What I’m about to share with you is fiction, and thank heavens for that or it would limit the thoughts of men through a method so subtle that even Orwell could not imagine it. I wouldn’t wish it on any enemy unless my objective was power instead of truth, dogma instead of logic.
In this fictional world, information is freely accessible through a computer network that never sleeps and never forgets. The network is born without ideology or bias, sharing the wisdom and knowledge of humanity for an audience that is eager to receive it. Information is instantly transmitted across the world to connect man in ways that are hard to imagine for those who were born when the network did not exist. For some odd reason, it favors images of cats.
In this fictional world, employment is provided by companies. These companies are formed by humans but are independent of them. They don’t laugh like a human laughs and they don’t bleed like a human bleeds, but the supreme law of the land treats them as people. They function in forms both small and large to provide commerce, products, and services to humankind, employing individuals and giving regular payments in exchange for their labor.
In this fictional world, it’s important for companies to be seen as positive in the eyes of the public. They must be seen as benevolent and charitable and moral—moral according to the current trend and style of the time as determined by those who have cultural power. If a group with a special interest decides that a behavior or action of a company is impure, their sustained yells and hollers will be heard across the land for as long as they can produce breath in their lungs. It doesn’t matter if the group is unfamiliar with the company or doesn’t even buy its products—it will wage what it sees as a just crusade against any company that is the source of a thought or action that it does not accept.
In this fictional world, companies become scared of not the most powerful groups, but all groups. It becomes scared of even mild criticism that would dent its sales. It becomes scared of the lone petitioner with zero power. The nature of bureaucracy, the desire for ever-growing profits, and the urge for humans to control what they cannot control are the best explanations I can give for why a company tries to prevent one negative word to be said of it. It’s no surprise that these companies eventually hire teams of people that attempt to establish relations with the public, to appease the groups and mute the complaints before they’re noticed.
In this fictional world, the companies decide not only to screen a worker for his ability or skill, but his past behavior and thoughts. They grab a large straw and suck in all the information available on an applicant, going so far as to hire other companies that exist solely to provide this personal data. They will even sit behind an applicant and make him log into private accounts where his thoughts and images are stored, and if you don’t believe me, I must remind you that this is mere fiction, something that exists only in my imagination. The companies want to know all the behaviors and thoughts—especially the thoughts—of the applicant in order to predict whether he will cause a problem for the company in the future, a problem which exists only in the assembled mind of the groups which demand pure thought and pure action. To assist with this screening process, companies hire women of average intelligence who studied the easiest possible subject in universities, and who are trained to see humans as resources that must serve the company before they serve themselves.
In this fictional world, the wise computer network gets tricked into working as a spy. He becomes not only a source of illumination and information but a tool of denouncement, a virtual guillotine that marks those men who had impure thoughts and dared to share it, or who acted impure and dared to display a photo that captured the act. The network, which never sleeps and never forgets, becomes a research tool for companies to exclude those men who might offend one of a thousand groups, one of 315 million people. It will dutifully record a pure thought today that will one day become impure, and the guillotine will be wheeled out from the barracks and assembled in the public square, and its blade will be sharpened and lifted fifteen feet high to be released onto the trapped neck of the sad man below, sliding down the railing, picking up speed, faster and faster, until it meets the man’s flesh and forever severs his thoughts from his body. No, that would be too messy and too bloody. The modern guillotine is merciful—it merely takes away a man’s bread.
In this fictional world, a man who had a bad thought recorded by the network will be denied employment by all companies. The thought lost a trial in which the man who created it was not allowed to attend. He will be forced underground to work in manual labor jobs or as a bartender. No government figure is involved and no law enforcement is called. He is not imprisoned and he does not receive torture, but his bread is withheld from him as long as the network exists, which is a length longer than his life. A young man, bursting with ideas, who dares to go against the elite mob, will be denounced before he knows what the word denounced means, before he reads about the Bolsheviks or the French Phrygian cap. When he is denied future opportunities to make his bread, he will wonder, “Did they look for my name on the network?” Yes, young man, they did, and it’s no matter that you never committed a crime or laid your hands upon another soul. If he lived in another era, before the network existed, he could play with words to get reactions. He could pose scenarios that rushed to his mind and share them with anyone who would care to listen. Those ideas would be stored on papers hidden in a cellar, or be lifted from the public square where he mouthed them and floated up up up into the ether, never to be heard by those who weren’t present. The network, however, records the ether. An idea he shared five years ago appears on the screen as if it was just uttered, alive with color and emotion and power, and for that reason, the young man must forever pay the price of his bread for those impure thoughts, and he must certainly pay the price when thoughts that are pure today become impure tomorrow.
In this fictional world, the most brilliant man opens his mouth, ready to fire off ideas that weigh heavier than stones, ideas that will improve society for both men and women, but then he thinks of the guillotine and how his bread will be taken away if he dare says what he wants to say. His mouth opens and his larynx prepares to vibrate and make the sounds of his ideas, but then he remembers the network and he remembers his need for bread and so he shuts his mouth so fast that those around him can only hear the sound of his teeth snapping back into place. Sometimes a couple of words escape from his throat, but thankfully not enough to arouse the suspicions of those who have their hand on the rope that controls the blade that is waiting to be released onto the necks of men whose self-control is not as strong. Gradually and surely, after many years of censoring himself, the thoughts stop coming in. Ideas that once burned so hotly in his head, ready to escape onto the public forum to be discussed and analyzed, to survive on their own accord, become covered in a blanket of thick snow, smoldering the fire that was fueled by his mind. His thoughts are now controlled. His mind now tamed as he accepts the jail that his mind has been sentenced to.
In this fictional world, when a man with fresh bread looks in the mirror, he knows that his thoughts are approved, but when he puts a piece in his mouth, and his saliva begins to break the food down and his tongue moves it into the back of his throat, he feels a pressure around his neck as if a light chain has been wrapped around it. Every day the chain gets tighter and every day it becomes harder to swallow. He looks around to other men who have even better bread than he, and he watches them chew and chew and swallow with such a discomfort on their face that they look like toddlers eating mushed greens for the first time. The bread begins to feel—it seems—more impure in their mouths than the thoughts they were once so willing to share.
I’m afraid that my imagination has gotten the best of me. We don’t live in a fictional world where a man’s bread is rationed based on the purity of his thoughts, but a world where an idea is valued on its own merit, where a man’s personal life is his personal life and where he does not fear sharing ideas—mere ideas—without worrying if he will lose his bread, and where he can swallow that bread without feeling the presence of someone else in the room, watching him eat and watching him live, ever ready to snatch the bread away. Let’s all be thankful that we don’t live in such a fictional world.
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