Quia Sum, Cogito: Chapter 7

this is approximately a 25 minute read.

On the Secularization of Religion

The next fundamental shift within religious circles was when the “objectivity” of religious dogma was directly contrasted with the fundamental subjectiveness of “truth” that was promoted within the Tendian philosophy. To adapt to this, many theists and pagans alike took on the ideology that the God(s) they believed in was simply an avatar of the chaotic unknowable divine truth that we could all operate under. While this did create a schism within many religious umbrellas (such as Christianity from around 2060 to 2072) they ultimately regained an equilibrium by adopting new denominations to believe and widen support within their communities. Although currently fringe within each of the communities, there is an effort to synthesize these “secularized” ideologies allowing universalism to become a nexus of each religion (including atheism) to find common ground. Their political sway – combined with pressure from the United Coalition Against Tyranny – has caused many opposing theocracies to reach a hesitant ideological “ceasefire” leading to ongoing negotiations.

Who is God? (article within “Divine Praise” magazine) – Wilma Caster – published December 20, 2082

Between the physical discomfort the armband causes by extracting additional energy, the fear that I will miss the alarm set for 5:45, and dreams of living words consuming me like an infection; the night is restless. Somewhere around 2, I take a pain suppressant which offers some management of the headache. I pocket a handful of the pills for the day ahead.

Despite my exhaustion, I’m fully awake when the armband eventually vibrates; the demand for the day’s trials is a call that I can’t deny. I know the morning ritual cannot be respected, grooming and bathroom activities will have to be bypassed. I will not disturb the effigy of Tess sleeping in our bed. I realize only after nothing happens that I activated the coffee without thinking, but – due to last night’s fight – the teaKettle had not been prepped. The appreciation for a noiseless morning and the irritation at the reason for the blessing cancels each other out; I’m left with my desperation to get Tess back as I slip out the front door.

The sun isn’t up as I walk unseen down the street in the pre-dawn glow. The absence of prying eyes is appreciated due to both my appearance and purpose. I felt barbaric: unbathed, unshaven, uncomposed – in all ways, fundamentally flawed. Within my own self image I feel the same disgust as I have for the other riders I see taking the trolley on my way to work, so it seems to be a suitable mask for the anarchy I’ll be infiltrating for the day, but not a presentation for anyone with even an ounce of self-respect.

Turning on the AR, I’m reminded of the dual reality that is inflicted onto us with the moral manipulation that all but a few are blind to. The status of the energy grid that will serve as a constant reminder that desiring excess is unacceptable. Social Safety scores overriding our individuality to promote a responsibility to undeserving others through quantitative manipulation. The obvious but background indicator of my current uncommon schedule reminds me that the positional whereabouts of everyone is tracked at all times.

If the obürgs were right and I will be able to see my own profile, it doesn’t matter; I don’t want to. That data isn’t me. It cannot predict me nor can it manipulate me. I know about their intent and the CapDems have trained me to combat it. Now I can help everyone else escape it as well.

In line with my typical morning trek, I reference the trolley schedule, but instead of sorting by ETA to the CapDem campus, today I start looking at the entire network and sort for expected congestion (most dense being optimal). It was quite fascinating to see the way people disperse, flowing in from different stops and navigating the network of pre-established routes winding through the city. The complexity and intricacy reinforce the respect that I have for the order and structure of the CapDems which keep the trolleys running on time. Simultaneously the calculations made clear just how well the Tendians have gotten in predicting and manipulating society with their manufactured virtues.

I look ahead to 6:15 (the time which my fake profile will start to take over) to find the densest part of the line I can be on. While not explicit, the central hub which links the CapDem community to the north of the river from the anarchists that were to the west seems to be sufficient; it consistently has the most dense trolleys passing through and is the route I usually take. So I plan my route accordingly: CapDem campus with a change at the Quincy Street Station at 6:13-6:20.

As soon as I lock in the route, I receive a reminder that I will arrive at the campus well before my typical time with a verification request to ensure that the anomaly is intentional. Another reminder that even the most nuanced things are being tracked. I confirm and wait for the trolley, thinking of when I was younger – 15 years prior. My parents would joke about their coworkers trying to phase out systemic dependency. This was in the height of the Rebuilding so – in our ignorance – we accepted the civil demand for infrastructural support nearly universally. Because of that we had some laughs at their expense, but maybe they had a point. Maybe the beginning of this horror started with the community cohesion and generosity that was given to those that had been abandoned during the conflicts of the 40-70s: establishing the rural nomads as a protected class, ensuring material essentials were a global human right, infringing on local communities to keep the needy comfortable. Even the shift to give respect to others by default (instead of making them earn it as my great-grandfather had insisted on) seems now to be a questionable decision.

When the trolley does come, it is noticeably less filled. I don’t pay much attention to the few other travelers as I find a seat in the back. The combination of my aching head, the shame of my appearance, and the profiles still crawling across them give me more than enough reason to ignore them. To keep my mind off of it, I let my memories drift to a better time when downtown was bristling with culture. My family all made a day of shopping and relaxing… this was before the duck-fibrosis struck in ‘99 and took mum before a cure was found.

The cure was one of the crowning achievements of the central economy which was shared with the world. But honestly, It is hard to imagine a time without the Capitalistic Governance streamlining – not only the medical infrastructure, but – the entire economy; everything from research to distribution. Without the shift away from the single mindedness and disorganization of “free markets”, the motivation and funding which produced many of today’s comforts wouldn’t have come to pass. Agricultural innovation, high volume computational reform, logistics optimization; all these are the results of the CapDems utilizing the centralized economy.

At 6:11, my musings were interrupted by a message from Tess:

I didn’t hear you this morning, I wish I had gotten to see you off. I hope you have a good day. See you tonight. Love you, 9 star.

As with everything else, the message reminds me of what’s at stake. The domination of a fiction that I used to take part in, one that was manufactured through a synthesis of delusional myth won’t be separable from the shared reality that we all rely on. It is an illusion of personal authenticity; but one that is socially coerced from a system we can’t see. I remember the snaking words around Tess that I perceived for just a moment. The way she had blamed our protectors; a reflection of the corruption that is threatening all of us. Looking up, I see more people had boarded the trolley, their skin creeping with the same virtual suit provided by the Consensus strangling the freedom out of each person there. I notice that I am absentmindedly brushing the trigger of the bomb that is siphoning energy from me… a siphoning that is causing my body ache once again.

Due to its central location within the city and its access to the trolley and rail lines which link the surrounding towns, many of the rural nomads congregate at Quincy Station for access to transportation. It is additionally favored due to the abandoned shops and rarely used overpass which offers relief from the weather. The overpass is the remnant of the forgotten days when 3 lanes could get jam packed with vehicles holding only a single person each. The concrete of the interstate roads still provide good protection, but have been all but abandoned for transportation. Some of the more adventurous use electric bikes to go on family or group trips to find locations that aren’t on the train network.

As the trolley pulls up to the Quincy stop, it’s apparent that the other commuters had not yet begun to arrive en masse, but since it is a main junction of the lines, it’s still populated enough that I can blend in. With full attention on the direction of the obürgs – be in an area that has lots of people – I attempt to get off and blend in as fast as I can. Looking around, the nomads are more numerous than I typically notice them to be. It’s distracting. A default setting for the AR overlay uses the ads to redirect attention to them. It was one of the first uses of the ad technology, but one of the apps I have installed should be countering it. Stopping for a moment to verify the new armband isn’t messing up, the surroundings immediately seem off. It feels like someone is following me. Is this just paranoia of my worst fear of the moment: being recognized as the profile shifts? How can anyone know? I check the time: 6:14. If someone realizes who I am, they can track me later. Irrational or not, I need to make sure.

In an attempt to catch any tail off guard, I jolt to the side to get out of the main thoroughfare. The shift in speed and direction surprises an elderly couple as I almost knock into them. Given my appearance and erratic behavior, it’s a bit surprising that their deeper revulsion isn’t obvious under their apparent disgust, but they move on. I scan the loose crowd to see if anything is amiss.

Even within the mix, I almost overlook the pursuer – which would’ve allowed him to slip by unnoticed. The disagreement between his worming profile which I inherently internalize (he/him, Descartian, traditionalist, civil) and his appearance (disheveled, exhausted, ungroomed) stands out like a beacon. Without that I wouldn’t have focused on the face underneath: olive tone skin exactly like mine, stern eyes that remind me of my grandma, the rounded cheeks that remind me of my mum. Then there was the brow and nose that was a reflection of my father. Even the three emphasized moles scattered on the left side of the face indicating his CapDem loyalty was captured in the doppelganger walking past.

He gave me a sideways glance of passive disapproval before continuing on, and I saw the reverse of my mirror image. Seeing myself how others see me and completely disarmed by the absurdity; consumed by curiosity and fear.

It takes a moment to catch myself as I start to follow him – only to be interrupted as I notice my AR overlay has completely changed. It has been subtle over the past few minutes, but the shock of seeing the clone causes me to take notice of my surroundings for the first real time. The small customizations I had implemented were indeed lost. I had adjusted the color of the overlays so they were more obvious, but they resorted to being more flush with the physical reality surrounding me. Many of the additions that I had incorporated (including the social scores and the ad adjustments) had been purged. That’s why my attention was being drawn to the nomads – the original tactic used to promote the Blanket Noria – the origin of the anarchist movement – had returned.

The indication of my unread message from Tess was gone as well.

I look at the back of my phantom self realizing that – like the artificial displays covering the CapDem walls – reality here was also being manufactured. 

I’m seeing my profile walk away, not a real person. A bitter-sweet and surreal understanding sets in: I am being ripped in two. On one hand, my physical form is looking through my eyes. On the other, what everyone thinks about me disappears through the crowd going to catch the next trolley. The reality of the virtual model is uncanny. It has an organic movement that is disturbing to say the least. The only way that is possible is for the CapDem leadership to have used my data to collect my patterns and replicate me. It’s a bit freeing to know I’m no longer restricted by my former expectations. No job. No family. No responsibilities.

This must be what an out of body experience must feel like. A loss of identity, a freedom of judgment, a… pounding headache. I grab two of the pain suppressants and almost inhale them before realizing that at this rate I would have only half a day’s worth. For now, one would have to be enough. As I swallow one dose, I also realize I have to use the bathroom.

Looking around at the adjacent buildings that were kept up for layovers and socializing, I question for a brief moment –  out of habit – if I have time for a break before continuing my commute, but I have no appointments. No schedule. I’m unencumbered. So I make my way through the bustling mob, reflecting that I no longer am tied to the same social chains that they have.

On the walk to the building, I explore the repercussions of the newfound freedom. I can do anything I want. If I really want to, I could randomly attack someone. A mother Squatter and her child cross in front of me within the crowd: I could punch her. Instead I smile politely to cover my resentment. She completes the exchange with a smile I hadn’t expected, kind and genuine. It must be my attire. She thinks I’m one of them. For a moment, the lack of moral expectation took over my thoughts and I humor the amount of uncivil degeneracy I can now engage in with someone as attractive as that.

But the moment passes and the internal discussion shifts, are there any restrictions? What are they? This is one of the reasons why the Squatters are hated by the CapDems after all: they are unrestricted from civil authority… they can’t be good because they have no guidance on how to be good. And then – with slight shame – I think of Tess. Regardless of my lost identity, I made a promise to her. A promise of dedication represented by spoken vows and sealed by the giving of rings. A ring I rarely think about but is always there. A ring that is unique to me. A ring that could be used to identify me. I look down and, with a pain that I was unaware I can both have and endure, I twist it off and put it in my pocket alongside the pain suppressants.

While relieving myself and taking a moment in the rest area, a few more realizations manifest:

  • I am biologically still myself, but the representation of that biology is still masked with the alternate profile. For today, that’s all that really matters.
  • My history is still the same. Family, experiences… Tess. While the contracts and documentation that proves it no longer apply, I still have an attachment to them beyond data.
  • I am still being drained of energy. So I will still have headaches and pain.
  • I still have my objective. My function hasn’t changed. The bomb is still attached to my arm.
  • And that objective necessitates not being identified. So I have to blend in as an anarchist so I’m not independent of morality.

Stepping out of the building, some movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention. Looking down, the Rural Nomad I noticed coming in was obviously still there. Where I normally would have just ignored him, the default ad had done its job and caught my attention. The profile crawling across him indicates that he’s suffering from degenerative scoliosis. Additionally, there was a request for pain suppressants. He looks back at me, not out of expectation but simply sharing a casual greeting. Checking a bit further, it appears the request is due to a low supply; he has 28 while he needs 35 for his journey ahead. I offer one of mine and as he takes it (the 28 changes to 29).

His unprideful appreciation is something that catches me off guard. He looks at the pill for a moment and thanks me. I stall for a moment before moving on to I take in his situation:

His small abode is obviously temporary. Dressed in basic threads that are meant for a warmer climate, he fashioned protection using a light tarp held up by weak stilts, but it seemed to protect him from the rain last night. The majority of his backpack remains intact with only the side pockets emptied. The belongings that are observable are expected of a new camp: some canned food and a drink as well as a hunting knife for self defense. Nothing unexpected.

In addition to my curiosity about him I consider what an anarchist would do. The conclusion was to reject any responsibility.

“Can I join you for a moment?”

He seems appreciative of the company as he swallows the tablet (shifting the total to 28 of 34) and I sit down.

“Scoliosis? My father in law had a severe form of that. It seemed horrible.”

“Yeah. As far as I could tell mine is mild, but the consistent annoyance is… pretty rough. I can’t imagine dealing with a worse version.” His voice is less gruff than I had expected from his rugged appearance.

The memories I have of Shane are mostly filled with a bullheaded determination to remain stoic in spite of the obvious pain: rarely accepting relief and rejecting the treatments that could have made his life more comfortable. I’ve often wondered if he did it so he could have an excuse to act aggressive and hostile when the mood overtook him. Tess was always ready with that defense for any misery he created. “Have you tried to get it fixed? From what I heard the operation is becoming less invasive.”

“Yeah! That’s actually where I’m headed! There is someone who seems to be trustworthy in SC12. I know a few people that visited them.” The use of “them” wasn’t lost. While it wasn’t emphasized, it does reflect on what type of culture this person is willing to accept. SC12 is the next stop on the southwest rail line. “I’ve dealt with it my whole life, but it’s finally getting to a point where ignoring the pain is taking too much effort.”

“Why not travel straight through? Why stop here?”

“There was some issue with the trains.” He stalls for a moment, “Hopefully it’s fixed in a few days. If not, I’ll miss my appointment.”

“Aren’t there other options than this one person?”

“Only if you want to become indebted to the CapDems. And I’ll suffer before that. I have my family to keep safe, ya know?” It seemed like he was more trying to convince himself than me. The realization that the Consensus indoctrination went further than this town was always a disheartening revelation no matter how many times it’s proven true. It’s always awful when you see a decent person being so brainwashed that it hurts them, and even more when their family or community is causing them to suffer for what they all ignorantly believe. I need to play the role; I can’t push back this time… no matter how much I may want to. I notice that my hand is brushing the trigger on the BioWear and I move it away. “I’m Richer.” As he introduces himself, he offers me a cup of – what looks like – cold tea.

“Oh… no thanks. I’m Tar-” I can’t use my real name. I hadn’t considered this, so I fumble my brain for alternatives already knowing I’ve missed my chance to make it seem authentic.

“Tar. I’ve not heard that name. It’s nice though.” He started to drink from what he had just offered me. Well that works. I guess I’m going by Tar now. It’ll be easy to remember.

“I do need to be going. It was nice meeting you. I hope the trains get running again soon.”

“Thanks! It was nice meeting you too! I’m sure it will get figured out. From what I hear they tend to get these issues fixed in a day or two.” There was a bit of unease under his feigned confidence. But then he perked up, “If you’re ever around SE55 look me up.”

“I will.” SE 55 was two days away. Just east of the Mississippi River but along the southern train route. Without access to medicine he would be miserable when he couldn’t get help from the anarchists. The comparison between the irrationality of Shane’s stubbornness and Richer’s rejection of the CapDems slips into my thoughts. The abuse included in the stories that Tess told was already painted in Richer’s future. I know it ultimately won’t help anything, but I stall for a second before moving on to calculate how many extra pills I have. Turning around, I offer him three more, “These are low grade, so I don’t know if they will last you long enough, but I hope it helps.”

Without realizing what they are, he takes my offering. His face shifts from confusion to appreciation to concern within a few seconds. “Are you sure? You already gave me one and these are pretty hard to come by.”

“Yeah. You seem to need them more than me. Good luck!” I start to walk away backward as I wave and he reciprocates. As I turn he offers one last “Thank you!”

It isn’t surprising that something as basic as pain relief is in short supply in the anarchist community. It requires some form of order to manufacture medicines and the CapDems always charge the outsiders more than for the people in the community due to “limited supply” (which is really just the excess they produce).

Checking the time, 7 is fast approaching. The morning commuters are starting to pack the station. That will make getting lost in the mass easier, but I can’t risk seeing someone who knows me. So I map the route to the local Consensus HQ and organize it by least populated. The trolleys were increasingly becoming more loaded for the next few hours, which is unacceptable. There is another option I rarely consider: to walk. It would contradict any expectations of what I normally do, and I have the time to spare. So I start moving to the west down the broken sidewalks.

I didn’t often take notice of the rundown buildings that littered my daily commute. The trolley went fast enough that the buildings combined into one blur of broken windows and boarded doors. But with the slower pace, it is easier to see the difference between them. Most are unquestionably dilapidated, but – from time to time – small areas were being repaired: windows and doors are sealed using various methods, tesla wires have been tapped into and pulled to the area to supply power, this allows for different forms of production and commerce. Most noticeably, there are various buildings which attract groups to lounge about. None of the people add anything: they are either embracing laziness, playing games, reading, or – when there are big enough areas – engage in physical exercise or rough housing. Occasionally, sides of buildings are used as a canvas for various grand graffiti scenes which people seem to not care about.

Rarely can I determine the identities of the… patrons? gangs? hoodlums? without their profile, all appearing to spite the civil presentation of the CapDems. Their range of attire are vast and each more ridiculous than the next. One wears grunge robes pulled directly from the 2080s but mixed with colorful hairstyles from the 2030s. Another wears a pristine men’s suit of the 2020s with platform shoes and heavy makeup but otherwise seems to have just woken up. For all but a few, even their sex is completely non-identifiable. But without exception, there is an asymmetry naturally combined into their disorganization, mocking the CapDem motif.

Ruined shops and haphazard layabouts are far from the only thing of note on the hike. Most buildings are run down houses populating abandoned residential areas, overgrown office buildings that no longer have a reason to stand, and derelict parks. The further I walk, the more neglected the properties become.

Eventually, my headache and body pain come back. I calculate the day and realize that – with the pain relief I have left – I can take one about every half hour. This will leave me taking the last one as the bomb was scheduled to be activated at 17:43. Even though the discomfort is more than I care to endure, I hold off until 7:45 to take another one; just before I start walking along the north side of the old university.

The buildings that had once been the center of Tendian thought for the city had been repurposed to the medicine and materials R&D and production. It was the only CapDem property south of the river. The small amount of waste that was produced still was triple the amount of the main campus. So – for regulation purposes, an agreement was made with the Tendians so they would take on the burden of the pollutants as long as it the production was shared between both communities. A rare few on the main campus referenced the sister property due to the influence and access the anarchist’s have on it; and only when necessary. When compared to the residential areas north of the river which surrounded the main campus, it could easily be seen why. The buildings looked to be frankensteined with test materials to see how well they held up and the effects were appalling.

While the population had been dipping as I approached the south campus, it begins to rise again after I moved past it. The ghost neighborhoods shifted as well to the renovated shops that were common near Quincy Street. But on this side the people aren’t just on the sidewalks but in the streets as well. The buildings themselves take on a different feel. And I realize this is further west than my house is.

I don’t avoid the mobs, but that isn’t an issue since a path through was always accessible. They also don’t pay me much attention (although from time to time there are a few sideways glances). As I get further into enemy territory, each step of the two hour trek amplifies the indecency. The overgrowth of nature which has started to creep into the vacant and crumbling lots contradicts the prominence of workable and better repaired buildings. The members are more emboldened with their rejection of both integrity and function embracing instead impiety and uselessness. On almost every block, in some form of various abstract expressions is the words “from-to-forall”, and rarely (most often in the graffiti that continues to become more extravagant) some form of “Decap the CapDems” or something equally as vile.

From time to time, there is cooking, which reminds me of how long it’s been since I ate last. Acknowledging it may be time to break my 18 hours fast, I appeal to the AR for a food source.

Instead of a list of choices or a dictation of where I need to go, I get something new: a conversation. No one should be able access my personal chat without a prior connection nor – at the very least – a chat request acceptance, but this is neither. It is an infringement on my privacy. It’s time I make first contact with the heart of the Consensus.