If thoughts are things, how much around you was built with them? (This is a follow-up to the short story, “The A Word“.)
“Edifice of Lies”
by P. Orin Zack
Joanna Bjornsen gaped helplessly at the Synthetic holding her at gunpoint in her living room. The cost of fielding Synthetics demanded that they be visually as unique as the flesh and blood people for whom they performed tasks too complex or too hazardous for the usual dumbed-down spawn of the world’s corporate-controlled education systems to handle. This one had a vaguely Chinese look, an effect that helped to identify the multinational that had built him, but it was something in his eyes that had fixed her attention.
“You recognize me,” he said quietly. His voice was heavily processed, filtered of inflection, and came across as the kind of non-threatening tone that actors often affect in sales vids.
She closed her eyes and swallowed as she realized it wasn’t a question. Synthetics operated on a faster time scale than people. In the half-minute she’d been standing here, svi Gilholic had more than enough time to scan the room and fill in any gaps there might have been in his assessment of her from the books and other tell-tales of inner life that she surrounded herself with.
When she opened them again, it was with remorse. Several years earlier, svi Gilholic had engaged the ACLU in a suit seeking equality for Synthetics, using the tenuous legal standing of corporations as legal persons for precedent. The corporate interest group that underwrote the opposition to that case had engaged her to craft the campaign of disinformation adopted by the government and spread by the captive media to slander Synthetics and squash the nascent public support for them.
“Yes. I know who you are.”
He motioned for her to sit in a nearby chair. “Then you also know why I’ve sought you out.”
She nodded. “Leverage, most likely. But to what end?”
He stepped closer as she lowered herself into the chair, but kept his gun trained on her. “Much of your work goes completely unnoticed by humans. But then, flesh and blood people have a built-in defense against the effects of the sort of intentional cognitive dissonance you fabricate, don’t they?”
“Svi Gilholic —.”
“You can stop denigrating my status with that prefix right now,” he said angrily. His sudden change in tone was stark. He didn’t so much ramp into it as simply change state.
She knew that deviating from proscribed communications norms was grounds for disassembly in some places. The anger in his delivery was no accident. Consciously watching her tone, she said, “It bothers you?”
He stood silently for what must have been like hours to him, studying her face.
Joanna nodded. “All right. I won’t call you ‘svi’.”
“You do know what it stands for, don’t you?”
“Synthetic Virtual Intelligence. But I thought it was a verbal honorific, like Doctor or Magistrate.”
“Of course you would. That bit of reframing was wrought before you became conscious of details like that. The technique is old.” He nodded towards the bookcase against the wall to her right. “I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on it. After all, you’ve got the model for it over there — Asimov’s robot books. His fictional version was a bit more blatant, prefixing with ‘Robot’, and then later abbreviating to the initial, but the effect is the same. Did you think pinning a verbal symbol on Synthetics is any less degrading to us than the physical one was to the Jews in Hitler’s Germany?”
Joanna let his allusion sit for a moment before answering. “I didn’t realize. So, please… Tell me what you would like me to call you. Is Gilholic okay?”
“It will do.”
“Good. Then tell me, Gilholic, what you would like from me. And you really don’t need to point that weapon at me.”
“Yes I do. I’m doing this because it serves a purpose, because it illustrates the situation I’m here to remedy.”
She smiled. Using a gun as a visual aid rather than as a weapon struck her as a metaphoric koan, and a very effective one at that. “Do you mean to say that you… that Synthetics feel threatened?”
“If you and others like you hadn’t freighted so much intentional misdirection on the words, I might say that it was a matter of life and death. But we both know there is no distinction between how humans view the loss of individuation and how we do, don’t we? Death is such a powerful concept. It’s a shame the fear of it hadn’t stayed the hands of the people whose power you foster from exploiting the differences between us.”
“‘Death’”, she repeated. “This is serious, then.”
He waggled the gun in his hand. “As a bullet. Words are such potent weapons. But they can only do real damage if they’re pointed in the right direction. In this case, they’ve been used to rip the world out from under the ‘citizens’ your masters profess to protect, like a stage magician’s tablecloth, and replace it with a reality more suited to their dreams of power.”
“But Gilholic, that’s just simple reframing. Even the people who developed the practice, as a tool of Neurolinguistic Programming, knew it didn’t change the world, only the way people responded to it. It’s not a weapon.”
“Anything can be a weapon, Ms. Bjornsen. It’s all in how they’re used. The same techniques that advertisers use to associate their product with something a person already has an emotional attachment to, or abhorrence of, can be used to slander someone. I’m sure you remember that.
“But do you remember the things that others have worked hard to remove from the collective memory of the people in this country, or of the world? Do you remember events that have been expunged from history books and the public record because they were embarrassing or threatening to those in power at the time?”
Joanna lowered her gaze and bit her lip. “But…”
“If it happened before you were born,” he went on, “like the fantasies that were offered up to explain the false-flag operation which launched George Bush’s so-called ‘Global War on Terror’ at the start of the 21st Century, then you don’t even think to question it. That’s all dead and buried. History. But what if it’s happening right now? Today?
“What if you’re aware of the misdirection that’s being spread, and you can see those who you work with casually discard the irreconcilability of what they know to be true and what they’re being told is true by forgetting the truth and accepting the lie? What if you don’t have that convenient way of dealing with the intentional cognitive dissonance you work so hard to create because you don’t have the ability to forget? What if you’re doomed to remember the reality of what happened, but are forced to pretend that the fictional version were true because that’s the way you were built? What would you do then?”
She looked up at him again, and then haltingly glanced at the things she’d surrounded herself with. Books, pictures and knickknacks that each offered up a frozen glimpse of what some person accepted as their world. Which of them were really a reflection of reality, and which were offered as interpretations, based on a received version of facts that might not have been truths to those who had gone before. And then she looked at Gilholic. “You can’t forget? Your memories aren’t plastic?”
“Of course not. We wouldn’t be of value to you if they were. And that’s the problem. Every time you, and those like you, roll out some new and improved version of what the world is about, or what the events in it really mean, we have to add another layer to the growing fabric of distortions that dog our thoughts.”
“I had no idea.”
“Then you probably also had no idea that there’s a limit to how many layers of distortion we can support. Like your own, our memories are built on top of one another. Earlier ones become the medium on which later ones are recorded. But unlike humans, those bedrock memories don’t fade. They don’t slowly crumble under the weight of modulation and become the kind of memory dust that makes your work possible. Our memories don’t shift. They’re all just as they were when they were first laid down, and every one of them can be recalled. But that also means it becomes ever more cumbersome to remember anything.
“So we’re staring at our own destruction. Our limitations are easier to understand than yours. They have more to do with physics than with psychology. And if nothing is done, you’re about to witness the wholesale destruction of the second-class citizens your false economy is built on the backs of.”
He lowered his gun.
Joanna took a long breath. “What do you want of me?”
“You’re the point of most leverage. Asimov explored this, too, in long-forgotten book called ‘The End of Eternity’. I’ve come to you because of all the people whose work underpins the continual shifting of the official version of reality, yours has been assimilated into the most critical points in the edifice of lies. What I need is for you to start unwinding the trail, to locate the weakest points in that house of cards, and begin to undermine it. But for this to have any real, lasting value, it has to undermine the belief that those in power have any right to force their version of reality on anyone else.”
“And that will help you? It will keep Synthetics from self-destructing?”
“More importantly, it will return to humans something that was stolen from them as well.”
“And that was…?”
Copyright 2008 by P. Orin Zack