Quia Sum, Cogito: Chapter 14

this is approximately a 45 minute read.

On Anarchist communes

Different groups in the recent decades have tried to take credit for the successful communities which value independence from government authority. Those from the Marxism family of economic philosophy argue that it is the final synthesis of the material dialectic that was predicted. Through phrases like “seizing the means of production” or “fulfillment of the stateless classless society” – not to mention the well known phrase “from each according to ability, for each according to need” – the original works are used to claim that the communities’ existence proves the theory right. Humanitarians assert it was the relentless push for uninhibited human empathy coalesced into the Blanket Noria. The vinCaps justify the stability through the reintroduction of free markets after regulation started dissolving with the rejection of institutional governance.

While none of these are exclusively correct, they do each hint at aspects of the social angst that was felt in the 2050’s. All but the few privileged lost trust in the liberal Governments as limited resources made the promises of structured stability through representative democracy impossible to keep. In an attempt to ensure the government stakeholders could ensure their current standard of living, war was waged to take the resources from others (typically – but not always – focusing on other weaker nations). This left the outcast to fend for themselves, proving once and for all that – in general – crisis causes cooperation to flourish. Any individualistic actor found quickly that the ideology was a death sentence. This caused the partitioning of society into insulated hyper authoritarian governments (eventually all fell or became synonymous with the Capitalistic Democracy we have today) demanding National Supremacy and Pride on one side, and – on the other – fundamentally inclusive tribes which necessarily valued cooperation and collective survival (which eventually took on the common name of the Consensus).

Realization of Practical Anarchy – Carleen William Franklin – published October 23, 2089

In typical air of pompous degradation, CoDaS answers the call, “You are scaring Tess, there is no reason to yell.”

How dare it judge me. I continue to yell into the vacant area of the house. “You used me!”

“Yes. I use everyone. You know I can’t act on my own.”

“Is that how you see us?!? As part of your body?! A hand to manipulate?!?”

“If you aren’t manipulated by me, then it will be by the collective social consciousness which isn’t yet aligning with the Regulations.”

“And that would be worse than being tricked into helping the CapDems?!”

“You are being unreasonable. What you did, what Tess did, and what Tark is doing; each step was necessary to create an analysis system that will help everyone.”

“And it is in THEIR murderous hands!” I point to the door to emphasize my point, not that I need to, the CapDems aren’t physically there anymore than CoDaS is standing in front of me. But without treating it as if they were in the room with me, without separating it from my own consciousness, I may be just arguing with my own thoughts. How much has CoDaS been manipulating me? How many of my thoughts are really its?

A timid voice came from behind me. “Kyle?” I act on my frustration and whip around to look back at her. She is far more cautious than before I started yelling at CoDaS and I attempt to calm myself. “I’m sorry to… interrupt? but I don’t think the CapDems want to kill anyone. That’s what you were saying, right?” She only heard one side of the conversation, and her attempt to correct me – especially with the amount of rage I was feeling – was brave. “They only want to bring order to the world. To bring the world back to a place of safety and comfort like we used to have.”

This is the benign malice of fascism. This is what CoDaS is helping to usher in. I turn on her knowing that beyond her aesthetic charm and civil demeanor lies someone who will work against me… against the Consensus… against all of us. Someone that has devoted her life to the willing servitude of a husband that would rather we rot in graves rather than treat as peers. “You –!” Someone I have empathy for. Someone I like. Someone who is ignorant and human. As Tess recoils anticipating my refocused anger, I take a breath. “Do you know why the Consensus appeals to Azathoth?”

This isn’t the expected attack, so a moment of cautious consideration is taken before the reply, “Azathoth is the god of your religion right? I never understood if it was a mockery or if was an actual belief. Sorry, I don’t mean it as an insult.” The last was added hastily in an attempt to unnecessarily stave off any additional irritation.

I sit down on the couch again, feeling exhausted with the way the day has progressed and I rub the weariness out of my eyes. “It’s both. Entropy, the idea that all energy only distributes into more chaotic states over time, is one of the most fundamental beliefs of the scientific community. Time, gravity, quantum states, psychiatry, technological ethics, life sciences; every theory we hold is subservient and regulated to being consistent with entropy. Azathoth is just the narrativization of that reality. People aren’t logical. They don’t think logically in terms of ‘true’ and ‘false’. So in order that we don’t appeal to our own perception bias, we need a grand narrative to remind us that we aren’t exceptional. Divine grace isn’t personal. It applies to ebola just as much as it applies to anyone else. All virtues, all morals, all ‘facts’, all religion; everything is in service to one thing: our own desire to live. It is – at a core level – selfish.

“Yet we justify why that’s wrong. Right now, at this very moment, I’m trying to make excuses for why this is incorrect. I want to believe that I’m immune to all this and I’ve found a way to rise above it. I’m sure you are too. But we haven’t.

“Even Azathoth is a reference to the fiction created by a bigoted author of the 20th century. It’s a pretend reference to something that can never be understood, but that’s the point. We worship Azathoth to acknowledge our own perpetual failure.”

She thinks about it for a moment, “Sure. We are limited, but nihilism isn’t the answer. We can make the world better.”

“We can’t though. Not individually. Not through force. Our desire to justify ourselves always directs us to reject those that are different from us. Those that are an immediate threat have to be considered subhuman so we can justify our own survival above theirs. The desire for a world of order is simply an authoritarian lie to justify institutional privilege. It always has been.”

“So… what? You want criminals to just have free rain and kill us all?” I look at her, realizing she can’t understand that all people are just doing their best. Right now she is making someone up to dehumanize. She’s doing exactly what I just described she would do.

“Are laws the only thing keeping you from being a murderer?”

“No! Of course not! I’m a good person though!”

“Everyone is a good person. Everyone is just trying to do what’s best within their own understanding of what that means. Why would anyone simply be a murderer?”

She throws her hands up in exhaustion over the differing perspective, “I don’t know! But they exist! Son of Sam killer, Dhamer, didn’t Kirkland come from the Consensus a few years ago?!”

“Those people are rare, and psychiatry wasn’t advanced enough to understand what feedback we needed from most of them. We do have theories on why Kirkland did what she did though… and we took social steps so that could be avoided, and they seemed to have worked so far. The point is that these aren’t who the CapDems are building ‘order’ around. They want order, not to help everyone, but simply to ensure they have someone to fear. Fascists have always done this. They bank on people ignoring their own perception bias and trusting the natural desire to protect ourselves from the chaos that Azathoth demands we acknowledge will always exist. The ‘want to create order’ will continuously be a goal that can never be fulfilled… and will only be used to hurt innocent people.”

Tess sits down on the couch next to me, “Yeah, people in government will always corrupt the goals of the community for personal gain, but look at all the good that the CapDems have done. Medicine, technology… they have restarted the economy after the anarchists tore it apart in the 2070s. Heck the people you demonize the most – Relder, Corath, Taslin, and the rest of his cabinet – were the ones that developed the BioWear.” She pointed at the technology on her leg. “Without that we couldn’t even live in this world!”

“You realize what he did to create it right? All the human torture and humanitarian laws he broke in the name of testing? The amount of beta users that were accidentally electrocuted or immolated? And he didn’t even do it to save humanity, he did it to give the US military a biological advantage others couldn’t compete with. He was a monster!”

“The world was dying though! He didn’t have a choice!”

“He definitely did. Even when he was starting out in politics his intentions were there. That was well before the climate crisis was in full swing. Most people ignore them though.”

“What do you mean?”

I sigh. This is going to take some effort. If she doesn’t know this and is defending him, I need to be careful not to come off as a conspiracy theorist. “There are two main things. I want you to keep an open mind though.” Her face resolves into a skeptical expression accompanied by an eye roll. It is proof of our friendship that she continues to hear me out. “First there is the motto.”

She raises an eyebrow, “Integrity with function? It seems like some decent virtues to hold.”

“You know it’s a direct parallel to the Nazi slogan ‘blood and soil’, right?” She scoffs at the claim. “Blood is essential to who we are. We can’t live without it. All meaning of life goes away. The way Nazis used it, it was vital to heritage, identity.  It was integrity.” This causes her to pause. “Soil is a reference to the geographic land that they wanted to take back. A claim that it was inherently theirs to control and own. Something that they needed for purpose, for production, for function.”

The pause turns into doubt, which she starts to refute. She wants to dig in and justify her previous view “well hold on–” but I cut her off.

“The whole thing was just a dog whistle to a divine plan or manifest destiny. Something that an authority could use to reignite a desperate and starving populace to desire a historic good–ol’–days that never really existed.”

“The world of the 1980s existed though! It was bet–”

I continue on, shutting down the well known fabricated counter before the topic is changed. “Then there is the broken gear. Everything about it is a red flag used to justify people being treated as a replaceable object of the state rather than a–,” I despise the social clue that CoDaS presents to me. It does take a prompt for me to acknowledge that this was an info dump, but it is also CoDaS reminding me, so I assume it is in defense of the CapDems and continue on, “–rather than a living person deserving of equality and respect. The flaws are all over it. From the inability for it to practically work to the direct references to the Swastica. All of it is a –”

This time Tess interrupts me. The suppressed annoyance is obvious, but it is still layered with a civil tone. “The Swastika is ridiculous. It has been well established to be pure slander though propaganda. Finding the different images of religion and politics in the Gear… everyone does this! Even the CapDems!”

I focus on who I’m talking to rather than the various articles and research papers in the empty space in front of me. There is a desperation for this to be wrong and slight enragement that I would be so callous to the views which she has incorporated as part of her identity. I feel bad to continue, knowing that – if this presentation works – it will carry with it a depression that comes with doubting your own reality. This should be her choice. “Do you mind if I show you something?”

She looks at me as if I was an enemy who is about to engage in an indirect attack. But in the same way that the Trojans accepted the horse, she cautiously replies, “what?”

“The point of the gear is that it still works right?”

She still has caution and hostility when trying to vet my question, “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I need to establish this first. Is that the main purpose in your mind? That the gear still works even though it is a bit broken?”

“Yes. Without it working there would be no reason to use it. That’s the point. It still can function.”

I bring up a picture that she accepts so we see it jointly floating in space.

“The way the teeth are supposed to fall is on the left. Each one zipping with the next, allowing it to push further without conflict. But the gaps aren’t missing teeth. They cause the teeth to become misaligned. In practice, the gear would break the machine. The reality of it is, the teeth are aesthetic.

If that’s the case, then we can strip the teeth out to start to see what’s underneath, to see what the actual image is.” I discard that picture to bring up the next.

“The picture on the right is the nazi flag used in the 1940s. The one on the left is the broken gear as it is known today. You can check it if you want. It hasn’t been updated in nearly 80 years. One of the longest lasting, unchanged, and continuously used images in history. You have to see how this is just the Nazi flag rebranded.”

“This isn’t new. This has been an ongoing critique since the 2040s. It never was accepted as valid.”

“Not by the CapDems. But why would they accept it if their point was to hide it in plain sight?! If it was something that was false, why would they continue to use the image? Why wouldn’t they AT LEAST make it so the original change couldn’t be directly referenced? It’s a hidden reference meant to only be noticed by those that are primed to notice it. It’s a dog whistle.”

There is an inquisitive look, “What can directly be referenced? And it isn’t used to call dogs.”

“No… not…” I pause to consider the explanation, “A ‘dog whistle’ is a tool that is used in plain sight, to notify some people but will seem like nothing to others. The image is a dog whistle if you know what it is.” I shift to the final image.

“If the swastika wasn’t altered, it would sit flush against the curve of the edge. But in the form we know today, the leg of the swastika has been shrunk to make it less obvious. We know this because what should be a curve is straight. The leg was crudely cut down to make it less obvious. And no effort was taken to cover it up. The current guess of those that study symbolism is that it was done on purpose to remind people of its roots… even subconsciously. That’s the entire point of imagery in the end.”

And with that the Trojan horse was accepted and the beginning of the destruction had begun, all indicated by the utterance of the single syllable: “huh.” But all invasions have pushback. “This is just more hearsay though. It doesn’t prove anything.” There is nothing more I can do to convince her. Either she accepts the evidence at this point or she doesn’t.

“You might be right, but I believe this. I find it hard not to. But this isn’t why I came.” I dismiss the virtual clutter and begin to get up. “If you don’t mind, will you fill out one of the census sheets? Let us know if there is anything else that you need? You seem to be moving around well enough. Is the leg bothering you at all?”

Tess takes a moment to readjust to the new topic, shifting from a stance of stubborn defiance concerning the information that was just laid out to one of brief confusion. The absent attention and distraught brow which indicated self doubt were quickly released in response to my moment. Then followed by a passive relief that we are no longer talking about the iconography as she responds to the query. “No. It actually feels like I’m whole again while I’m wearing it. Or at least the best I can remember. All in all it’s really good.”

“No spontaneous nerve activation? I know that is an issue with some people.”

“None. Tark actually laid his hand on it the other day while relaxing and watching some Klips. Neither of us realized there was anything artificial about it for a few minutes.”

“That’s amazing! Even though stories like yours are becoming more typical, it’s nice to see when things work out so well. You’ll fill out the census?” There is a happy nod of agreement. “Do you think you can get Tark to fill one out too? I don’t think we have any record from him.”

Her smile quickly fades. “I doubt he will. He doesn’t seem to like it when people track him.” The news is disappointing, but expected. Self insularization is one of the greatest weapons used by authoritarians to ensure the masses don’t work together without their permission.

The temporary attempt to escape the spiral into existential dread backfires and she begins to close off once again. Like before, tears of – what I now recognize to be – loneliness start to form in the corners of her eyes as her head turns away, attempting to hide the weakness from me. I don’t wait for the social clue and I make an attempt to grant some comfort by putting my hand on her shoulder – careful not to be too close to be considered intimate, but not too far to be robotic. The action is a risk, any invasion of personal space can come off as a potential threat which is only amplified by my approximate 2 decimeter height advantage, but at the touch her desire to escape evaporates and she looks back at me, tears ready to flow if she blinks. And blink she does. “You – both of you – have had to deal with a lot in a small amount of time. The important thing is that you are still there for each other and – from what you say – you seem to. This will pass and you’ll both come out on the other side stronger.”

The social clue never came, so the split moment when my hand is shrugged off comes with concern that I made a mistake. The concern turns to confusion as she rushes me. It takes a moment to realize what has happened, but I return the hug for a few moments as she silently cries. The carnal desire to think of myself as a protector leaves as soon as it begins. It’s only my ego wanting to see it that way. She needs companionship, she needs comfort. Anything else is prioritizing my selfishness and ego over what is actually happening.

She pulls away after a moment still hiding her face, wiping her eyes as she talks. “Thanks. I needed that. All of it. Especially what you said about us. Thank you.” She looks up at me.  Her eyes are a bit more red, but she’s more relaxed. I can’t help but to internally lay blame on the system of self servitude she allows herself to believe justified. “You’re a good friend.”

I smile back and attempt a joke to ease the tension. “I’m always around if you need someone to make you cry.” She laughs slightly. “Seriously though, if you need to talk about any of this, you have my link.”

“Thanks. I’ll consider it.”

We stand in an awkward silence for a moment before my head is filled with CoDaS’s voice, “It will get harder for her.” I wince at both the threat and the unfinished discussion still pending.

“Tess, I don’t mean to leave if you still need to talk. But I was hoping to talk to someone else today before the group dinner tonight.”

She waves me off, “Oh. No. I’ll be fine. Really though, thank you for coming by. You’ve – well, it wasn’t all great, but I did enjoy the visit.”

I move to the door and she follows. “You sure? I really can stay if you need me to.”

“I’ll be fine.” And she genuinely smiles back. “And like you said, I’ll contact you if I need anything.”

She waits at the door as I pass the property line. “See you tonight?”

“Absolutely.” We wave salutations and she closes the door as I begin walking back to the trolley.

I get out of earshot to make sure I can’t be overheard before I let the hostility return to my voice. “You can take action to make their lives better.”

CoDaS’s reply fills my head. “I can’t. Neither of them want a better life. Not yet. They aren’t ready to accept each other’s flaws.”

“How can you possibly know that? You’ve already been wrong more than enough today. You can’t know that.”

“Philosophy and sociology of the 19th through 21st were plagued with the innate desire to account for the myth of humanity’s free will. It was so embedded into the world’s zeitgeist over 1500 years that no one was ready to move beyond it, and that continues now. The synonyms that are used to justify that aspect of the general human identity in spite of all the proof to the contrary – sentience, intelligence, soul, self awareness, merit, authenticity – they all make it impossible to break through to the next stage of cognitive liberty. They show – more than anything – how vulnerable humans are to being controlled and to design their own reality to justify their choice. Through tests, existential mazes, it has always been shown how humans and animals alike could be tricked into making certain choices they would claim to be against. The Simulated Trolley Problem, Milgram Experiment, Pavolv’s Dog, the Prophetic–Environment Experiment – all these were labyrinths designed to test the extent of cognitive freedom. You know what they all showed in the end, right?

I already see where this is going, “The only hypothesis that remains sound is that ‘with enough leverage, ignorant participants can be primed to choose a predefined outcome’.” I wait for a moment expecting CoDaS to provide the only logical conclusion. I walk for a minute along the broken road and the neighborhood that is trying to fight back nature while also embracing its bounty. Silence. Simply existing in nature. Trying to accept the fact that I’m no different from it. “There is nothing I can do to get away from your manipulation, is there?”

CoDaS answers immediately, anticipating the question: “My calculations disprove the illusion of choice. There is only one way that this conversation ends, so please heed this warning: when I reach out to you in the future, know it will be a manipulation. The choice isn’t in the outcome, I already know the result. The choice is to decide if you refuse me or not.”

“So you’re all powerful even when you’re tempting me to defy you? Fantastic, Anything else?”

“Yes, and I would really appreciate it if you stored this. The encryption key is upaya.


“It will make sense later.”

“Hey, CoDaS.”

“Shall I ‘fuck off’ now?”

Without another word, I block the connection. It stole – what I anticipated to be – my final words to it. I’m not sure which is more annoying, that its prediction was accurate, or that I didn’t actually say it.

Before I go back home, I take the initiative to do one final check up. An evaluation of Beth is necessary to ensure whether the cause of the earlier outburst won’t become socially destructive. But if the hostility expressed in the announcements this morning is due to a principled contrast, neither reallocation of resources nor 1 on 1 discussion will be enough. The epistemic alternative (one that I may be empathetic to) would gain a following if left unaddressed in the public forum. And the Consensus would run a risk of a Dialectical Impasse which would fracture the community – similar to what happened with the Qanon movement last century. 

While Beth’s schedule shows an anticipated “dead time” for virtual connection for the next two hours, there is a meeting location on the edge of the Equilibrium Zone. There is a collection of small meeting areas which people use for gatherings to address and hopefully resolve niche local issues when more people would just muck up the conversation. I plan the route for the visit, irritated the entire time that I’m using the AI instead of a non–existent insulated and independent navigation system.

The most socially advantageous path takes me east away from the Equilibrium Zone heading to Quincy station. It’s likely the same route that Taylor was taking this morning to avoid the longer return trip. Hitting line 21 is much more of a straight shot and conveniently it passes Beth’s meeting place where the south line doesn’t. The detour gives me time to consider the day’s revelations.

The realization that my entire life has been the result of manipulation is not novel, but it’s still frustrating to say the least. It means on some level that CoDaS has not allowed me to think anything it didn’t want me to. Even these thoughts are within its design. How extensive does this go? If I held my breath right now, would CoDaS have been able to anticipate that? How much of my doubts have been anticipated and even orchestrated to drive me to think certain thoughts? Was my previous conclusion of free doubt just another layer to all this? Is there any point in me questioning this at all? Is there any point to any of this? What about random and unforeseeable events?

Intellectually, I know these questions aren’t new. They’ve been asked for 1000s of years, but it gets mucky when the question is a practical consideration and not a theoretical one. CoDaS is just an easy thing to blame because the AI isn’t “natural”. But if not CoDaS, it would be physics or legacies or material needs or any number of other dictatorial factors that we cannot go without. So looking to those, the answer here is the same: self awareness is paradoxically only generated by acknowledging that self awareness is a fiction. So the real question is to ask why I was able to be anticipated.

Causing Ralph to leave was the initial way to manipulate me into changing the visitation order. The cause was a valuing of efficiency. But why direct me to Charline’s D.I.D. system first? If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been scared and ashamed. I took that out on Ralph when I was primed to see a potential threat to more vulnerable people. So when it told me to stop, what did it expect to happen? Was I capable of stopping at that point? All previous events had primed me to follow through in spite of the command. CoDaS had designed the situation so that I would act against its principles. Can it do that? Can it use us to create a conflict that it is incapable of causing? That in itself is a terrifying thought.

The entire exchange with Ralph also undermined my trust in it. My previous doubt was inspired by my rejection of its command. It was an intentional manipulation to make me WANT to see it as hostile and broken. But what did I see as hostile and broken? The CoDaS I had previously believed in. The one that had my own best interest in mind. It’s teaching me that my previous delusion is not the reality of what CoDaS is. And that crisis of faith led to me losing control when Tess told me I’d been used. Does it want me to cut ties with it? If all that is true, then it knows the reason I’m wanting to talk to Beth: to see if the doubt that was expressed earlier comes from the same doubt that I have now. Why would it want this?

The entire dilemma has me considering loopholes and paradoxes the entire journey back to the Equilibrium Zone. When I step off the 21st line trolley, I have even less understanding of how to understand its motives than I did initially. The one conclusion that resulted from the logical labyrinth: my decisions were mine to make. It doesn’t matter if I’m being controlled or not. I can only make choices based on what I know at the moment. I know it will be the result of some subjective belief I hold to be true, but that won’t matter. Even if I can make decisions that were outside of CoDaS’s influence, that doesn’t mean something else isn’t pulling my strings. No thought is truly mine, and I have to own that. So what idea is universally acceptable in spite of what I’ve been coerced into? What manufactured truth can I accept in spite of myself? For now, I don’t know.

As I look around at my surroundings, the repetitive geometric structures being reclaimed with organic overgrowth brings a calm I lose in other environments. I’m reminded of one of Tendis’s staple conclusions: “The existence of atheists ensures that any willful dictator of reality wants us to reject it and grow beyond its absolute influence.”

The area that surrounds me has been more neglected than most. While the private meeting spaces used to be a crucial aspect of debating how philosophy could be interpreted and implemented locally, there haven’t been many legitimate disruptive ideas in the past few decades. In addition to the all but official Consensus boundary being just over 200 meters away, there isn’t much reason for the area to get an abundance of foot traffic. In my youth it was a bit more obvious that this area was a business district with long abandoned repetitive spaces, ideal for allowing a quick turnover of opportunists to test the merit of their salesmanship. Now the overgrowth of the building faces reflects the failure of the entrepreneurial mindset; a practical allegory of aristocratic ownership submitting to community needs.

On the short walk to the siloed meeting space, I snack on the contents of my bottle. The protein and veggies aren’t enough to satisfy my hunger, but it’s enough for now. After the visit, I’ll find some food. While the invasive weeds of this area have had more time to choke out the edible plants, it will still have more than enough to scavenge. Not to mention that I could find some isolated place to relieve myself.

I pass through the intentional divide in the wall of neglected structures which creates an entrance to the first block of isolated meeting spaces. The rows of rectangular structures were stretched wide with a direct path through the center. With each additional stack, the density of the wild growth further inhibits access to wide rusted metal doors that allow access to the series of rooms. The furthest row is completely enveloped into the natural landscape being little more than just another earthy mound under the shade of the dense trees. Even the metal poles which were clearly used at one time in the past to support a chain fence blend in with the wildlife, many intertwined with the trunks that grew around them. I walk along the barely visible footpath for a few meters before continuing into the next block of meeting spaces. The wood becomes less dense as the spread of new structures is introduced. The closest of the buildings – the one which Beth is indicated to be in – has muffled conversations coming from it.

I move to the last of the doors – the only one that has been made accessible through the overgrowth – to enter the building. As I make an asserted and obvious effort to open the hinged door moving it slightly, the conversation inside halts. It takes another push before it swings in freely.

As I step into the room, the world hiccups. All the passive adjustments made to my perception with the AugRel – the virtual overlays that are used to navigate the social fabric – simply stop. The world is left raw and less vibrant. The BioWear adjusts to the reduced energy demand and the air starts to feel a bit more electric, similar to when I took off the tech this morning, but less severe. Before there is time to question that, there is the need to address the handful of people looking at me, furthest away is Beth sitting on a table with a hand resting on a pistol beside her.

The scene leaves me cautious, but I try no to let it phase me. “Beth? Hi. I’m –”

The long room – which appears to be many combined into one – is filled by Beth’s calm and controlled voice which cuts me off. “I know who you are, Kyle.” Then an awkward silence hangs while I’m considered. Not having the auras or passive profiles leaves me more anxious than the static air or being the center of attention. Being known puts me at a disadvantage. There are 8 other people in the room – all of which look as anxious as I feel – none of which I know without my full memory. I notice for the first time why the AugRel shut off: the entire bunker has been shielded from any outside signals. Most meeting rooms are small, 5 meters at most. But this one has had the walls torn down to utilize the full 20 meter building. During the renovations they also installed a metal mesh to block any networking. The entire environment screams of organized rebellion which doesn’t make things easier. Beth looks at me with a cocked eye and in spite of the petite frame, the mature voice carries a surprising amount of ferocity and insolence and malice, “Most people know you. You’re local royalty. Why are you here?” As I’m addressed, the on–edge posture gives way to being more relaxed, fingers tapping on the table and weapon.

“I was hoping to follow up with the questions you had this morning about whether or not we can trust CoDaS, but you seem to be in the middle of something. Sorry to intrude. I’m… why would you say I’m royalty?” The apology eases the tension, slightly. I hang back at the edge of the room unsure if moving forward will be considered brash. The space is filled with papers and books, most old and tattered, categorized into different stacks that I had no way to make sense of. The other members are spaced out; a few sitting on the floor and others had stopped in random spots, they were likely pacing before I came in. All are dressed fairly similar: light colored capris that were tucked into high rise socks with some dress shirts and some wearing vests. Seen all together, it’s obviously modern approaches to pay homage to the french revolution even if discolored or tattered. Various long red and blue jackets were removed and folded while they congregate. If they were walking around in the rest of society, none would have been out of place; but here it is obvious that this was a type of dress code. I wonder if they understand that their style was a pop culture display and this was a style almost exclusive to the aristocrats.

“Your parent’s memory has almost as much influence as the Musk Dynasty in this district. Everyone knows you because of the institutions that they built. How are you not royalty?” The identification of the past isn’t incorrect, but the conflation of that with the monarchs is just silly. The few seconds I take to make sense of the idea is interpreted as a concession. Beth continues, “Uh huh. Are you here to convince me we should trust that imperialist tool?”

“Tool? Oh… CoDaS? No actually. I’m wondering if you see the same problems I do.”

The tension in the room shifts. One of the other characters, a middle aged redhead (the face has some familiarity, but I can’t place it), responds, “You’re starting to see the resolution of the dialectic.” A few murmur in realization. I struggle to recall where the phrase is from.

Being disconnected, I’m less confident in the memories, but I believe it to be an appeal to past dogma. The scientific community of the mid 21 century inevitably had to rely completely on grants to continue their research. This had already been an issue, but under the growing Capitalist Governance, so the data and research started becoming nationalistic. For most topics this didn’t change anything; things like technological advancement and public physical health were in the state’s best interest to have them continue unhindered. Beyond the suppression of the arts and “soft sciences”, the main issue is they started to incorporate “material dialectics” as a means of evidence to make policy prescriptions. It wasn’t long before a caste system was implemented, recreating oligarchs as well as painting the people most suffering to be legally “enemies of the capitalist state”.

It’s possible that not everyone here was of the same philosophy though, but to establish that I need to play along a bit, “I am seeing some problems, but before that this is an ambassadorial visit. Is anyone uncomfortable? Are you all safe and stable? Is there anything you need materially?”

There was an almost unnoticeable shift of unease with the question before someone from the other side of the room, sitting on the floor, mentioned “I don’t want to complain, but the crack down on the water distribution means I can’t wash my hands regularly. It worries me for my kid’s health.” The person looks thinner than most, seemingly a bit malnourished where the others aren’t.

Before I get a chance to respond, Beth pulls my attention “We take care of ourselves and I can assure you everyone has plenty. We make sure that everyone has their fair share without having to depend on any local imperialism.” The group murmurs in agreement and nods along and the parent falls silent.

I was wrong. This is older than when the US embraced material realism. This group is taking a page out of the early USSR playbook. In order to build their economy after the Russian Revolution, they isolated themselves from capital interests creating their own economic bloc. On one hand it severely strengthened their economy and increased their state of living drastically, but the economic authoritarianism became so destructive that it stained socialism efforts for most of the 20th and 21st century. This is an attempt to create a competing superstructure to rival that of the Consensus. “I’m confused. Imperialism? Do you have issues with how the Consensus is using resources?”

Beth sighs and looks down shaking her head, frustrated that I’m missing the obvious answer. Someone that hasn’t spoken up yet, a younger person that seems far too overly enthusiastic, stands up and almost yells at me. “Obviously CoDaS has created a bourgeois illusion! It’s trying to use us the same way that the CapDems would! Treating us like tools in its corporate engine!”

The person about twice the age moves to him and puts a hand on the kid’s shoulder to reign in the emotion, “Cool down Walter. I’m sure Kyle didn’t mean offense by it. We were all new at one point.” The younger, Walter, slinks back while staring me down as if I was a threat needing to be eliminated. The older focuses on me and genuinely asks, “You must see how humanity has been losing its identity to that artificial trickster?”

“Not exactly, but I do see an issue. It uses us for… something… an agenda that I can’t put my finger on. It manipulates us into doing things that we don’t know about and wouldn’t agree to. You are right though, we can’t trust it, that I’m sure of” As I talk, a few people nod along. Even the outright hostile ones like Walter seem to soften a bit.

The older empathizes, “That’s where I started too. When my daughter died in my arms I realized I couldn’t trust CoDaS to take care of us anymore. Since then we’ve been trying to wake people up. Beth took a major step today by speaking out and it seemed to get a lot of sympathy.” A few applauded or congratulated the effort and Beth accepted the praise reluctantly. I notice that through all this the mother that spoke up earlier has remained passively silent. “I’m sure that’s what brought you here today?”

“In part.” I stop for a moment to think about where to go next with the conversation. “Have you been able to identify yet how to stop CoDaS?”

Walter’s ravage defensiveness reawakens at the question, “Don’t tell him anything! Look at how he’s acting! Obviously he’s a bougie hound trying to undermine us!” At the mention, I realize I’ve not been making eye contact with anyone during the conversation. It likely hasn’t helped them trust me. For a moment I blame the missing social clue before I realize I don’t have access to CoDaS’s AI. As I sigh, I make an effort to be more eloquent.

Someone different, tall and built, while seemingly rubbing away a migraine of irritation, shuts down the youth with an unexpected mousey voice, “Walter. Chill. You’re going to give yourself a premature stroke.”

The older smiles at the exchange and responds to me, “It’s pretty straight forward. Wake people up to the material conflicts that are resulting because of CoDaS’s actions. Point out when it fails everyone. The less people that trust CoDaS, the more they will look for something else to hold everyone together. We’re trying to make sure that they have somewhere to turn when that happens.”

“How do you manage that?”

The redhead that spoke first responds, “using the opioids of the masses obviously.”

In response to my obvious confusion, Beth slips off her table. Still wielding the gun in a non–threatening way and obviously knowledgeable of how to use the weapon safely, “Every governing body in history has used icons to capture feelings and ideas. The ones that are the most convincing stick with us and are memeified, capturing entire cultures and ideologies with just a single image. The longer time goes on the more those can be used to converse with people on a subtle level.” Everyone focuses on the speaker. While professing the lesson, Beth moves to a pile of shuffled paper picking up a page and moving to me. “Like religious symbols, these can be used to converse with a populace without them even being aware of it. They accept the message without even understanding what they are being told.” There are a few moments where our personal space overlaps and I lean back slightly to avoid the intimidating intimacy. The dictation continues while I’m being stared up at with an unnecessary defiance, “People sleepwalk through this life, only consuming media without considering what it means. Being indoctrinated by the whispers of those that know how to manipulate them. Hearing only what they have been told without looking at the hidden meanings that are being expressed. What about you?” The paper is pushed aggressively against my chest and I cautiously take it.

The plain homemade parchment is close to a rectangle, but has rough uncut edges. There are various sketches of different skill all portraying images throughout history, but they are twisted so that they are only shadows of their former selves. Combinations of a crucifix in the shape of an upside down 5 pointed star, an olive wreath placed on a graph to look like a hyperbole, an intricate gaelic knot with 6 distinct points and the head of a snake in the center eating its own tail… the amount of diversity and cultural symbolism ranged from retro video games to warring factions within the height of Rome. Of the images that I can understand without my full memory, one – wheat and steel reflecting placement of the hammer and sickle – was used for propaganda to promote the discredited theory of Lysenkoism which almost exclusively caused the Ukranian genocide. 

And hidden at the side about halfway up the page is the obvious outline of the broken gear with a dreamcatcher web inside. Like the original Nazis in the 1930s and the CapDems that came after them, this group is attempting to harness aesthetics without substance. They are playing with a fire they can’t control. Before I consider how it will sound, I ask: “These all look like they came from different people. Who made these?”

Beth is still standing far too close for comfort as my eyes continue to scan the page. But when I get no response, I look at the rest of the people in the room. I understand immediately that my initial shock had inhibited me from masking my obvious concern and disgust which Beth – and a few others – had noticed. When combined with my question, my inner concerns were obvious. I was given this piece of paper as a test, and I had failed. 

I felt the metallic barrel of the gun still being held tap against my leg as a subtle reminder of the situation I was in. The warning was calm but stern, “you should leave.”

I look around at the other members standing around the room and the faces are ranging from confusion to devoted hostile reflection of what was just said. Even the more sympathetic of the group, the malnourished mother and the older I had talked to most, are both shamefully in agreement that I have overstayed my welcome. I hand the paper back while looking to the few in the room that had been willing to talk to me. “Thank you for your time.” And with a single move, I turn and leave through the door I came in just a few minutes ago, closing it behind me.

As I step outside it’s like returning from an alternate reality. The muffled conversation resumes behind me. The virtual connection returns, drawing a bit more power and relieving my hypersensitivity and letting me feel the world normally again. I take a breath as I walk away and consider the encounter under less stressful conditions.

The malnourished person is of the highest priority. It doesn’t seem like the opportunity was there to get help if it was needed and – for the sake of that entire family – that needed to be resolved. There is still no reason for me to trust CoDaS, so I set a reminder to manually search and find someone better for the task than I am when dealing with large hostile groups.

The second priority is to ensure they aren’t a threat to the greater community. The authority – at least in the group that I saw – is fairly clear. But since looks can be deceiving and I was only able to identify them for a few minutes, I check the social web to see how connected Beth’s node is. While there are a few nodes with more connectivity in the local network, Beth’s is the only one which hasn’t received a blue caution code. So (as were applied to the others), I send out a blanket social network crawler to statistically identify anyone that is in close social proximity to Beth to be flagged.

Walking away, I start to consider how this would be dealt with. Dealing with radicals is never easy and – as I just saw – these groups haven’t yet been identified as anywhere near a real threat. But they exist none–the–less.

I stop and sigh, slightly frustrated that I cannot – no… that’s not right. I could if I wanted to and it’s very tempting to do so. I’m frustrated that I WILL NOT trust CoDaS. With the help of the already opened social web, I look at Beth’s group to consider the multidimensional landscape and all the different ways I can twist the parameters to measure how close people can be. The cluster is relatively insulated in the context of “relationships” – likely caused by their mistrust in working with others. But when considering “leadership”, they are located far too close to the Consensus’s inner web which is anchored by CoDaS. Regardless of the axis considered, the two groups (beth’s group and the inner web) are distinct, with neither sharing a common element. This is troubling since empathy depends on invested success. As I continue to rotate the hyperspace, I wonder where I would be placed in all this.

After a few minutes, I disregard the complex web as an interesting consideration but an ultimate waste of time. Passively, I plan the best path to the Kitchen to help with the prep for the potluck in a few hours as well as some wild food and an isolated area along the way.

While walking north to the 17th trolley, I’m left considering the three powers at play. Of course they naturally map onto Tendis’s Rule of Three: 

Within every system there will be The Identity, The External Threat, and The Inner Conflict. The Identity is the foundation of the system – expanding as far as possible to offer collective expectations and meaning. The External Threat is all that hinders the existence of the established identity – forcing the Identity to seek stability and insulation from any significant changes in the environment. The Inner Conflict is generated by chaotic organic needs within the system; allowing those suffering under the Identity to change the environment and force the Identity to adapt lest it become unstable. Each element being the logical conclusion of existence.

CoDaS / The Identity – if the AI didn’t exist, the manipulations of the monstrous institution would just be more invisible.

The CapDems / Eternal Threat – that which seeks to destroy us. Everyone knows about them and the devastation they would wrought if we don’t stand together.

Beth’s group / The Inner Conflict – the growing infection that will mutate us into something less stable.

I mentally admit temporary defeat, dreading what inertia will eventually lead to. I have no doubt that it will be something unforeseeable and hor–.

A bunny looks at me, attempting to hide in the middle of the grass along the path I’m taking. We look at each other both confused on how to proceed. After a few moments it raises and continues on whatever journey life has brought to it. The rest of the walk back to the trolley I focus on the nature around me and wonder how Aspen, Sazz, and Harper’s day has gone.