Grinding Gears, Humanity, Privilege, and WMDs

NOTE: This is a fictional entry in an ongoing story that I’m currently writing.  I started writing this fiction story back at the beginning of October 2020 and contribute ~400 words to it every day on this blog.  I didn’t outline the story at all going into it, but after four weeks it’s evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang.  In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project.  My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security.  If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Four – Passage Ten

Coleman and I look at each other.  And I look over at Deepak also.  On everyone’s faces, I see the gears grinding in their heads, behinds their eyes, weighing the dilemma and choice at hand.  I know my own outward appearance is also the same– a veneer of calm and cool that obscures intense brain processing.  Katherine’s words get through to me; give the woman credit.  She knows what buttons to press.  The cogs are spinning and we’re all neurologically crunching, all those mental cycles whirling away.

Because the truth is– for all of Coleman’s high-flung rhetoric about discrimination, human rights, and state abuses of obscene, unchecked power– at the day’s end, we are, the four of us gathered here today, in this random Chinese Communist Party-backed laboratory cafeteria in the rural countryside, ultimately curious people.  Our entire lives, even Coleman, we’ve schlepped away behind a computer screen or Excel spreadsheet.  Everyone here is privileged.  For Deepak, it was in academia, that old reliable ivory tower.  For Coleman, it was as a political operative in DC, straight out of school, being a hired gun for the politician-of-the-day.  With me, it was contracting gigs; being flown around, housed, and wined-and-dined on consulting engagements.  And as for Katherine– ha.  Before Foogle, she’d worked in the Valley.  Of all of us, she’d learned the ropes and came of age in probably the most distanced, reality-distorted bubble on planet earth.

For all four of us, we’ve lived our entire lives on some orbital space platform a thousand miles above earth in geosynchronous stasis.  I’m not proud of it but I at least have the self-awareness to know what we are.  To know that, in our mental-conceptualized worldviews, other human-beings aren’t really humans to any of us.  Rather, humans are just nodes in some socio-graph or they’re numbers in columns on some spreadsheet.  They’re not living, breathing people with lives, families, jobs, futures, and dreams.  But rather– they’re data points.  Data points in one great big game of control and influence.

Because if I’m being real, if we’re really getting down to brass tacks here– that’s what this is all about: Control.

Since time’s dawn, man has long sought to control (or at least, manipulate) other men. To impose our own value systems on others to build and shape what we believe is a worthy and good society.  Early on, it was by violence and brute force.  Cavemen and Neanderthals using clubs to bludgeon each other; he with the biggest bat winning dominion over all others.  Then in modern times we left our Cro-Magnon ways behind and embraced modern warfare, giving up our sticks and stones for tanks, guns, and atomic bombs.

But eventually, man found civilization.  We traded our tanks for magazines; we gave up on the God of War and instead submitted to the God of Advertising.  No longer did we rely on violence to persuade; instead, we used marketing.  Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and –eventually, now– the internet.

Katherine, Deepak, Coleman, and me– you see, we’re not social creatures.  We’re nerds.  Nerds who have spent a lifetime studying and who’ve learned the necessary skills and knowledge to analyze and understand daily life as data; and to influence the world around us with technology. Each and every one of us is a nuclear warhead, a weapon of mass destruction.  After all, as they say: Knowledge is power.  And we’ve spent a lifetime, countless all-nighters at the university library, in the computer lab, or on the job acquiring it.

Any moral or ethical conundrums simply stand no chance. An intellectual feast awaits.

“I’m in,” I say to Katherine.  “Let’s do this.”

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