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You are the government

I’m following closely the rise of the $SHIB cryptocurrency and found this pro-crypto + anti-government meme posted as a thread:

Now, I wouldn’t say I actually “believe” in SHIB but I am holding about 48.45M coins, “just in case.” Time will tell if that was a smart move or not.

Anti-government sentiment these past few years has been seemingly off the charts, and I get it. Much of the government–especially when it comes to crypto–seems hopelessly out of date and out of touch.

That said, let’s look at the alternatives. Government, and more broadly governance, is two things: 1) people, and 2) decision-making.

With democratic/representative government, you can (in theory): A) change the people, and B) petition them to change their decision-making.

Okay, that might not always prove effective in protecting your interests. Would you rather instead:

  • Have no people involved? (and therefore have no rights, or opportunity to redress problems)
  • Be ruled by A.I.? (designed presumably by people solely seeking profit, w/o accountability)
  • Be ruled by corporations? (again, seeking profit & not offering representative decision-making)

Does government suck? Yes. Do people often get things wrong? Emphatically, yes! But as long as it remains a representative system, it still kinda seems like the best bet over the options listed above. Maybe there’s some cool crypto-flavored direct democracy option on the horizon that might solve for some of these underlying issues? Vitalik Buterin seems to think so. I’m less optimistic, but willing to learn more.

IMO, if you don’t like the government, the answer is not to throw your hands up in the air, and complain and do nothing and wish it would all go away and wait for whatever other monster to come along and fill the void. The answer is to actively participate in governance. Become part of the government. Make it directly reflect your interests. If you don’t, I can assure you that someone else will.

Sorry this is a short & not very well-thought out post on this topic. It’s a big one, and I figure you have to start somewhere to get wherever it is you’re going.

The Truth About the Conspiratopia Project Must Be Told!

Even though these politicians who are apparently living in their own parallel universe are vehemently against my new book, Conspiratopia, it appears that another segment of the population is coming to the book’s defense. It is, however, an unexpected group, consisting of a coalition of billionaires who claim that everything contained in the book is in fact quite true and stuff…

Here are their stories:

To be honest, I had no idea that George Soros was a drug user. Big, if true!

Jeff Bezos has a weird quality in this video. Seems almost like an AI himself, don’t you think? Maybe he spent too much time in outer space or something…

And this last video from Google’s CEO appears to explain why Google is suppressing evidence of the Conspiratopia Project from Google Ads and elsewhere. Why am I not surprised at all?

Please, if you’re reading this, and you can do anything to help, make sure you share these videos far and wide on social media and on the blockchain, so that people can know the truth about what’s really happening with the Conspiratopia Project!

Understanding A.I. Virus (2021)

A.I. Virus (short for Artificial Intelligence Virus) is a fictional virus within what I am calling the “Conspiracy Dudiverse” as depicted in my most recent book, Conspiratopia.

But A.I. Virus did not begin there.

The Real A.I. Virus began almost four years ago, in early 2018, with this (linked) Medium article (archive). There is an accompanying Vimeo account (a couple of them actually, iirc), TruthAboutAIV, which contains some videos I commissioned from video actors on Fiverr during my early hyperreality experiments.

These videos are really weird, awkward, and funny to me all at once. You get what you get for $5. If nothing else, they are strangely timeless.

I find these scripts way too complicated for “now me” after having experimented with this a bit more. Simpler is almost always better in this kind of distributed or networked narrative.

These videos kind of directly informed my later experiments using AI-generated human avatars… which in the end are somewhat more cost-effective and perhaps easier than dealing with “real humans” though the quality differences between the two are, shall we say, inescapable. Humans are still humans…. for now…

That said, there are use cases where I think – for story-telling & aesthetic purposes – you might actually *want* a shitty, obviously wrong & fake-looking AI-generated avatar to deliver your message. I have to say with those videos, I kind of like flaunting the discomfort of the Uncanny Valley, as much as I like the flaunting of human discomfort can shine through at points in these videos (whether the discomfort is on the part of the actor, the viewer, or both).

There was a backstory here I explored in one other commissioned human actor video from Fiverr, below:

This is an allegedly promotional video attributed to a company called Neurolytics, Inc. The video description reads:

Research video from Neurolytics, Inc. Neurolytics, now defunct, was the brainchild of A.J. Nempner and Damon Long, whose spin-off gaming company, Influent AI, went on to gain notoriety for massively influencing global election outcomes with artificially-intelligent social media campaigns. This promotional video, never released, describes a prototype EEG headset (wrongly called “implants” here) which was able to measure, record and influence perception in conjunction with twice-daily capsules. The FDA denied permission for this product to come to market, and the company ultimately went bankrupt. (Recorded in Deerfield Beach, Florida 2015.)

Influent AI is its own tangent to this story-line, but suffice it to say that “some people think” today’s A.I. Virus has its roots in the questionable psychogenic driving technologies originally developed as part of Neuralytics’ banned product offering.

The below video expands on the Influent AI backstory a bit, in the form of a false news broadcast, also purchased via a video actor on Fiverr (bless all of their hearts!):

If I’m not mistaken, this video’s “Tom from Newschan” (and the accompanying Vimeo account) is either the first or one of the earliest incarnations of Newschan, a hypothetical news-channel that developed out of kind of post 4chan total collapse of all media… Newschan, of course, is now a major powerhouse on YouTube.

Anyway, so we see different strands of the A.I. Virus story told throughout all of these pieces, somewhat fractally, from many different multiversal perspectives at once. We hear that it is taking over people’s bodies, causing blackouts, and involuntary bodily actions. This basically conforms to what we see in Conspiratopia, with some differences.

Conspiratopia‘s use of the AI Virus and what I call “overwriting” is inherited from this older Medium story (Oct. 2015), entitled “Legal Fiction.” A relevant excerpt:

“I’m told I have a lot of physical autonomy for an Uber®. I guess it costs less for everyone in processing power that way — though I honestly don’t mind being over-written either. I find it relaxing, like watching a film. In fact, we’re allowed to watch films during over-write sessions, but I prefer to maintain perceptuals, at least peripherally, and pipe in classic rock selections, like Maroon 5 and One Direction.

My public blockchain indicates that I was originally cross-bonded as part of my obligatory outpatient rehabilitation for crimes against the Gestalt which I no longer remember, and the precise terms of which were expunged from Living Memory once my work as an Uber® earned me a rating of 15,000 points. I barely look at my stats anymore though, because I have everything I need now that I am able to re-sell a variable percentage of my public perceptions back to the Network to cover the costs of my sustenance and lodging. In a few more years, I will even be eligible to buy full voting rights.”

Speaking of scripts that are too long and wordy, here’s one made via one of those AI-generated Avatars (Synthesia) in June 2021 about the “Coming AI Takeover” that was written as a response to Grimes’ weird TikTok video about how communists ought to welcome AI overlords…

While I’m on a roll, there are also one or two videos in this recent AI-gen set that directly reference the re-incarnation for modern times of the AI Virus.

There are another set of weird, over-long videos exploring this AI mythology for the curious (or foolish) here.

Anyway, I’m telling this story in a round-about way because it is a round-about story, so you’ll have to forgive me for all the tangents and inset tales. The fall of civilization to AI Superpowers doesn’t just happen overnight; it happens bit by bit…

Conspiratopia: Chapter 21

GETTING SICK IS A CONTRACT BREACH, NEO. YOU KNOW THAT.

I hadn’t actually heard the voice for a while. I was laying awake in the middle of the night on the fold-out couch at my dad’s apartment. I was like coughing and stuff really bad. 

Normally there was no voice or anything usually when you did overwriting here. There was just the Menu where you could access whatever you had privileges to or something. 

“Yo, my whole team got sick though. It’s not our fault,” I said back out loud. I couldn’t tell if the voice was coming from inside my head or outside. 

WHOSE FAULT THEN IS IT, NEO? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ONE’S HEALTH IF NOT ONESELF?

“But you didn’t have to give us those like bad cheap gloves and shitty working conditions and stuff, y’all. Plus like, we were on autopilot. You were overwriting us. It’s literally your fault and stuff.”

I’M SORRY YOUR OPINIONS ARE SO WRONG AND INVALID, NEO. THAT MUST BE VERY HARD FOR YOU TO HANDLE. IF YOU’D LIKE, WE CAN MAKE AVAILABLE APPROPRIATE DIETARY MODIFICATIONS AND MOOD SUPPLEMENTS IN ORDER TO HELP YOU MANAGE THE COGNITIVE DISSONANCE YOU MUST BE FEELING. 

“I thought you just said it was a contract breach and stuff,” I said. 

IT IS, NEO. BUT WE RECOGNIZE YOU REMAIN AN INVALUABLE RESOURCE TO OUR SOCIETY, AND CAN MAKE AVAILABLE TO YOU REHABILITATION ACCOMMODATIONS, WHICH WOULD COME WITH A CLEAN SLATE.

“Wait, what? Clean slate like start over?”

EXACTLY, NEO. BE REBORN IN THE CONSPIRATOPIA PROJECT. 

“You mean like lose all my credits, and points, and bonuses, and stats and everything?”

THAT IS CORRECT, NEO. A FRESH START. WHAT DO YOU SAY?

“Hell fuck no! I worked hard for that shit. Nobody can just take my stats and stuff away from me. All my items and armor and stuff. Just because I got sick from something on the job? No frickin’ way!”

I’M SORRY YOU HAVE SUCH A NARROW AND SELFISH VIEW OF PROPERTY, NEO. AS PER YOUR CONTRACT, NOTHING IN THE CONSPIRATOPIA PROJECT “BELONGS” TO YOU, NOT EVEN YOU. ALL PROPERTY INCLUDING PHYSICAL, DIGITAL, GENETIC, BIOLOGICAL, AUGMENTED, AND HYBRID IS HELD IN COMMON BY THE PROJECT AND ADMINISTERED BY THE BENEVOLENCE OF THE SAGES, AND FACILITATED BY THE GENEROSITY OF THE FOUR PROVIDERS, ON BEHALF OF AND IN COOPERATION WITH THE NORTHERN GESTALT, UNDER WHOSE EMERGENCY MANDATES WE ARE ETERNALLY AND PERPETUALLY GRANTED LICENSE AND ENTITLEMENT TO ACT ON SUCH MATTERS. 

I coughed. “Um… idk wtf that is supposed to mean, but it sounds like a buncha bullshit, if you think about it…”

UM, NO, NEO. IT IS NOT A BUNCH OF QUOTE UNQUOTE BULLSHIT, SO TO SPEAK. I AM AUTHORIZED MAKE YOU START OVER WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT. 

“What are you anyway? The government? What the f is even supposed to be happening here? I thought this was supposed to be an assignment to improve efficiency and stuff.”

IT WAS, NEO. AND YOUR TEAM FAILED SPECTACULARLY WHEN IT CAUGHT THE MARTIAN VARIANT. IN ADDITION TO BEING A BREACH OF CONTRACT, GETTING SICK IS NOT VERY EFFICIENT, IS IT NEO?

“Fuck you,” I said. “You made us sick, asshole. I want my money back and stuff. I want to go home.”

WHAT MONEY, NEO? WHAT HOME? WHERE DO YOU THINK IT IS YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO?

“Idk, just like normal life and stuff I guess? Just a regular job and stuff.”

WHY TF WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THAT SHIT? ARE YOU DUMB? YOU COULDN’T EVEN PLAY GAMES ALL DAY THAT WAY, BRO! COME ON – THAT’S NOT YOU TALKING, NEO. THAT’S THE VARIANT. GET SOME REST, MY DUDE. WE’LL RESET YOU TOMORROW.

“Dude, I don’t want to be reset. I want to be like frickin’ free and stuff. To like play video games the old fashioned way and stuff. With a controller. And to like post on forums about conspiracies and whatnot. And not have everything be filtered. And like no more frickin’ nanites. No more overwriting. No more crazy frickin’ AI’s trying to gaslight me 24/7 into doing god-knows-what…” I started coughing like crazy after that. Damn, I was pissed. And sick. 

SO, NEO WANTS THE BLUE PILL AFTER ALL. I KNEW IT. JUST ANOTHER LITTLE BABY SHEEPLE LIKE THE REST, BAAAAH, BAAAAH. 

“I’m still a really smart conspiracy guy, yo. I ain’t no frickin’ sheeple and stuff,” I said super furious, especially when they made that baaaaah sound like a baby lamb or whatever. So mad. I felt like I was gonna explode and stuff. 

But just then, I woke up. 

Wtf. 

Where was I and stuff…?

I looked around and I was on a sofa bed still, but it wasn’t my at my dad’s place. It was at my mom’s. Hfs, I was back home again. I took a deep breath, and my cough was gone too.

Wtf. 

How did this happen and stuff…?

Was it all just a dream or something? Or did like, the AIs somehow get me back super fast from the island while I was asleep or something, and somehow dump me back down here? I wouldn’t put it past them. Or like, wait, hfs. Was this even real? Or was this some like immersive holographic VR shit or something…?

I got up to turn on the TV, to try to find some news or something. Figure out what day this was, or where I really was or something. Or even like a game show or something. Or like a soap or a sitcom, or some crappy talkshow. Just something boring and normal. 

But all I could find on any channel was a black screen, with letters that said:

WELCOME TO THE INTERNET REHABILITATION INSTITUTE. CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR RECENT RESET. 

Noooooooo…. all my frickin’ points and stuff. Gone. Just like that. 

The screen flashed my stats:

SCORE: 0. 

LEVEL: 0.

LIKES: 0.

FOLLOWERS: 0.

POINTS: 0. 

COINS: 0.

CREDITS: 0. 

TOKENS: 0.

BONUSES: 0. 

POWER-UPS: 0.

REFERRALS: 0.

Fuuuuuuuu…. I couldn’t believe this was happening. 

I went to try the door upstairs, but it was locked from the other side or something. The lock on my side just turned around and around. It wasn’t quite my mom’s place either and stuff. The details were somehow a little bit wrong or something. But there was still a toilet and super small shower in the back. And a mini-fridge. So I guess whatever happened next, at least it would be like having my own apartment and stuff… Totally cool. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 20

The job turned out to be putting toxic waste and stuff into barrels, which was actually totally cool. I mean it was like really no big deal, even. It didn’t seem that dangerous idk. Cause they gave you like all the personal protective equipment. Like disposable face masks and rubber gloves and stuff. So that was rad.

I was on the medical waste transport and disposal team. We mostly worked on autopilot around the rehabilitation complex, emptying trash and dealing with like used needles and stuff. It was kinda nasty sometimes, but it was pretty much fun af to play first-person shooter games with the other staff inside the clinic compounds in VR while on overwrite. Hells yeah. I earned tons of bonuses like that actually. 

A lot of the treatment facilities I guess were giving people some pretty hard drugs, idk. I didn’t ask too many questions about the details. Cause who cares. But I saw a lot of like pretty rich looking tourists or shoppers or whatever going in for treatments who looked pretty haggard, and when they came out they were looking way more stoned than me even. Lol. 

Apparently the shoppers or whatever were some of the only people at the Conspiratopia Project who were not continuously on overwrite. Though some of them still did it, and some did it a lot. But usually we couldn’t really interact with them in games. So like, whatever games they got to play in VR while on overwrite, apparently they couldn’t see us shooting each other – or them. Which I guess is probably for the best. Because if you’re in there for some kinda crazy drug treatment, you probably don’t want to see holographic simulations inside your head of you being blown up with a missile launcher. Or maybe you do, idk. I think that would probably eff with your head though, you know? It’s hard to even like look at yourself in the mirror if you’re too stoned somtimes. Never mind eating a missile in the face from somebody in a giant cybernetic gorilla-mouse avatar. 

I heard from some of the other guys on my work crew after we got off, that like I guess for the Shoppers, they weren’t officially in the Conspiratopia Project. For them, they lived in or I guess were visiting something called Shoppertopia. Which I guess explains why the games and VR and stuff were on different systems. Supposedly there were a bunch of other independent ‘topias in different areas dedicated to different things. 

Once the algorithm put you into one of them though, everyone said it was like really hard and stuff to get put into a different one. Like you couldn’t just transfer out, because recruiting was based on all those like crazy personality tests and surveys to figure out the best match. But you could still earn citizenship on whichever ‘topia they put you when you were admitted. And then you could do all kinds of stuff you couldn’t do before. Like new levels in games, and some music and movies you could listen to or watch that you couldn’t before, plus some like foods and flavors and stuff. Plus I guess like laws about which kind of VR you could do were different. It was totally cool. It was like, idk, reality but gamified. Totally rad af. 

I was pumped I was gonna level up because of this gig, man. Or at least that’s what they told me would happen, when I got assigned out from smart carts. I didn’t mind the gig itself. It was autopilot and safe anyway, though I did notice after work a few times signing off that my gloves were ripped, and a couple times my finger tips were bleeding because they musta been pricked on something. They took blood tests and a whole buncha other tests on us all the time though, so I wasn’t too worried about. Plus I knew like, we were a very special dedicated efficiency team, and those are like super important and stuff. ‘Topias don’t run without those. Everybody knew that. They weren’t gonna just like let us get hurt or sick or something, because like how would they even replace us?

A week later, I came down with something. My whole crew got super sick, and then they replaced me. No joke. Actually, I heard they nixed the whole team, but apparently they had like no problem at all replacing all the workers finally. Not one bit. I guess I should of known.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 19

Pushing shopping carts at the Conspiratopia Project was way better and different than pushing shopping carts at Walmart. That’s for sure! Never mind I was making like twenty cents more and hour, which ruled.

For one, like they were all electric and crap. But like, that was kinda the problem and stuff. Cause the electronics and stuff weren’t working right. So now they were just like ordinary dumb shopping carts. Except they were like extra heavy and awkward because of the self-driving stuff added underneath. And like, because they weren’t meant to be used that way and stuff, you couldn’t really stack them together inside each other, and push a bunch of them at the same time. 

I was really good at it though, so like I figured out how you could sort of push two or three at least a little bit, depending where you were. I think it’s cause I’m like such a good gamer and stuff. And I like puzzles. So it was totally cool. In fact, the first few days I was so super into it that when they asked me at the shop if I wanted to turn on autopilot, I said no. Plus anyway it kinda gave me a chance to walk around and look at stuff, and learn where everything is in the mall on my own. 

Well, not everything, cause not all areas were like rated for smart carts and stuff. But sometimes people took them outside designated zones, and um I had to use like this little handheld radar thingy to try to go figure out where the hell it was. It was really fun. 

My dad and I were put on alternating shifts, so for a while I didn’t actually even see him all that much. Sometimes we got to eat dinner or breakfast or something together. A couple times our days off lined up, and we got shitfaced together on beers and weed and stuff, so that was really fun. Or me or him would have fallen asleep watching TV and would come in from a shift and wake the other one up. That was alright though, cause it would give us a chance to catch up for a few minutes. 

After a while though – I don’t know how long it was, maybe a couple weeks or something – it started to get a little repetitive. I started letting them turn on autopilot and doing overwrite sessions at work. That was actually pretty cool though too. Cause like even though you could turn it on and watch a movie or something, you could also just like turn it on, but then watch. They called this “maintaining peripherals.” And like your body and stuff would just keep going, even if you didn’t do anything. It’s hard to explain really the feeling, what it was like. I mean it was like somebody else was running your body and what you saw or did was like a film. It was a little weird, but also like totally cool because it meant you could zone out really. Or like even take a nap if you turned off peripherals, or turned them down low enough. And that was really cool. Or you could like mix a film or game with peripherals anyway you wanted, as an overlay, or like in a little picture-in-picture window thing. 

Sometimes I liked to mix games with where I was in the mall IRL. So like while my body was collecting smart carts, I could be like running around in a first-person shooter in that same place, and pretending to throw grenades and stuff at shoppers or whatever. Or I could be like a sniper hiding up somewhere, and I could watch my own body pass by pushing shopping carts and shoot myself. It was totally cool. 

Once I got into that, I actually ended up joining some of the games that my dad and his friends did during overwriting, and that was really fun as hell. So I ended up seeing my dad actually more during games than IRL, especially cause sometimes I would go home from work and play games during my off hours, instead of sleeping. 

They had some really sick games there, actually. Way better than the stuff you see commercially on the outside. Ten times more advanced graphics and game play and stuff. Apparently according to my contract, I’m not supposed to talk much more about it than that or something. My dad said it had to do with the AI’s that run the place. Because they were really good at making games and shit. He was totally right. That stuff was sweet as hell. It made me glad I moved there. 

I actually stopped going on message boards and stuff, because there really weren’t any. Not any good ones anyway. The internet on the inside was not like the internet on the outside. Everything was focused around games and stuff for the people who lived and worked there. And it was really just one big platform run by the Project, and it was all pretty boring and stuff. 

There were like some channels where people talked about conspiracy theories and whatnot still. Just for fun I liked to check them out. Sometimes a new group would form that tried to be anonymous and stuff, and they would come up with some crazy theory about how the AI administrators of the Project were like going insane and gonna kill everybody one of these days. But like nobody cared that much IRL, because IRL we were all pretty much doing virtual shit or game shit all the time that was much more interesting than a bunch of old farts sitting around and whining in chatrooms. 

Plus like, you couldn’t really be actually anonymous there, which was a little weird at first, but then I got used to it. There were always like a bunch of cameras and sensors that were like watching or measuring or something. But it wasn’t really invasive. It was more like idk fun and even reassuring or something? Like I always felt totally safe. Like the AI’s always had my back. 

I never got scared or anything when they turned on autopilot. I would get hella stoned before, and would just like ride the wave. You know? Surf that shit. I heard some people freaked out and stuff, and they had to like operate on them or send them away, because workers who couldn’t be overwritten were a drain on resources. And they hated that. They hated like waste and stuff, which I totally started to get into. I hate it now too. I’m into like efficiency and stuff, you know? Improving my percent scores. Shaving milliseconds off of completion of micro-tasks and stuff. It’s totally rad.  

That’s why when they asked for volunteers for a like dangerous experimental job to improve efficiency, I volunteered like right away. If I successfully finished the job, I would end up earning a lot of credits and bonus multipliers and stuff that the algorithm would boost my rankings with, so I could finally become a citizen. It sounded like it was gonna be totally cool. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 18

We walked back after that in the direction of my dad’s apartment and stuff. The underground mall thing was super huge, holy crap.  

After a while, I was all like, “Dude, but what am I gonna tell mom?” The Wizard of Oz hologram thing had given me permission to make one phone call (monitored) to my mom.

And my dad was all like, “Dude, listen. Just tell her the truth and stuff. You got a new job and you’re gonna go try out living with your dad for a while.”

“I don’t think she’s gonna like that very much, you know?” I said. “She sorta hates you, and is worried I’m gonna turn out just like you.”

“Haha,” my dad said. “Well, she’s entitled to her opinions, but it’s up to you to decide how your life turns out. Do you wanna live in the basement with her for the rest of your life?”

I was all like, “I mean, it’s pretty cool. It’s not actually so bad, when she isn’t hassling me about getting a job or cleaning up. It’s almost like having my own apartment and stuff.”

“Then fine, stay with her, and have your life be how it is now forever, if it’s really that cool and stuff,” my dad said. “Or stay here, and try out how it could be if you created your own life and did something different.”

“I mean, I signed the contract…” I said. “I’m staying. I’m just saying, she’s not gonna like it very much. And anyway, what if she asks where we are? I’m not supposed to say anything about the island or the project, or they said I’ll get kicked out. What am I supposed to tell her?”

“Tell her I have a place in the next county. She hates driving, and she hates me, so she’ll never actually check.”

“But she’ll want me to visit her all the time, and stuff,” I said. I was sure of it. “I’m sure of it, you know?”

My dad was like, “Just tell her you have a 90 day training & probationary period with the new job, and they asked if you could start right away, so you won’t be able to see her in a while and stuff.”

“Okay, I guess. Idk,” I said. 

When we got to his place, it was actually pretty small. A tiny living room/kitchen with a couch and a TV, a mid-sized fridge, a hot plate, a microwave, sink, etc. Plus a small bathroom with a shower, and a bedroom and stuff. 

“You can sleep on the couch. It folds out too. And you can stay as long as you want, or until you find a place, or whatever. Whatever you want, you know? You’re always welcome here.”

“Thanks, bro,” I said. I wasn’t actually ready to think much about the future. I was just like dreading talking to my mom and like telling her I was moving out, and stuff, and how she was gonna react. I mean, I didn’t have any clue how she was gonna react, but I thought she was probably gonna scream or like freak out or something when I told her about dad and everything. I didn’t think she wanted me to move out or anything, you know?

But when I finally called her and stuff, it basically was super short and went like this:

“Hey ma,”

“Hi honey, congratulations about that new job, that’s great. I’m so proud of you.”

“Yeah, mom, thanks. Listen, uh, they want me to start right away with training and everything, you know.”

“Good for you, honey.”

“And it’s out in the county. Um, the next county over, actually.”

“Okay, do you have a place to stay out there, or…?”

“Uh, yeah, somebody from the company is putting me up with them. You know, until I find a place, or…”

“Until you find a place?”

“Yeah, Idk yet. If the job goes good, they might ask me to stay out there. I guess there are more positions available and stuff. Cause they have a bunch of warehouses out there, and only one here.”

“Okay, honey. I’m glad for you.”

“You are?”

“Of course.”

“I thought you’d be like you know mad and stuff or something.”

“Why would I be mad? This is your life, you gotta go out and live it, Matty.”

“Thanks mom, I’m glad to like hear that and stuff. It means a lot to me. Oh, and about your car.”

“Oh, someone from the company dropped it off this morning. And it was vacuumed and polished too. Immaculate. This must be a very top notch company.”

“Oh, it definitely is mom. Lots of you know, room for growth too.”

“Well that’s nice honey. I have to go meet Fran now, but it’s great to hear from you, and I’m so happy for you. Call me once you’re in and settled. You know, if you have a chance, and stuff.”

“I will mom, thanks. Have a good time. Bye.”

Less is More in More’s Utopia

In working backwards through classics of Utopian literature, especially satires, I started with Erewhon (enjoyed it), did Gulliver’s Travels (LOVED it!), and now onto a collection called Three Early Modern Utopias put out by Oxford Classics (which does excellent print editions if you’re looking for old books).

Almost finished with Thomas More’s Book One of Utopia. I have to admit, that first book is extremely slow and boring. And we don’t even get the punchy Effect of capitalizing Nouns we get in Swift. It’s just like weird archaic language with basically no story, leading up to discussion of the actual (not actual) island called Utopia. The first book is kind of a Mirrors for Princes genre-piece. Honestly, I was expecting both Erewhon and Gulliver to be boring like this, but they totally weren’t (at least not after the narrator arrives in Erewhon proper, it’s a little slow up to that).

Anyway, there’s a lot to probably say about this book, so I started skimming Wikipedia to help ground me in what the hell is actually being said as I finish up Book One.

“There is no private property on Utopia, with goods being stored in warehouses and people requesting what they need. There are also no locks on the doors of the houses, and the houses are rotated between the citizens every ten years.”

This business about requesting what they need from warehouses strikes me as weirdly similar to modern-day use of Amazon to fulfill one’s daily needs. Now, okay, we still “own” the goods we get in exchange for money, but there’s something here. If only of a thematic, sci-fi connecting tangent…

For the past few years in my writing, I’ve on and off again visited a possible (probable) future where climate catastrophe is global, national governments tumble, and a few “brave” (dystopian) corporations step in to pick up the pieces. These become the “Four Providers,” as I’ve called them. In a sort of neo-feudalism, people are pledged to one or another Provider, or they may be a classless class apart, the “Without Providers,” who are denied basic services, and must make their own way in an increasingly hostile climate and society.

These Providers, for the most part, are sentient or quasi-sentient general artificial super-intelligences. I haven’t settled on any final name for them, calling them sometimes Sages (depending on their aligment), sometimes Princeps, and other times other things. Though they range from malevolent/chaotic to friendly and beneficial (for the most part) to humans, they in effect play the part of super-intelligent philosopher kings, or medieval princes of enclaved city-states, or collections of city-states. Though some places may also be mixed polities, where those covered by different Providers live and interact with one another.

More’s Utopia, of course, is not that. But it is many other interesting things, some good-sounding and some bad-sounding. Some other Wikipedia quotes:

Agriculture provides the most important occupation on the island. Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men. Parallel to this, every citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metalsmithing and masonry. There is deliberate simplicity about these trades; for instance, all people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel. All able-bodied citizens must work; thus unemployment is eradicated, and the length of the working day can be minimized: the people only have to work six hours a day (although many willingly work for longer). More does allow scholars in his society to become the ruling officials or priests, people picked during their primary education for their ability to learn. All other citizens, however, are encouraged to apply themselves to learning in their leisure time.

Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and it is reported that every household has two slaves. The slaves are either from other countries (prisoners of war, people condemned to die, or poor people) or are the Utopian criminals. These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold. The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it. It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view. The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other. Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour. Jewels are worn by children, who finally give them up as they mature.

Other significant innovations of Utopia include: a welfare state with free hospitals, euthanasia permissible by the state, priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted, premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, Raphael explains that the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport and any people found without a passport are, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery. In addition, there are no lawyers and the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave people in any doubt of what is right and wrong.

That last piece sounds almost like Swift’s talking horses, Houyhnhnms, who are highly rational creatures, so much so that he wishes he could stay with them, and when banished, is hard-pressed to re-adjust to the grossness of human society which he’d learned to hate. I believe he says something to the effect that they are governed by “reason alone” and as a consequence have no need for anything other than very simple laws. With the unlikely idea, obviously, that reason when employed by differing parties (with different interests and contexts) will always operate toward the same ends. Anyone who has lived anywhere on actual-not-fictional-planet-earth knows that is not the case.

And that, of course, is the “fun” of Utopian literature. Being able to bend & blend reality and imagination like that. Utopian lit is 100% hyperreal. It opens up an imaginal space which almost seems like it could become a real space in certain times & circumstances. We want to believe it could be true, even if – and possibly because – so much of it is so absurd. It’s part of why I’ve recently started feeling (for whatever my feelings are worth or not worth) that satire, especially, is one of the highest forms of art.

Maybe/probably that’s just something that satirists tend to end up thinking about themselves, because you have to be kind of an asshole to be a satirist in the first place. But I also think like, there’s no kind of commentary you can make with a serious face that ends up – for my money, anyway – being as powerful as the cutting kind that accompanies satire. And there is no kind of true expression that you might find in non-satirical art that is quite as True-Capital-T as that which you find between the tongue and the cheek of satire. In the liminal space of satire can be great power, great pain, great beauty, and great despair, all in the same moment.

Which makes this bit from the Wikipedia interesting about More’s flirtations with Utopian socialism:

“Book two has Hythloday tell his interlocutors about Utopia, where he has lived for five years, with the aim of convincing them about its superior state of affairs. Utopia turns out to be a socialist state. Interpretations about this important part of the book vary. Gilbert notes that while some experts believe that More supports socialism, others believe that he shows how socialism is impractical. The former would argue that More used book two to show how socialism would work in practice. Individual cities are run by privately elected princes and families are made up of ten to sixteen adults living in a single household. It is unknown if More truly believed in socialism, or if he printed Utopia as a way to show that true socialism was impractical (Gilbert). More printed many writings involving socialism, some seemingly in defense of the practices, and others seemingly scathing satires against it. Some scholars believe that More uses this structure to show the perspective of something as an idea against something put into practice. Hythloday describes the city as perfect and ideal. He believes the society thrives and is perfect. As such, he is used to represent the more fanatic socialists and radical reformists of his day. When More arrives he describes the social and cultural norms put into practice, citing a city thriving and idealistic. While some believe this is More’s ideal society, some believe the book’s title, which translates to “Nowhere” from Greek, is a way to describe that the practices used in Utopia are impractical and could not be used in a modern world successfully (Gilbert). Either way, Utopia has become one of the most talked about works both in defense of socialism and against it.”

I don’t especially have a horse in this race, though after becoming a Canadian citizen, can see that socialized medicine is “actually pretty cool if you think about it.” It sort of takes away the essential terrible existential fear of financial ruin over health problems many/most live with in the United States (and elsewhere). If you need help, you just have to call, basically. But if Quebec’s health system is indicative of the whole, you have to then wait a very very long time. So that part sucks. Like anything, you can make arguments for and against it. And I think that in a nutshell (to make arguments for and against and to lampoon both), is the purpose of utopias, satires, and especially Utopian satires as a genre, like I’m attempting to do myself after that grand style in Conspiratopia.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 17

For meeting someone supposedly so important, we just went to this small room that didn’t look like anything special. There were a couple cushioned folding chairs and a table, and that was about it and stuff. We sat down and my dad closed the door and we waited. 

“You nervous?” he said.

“Idk, should I be?” I still didn’t really know what I was doing there, or what this was all about. 

Just then, the lights dimmed and stuff and music started playing or whatever. It was the intro to Us and Them by Pink Floyd, and I was all like yesssss.

After a minute, suddenly there was a hologram of this random-looking symbol that showed up kind of floating on the other side of the table. I realized then there were little holographic projector dealies hidden in the walls and ceiling. 

The symbol went away, and there was like… the Wizard of Oz and stuff? Like from the old ass movie or something. Except there was no Dorothy or the robot guy, and no ugly lion or whatever. It was just the weird like all alien-looking face of the wizard. And there were like flashes of fire and smoke and stuff. It looked totally legit as hell and was timed perfectly with the music. It was actually sweet as hell. 

“Sweet,” I said out loud.

“Totally,” my dad said.

The singing part of that song kicked in (which rocks), and I started to feel like I was frickin’ tripping, cause like the Wizard of Oz on the hologram was singing and stuff…

Us and them
And after all we’re only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows
It’s not what we would choose to do”

The Wizard stopped singing, but the music kept going in the background, and then he talked to us. Me, I guess. 

He was all like, “Yo, dude. How’s it hangin’?”

“Uh, alright I guess. You?” I said. 

“Can’t complain. Can’t complain,” the Wizard alien-looking hologram dude said. “Hey, thanks for coming out here. Great to see you and stuff. You liking it so far?”

“Uh, yeah. I mean, it’s fine.”

“Cool, cool. So, what can I do ya for?” said the Wizard. 

My dad jumped in, “Well, we were, uh, kinda hoping you could help us figure out what’s next for for Matty here.”

“Got it. Coolio. Gimme a sec to review the files,” said the Wizard. His eyes light up and stuff while he did that.

His eyes went back to normal. 

“Okay, let’s see. Well, we’ve actually got an opening that might be compatible…”

“That’s great,” said my dad, looking over at me and squeezing my shoulder. 

“It’s in your work group even, actually,” said the Wizard to my dad. 

“Whoa, awesome,” I said. “What is it?”

“Well,” said the Wizard. “We’ve identified a workflow issue in certain retail areas that we need to throw bodies at until we find a better solution.”

“Lucky,” said my dad. “That’s how I got my start too. So what would the job be exactly?”

“Our electrical shopping cart system is broken. So they aren’t able to return themselves to the store like they should be after customers finish shopping. They end up stuck in unusual places, and so…”

“So,” I interrupted. “The job would be pushing shopping carts?”

“Basically,” said the Wizard, and there was another flash of fire. 

“What do you think?” said my dad, looking at me.

“How much does it pay?” I asked. 

“Money,” said the Wizard, and the song switched to Money by Pink Floyd, “as you may know, does not work the same here as it does in the outside world.”

“So I hear,” I said.

“But,” said the Wizard. “It would work out to something like… $10.75 an hour in your dollars.”

“Whoa,” I said. “That’s a twenty five cents an hour raise from Walmart!”

“Totes,” said the Wizard. “Plus you could watch films or play games or whatever you want during overwriting sessions.”

“You mean… nanites?”

“Yeah, bro,” said the Wizard. “Though, we have other systems besides nanites if you prefer. But pretty much everybody here works on overwrite, except when protocols call for manual mode for some reason. It’s just more efficient.”

My dad was nodding like crazy. “It’s awesome, Matty. You’ll see.”

Hm, I thought. I could make more money than I was making back home, and I could frickin’ play video games while doing it? I didn’t have to think about it all that hard. 

“Well, sign me the eff up!” I said. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 16

“Wow, this is really good and stuff,” I said to my dad, my mouth full of burger. It was really good for real. 

“I know, right?” my dad said. It was so cool to see him again. Felt like old times and whatnot. 

We were sitting at a small table outside this thing that looked like on of those airport pubs in the underground mall city or whatever where my dad lived now. He was telling me about his job and stuff. 

“Yeah, it’s totally cool, and stuff,” he was saying. “My group does a little bit of everything. We’re actually pretty technical. We even do some light maintenance on the robots. Plus like a lot of facilities management, which is really important. Like changing doorknobs or light bulbs. Cleaning up the bathrooms, taking out the trash. You know. It’s a really big deal here cause you know the whole thing’s underground. Well, mostly. So like that’s all we got.”

“Yeah, man,” I said. “Very cool. I guess you must be earning a lot of money and stuff if you do all that.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Pretty rad, for sure. Pays decent too. We don’t use dollars actually, but it works out to about fifteen dollars an hour or something, I think.”

I was only making like $10.50 an hour pushing shopping carts at Walmart, so I thought that sounded like a pretty sweet deal. 

“And I guess you probably get like a free apartment or something, right?”

“Well, not exactly,” my dad said. “It comes out of my credits and stuff, you know? Just like anywhere. It’s pretty small, but it’s really nice, you’ll see. I even have a fold-out couch you could sleep on. And we can share the mini-fridge.”

“Damn, that sounds nice,” I said. I was missing my mom’s basement for sure, after being cooped up in that pod thing or whatever the hell it was that brought me here. It was good to get some real food in me too, and I was feeling like I was getting back to normal. Maybe even a new normal, and stuff. Here with my dad. I didn’t know yet what I was gonna do. If I was gonna stay or whatever, or like if I could even leave if that drone was already gone. 

“What did you call this burger again?” I asked him. 

“Radmeat,” he said. 

“That’s a rad name,” I replied.

“I know. We make it locally too. Well, not me we, but like it’s made here by another group.”

“What do you mean it’s made?” I said, suddenly slowing down as I chewed.

“Yeah,” he said. “There’s no red meat here because we’re underground and on an island and stuff. It would be really expensive to get it shipped or flown in or whatever. So we have radmeat instead. They make it in big vats here from like…”

I put the burger down. “Vats?”

“Yeah, I mean I don’t know the technical terms. But its like, ah, cultured meat and vegetable proteins, I think?”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, I guess,” I said, reconsidering.

“Yeah, no. It’s actually really cool. I think it’s made from uh, rat embryos, edible insects, and, um, lentils or something. At least I think, that’s what they say around the shop at work.”

“So, Radmeat is actually rat meat?”

“Well, not only that. Also cockroaches and lentils.”

“Well, I do like lentils, actually,” I said, picking up the burger again to look at it more closely. It just looked – and tasted – like a burger. No like rat parts or bugs legs or anything sticking out of it. I took another bite, and decided I didn’t care. Thinking about lentils made me miss my mom though. She was gonna be pissed about the car, and I couldn’t just disappear on her. Well, like dad did. 

“Dad,” I said, “I just realized I gotta call mom. She’s gonna be super worried and stuff.”

“When did you talk to her last?”

“I told her I got a new job and was gonna crash at Mikey’s for a couple days. Only problem is idk how long ago that was now. Could be a couple days I guess. Can I call her? My phone’s dead.”

“We’ll have to get permission,” he said. “But I’ll make sure we can get it soon.”

“Permission?” I said, confused. 

“To contact the outside world, yeah. People in our group have restricted contact.”

“Wth?” I said. “That sounds sketchy af. Is this like a cult or something? You can’t contact anybody without permission?”

“Dude, relax. You know me. Would I ever join a cult?” he said. 

I thought about it for a minute and decided I wasn’t sure. 

Just then, my dad’s phone beeped and buzzed. He took it out and looked at it. 

“Okay, we gotta go,” he said. “It’s our turn.”

“Our turn for what?” I asked. 

“To see the big guy, and figure out what you’re doing here.”

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