Short Story: “Wobbly Premise”

Your next great idea just might by hiding in the heart of darkness. (This is part of a series related to my novel, “Burnout Fever”, which is available for the Nook reader and app. Catch up from the links listed here or here.”)

“Wobbly Premise”
Part 7 of a series
by P. Orin Zack
(9/29/2007)

“I don’t get it,” Rodney Falk interjected. “If Jefferson and them were so concerned about fencing religion out of the whole thing, how could the structure they created have any mystical significance?”

Richard took a calming breath and considered the high-strung black activist’s agitated energy field before responding. This was the first actual meeting of Constitutional Evolution he had attended, and the only person here he’d even met before was Derek Boa, the leader.

“Like I told your gamer friend when she roped me into this group,” he said evenly, “magic is mostly a matter of symbolism and intent. The framers did a lot more than just lay out the rules of government. They also set the staging. Any well-designed ritual is going to resonate emotionally. That’s why religious ceremonies are so much like theatre. They laid out rituals of governance. If they were going to work, they had to resonate. And resonance is at the heart of mysticism.”


Rodney exchanged puzzled glances with Derek. “So you’re saying that if we want to be certain that organized religion can’t get its mitts on the levers of power, whatever we end up with has to be just as hokey as what we’ve got now?”

“Essentially, yes.”

Derek shook his head. “Sounds counter-productive to me. But there’s only one way to find out. So we’ll do some role-playing experiments one of these days and see for ourselves the difference in how it, um, resonates.”

Richard looked over towards the door of the library meeting room they were using. “I think there’s someone out there. Someone with a lot on his mind.”

It opened a crack, then widened, but the uncertain young man gripping the knob didn’t let go.

Derek strode towards the door, raising a hand in greeting. “Ron. I’m glad you decided to come back.”

They shook, and the door swung shut behind them.

“Wait a minute,” Rodney called out, fast approaching, “the last time you visited, you just about freaked at some lettering on a piece of cardboard. If you’re that sensitive, you might not want to –.”

“Hey,” he said. “Chill. I was on assignment. I’m okay, now. Honest.”

“Assignment?” Derek echoed. “Does that mean you’ve left your credential at home this time?”

Richard joined them. “What’s this about?”

“Ron hasn’t come out and told us yet, but it’s pretty obvious that he works for some intelligence agency or other. He said he wanted to help. I guess now we’ll see if that’s true.” He turned to Ron. “Come on in. We were just discussing government as theater.”

The others took seats at the long table, but Ron remained standing. “I have a… a confession to make. My name’s really Craig. I lied because that’s what I’m being trained to do. Going undercover and spying on –.”

“On who?” Rodney snapped. “Terrorists? Who do you work for, anyway, and why should I believe you?”

“Cut him some slack,” Richard said. “This is probably hard for him.”

“Thanks. It is. It’s also against the rules. I could lose my job if they find out.”

Derek tapped the waiting chair. “Find out what? That you’re here, or that you broke cover?”

He sat, but didn’t pull the chair in. “Both, really. I was supposed to decide whether your group was dangerous, whether it should be monitored, or…” He looked down.

“Or what?”

“Or targeted. We talked about some of the nasty things the agency could do to people it considered threats. They – we, I suppose, since I work there, can ruin your life. Get you fired, sink your business, even drive you into bankruptcy. And you’d never know why. It’s all so impersonal, too. Once you’re tagged an enemy, you’re not human any more.”

Derek leaned forward. “So why are you still there? If you don’t like what they do, why don’t you quit? Walk away. Do something constructive instead.”

“It’s not that simple. I can’t un-know what I’ve learned. I’ve seen what they’re capable of. Everywhere I look, I’ll see what might be signs of their handiwork, but I’d never be certain. I’d go paranoid. I know it.”

Richard did what he could to calm the man’s frazzled energy field. It was clear that he needed sanctuary, and this was where he had sought it out. “And if you stay?”

He bit his lip. “Maybe I can do some good. I already feel a bit like a double agent. To them I’m Craig. Spook in training. But to be honest, I’d rather be Ron, the guy who really wants to see people like you succeed.”

“If it makes you more comfortable,” Derek said, “we’ll keep calling you Ron, then. Your secret’s safe with us. Was that why you came, or was there something else?”

“There was. When we were discussing tactics that could be used against suspected terrorists, the section chief asked an odd question. He wanted to know whether the membership were capable of taking over for you if you were, um, distracted with your own problems.”

“Like losing my job, and so forth. I don’t know. What do you think, Rodney?”

He scratched his head briefly. “I certainly wouldn’t have any problem keep things organized. I’ve been instigating actions since middle school, after all. But Gisela’s better at figuring strategy, being a gamer and all. It’s kind of like that. Nobody’s the big cheese. We each have our own piece of the pie. And there are others that are nearly as good as whoever’s taking lead at the moment, so it’d probably be possible to carry on. Might be a bit of a struggle while the person taking over a role got comfortable in it, but it wouldn’t stop us, I don’t think. Why did he ask?”

Ron smiled. “I’m not sure why he brought this up. But he said that it’s far easier to wreck a group that’s got a command and control structure than one where everyone’s working towards the same goal without a formal leadership structure. Like the Wobblies.”

Rodney shrugged. “Wobblies? Who are they?”

“It’s another name for the International Workers of the World. The I.W.W. operated like that. It was started in Chicago in 1905 by Eugene Debs and a bunch of communists and anarchists. They wanted to unionize workers around the planet, but they assiduously avoided having leaders. The prospect scared business and government so badly that they started sabotaging it within a decade. You may have heard about the Palmer raids. Anyway, they eventually encouraged the development of more structured labor unions to draw off its power. But the thing was, my section chief said it was nearly impossible to defeat an organization like that, if it maintained its focus.”

Derek drummed his fingers in thought. “Why are you bringing this up?”

“I thought it might be useful to know the weakness of the people who might want to put progressive organizations like this out of action. That’s why the US government keeps covertly installing dictators in client nations. They’re easier to control.”

“I wish Gisela could have been here,” Rodney said. “This kind of talk just makes her day. But still, we’re not in this for any kind of confrontation. The idea’s to work out how to fix what’s broken, and then spread the brainstorm.”

“Speaking of brainstorms,” Derek said happily, “I think you just gave me one. Concerted, leaderless action is also a good way to describe crowdsourcing – distributing a task among a group of interested people. I was wondering if there was a way to turn the Wobbly strategy into a part of government, and I think I have one.”

“Do tell.”

“Put yourself in congress for a minute. Doctor, lawyer, baker or cop, whatever your background, you’ll be voting on legislation you know absolutely nothing about. You’re overwhelmed. So what do you do? Like anyone else, you ask the experts. Unfortunately, the experts offering their advice are mostly lobbyists, working for the businesses your bill affects, so you’ve just offered yourself up for manipulation. Heck, sometimes, those lobbyists even write the bills themselves. Not a very promising situation, is it?”

“Deadly. And your brainstorm?”

Mischief lit his face. “What if we could be that expert? What if each bill was also submitted to a crowdsourced legislative wiki? People like us would supply background information to help you. We’d be directly participating in government, even if we weren’t elected or appointed to anything.”

Rodney frowned. “Nice idea, but wikis have been known to be wrong.”

“Or tampered with,” Ron added. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

“You didn’t. But we get your drift. How do you counter that, Derek?”

“When someone messes with a wiki, you end up with disputed sections, edit wars, people going back and forth correcting one another. The audit trail shows it up, and the topic can be locked down, so only vetted contributors can participate.”

“There’s something else,” Richard said, then paused.

“Don’t be shy. What’s on your mind?”

“It’s not just background info on an issue before congress that can benefit from this. If the bills themselves are open to crowdsourcing, the logic in them can be validated. Think of the legalese in a bill like the software that runs the government. It might benefit from a good debugging. There are plenty of folks out there who would love to get their hands on bills before they’re turned into laws. It could ensure that the law actually serves the common good, and prevent a lot of needless litigation.”

Derek nodded. “It could also expose unconstitutional provisions buried inside. I like it. And I think we may be able to do this within the current structure. I’m going to have to speak with Melissa’s dad about this. Maybe we can get a meeting with the House Rules Committee.”

Ron folded his arms and grinned. “I’m glad I decided to come and see you folks again. It seems even the nasty stuff I’m learning about can be turned to better uses.”

“So what do you think? Is Constitutional Evolution dangerous?”

“It could be.”

“To whom?”

“The corporate nasties who think they run this country. Looks like you’re going to give them a run for their money.”

“Only,” Rodney said, “if we can get people to buy into this sort of thing.”

“Buy into it?” Ron asked, amused. “Think about it like a Wobbly. It’s an investment in the common good.”

THE END

[Afterward: the story continues in “Unheard Voices“]

Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack

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