hanging in the air. What was it? Where was it? How long ago? He had been there. He stood listening. To whom? As yes, to that man there, pacing in front of the tribunal, gesticulating, but not wildly, no. With extreme precision and vast success. Oh, he remembered him now. How he had hated him. Self-righteous bastard. He had got what was coming to him. What was he saying? No, not again, he didn't want to hear that nagging voice again, filled with self-importance. The people remained shadows, black outlines framed against the monstrosity of time itself, but the voice, that voice...
"Do not say it again, that I am a tyrant, or you will seem even more ridiculous. You may of course think it tyrannical to live in such a way as to be beholden to no man nor to a single passion, to make light of all excess, to need neither gold nor silver nor any other possession, to give your opinion freely in the Senate, to consult the people's interests as opposed to their wishes, to yield to no man, to resist many. If you find that this is to be a tyrant, then I admit it: I am that tyrant. But if I have abused my power, why do you not produce this rather than a prejudicial phrase?"*
The Holy Man shook his head. What was happening to him? The wings flapping about his head withdrew for a moment.
Yes, he was withdrawn. Withdrawn into himself, engaged in a painful process of recognition and acceptance. Ah, how that only made him think even more of long ago. Yes, back in the day when he knew how important it was to recognize what was already a fact and then to accept it as a fact. For there was no point in railing against what already was, nor in pretending to oneself childishly that it was not so.
Ah, the wings again, fluttering near his ears, and another image. It was an old man, not entirely unlike himself, and yet very much so. He was careworn, too, but seemed to be wearing it rather better than the Holy Man. Hunched over a writing tablet in the dim light of an oil lamp. It was cold, very cold, and there were barbarians outside. Yes, he knew this man. He remembered him well.
What was he writing? Ah, he needed to see. He peered carefully over the shoulder of the living shade, holding his breath. It was important...
"From my father, mildness, and an unshakable adherence to decisions deliberately come to; and no empty vanity with respect to so-called honors; and a readiness to hear any suggestions for the common good; and to know by experience when is the time to insist and when to desist. And the example that he gave of utilizing without pride, and at the same time without any apology, all the lavish gifts of Fortune that contribute towards the comfort of life, so that to enjoy them when present as a matter of course, and, when absent, not to miss them."**
The Holy Man frowned. The Universe paused. The stars seemed to be holding their breath. The constellation of Orion was watching eagerly. The Holy Man knew he had arrived at a momentous crossroads. It was a second chance. The phrase echoed in his head.
A second chance? At what? The Holy Man thought back.
Yes, long ago - ages ago, in fact - when the Holy Man and the Politician sat in state in quite a different Empire, in a different part of the world even, he had recognized a critical defect in the social fabric, just as he had now. Yes, it was called "pleasure". He had seen first hand what happened when human beings gave themselves entirely over to it. It was slavery of a different kind, but slavery nonetheless. All self-discipline fell away. Human beings ceased to perform the work of human beings. There was chaos and pain, ah, such pain. Because pleasure often had to be ripped away from others. Ah, yes, so he had devised a solution then, one that had bought a new lease on civilization. Pleasure, he had eventually decreed, must be done away with entirely. Especially sexual pleasure.
What a sad turn of events. Sad, because for humankind it meant that an important aspect of life and a strong social cement between human beings, both male and female, was turned into a hideously misunderstood demon that came occasionally to torment the bitter and frustrated persons that the Holy Man came to approve of. These men, proud and vain, extolled the virtues of war and murder, calling them bravery and duty, and condemned love and affection in all except its most ceremonious forms. And now that bitterness and frustration had come to be extolled as virtues in their own right.
Above him, Orion blinked. If they could have, the stars would have spoken to him.
Just because a thing can be abused, is it wise to do away with it entirely?
The Holy Man shook his head determinedly. And then he had it. Orion cocked his head remorsefully. The stars bit their bottom lips. The Universe shrugged and moved on.
The Holy Man had decided that there was indeed a place for him, and if he was to secure it he must act and he must act quickly. He saw clearly where his sphere of action lay. He recognized that too much lay outside his control. But he also saw that the medical technology of the Capitalist allowed him - for the first time in the history of humanity - to alter the borders between what must merely happen to him and what he could actually do about it. The consumers belonged to the Capitalist, yes, but it was a mistake. Nature could be trusted to arrive at the general formula, but it would require the tastes and understanding of an artist to polish off the work. If pleasure was so steeped in the nature of being human that to deprive them of it immersed them in great, inner turmoil, then he would simply remove it from their nature altogether. The imperfect would become the perfect, the impure would be purified. And the consumers would love him for it, for he would be removing at long last the greatest source of internal friction they as animals had ever known.
Yes, with some creative restructuring of their genetic makeup, the consumers could be his. And the Capitalist, he could be dealt with in such a way that he wouldn't recognize the threat until it was too late. For the first time in years, sitting to one side of the rostra while the Politician was busy haranguing the people, the Holy Man grinned. It was an unsettling sight if you had cared to look. When he was invited by the Politician for the customary afterparty, he absently refused, and for a moment the Politician was taken aback. The Holy Man hadn't missed an afterparty and all of the wonderful mind-altering drugs since as far back as any of them could remember.
The possibilities were endless, he realized after some small contemplation. Because really, now that the logical structure of the human mind was understood, now that they could determine exactly what comprises a decision and the role of the will in formulating them and how their implementation changed depending upon perspective and where emotions find their roots and how they affect decisions and what are the various layers of thought and how language affects consciousness and how observation and experience are filtered and subsequently translated into knowledge and what the various classes of knowledge are and how it is actually stored and retrieved and lost even - because the scientists claimed to understand all these things, he realized that there was simply no point in trusting any longer to a consumer's own self-restraint. No, consumers needed to be protected from themselves, and more importantly, the consumer's activities should be wholly directed in the interests of those who knew better, and the best way to accomplish that would be to cut away all sense of independence and self-determination from the brain. Let them act in a very predictable and reliable way, he thought to himself. With he himself holding the strings, of course, as it was always meant to be. Fate, destiny: these concepts would disappear for the Holy Man, yes, but they would become the order of the day for those slinking consumers out there, dull-witted and obtuse. Uneducated, sickly, ignorant even; slightly confused, easily distracted, entirely colorless. An eternal question troubled their faces day and night, but very few of them were able to think clearly enough to formulate it.
The Holy Man needed, of course, access to the Capitalist's scientists, so when he had stopped frothing at the mouth and had straightened up his cumbersome hat and wiped away the grime that was constantly collecting on his sunglasses, he hobbled over to the building with the fence and the guards. The Holy Man was not heading for the room with the table and the chairs. The table and the chairs were no longer in it, for there was no longer space for anything other than the Capitalist's undulating mass of flesh, kilograms and kilograms upon kilograms of flowing fat like lava where hardly a blood vessel could find its way. The room had been expanded. A new ventilation system had been added, too, because like a waking volcano the Capitalist was constantly emitting a variety of noxious gases, poisonous to most life forms, including himself.
The Holy Man found the Politician in the Observation Room, as they called it, speaking hastely into the huge, liquid wall monitor that comprised an entire side of the room. The Capitalist's fat, sagging face towered over them all, his pasty, unhealthy looking skin oozing some combination of urine and oil and preservatives. His mouth opened and closed. He was in the process of chewing something. A huge, caverous mouth that threatened to suck them all inside. The Holy Man took an instinctive step backwards. The Capitalist's breathing, too, was all around them. Very high quality, surround-sound speakers were positioned inside the armrests of the couches where no one dared to sit. Everyone stood when addressing the Capitalist. Laborious, exhausted, his lungs sounded on the verge of collapse. It was a fact that the man got most of his oxygen through other, more artificial means, but the brain wouldn't give up the habit it had acquired over all the last millions of years.
In fact, much of the Capitalist's time these days was spent perfecting small devices that could act as remote extensions of his life and limbs. Not robots, not yet, they didn't know how to wire their command centers directly into his brain, but simple sensors hanging in the streets or at other key locations throughout Oceania. Some of them he could control with switches and knobs, turning and twisting and zooming and listening and watching. Now that he was trapped inside that little room from which all power was exercised, he began to be seized by bouts of paranoia. He had heard of all-powerful men and women, deep inside fortresses of respite from which they never emerged, blinded by their advisors and colleagues and guilefully manipulated. Such lives tended to end badly. And the technology available was remarkable. The more the consumers sacrificed their own, personal happiness for his profit, the more they worked and competed with each other for petty rewards, the more interesting and provocative became the personal situation of the Capitalist.
"It's going to be extremely difficult convincing anyone of that," the Politician was telling the Capitalist doubtfully.
"Don't spit problems back at me. I want solutions!"
"Of course you do. But you see, these are your laws, all this about private property. We can't simply install electronic billboards in people's living rooms!"
The Capitalist was silent for a moment. He grumbled something along the lines of, "Do I have to do everything myself?" and then suddenly there rang out a voice neither of them had heard clearly in quite some time.
"Consumers can own land, but if I recall correctly, no one can own space." It was the Holy Man who spoke. The Politician whirled around in surprise, his lips parted, his head bobbing uncertainly.
The Capitalist chuckled. An difficult series of sounds to describe. "So, have we finished sulking?" he hissed, and in the process sprayed the vidscreen with flecks of garbage.
The Holy Man shrugged and looked at the Politician.
"What do you mean, space? Are you saying - Ah, I see what you are saying." The Politician turned again to the Capitalist. He pursed his lips in thought. "Actually, we could probably justify it legally. As long as the billboards don't actually come in contact with the floor, I think we'll be on reasonably solid ground. After all, that's why we've got lawyers."
"Just make sure they don't interfere with the gambling machines," barked the Capitalist, ejecting at the same moment from his putrid feeding hole a rather large chunk of foul, grey material. It stuck insistently to the other side of the vidscreen before it was slowly pulled downwards, leaving a hefty smear to mark its trail.
The Politician coughed uncomfortably. "You'll drop the appropriate hints in the news?"
The Capitalist ignored him. He was eyeing the Holy Man with obvious distrust. "What do you want?"
"Scientists," answered the Holy Man.
"Scientists? What for?"
"I'm going to purify the consumers."
The Politician looked up aghast. "Purify?" He hadn't heard the Holy Man use that word in a long time. It brought back images from the day when the Holy Man had made him stand in the snow outside his castle all night long and beg.
"Yes."
The Capitalist gurgled. Most of his plans at the moment involved making the most of all the free trade agreements he had got the Politician to sign. Now he had offices everywhere, towering skyscrapers and vast factories, and with each passing day the consumers of Oceania fell more and more under a single umbrella. He didn't see how this purification business would get in the way. Because really, he didn't care what kind of consumers they were as long as they were the kind who consumed, and avidly. "Fine."
"Fine?" The Politician whirled around. "Don't you see - Can't you - No, of course you can't." He turned back to the Holy Man in desperation. But that one was already gone.
Of course, in the end the scientists proved to know a lot less about the mechanics of the human mind than they had claimed. Most of their attempts to interfere with the great motivators of the human mind - emotions - were disasterous. As it turned out, a mind is actually quite a vast and complex system, and it is resting on a very precipitous balance, as it were. All the contributing parts are very closely dependent and connected with many others, and sometimes what seemed to be a very insignificant, direct association with one actually turned out to be an enormous, indirect association with some other. At any rate, the first modified human beings they produced were incredibly insane, some torturously, so that as soon as they had been turned on they tore out their tongues and eyes, and others pathologically, bent on tearing out the tongues and eyes of their initiators. So very quickly it became apparent that the Holy Man wasn't going to produce the perfectly obedient and self-effacing consumer after all. Still, they were able to meet with some successes. In the end, despite the goals he had originally set for himself, the Holy Man was pleased with his new creation.
He arranged with the Capitalist the use of some of the most prime real estate in the heart of Oceania for the coming out party. There were several locations, actually, all wired together. Huge, undulating vidscreens dominated the walls, displaying an array of vague and shifting pyrotechnic three-dimensional dance patterns into which the consumers actually could leap. Laser beans like vast glowing appendages stabbed through the dank, smoky air and tickled the ceiling. The music was not exactly pleasant, at least not by my taste, but the consumers who were present seemed to enjoy it. It wasn't really music that was listened to, but felt rather, and was promulgated by huge bass generators buried under the floor. The deadened bodies gyrating helplessly on the balconies and the stage and the main floor were all responding to vibrations that descended upon them out of the smoke and the air, or leaped up at them from the roots of their feet. There was quite a selection of party drugs, of course. The Capitalist made quite a lot of Money from this traffic, and even more from the fact that it was illegal. Not only was it a handy excuse whenever he wanted to have someone picked up, but he derived almost as much Money from the effort expended on putting a stop to it. Weapons, armor, prisons, personel: they were only the speartips of a much larger web of industries. And it had provided the Capitalist with a convenient excuse to do something he had never dared before: build his own army and police forces, loyal to no one but their salaries and medical benefits and some of the choicest parcels of real estate, all of which they knew they had only the Capitalist to thank for. The Capitalist's doctors kept up the propaganda that there were no substantial side effects to the use of these various synthetic substances, and the consumers were only too happy to hear it. For the consumer had come to regard happiness and contentment as something that could be predictably switched on and off, as opposed to a state of mind that occurred naturally and in tune with his own personal relationship with the Universe. Indeed, the only time the consumer ever felt even slightly calm and relaxed and at peace with himself was after he had swallowed some pill or dropped some liquid into his eye and immersed himself in one of these translucent afterparties. Of course, occasionally there were fights, or someone would merely trip and hurtle hundreds of meters to his death. Those standing by would just look on and smile, perhaps even tap a friend's shoulder and laugh.
In the center of the vast halls were holographic consoles. It was from these consoles that the Holy Man planned to stage the official unveiling. No, the Holy Man wouldn't actually be in any one of the party halls in person. There were too many consumers or wizened old men convienently labelled as terrorists hiding away in what was left of the universities who were fervently against the machinations of the Holy Man, and despite all their best efforts, no one could stamp out the pestilence. The event was publicized as open to everyone, but in fact every consumer present had been carefully screened beforehand.
When the great moment came, the consumers stopped gyrating. The holographic consoles flickered and came to life. Suddenly, standing in the middle of the room, was the clear image of the Holy Man standing before what appeared to be a couch covered in a white sheet. Clearly, something or somethings were seated on that couch underneath that sheet. They were very still. From that very first moment, no farfare or heralding was necessary to grab the consumers' attention. Eyes were fastened in an instant to that couch, to whatever was content to be sitting under that sheet, perfectly still, unashamed. Tendrils of uneasiness seeped out from that image and touched them all. They weren't sure why.
Well, there is no need to describe any more of that scene, disconcerting enough as it was. The Holy Man had, in fact, provided for fanfare, because he was a great deal excited. You see, he imagined he had found a replacement for his audience, and even through their drug induced stupor and ignorance the consumers couldn't help but sense it. They stood in silence listening to him, the cavernous vibrations of the music still landing in sonic booms all around. The Holy Man spoke vigorously, gesticulating forcefully, and the expression on his face, though stern, was sincere. And yet, the consumers knew that as real as he seemed, if they had tried to touch the Holy Man their hands would have gone right through. The Politician, watching from the building with the gates and the guards, shook his head and couldn't understand why the Holy Man hadn't asked for help. There were ways of doing things, ways sanctioned by time and experience. But the Holy Man didn't believe in masks of that kind. He believed in his madness, he was proud of it, and that's why he didn't think to try and hide it from anyone.
The new consumer had no genitals. All capacity for pleasure had been cut away. "Because," the Holy Man spat at them from the holographic consoles, "sex is dirty and you all know it." Sex, the Holy Man concluded, was a word that must be removed from the dictionary. All sense of feeling, in fact, had been deadened in the new consumer except for that of pressure and of pain. Pain, felt the Holy Man, was extremely useful. Fear was the only reliable way to restrain troublemakers. After all, the new consumer constituted only a part of what he had wanted to accomplish. The same applied to taste (food should be a white gruel with the consistency of runny eggs) and to sound (the new consumer encountered music as a great mass of grating noise which needed to be quenched as quickly as possible) and to the other senses as well. The new consumer wasn't much for small talk, but was one for absurdly grand and sweeping statements intended to convince everyone of some overwhelming truth. A boldness unrestrained by any self-doubt intimidated the consumer, who felt tiny and worthless in the presence of his would-be replacement. It was difficult for the consumer to come to terms with this new creature, for the new consumer, believing itself somehow superior, did not fraternize often with him if it could be helped. If it wasn't on some holy mission or working in a factory it would sit quietly in the corner talking to its peers and looking about with eyes full of judgement and await further orders, or perhaps perform some other innocuous activity approved of by the Holy Man, such as sitting relentlessly by the life partner assigned to it and knitting. The new consumer, however, was extremely and conservatively opinionated, and after making a decision would carry out its consequences without the slightest remorse or compassion. Children who transgressed were often simply strangled and their bodies displayed to their siblings as a warning.
The consumers, for their part, were willing to accept that sex should be forbidden (for they had long since shunned loving one another, as they had found over the years that these bonds only interfered with one's career), but aside from that one point they were shocked and dismayed by these little, frightening demigods. The Politician noticed it. The Capitalist noticed it. He was the most angry of all. Because when the consumers were upset, they worked less efficiently. Fine, the new consumers were far better workers anyway, but there simple weren't enough of them, and production couldn't meet demand for some time. The Holy Man, however, believed he had embarked upon a Great Leap Forward of the greatest magnitude. He walked about with his eyes widened and his hands pressed together, waiting, it seemed, for some special and secret message or event that would trigger a great revolution. A revolution whose focal point would have him standing proudly at its center, its Provider, its Champion, its Fountain of Strength.
Whatever the fabulous names and titles were which the Holy Man dreamed up for himself for future historians, the truth is that he became greatly unpopular with the consumers, and this was a time when the fact still mattered. I suspect he might have suffered far worse than he already had, were it not for the Great War which struck at about this time. And just in time! For as it turned out the new consumers were much better suited to a life of soldiery than ordinary civilian life. What happened then was this: in a far away land on the border of what was quickly congealing into Eurasia and Eastasia, there was a Holy Man equally as fanatical and equally as stubborn as our own, familiar Holy Man. A long time before the two had contracted a feud, and for some reason or another could never see eye to eye on virtually any matter. For geographical and technological reasons the two rarely came into contact. Which, of course, only allowed their feud to settle in over the centuries and take on the manner of habit. By the time of the Great War no one could even remember what they were angry with each other about, least of all the two Holy Men. But it hardly mattered. Everything, naturally, was at stake.
Alas, our story now falls upon the sorry topic war. Fortunately, I need not describe it in too great a detail, for it is a phenomenon very familiar to us today. And need I mention how much everyone loves war? Perhaps so. Because even if we workers know why we cheer when we see images beamed down from satellites of our suicide battalion blowing up huge skyscrapers and factories in Eurasia or Eastasia, or why our blood begins to simmer when we are called down into our shelters or the corporate farm where our brother or sister worked was brought down by an enemy, still, I know it and you know it, everyone loves to talk about war, to praise it, to gorge himself with healthy, heady visions of a merciless victory. For what better field is there for bravery? Certainly not the Capitalist's corporate farms, that's for sure. The aging propaganda of the Capitalist to the contrary was no longer needed, for what other choice did one have than to be a slave? For by now, every sphere imaginable of human activity had been taken over by the Capitalist and averaged out into a very plain and lusterless mediocrity, the artifacts of which were entirely under his control. There we just do as we are told, for fifteen hours a day one after the other. What better arena for the human animal than war? What better escape from the quiet pain and boredom of our lives? Savage beasts are we, not this civilized breed, not this treacherous disguise humanity once paraded around in. History has shown us that. I cannot deny the irrevocability of reality to anyone other than myself.
Yes, of course humanity had known war before. But the Great War was different. It was the first of its kind, the predecessor to today's endless, monotonous litany of destruction. This was not the kind of petty war that the Politician and the Holy Man used to engage in in times past, the kind of war that you would shake your head and laugh at if I even suggested it to you. No, those wars had a loose set of rules and were fought by specially trained people called soldiers who made up fluid formations called armies. In those days, the butchery of war was restricted to these so-called armies, although even in the waning days of the tradition the earth's population had swelled to such an extent that large empty spaces for them to fight in became harder and harder to find. Such wars had cost millions of lives in their time, casuality figures for a few days in ours, and yet everyone took them quite seriously.
Okay, enough about war. When the Holy Man convened a meeting of the Gang of Three in the Observation Room and demanded a reprisal against his foreign competitor, both the Capitalist on the vidscreen and the Politician were enthusiastic. The Politician rubbed his hands together and prepared to make speeches. The moral superiority of National Capitalism became once more a topic to be expounded upon. But I must admit, it was a bit disconcerting to see over the media that his counterpart in a place far away was doing pretty much the same thing, claiming National Capitalism for himself and his Capitalist's workers, although modifying some of the finer details (which of those that there actually were) to suit his own climate. But no one was more pleased than the Capitalist, who, surveying the situation, began to formulate a plan, a very nefarious plan indeed, and he was already busy identifying the risks and considering how to minimize them. One good idea sprang immediately to mind. Smiling, extending a hand, the Capitalist was able to make the Politician a very special offer before he ran off to stir up the enthusiasm of the workers, an offer which he in his haste was only too glad to accept.
You are a busy man, the Politician was told. Let me ease your burden as you embark on this momentous task of yours. Let me bother with the collection of your taxes, your revenues, your booty. I'll simply deliver a dependable sum to you on a regular basis. On the condition that anything I collect above and beyond your means I may keep for myself.
There was something else, as well. The workers were the soldiers carrying out the missions, it is true, but those carried out by their intended replacements seemed to be almost regularly compromised by the enemy, a fact which the Capitalist arranged himself. You see, although he never said it he presented himself as the one who would exterminate the Holy Man's pessimistic folly. By doing so he not only gained a great deal of popularity for himself, but he hardened the workers' bitterness towards the Holy Man.
Anyway, after the Politician had made his initial speeches to the workers, they had expected to be carted away to the battlefront. Alas, it never happened. That's what made this new kind of war so special; the workers themselves were the targets and the battlefield was ever all around them. They stood on the battlefield while they labored in factories and they stood on it at home mesmerized before the Capitalist's electronic billboards and their children tread on it every day when they went for their life training. Battles and the maneuvering and supplying of armies were cumbersome and no longer achieved results. Everyone knew that the key to victory was industrial production. Everyone knew that the key to keeping your enemy down after the war was to ruin the infrastructure of his economy. That's why this was the first war conducted almost exclusively by the Capitalist who, if I may remind you, had already built up his own armed forces loyal to himself. Oh, sure, there were some dissidents who claimed that this new turn of events was alarming, compared to which everything that had gone before could be considered rosy, but under the cover of the new emergency they were quietly picked up, brought around the back of some building, and shot for being terrorists. The word, it seems, had many applications. At any rate, it is a fact that enemy workers who managed to infiltrate into Oceania and blow themselves and some factory to bits were hated as terrorists, but those brave workers of Oceania (both the traditional and the new) who did the same in Eastasia were considered heroes. You see, the bullshit that had kept the Gang of Three in power for so long was finally nearing its natural conclusion. And the workers had never trusted themselves, not even when they had simply been consumers, or better yet, people. They had grown so used to listening to useful rationalizations rather than their own instincts or exercising their own capacity for analysis that they could not help but agree that anyone labelled by the Capitalist and presented in the right light in the media networks was a terrorist and should be dealt with ruthlessly.
So, while the Politician was busy running about making speeches and the Holy Man organizing ostentatious and brutal displays in the public stadiums of captured enemy workers, the Capitalist was busy making some very quiet but important changes. Last minute adjustments, as it were. And he had the finest excuse imaginable: there was a war on. And dissidents were terrorists. So, while anyone awake enough was left chewing on his own objections, the universities and the hospitals were closed. Not to everyone, to be sure. The Capitalist had looked across the whole of Oceania and he had seen one huge, sprawling city with dirty, grit-laden air that accumulated on surfaces and not a single public park or zoo or any other cornered bit of nature for that matter, a world choked with workers, and he realized that it was probably wisest to allow a very small number of closely watched individuals to retain a certain amount of awareness and choice. His eye settled upon the most obsequious of the manager-types. These he wished to call directors. But since they were so few in number it is hardly worth mentioning them at all.
First of all, he closed almost all the shops and stores, the very center of the nexxus of greed that had provided the means for his ascent to power. He even went so far as to send someone around to collect all the entertaining junk he for centuries had been pawning on the workers. The materials could prove useful. After all, there was a war on. Surprising, is it? Not really, not when you realize that they had outserved their purpose. For it was no longer the Capitalist's goal to keep score in currency. He simply wanted to possess all the power and live in great opulence and eat food grown in real soil or taken from the carcasses of animals that had actually lived, knowing full well that no one else in the whole world was enjoying the same. The workers, as you can imagine, were greatly distressed, but there was a war on. And anyway, the Capitalist convinced the Holy Man to put on more frequent and more bloody spectacles in the public arenas. At these spectacles the drugs and the food (both entirely synthetic) were freely handed out. The workers were pleased and considered the Capitalist exceptionally gracious to be providing these perks in a situation of emergency and scarcity. I have even heard that the Holy Man staged full scale battles among the prisoners in a variety of settings, even going so far as to dig an artificial lake and providing war vessels as they had had in ancient times. The workers greatly enjoyed these displays, and to the Holy Man's great inner frustration the Capitalist was able to secure most of their graditude. There were other changes, too. Pay was drastically reduced to a small fraction of what they had been accustomed to. Weekends disappeared. Also, there were new rules about the use of Money. It became illegal on pain of death to possess hard currency. Henceforce, all monetary transactions were to be electronic. And it became illegal for any worker to retain any of what was left of his salary into the next period. This crime was called hoarding and was also punishable by death. The Capitalist, too, drawing from his experience wiring himself to the rest of the world, altered the billboards in his workers' homes so that they no longer showed advertisements, but whatever broadcasts he chose to beam them, instructional or otherwise, and fixed it so that he could observe what was happening in front of them. There was, after all, a war going on. Sacrifices had to be made, and hiding behind even the friendliest face was a potential terrorist.
Now, everyone loves a good old war. Unless, of course, you happen to be losing, in which case it becomes a very unpopular thing indeed. And there it was: more bombs were going off in Oceania, there was more disruption and destruction. There were more outbreaks of devasting viruses that swept through whole regions in a night, visiting a quick but horrible death upon most in its path. It cost far more resources to repair what had been vaporized or disrupted and to find replacements for the workers than it did to do the same in far away places. Naturally, the workers' ire turned against the Holy Man. After all, it was his war. And the Capitalist, he did nothing to counter these notions. In fact, he did everything he could to encourage and inflame them. The Holy Man, suddenly realizing he was cornered, tried to fight back, but he had no leverage with the workers anymore. Suddenly, in a whim, he realized what a hopeless situation he was swimming in.
In the end, the Capitalist led him down a wide avenue in one of the tax farming districts on some pretext or another. I think the Holy Man believed they were trying to come to some agreement about how best to end the war. The Capitalist was represented by a klunky but functional robot. Through such devices the Capitalist was now able to interact directly with the world outside. He saw through its dim eyes; he heard the audio waves it encountered; it spoke with his voice. At a whim he could flit from the one to the other, anywhere in Oceania that he chose. Little did the Holy Man know that just hours before the Capitalist had inflamed a crowd of workers with stories of the Holy Man's lurid personal habits and his wasteful and opulent style of living and left them at a junction not much further up. So simple was it. The Holy Man met his sad and ignominious end in the middle of a street somewhere, torn from limb to limb and his teeth smashed, completely unsuspecting. The Capitalist stood to one side and watched eagerly. The crowd kept pieces of his robes and some even took bones for souvenirs. Oh, I suppose that in days gone by they might have erected a monument on the spot. But the expense would no longer justify the return on the investment. The notion of culture and history had only really been useful for attracting tourists, back in the day when there was a market for that kind of thing.
The Politician was neither caught by surprise nor the slightest bit remorseful (okay, maybe a little, but nothing that he wasn't able to surpress with incidental ease) about the demise of his long-time partner, which just goes to show you how ignorant a man he really was. It even seems that the Capitalist still had some small use for him, for it was the Politician who directed the construction of the Capitalist's new versions of temples. For the Capitalist knew that until such time as he was able to wipe it from their nature, the workers had a very innate need to satisfy their very human sense of spirituality and wonder. If they did not, a very large gap in their minds would fester and eventually rouse them to discord. So, he designed massive standing formations made of the cheapest material possible and painted over with a very shiny, gold coat that glittered even in the pollution-dampened sunlight and placed them in every worker barracks under his control. These were all exactly identical and devoid of decoration and took the simple but easily recognizable form of the currency symbol of Oceania. To the platforms upon which they stood would come the workers to leave little notes or to pray that they would not lose their jobs or, especially later, that the corporate farm in which they worked wouldn't be blown to bits anytime soon.
Now, the Politician became aware about this time of a very strange thing indeed. And that was this: no one came to visit him anymore, to request his permission or his advice. Oh, sure, all sorts of things were happening all around him. The building with the gates and his guards was just brimming with activity. Directors scurried purposefully about the darkened hallways, seemingly always on the verge of colliding into one another but somehow avoiding disaster. The Politician would stand among them, trying to catch one's attention on his way by and inquire as to what was going on, but he couldn't even abscond the slightest glance, never mind an answer. Perplexed, a bit disconcerted, the Politician took a moment to look more carefully about himself. He couldn't really see anything of interest, but he was able to catch a few spoken phrases. The directors would bark at each other even as they flitted by, and some could even be seen hurrying about in pairs. The directors all spoke in capital letters. Here are some of the things that they said: "WE MUST INCREASE THE GENETIC SUPPLEMENT IN THE WORKERS' DIET", or "WE MUST REGULATE HOW MANY CHILDREN THE WORKERS HAVE UNTIL WE CAN ACTUALLY GROW THEM", or "OPINIONS AND BELIEFS OF ANY KIND ARE DANGEROUS". The Politician couldn't make much of it.
But still, after some time and snooping about the Politician was able to formulate some vague idea about what was going on around him. The Capitalist, it seems, had taken it upon himself to contact his counterparts in Eurasia and Eastasia and, pointing out the risk and expense of warfare, even if he appeared at the moment to be losing (the tides of Fortune have long been a worthy topic of contemplation, he reminded them), managed to get them to agree to a temporary peace. Imagine that! Without even the slightest involvement of the Politician, and here he was signing peace agreements! The Politician pouted and checked his hair. No, there it was. Perfect as always. Not a hair out of place. And that smile! Gorgeous as always. How could he have just circumvented him? There was more. It seems they had agreed how useful the artifact of war had proven to them. The Politician remained ignorant of the details, but it seems they had agreed to resume hostilities some time in the future after certain details had been worked out. A perpetual warfare checked by stalemate. Shaking his head, the Politician suspected there was something wrong with his information. It just didn't make sense to him. What was there to gain by it?
The Politician was crouched in his quarters, whispering hurriedly into his wrist, eyes roaming and jumping at the smallest noise outside, when someone caused the door to slide open. And what do you know? In strolled a compact robot, and trailing it a tall, rather non-descript young man who was nodding his head enthusiastically at what the robot was saying. A look of sheer terror dropped over the Politician's face, and not entirely sure how to react, he abruptly cut the line and hoped for the best.
"Reaching out and trying to touch someone?" That voice, that sarcastic voice, was not his own, but the Politician knew exactly whose it was. He started to mumble some excuse, but the robot interrupted him. "No matter, and anyway I don't have time to listen to you." The robot was a plain hunk of assorted types of plastic and was designed purely from a functional standpoint. Plain, angular, ugly even, it had large flat panels for eyes that reflected light back at you, and strange flaps for ears, and it rolled about on a sort of pedastal that contained a variety of programmable instruments. It was not, the Politician knew, the only one of its kind. All over Oceania a vast army of these robots stood idly by, waiting for the Capitalist to take over and - as he had proved himself so adept at doing - assuming control. "The director and myself - " the robot gestured awkwardly at the young man standing obsequiously behind him - "still have a great deal of ground to cover today. Isn't that so?"
"I HAVE A GREAT DEAL ON MY PLATE, YES, BUT IT'S ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO SERVE."
The Politician felt a spark of jealousy ignite within him. I don't get it, he thought to himself as the robot purred in satisfaction. "As you can see, these directors are more disposed to their functions than you or that overdressed peacock ever were. Wouldn't you say?"
The Politician was unable to answer. His mind felt numb. The awkward silence was eventually broken by the director.
"OF COURSE HE AGREES, SIR. YOU ARE, AFTER ALL, A GENIUS. I'M SURE THE GENTLEMEN IS MERELY OVERCOME BY YOUR ENORMOUS PRESENCE."
The robot hummed thoughtfully. "Yes, well, let's get down to business then." A panel on his torso opened silently. Gently, a small tray emerged. On the tray was a neat arrangement of disturbing looking instruments. There were instruments of all shapes and sizes, but they all had this is common: on one end a comfortable, slip-proof grip and on the other some form of nasty, protrusive edge. Sharp, gleaming edges sometimes curving and squat wide ones with spikes. Some looked very handy for reaching behind obstacles like bones or vital organs and others - well, most of them didn't readily lend themselves to any appropriate use.
The director standing behind the robot smiled lustfully when he saw the instruments and took an inadvertant step closer. "The director here," began the robot, "is extremely adept at the use of these instruments. I could enumerate on their various uses, but I'm sure you've heard it all before or seen it in the arena - ah, yes, of course you already know, you've arranged a few of these spectacles yourself. There is, of course, no point in trying to impress you." At that the tray with the instruments receded back into the robot's torso. All of them, that is, except for one rather simple instrument. It looked to be about the size and shape of a large but ordinary looking needle. "Anyway, the director will only be making use of this one." And at that, the robot picked up the instrument and handed it to the director, who received it gladly. "Be careful," joked the robot, "it's sharp!" The director giggled.
The robot turned its attention back to the Politician. The man was sagging to the floor. Desperate words were making their way slowly to his lips. They were having trouble cutting through the heavy blanket of dread and paralysis that choked him. He wanted to beg for his life, he wanted to evoke memories of what they had been through together -
"No need to beg, really," the robot told him sarcastically. "It would be so demeaning. Anyway, I've already made up my mind. Loose ends do need tidying up."
I don't understand. It was really the only coherent sentence that could find its way through the Politician's brain.
"However, I have also decided to allow you to take matters into your own hands. Show a little initiative on your part. The director and I - " the robot made a small gesture - "have a small errand to take care of. Oh no, nothing that concerns you. But I imagine we'll be back in about fifteen minutes. If you are still alive at that time, I will be leaving the director and his handy instrument behind when I leave. Do I make myself understood?"
The Politician did not answer. He was still chewing on disbelief.
The robot whirled about and headed for the door. "Fifteen minutes," it repeated, and then it was gone.
The director stood awkwardly by for a moment before opening his mouth. "VERY PLEASED TO HAVE MET YOU," he offerred, and when the Politician did not respond, he, too, left the room. The door slid closed after him.
And so that was the end of the Politician. That was, in fact, the end of everything. We merely wait for the Universe to sweep up the mess and start all over again. All those years we feared that we would blow ourselves to bits in some conflagration of our own making. Who ever would have suspected the truth? And so I ask you once again: did we arrive here by deliberate choice or did our Nature provide us with some subtle flaw that forced us into deadlock? Oh, I suppose it is irrelevant. I suppose it is both of them and none at all, in fact. Because the inevitability of the fact was proven when it came to pass. Choice is only choice at the moment of the choosing.
We human beings share parts of the nature of a violent, territorial creature called the chimpanzee. But we also share parts of the nature of the bonobo, a social creature that was inclined towards contentment and derived pleasure from the company of its peers. Oh, even supposing that both forces are present in equal strength, in the end the forces of hatred - which we used to call "evil" - will always engulf those of love - which we used to call "good". For the forces of hatred are active forces, and the forces of love quite passive, and thus more easily swallowed up and devoured. Still, even when the forces of hatred have seemed to completely overcome, the ever-present forces of love, drawing from some well deep inside our minds, will bubble up first here and then there and then, even as the forces of hatred rush about to quench them, in a a myriad of places all at once. At first tiny, little currents that would gain strength and join up, and the battle of "good versus evil" would be rejoined, and the cycle renewed. A great deal of the lost folklore of humanity centered around this internal conflict. And as the technology at our command became more powerful, and because the persons who wielded power often arrived at their seats of might by injustice, we all thought the danger was that some man or woman, consumed by his own personal hatred, press a button or let a few drops of liquid spill out of a vial, and bang! in a few miserable instants it would all be over.
We never reckoned on the Capitalist. A man who realized that it wasn't in his interests to allow us to blow ourselves up. No, he saw a better use for humanity. And he found a way to get us to go along with him. The fact never ceases to amaze me, or to threaten to engulf me in fitful anger. The consumers were inclined to abandon the more subtle and yet more infinitely satisfying rewards to be had from social contact in favor of those more obvious but far more deceitful. Are we so hierarchically and materialistically inclined that the choice was inevitable? Yes, I think so. Millions of years ago, evolution experimented on this planet with large, powerful bodies and huge jaws and brute force. But those creatures, even if they did succeed in taking over the earth, were not able to perceive and act against external threats such as, shall we say, the impact of a comet on the planet. So when evolution had to start all over again she decided to adjust her strategy. The sheer size and power of the bodies was reduced, and this time she gave us more highly developed brains. Yes, she worked on the complexity of the program, for the more flexible and dynamic the behavior, the more abstract the level on which it is defined, the more environments and situations it can survive and even flourish in. Alas, she did not reckon with the possibility that the greatest danger threatening us lay inside our own heads. Or perhaps she did. Perhaps we were just an experiment. Perhaps we can take solace from the possibility that we were a step in her own learning curve - on the way to something greater.
And so I must leave you now. I can see by the look in your eyes that I have disturbed you. I know that the first chance you'll get you'll turn me in. Go back, then, to your corporate farm and your barracks, remember to stay within the electronic perimeter of your sector unless you have permission. I must go. The electronic permeter doesn't know me, not yet, it never has. When you return, you will feel better, and if they don't terminate you because of what I have told you then tomorrow you will be back at your place in the factory, or sent on some suicide mission in Eurasia, and all the while you will be thinking what they have tacked up in huge, shiny letters above your barracks and in your workplace. Warm, welcome words are these, and I supposed it was foolish of me to try and supplant them. Yes, yes, my child, I can see them now, from here, even as we speak. Turn, look, yes, there. Ah, I can see you relax. Yes, yes, it is the only truth you know.

WORK WILL SET YOU FREE.

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