Quia Sum, Cogito: Chapter 8
On Non-evasive Eco-nology
As of November last year  the population of the world has begun to increase, finally reaching 100 million people again. For the purposes of our assessment, this means that the average community/city has an additional energy expectation of 3,173.2 kJ per day and an average of 1534 people. In alignment with the Carkoff Pact, the next update to the Econnect™ will need to account for 60% of this (which amounts to an average of about .3 kJ per person per day). While agriculture seems to be getting more robust, it is still nowhere close to the progress that we were optimistically hoping for, so the energy that the global human energy supply is under producing. Like last update – we will have to evaluate which group can optimally carry the burden of energy extraction while keeping within scope the shareholder’s have set. Even with optimization, fulfilling the Pact will surpass the Human Survival Threshold on its own, but when accounting for the increased feedback needed to improve the virtual-thermo-augmentation (e.g. “the AR overlay”) as advertised, the task is ludicrous without sacrificing the more power intensive operations and features. We will leave it to the marketing department and the Energy Regulation Division to decide the best way to practically implement this. The following are all the available features that can be restricted, how much the change will reduce power, and the noticeability of each change based on the “user error feedback” initiative:
<table redacted in agreement with the Corporate Intellectual Privacy Agreement XXIV>Econnect Q4 Power Quota Audit – Inspector Tommathy Wist – Published December 11, 2065
There are a few different food sources in the area. Did you have something specific in mind? Unlike most of the automated replies when dealing with the CapDem services that are too redundant to justify wasting a person on, the text is being produced in real time with corrections as well. There is someone real on the other end.
I reply in kind. The message appears as I create it using subtle finger movements. Usually I wouldn’t acknowledge the action since the “typing” is so second nature, but the new armband causes more errors than I would normally have so I have to focus. How did you message me? This is supposed to be private feed.
This is the Response Chat that connects people when a preference based question has been asked. Are you new to our community? Welcome! I wasn’t aware that you didn’t know. Sorry for the surprise 🙁
I guess I can’t blend in perfectly. Best to play the part of someone new to the area. I see. Yes. This is my first time on this side of town. I stop messaging for a moment. If I can convince this person to guide me, I won’t attract as much attention. Would you be able to help me find my way around?
… … I can generally, but I have some things to do later and I can’t be there in person. Hold on a moment. I reflect on the pitiful state of my surroundings and try to comprehend having such a flawed work ethic that I would lay about like all the people I see for the 20 second delay. Will it be helpful if we actually talked?
That would be preferable, but I don’t have a communicator on me.
You could borrow one, unless you’re against using community property?
The use of public property is a concept that the Consensus uses to undermine the pride of ownership. It’s an affront to the natural competition people need to thrive. The social indoctrination here is different when talking about it in theory vs when trying to blend in, the subtleness is malicious. This cannot be organic, it has to be intentional. The frustration aimed at the Tendians grows as my hand absently moves to the cuff. But I have to continue the act, That would be great! Where do I need to go to get one?
… It seems that Jane is fairly close to you and not using her’s at the moment. She is… there… I just sent you the location. A ping appears on my AR display mapping the area along with a real time indicator directing me to who I was looking for. While not up to the typical CapDem standards, she was still fairly pale – likely of mixed race. Compared to the mix of different skin tones that surrounds us – it is a welcome reminder of the community I’m used to. Sitting down about 150 feet away, she is scanning the area and eventually our eyes meet. My suspicion that she received a similar ping to mine is confirmed as she starts to move. After waving in recognition, she puts a marker in the book she is reading, and gets up from the table she was sitting at. Her clothes are less obnoxious than most other people’s, a burnt orange 3 piece suit accented with a light blue in the style of the early (twenty)90s but she only looked about 17 – too young to have nostalgia… so she must just appreciate the classic look.
Her book is a study on the comparison of economics of the 19th through 21st centuries. I point to it, “Are you studying for a class?” The question is unexpected and she stops taking the Communicator off her zygomatic arch to give me an inquisitive look.
After realizing I’m referencing the tome, she smiles and continues to gift me the small device as we talk. “Oh! Not at all. I was just curious about how societies in the past justified their dependency on coercion. It just seems so strange, ya know?”
I thought for half a second, realizing this could be a good chance to figure out how I need to think for today. “Doesn’t all society depend on coercion to some degree?”
She gave me a look of consideration, “how do you mean?”
Did I already overplay my hand? Time to feign ignorance. “I’m new here, but aren’t there some jobs here that no one wants to do?” As I speak, she nods in understanding.
As she talks, she begins to accelerate, talking faster and seemingly more comfortable and confident with each word. “I see what you’re saying. Yes obviously there are some jobs that require both expertise and are generally not very enjoyable. But do you really think it’s ‘coercion’? Viclor suggested in 2074 that all a person really wants – after their needs are fulfilled – is to be validated by their society. It seems if we are using coercion to mean” she air quotes at this point “‘give more validation to those that go above and beyond what is expected’, then it undermines what the word means. Right? When I say coercion, I mean that someone using metaphysical requirements to leverage a” again she mimics quotes “‘fair’ transaction – which is really just slavery at that point” she gives an eye roll for good measure “all justified by a privileged ownership being greater than the survival of an existential other. Of course this gets fuzzy, but we need to at least agree that helping people feel good about themselves because they willingly did something that helps everyone is a good thing, right?”
This is 3 degrees of indoctrination too far into an ideology I can’t pretend to understand. Validation? Metaphysical requirements? Enslavement? These are all decades old ideas which the CapDems have long disregarded as an admission of weakness, not to mention delusional. I shouldn’t be surprised that they still have relevance here, but I am. If this is how everyone thinks, maybe I need to keep to myself. “I think I see what you’re saying. I do need to run though. Thanks for the Communicator.” I hold up the device she gave me. “Good luck with your search! Sounds like you’re on the right track.”
“Don’t mention it! And Thanks! Welcome to the 91!” She starts to walk away with a slight spring to her step as if she had just gotten done playing a fun game. As I drop my forced smile as I look at the semi-metallic object in my hand.
Before she gets too far away, I call, “do I give this back to you?”
“Someone will ask you when they need it.” She waves again before returning to search for the non-existent answer to her absurd question of ‘why do people own stuff?’
The Communicator is an older version of the modern EarWig, but it fits over the ear well enough to rest on the part of the skull above the jaw and to the side of the cheek. I link the device to my BioWear and the overlay indicates that the connection has been established. “Test. Test.”
“I hear you.” The voice that resonates through the device and into the bone structure doesn’t fully sound like a voice in my head but a bit distant. I adjust it while we continue to talk, eventually it is a voice competing with my inner dialogue. The voice is calm, pleasant, and slightly puckish. She seems to be comfortable talking to strangers. “What should I call you?”
“Tar-” Almost using my full name again, I realize how convenient it was to have realized I could use the shortened version. “What’s yours?”
She laughed slightly, “No no. C-O-D-A-S. Codas. … It’s nice to finally hear you.”
“You too. Something that the young lady, Jane, said… who is Viclor?”
“Jane is fairly interested in Tendian philosophy. So you’ll have to excuse the assumption that she made thinking everyone knows about that. Many people consider Viclor the natural predecessor of J. L. Tendis who took the base theory – that we create narratives around our deterministic reactions – and improved it.”
“Sorry I’m not as familiar with this. Deterministic reactions means he rejected free will, correct?”
“Not exactly. Tendian thought that the created narratives were free will. But those that reversed it – thinking that the free will drove the deterministic actions – were attempting to take ownership of a reality that was beyond their control. He put it succinctly by saying ‘those that believe they are manifesting themselves within a knowable reality are doomed to live in a self imposed bondage’.”
“Ah.” Well that’s absurd. Reality exists, we don’t create it any more than we are predetermined to act in any way. It makes sense that Jane was confused though. When you believe something so wrong, you’ll have questions about why it doesn’t make sense. Philosophy is a bit tiring in that regard. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I am still hungry.”
“OH! I’m so sorry… do you have a preference? There are a few different options around you: raw food, bugs, soup… all types of things.” The thought of eating bugs or raw meat caused me to gag a little bit. I had heard that it was a practice to decrease energy and rare resource consumption, but I thought that was must have been hyperbole.
“What do others usually eat?”
“For the most part they tend to eat things directly from the plant depending on what’s in season. Some options that are growing around you currently are peaches and plum trees.”
“That sounds good, but I’m actually a bit more hungry than that.”
“If you are willing to wait three more hours, the general kitchen will be open and you can get a meal. There is a decent amount left over from the community get-together we had last night.”
That’s what Tess was helping with. A bit of civilized food would be a welcome relief from this barbarism. “That would be nice. What was the occasion?”
“No occasion. Just something we do from time to time to bring people together so we can socialize and try to learn about each other. I’ve put the locations of the trees on your map if that sounds good. Or you can dismiss them. I’ve also put the kitchen in case you want to head in that direction.”
“Thanks.” I started walking north west, still closer to the Consensus HQ, but not the direct route that I was taking before. Checking the time 8:06, there was no rush, but going off track was counterproductive. An odd feeling I can’t quite formulate started to emerge when I started thinking of the final destination; like I was being drawn to a trap which I had always been planning to walk into.
Walking in the new direction to business plotted on my map, I made sure to aim first for one of the trees that Codas had provided. They were scattered in different lots where the overgrowth had reclaimed the foundations of buildings that had long since been torn down. I started going to the closest one and as I approached I saw a few scavengers also grazing through the thick plants.
On one hand, the animalistic tendencies that are obviously a foundation behavior for the anarchists speaks volumes to the CapDems supremacy in regards to pride and civility. My mind naturally is drawn to the phrase “integrity with function” and how it is fundamentally rejected here. It’s terrifying that the base competition that drives people to become productive can be undermined so easily by usurping the fundamental traditional virtues of cleanliness and purpose. On the other hand, I can’t deny the explicit desire seemingly from everyone wanting interconnectedness and mutual support. Beyond that everyone seemed to have at least their basic needs met. What I didn’t expect was how off putting it was to let my guard down; the base respect that was provided to me by default (and I assume they give to all people) filled a gap that I didn’t realize was vacant. This is something the CapDems can have a bit more of. When the Consensus is destroyed, we should start focusing on building that, but – at this point – it’s about priorities… not to mention the cultural conflict that will need to be overcome.
This leads to my next question which I’m almost certain I have the answer to already, “Codas, how is it you know where I am?”
“When you first asked about the food, your profile defaulted to allowing me to see your location. It’s built into our systems that locating people makes questions easier to answer. While it is standard practice, I would understand if it’s unsettling for you. I can turn it off if you want.”
More implicit indoctrination. The CapDems prepare us for these types of techniques; showing us how to acknowledge when a hostile actor will revoke your individualism by passively including into a group of their choosing. The “assumed reality” warps the mind and soul into accepting the corruption through an expected ignorance. But opting out may indicate how much I value my privacy and independence. That could be a red flag I don’t need. “No. That’s ok. I was just wondering.”
“If you change your mind, just let me know. I’m sorry to leave you on your own, but I do have to take a break. I hope you don’t mind if I sign off for now? I’ll be on later if you need me.”
“Thanks for your help. I do have one last question though, where are you? I’d like to meet up to see who I’m talking to.”
“Oh! I’m about a mile away from you. I am free later today, so we may be able to meet up then.”
“As long as it’s not too late.”
“It’s a date. I’m sure we can make it work.” Her voice gives off an air of sarcastic flirtation, both to indicate that she was comfortable with me and hopefully to show that I could be comfortable with her. I can almost hear a sarcastic wink.
I have a hard time blaming her for the system she’s working in, so I let out a genuine chuckle of comfort. “Ha. Sounds good. I’ll talk to you later.” The chat ends as I walk into the untamed garden to get something to hold me over until brunch? lunch? I wonder if they even keep track of meals here.
As I step onto the plot, the stats about the area show how much can be taken before the growth will fall out of balance. Even though the area obviously lacks a curator, there is a division between some of the sections showing that care has been taken on some level to keep the area thriving. Looking at the peach tree, the AR shows the same creeping profiles on each fruit showing the virtual infection has spread to non-sentient life, giving them an anthropomorphized existence. I avoid the ones that aren’t ready and the ones that have been identified as off limits, instead picking one of the peaches that is identified to be ripe.
I take a bite (being that the only comparison is that of the CapDem cafeteria which is shipped in, the freshness is unparalleled) and watch the rest of the Squatters to identify how I should occupy my time for the next few hours. They mostly disperse, but one joins a group that is sitting down against a wall. It is a gang of people that are of varying race, interests, sex, age, and all other demographics (which is indicated by their profiles when not obvious). From the confidence with the approach and the acceptance from the crowd, I assume they all know each other. But it quickly becomes apparent by their relative formality that this initial assessment is wrong. With a bit of hesitation I do the same and join them.
They – like every other group I talk to over the next two hours – are completely welcoming and assume goodwill instead of a need to compete. Most of the conversations devolved into multiple one on one discussions with the rare 3 person or 4 person debate. The topics range from science to philosophy to technology to sports techniques or responsibilities – one even started discussing “respectable fornication and relationship stability” with some middle aged teens; seemingly no topic was off limits. Most people moved around fairly frequently so I had the opportunity of blending in without much engagement beyond superficial greetings.
In the time I had before the Kitchen opened (apparently that’s the official name and it’s very well respected in the community), I had listened to 5 different discussions in 3 different groups. The diversity was prevalent and no one seemed to be unwelcome, which may have accounted for the conflicting views. Where there was a different perspective to be had, no one seemed to refrain from speaking up. No one was exempt from being challenged regardless of where they fell in the natural hierarchy. Even those with – what I assumed was – a common background weren’t immune to turning on each other. When any disagreement ever became too severe (which happened twice), someone would calm things down with either: “hold up: from-to-forall” or “What are we arguing for? Normal ought be normal, right?” (which apparently was some code for “find common ground” or something). Every conversation was like listening to insanity spoken reasonably. But being a passive observer helped to maintain my cover.
One thing that I caught onto very quickly was that very few of them cared about categorizations. Even when one of the CapDem labels would clearly capture who they are (Squatter vs Anarchist vs Narrativist) they wouldn’t use it. They took it as far as never appealing to demographic expectation except through statistical knowledge which seemed to be agreed on by all. While never said explicitly, they seemed to abhor groupings; craving instead to being understood as unique people without the presumed communal identity – a surprisingly respectable trait. There was the anomalous insult that contradicted this cultural habit; when someone was “closed minded” they would call them a “Desci”. And obviously they referenced the CapDems as a vile enemy, at one point “the only peace we can have is if they are wiped out” was said and no one disagreed.
My headache and body pains returned twice while I waited for the Kitchen to open. I committed to pacing myself with the pain relief pills, taking one at 9:17 but not allowing myself another one until slightly after the Kitchen opened at 10:30.
There is a line waiting at the Kitchen when I arrive at 10:24. The building is old, but – except for one of the sides that was crudely knocked down – well preserved. It looked to predate the rise of Capitalistic Governance, but it was hard to tell as many buildings built in the 2050s tried to recreate the aesthetic of the early 20th century. When I looked closer to the destroyed hole, it looked purposeful. Metal tables and chairs clearly meant to withstand the elements stand scattered throughout the open area; it can seat 30 easily. Behind the – what would be – exterior wall, an inner divide (which is in desperate need of a reapplication of the fading blue paint) keeps the indoor dining separate.
I join the queue and wait for the doors to be opened. It was fairly quickly apparent that the typical chatter that accompanied congregations of people was replaced by raised voices from across the street. Most of the people in line looked over from time to time to see a man in his mid 30s yelling at a woman about the same age. There was a young man that had an Asian complexion trying and relatively succeeding at keeping the dispute from blowing up.
The argument calms down after an awkward few minutes and as the line starts to move forward due to the Kitchen opening. The man walks away from the other two to wait for some food. The group dissolves and the woman walks east – the other direction – and gradually the normal chatter starts to come back to the people around me.
The Kitchen was an unregulated potluck. Different stands had different food trays and the customers took what they wanted. For a few minutes, I was deeply confused by the management. There seemed to be people working – bringing out more food when the available options ran low – but no other employees were to be found. I could understand the administrative staff and cooks keeping out of sight, but there are no portion regulators to ensure that everyone only gets their expected amount nor cashiers to collect payment (automated or otherwise) like they have in the CapDem cafeteria. I end up unmoving for a few moments amidst the traffic – with a plate full of pasta and sauce that I assume is Tess’s – watching to see what everyone else does. Every one of them grab food and leave; some of the faster eaters exiting the building – all free of charge. So I follow; leaving the area with the food and begin looking for a seat. Even though I expect someone to scold and fine me, no one does; everyone simply goes about their day.
Walking past the other tables, I couldn’t help but to see people binging on food they didn’t deserve, leeching off the good will of others that made it and giving nothing in return. Even looking at my own food, I feel disgust regarding Tar’s engagement in this economic sinkhole and stealing my wife’s effort… something that my effort – in turn – allowed. But even amidst my irritation, I don’t deny that there is a reverence in seeing these unfortunate people finding community comfort, friendships, and nourishment; and that reverence is a dividend of an investment that I was unwillingly forced into.
My eyes scan the tables, most of which are filled with people socializing with others or scanning the space being occupied by some invisible media on their AR, I notice the man who was in an argument from outside sitting on his own. He has a history of working with the CapDems and is not quite adapted to the anarchist community (all of which I know due to his profile still crawling around him, but it’s become more normalized now that I’m seeing it everywhere). Thinking he may be able to assist me in seeing beyond the masquerade that I’ve found myself in, I approach.
“Hi, can I sit here?” He looks at me, and I am provided with the first proper assessment of his appearance. Distinctly Irish: pale skin and heavily freckled due to time spent in the sun with copper red hair which is darker and sparsely gray at the roots. His strong build had an obvious emotional deflation which was in contrast with his “salt of the earth” appearance (dirt smudges on his hands and face, flannel shirt and jeans both tarnished from working with the ground). He nodded solemnly in approval. I took my seat as he leaned back with an air of irritated confidence.
In addition to an infliction indicating he had no use for pity, his voice had a dialect from the mid eastern region of North America, “Are you also here to talk to me about the argument?”
My shock must be apparent because his initial defiance quickly relaxed. “No. I did see it, but I assumed it was a personal conflict. Should I care? Is that expected?”
With a chuckle, his entire demeanor shifts to one of unexpected relief and almost gratitude. “You’re new here aren’t you? Yeah… the thought that anyone would consider any disagreement to be a personal matter is unthinkable within the Consensus. Have you lived your whole life working for the CapDems or something?” The question is apparently in jest, but my reaction of awe that he could deduce the situation so quickly let me know that I wasn’t playing the role well enough. The stranger didn’t miss a moment in realizing what my lack of words meant: that my guise isn’t that of a newcomer, but an infiltrator. He leaned in, his eyes filled with an intense warning and fear, shaking his head slightly so that it would be imperceptible to anyone but me. Then he leans back again regaining the steady poise he just betrayed. “Since you’re new, I’ll let you in on a few things. Nothing here is personal, the community tries to avoid violence so they are invested in each other’s conflicts, socially regulating everything from speech to ownership. If they could control our thoughts, they would have the audacity to do it.”
Talking half to myself I mumble “I’m sure they would”, to which he gives me an odd look and I speak more directly to him. “I’ve talked to some people while I’ve been here, but – and I don’t want to offend – you don’t seem to fit in.”
He sighs and takes a bite of his meal (he has beans, sausage, and some peas) and I do the same. With a mouth half full he continues, “Up until 3 years ago, I lived in Birmingham… er… SE81. I worked in the CapDem offices down there managing the medical production routes. The shift to a Consensus community has been,” pausing for a second seemingly to choose his words carefully, “a paradigm shift. It’s not been easy.”
“What’s different about it?”
“Everything!” The outburst draws a look or two and he waves apologetically to them before continuing a bit more calmly. “It’s absolutely everything! No one spends money here. We have a community list of people that need help. An AI that dishes out responsibilities. Some people talk to it as if it’s human or SOME treat it as god himself! And don’t get me started on the joint religion.”
“They worship Azathoth, right?”
He looks at me again, studying me. “You remind me of me when I first got here, but your profile says otherwise.” His gaze narrowed trying to fit the pieces together before continuing on… still looking at me skeptically. “There was a writer in the early 1900s called HP Lovecraft, he wrote stories about incomprehensible gods that would drive a person insane just by looking at them. Azathoth was the top god… they literally worship chaos…and an objective fiction at that.” He stalls for a moment more, “who are you?”
I can’t give myself away. If he’s right and everyone is invested in everyone else, I’ll draw more attention than it’s worth. Best to feign ignorance, “I’m Tar. Who are you?”
He realizes that I’m dodging, but lets it pass. “Kletus. Kletus Ferguson.” and takes another bite.
It was my turn to mimic him and talk while I ate, “so why did you move away from the CapDems? Why don’t you work for the one here?”
He choked a bit at the question. After swallowing he looked at me, “you really need to show me how you got rid of your profile history” and followed it with a knowing wink. “I’m here because the CapDems thought I had the disposition to be a good missionary. So I brought my family up here.” he aggressively stabbed his sausage and took another bite and there was an awkward silence. “She’s gone… isn’t she?”
“Who? Your wife?” As he nodded, I thought of Tess falling off the ladder and how close I came to being alone. “What happened to her?”
“You said you saw our disagreement.”
“That was her?! Why didn’t she come with you?”
“Since moving here, she’s had all these ideas about ‘needing to find herself’. That’s what the degeneracy here does, it corrupts the good things that we built.” He put an emphasis on the “we” which I took to mean the CapDem culture. “Everyone here is lazy and unproductive… except of course when things need to be fixed up. I’ve dedicated myself to 15 years working every day with a set schedule, but HERE? I don’t know what to do with myself. I try to keep productive, but everyone just wants to do the bare minimum! How could that possibly be appealing to Janet? She loved being my wife! But since being here… she looks at me like I’m a monster! For 15 years I pulled my weight to make us happy, and she just walked away.” I could almost hear him gritting his teeth through the rant. “Selfish. That’s what it is. And people look at me as if I’m wrong.” He shook his head then looked back at me. “Sorry. You shouldn’t have to hear about all that.” He paused for a moment, then took another bite.
We sit in silence for a few minutes, the only noise is the mismatched cutlery scraping the plates. This is all I needed to see to justify my mission, all my worst fears realized: it wasn’t the people that were the enemy. Not really. It was the community itself and the lies that are pushed on everyone. The Tendians were to blame.
“One thing I’ve never understood, why is everyone here a Tendian? What’s the appeal in thinking you aren’t sentient?”
“Honestly, I have no idea. The best I can gather is they think it allows them to be more free? Who knows. It’s a dumb philosophy that no one can explain. One thing that was a shock when I came here though… there are no real ‘Tendian elites’. At least none that I’ve seen.”
“Wait. Who directs everyone then? How do… I don’t know… they make cloths?”
“It’s the AI mostly. While I’ve been here, I’ve been asked if I wanted to help others or do social tasks. It’s never a requirement. You could do absolutely nothing with no repercussions. I did that out of spite when I first arrived, but eventually I went stir crazy and I offered to help from time to time just to have something to take up the time. But the leadership roles switch depending on who needs help and focus. It’s not really democratic as much as it is statistical. As far as I know though, there are people that do highly skilled work at the center. They probably make medicine – and other drugs – there.”
That makes no sense. I’ll have to consider it a bit more later. “The center?”
“It’s the big building about three and a half klicks west of here. I think it used to be a mall decades ago, you can’t miss it.”
I pull up the map on the AR while we talk. That’s where I’m heading. I feel myself stroking the cuff – the bomb – absentmindedly and refocus on Kletus readjusting to eat another bite instead. “You should go get her back. She’s your wife. If you don’t have your family, then you’ve got nothing.”
He thinks for a second as he finishes his last few bites. “That’s good advice. I will. A bit of advice in return: don’t talk to many people. They may treat you like a CapDem” he gave another knowing wink “and they don’t like them at all. Good luck to you though. I hope you succeed at what you are trying to accomplish.” I stand up and shake his outstretched hand. As expected, a firm grip to show he could be trusted. With that, he turns and walks away.
I sit back down to finish my pasta (it’s indeed Tess’s, even if it was a few days old I would be able to identify her family recipe, and this was only one day leftover). They all need to be saved. That is the only thought that consumed my mind as I sat surrounded – but at the same time separate – from the unwilling drones. More than ever now, I can’t look at them as anything more than victims. The Consensus itself is to blame, and – from what Kletus just said – the Consensus cannot remain if the AI is destroyed.
The CapDem leadership must have known all this. That’s why they don’t target people. That’s why they never focus on individuals but the entire community. An idea can’t be blamed or combatted. There is always a hidden group pulling the strings. And it seems – in this case – that group is just the single machine.