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Distraction - Bruce Sterling

reading notes for Distraction, Bruce Sterling.

Certainly nothing was going on that would provoke the attention of the authorities and their various forms of machine surveillance

“They were all deliberate plants and ringers, but they were uncannily brilliant forgeries, strangers bent on destruction who were almost impossible to notice.

They didn't fit any known demographic profile of a trouble-maker, or a criminal, or a violent radical. Any security measure that would have excluded them would have excluded everyone in town.”

Dissidents, autonomen, gypsies, leisure-union people.

More than half of the people in modern America had given up on formal employment. The modern economy no longer generated many commercial roles that could occupy the time of people.

“He further suspected that many of them—maybe most of them—didn't know what they were about to do.

Then, they all exploded into action. It was startling, even at the fifty-first viewing.”

This event was clearly significant. It had required organization, observation, decision, execution. It was a gesture of brutal authority from some very novel locus of power. Someone had done all this with meticulous purpose and intent, but how? How did they compel the loyalty of those agents? How did they recruit them, train them, dress them, pay them, transport them? Andmost amazing of all—how did they compel their silence, afterward?

It was a wet squid, a swarm of bees. It was a new entity that pursued its own orthogonal agenda, and vanished into the silent interstices of a deeply networked and increasingly nonlinear society.

“Actually, the campaign bus had no windows. Seen from outside, the bus was a solid shell. Its large internal

“windows” were panel screen displays, hooked to external cameras that scoped out their surroundings with pitiless intensity. The Bambakias campaign bus habitually videotaped everything that it perceived. When pressed, the bus also recorded and cataloged everything that it saw, exporting the data by satellite relay to an archival safe house deep in the Rocky Mountains. Alcott Bambakias's campaign bus had been designed and built to be that kind of vehicle.”

Oscar possessed goals, a mission, options, tactics, and a future.

union labels, antilitigation safety warnings, and software cheatsheet stickers.

mechanically attentive and deeply bizarre.

“The continuing Emergency,”

“You don't say.” The computer had spewed up a bit of common ground for them. It was a cheap stunt, a party trick, but like a lot of psychological operations techniques, it worked pretty well. The three of them were no longer strangers.

Y'know, the problem with infowar isn't getting into the systems. It's getting out of them without collateral damage

“Battlespace awareness. That's the key to rapid deployment. We have surveillance drones over the highway, checking car licenses. We input the licenses into this database here, run credit scans and marketing profiles, pick out the people likely to make generous financial contributions without any fuss. . . .” The officer looked up. “So you might call this an alternative, decentralized, tax-base scheme.”

Oscar glanced at Fontenot. “Can they do that?”

“Sure, it's doable,” Fontenot said. Fontenot was ex-Secret Service. The USSS had always been very up to speed on these issues.“

”. . Look, this is just a standard infowar operation, the stuff we used to do overseas all the time. Fly in, disrupt vital systems, low or zero casualties, achieve the mission objective. Then we just vanish, all gone, forget about it. Turn the page.“

“Right,” said Fontenot. “Just like Second Panama.”

“Hey,” the officer said proudly, “I was in Second Panama! That was classic netwar! We took down the local regime just by screwing with their bitstreams. No fatalities! Never a shot fired!”

Journalists certainly had their uses in the power game, but spooks had always struck him as a malformed and not very bright subspecies of political consultant

“He wouldn't be the first guy who mistook intelligence for political smarts.”

“The plants and animals were all clones. Deep in the bedrocked stronghold of the Collaboratory's National Genome Preservation Center lurked tens of thousands of genetic samples, garnered from around the planet. The precious DNA was neatly racked in gleaming flasks of liquid nitrogen, secured in a bureaucratic maze of endless machine-carved limestone vaults.

It was considered wise to thaw out a few bits from the tissue samples every once in a while, and to use these bits to produce full-grown organisms”

organisms. This practice established that the genetic data was still

viable. Generally, the resultant living creatures were also nicely photogenic. The clones were a useful public relations asset

“Here's the plan. We find the major players here, and we find out what they want, and we cut deals. We get our people excited, and we get their people confused. And in the end, we just out-organize anyone who tries to stop us. We just out-work them, and we swarm on them from angles they would never expect, and we never, ever stop, and we just beat them into the ground!”

The deferalization process, a spin-off of the Collaboratory's flourishing neural research, had left all the local animals in some strangely altered state of liquid detachment.

You know, I love political work. I'm an American female in the fifty-to-seventy demographic, so life never made any sense to me. Nothing ever turned out the way I was taught to expect. Ever since the economy crashed and the nets ate up everything . . .

On any particular day, hordes of people blocked roads and streets all over the USA. Roadblocking was no longer considered “highway robbery,” it had become a generally tolerated form of civil disobedience. Roadblocking was just a real-world analog for the native troubles that had always existed on information highways: jamming, spamming, and denial of service

One of the great beauties of politics as an art form was its lack of restriction to merely standard forms of realism.

We've poisoned the ocean, we've burned down and plowed the jungles, and we even screwed up the weather. All for the sake of modern life, right? Eight billion psychotic media-freaks!”

“It's garbage,” Argow grumbled. “Just because you have a cute simulation doesn't mean you're actually connecting to political reality. Or to any kind of reality.”

“Okay, so it's not real. I know it's not real, that's obvious. But what if it works?”

Human attention fed something in Oscar, a deep dark psychic entity that thrived and grew with the feeding. He wasn't cruel by nature—but he knew that there were moments in the game that required direct and primal acts of intimidation

Bugs were so cheap these days-when cellphones cost less than a six-pack of beer, covert listening devices were as cheap as confetti. But a cheap bug wouldn't be able to radiate data sixty miles back to Buna. An expensive bug would be caught by Fontenot's expensive monitors. This meant that everyone could talk

distributed instantiation

“I saw that done ten times. I helped to do it, even. But I still can't get used to the concept. I mean, that big crowds of unskilled people can construct permanent housing.”

“Back when I had tatts and piercings, people got on your case if you ate fats and drank yourself stupid. Of course, that was before they found out the full awful truth about pseudoestrogen poisoning.”

Oscar was deeply bothered by their nomad laptops. They were using nonstandard keyboards, boards where QWERTYUIOP had been junked and the letters redesigned for efficient typing. The wretches didn't even type like normal people. Somehow this bothered him far more than the fact that these particular nomads were Mexican illegals

The first fringe of the Regulator convoy arrived. Plastic trucks and buses cruising by at maybe thirty miles an hour, sipping fuel and saving wear on their engines. Then came the core of the operation, the nomad technical base. Flatbed trucks and tankers, loaded with harvesting equipment, pillers, crushers, welders, rollers, fermenting pans, pipes, and valves. They lived on grass, they lived off roadside weeds and cultured yeast. Women wearing skirts, shawls, veils. Swarms of young children, their vibrant little bodies saturated with multicolored beads and handmade quillwork.

These were people who had rallied in a horde and marched right off the map. They had tired of a system that offered them nothing, so they had simply invented their own.

Their country is drowning. We'd be extremists too, if most of America was below sea level. The Dutch have got so much to lose, they've really got their backs against the dikes. That's why they're so interesting now.

“Oscar peeled a strip of tape from a yellow spool and wrapped the tape around a cinder block. He swept a handscanner over the block, activating the tape. It was close to one in the morning. The wind out of the tall black pines was damp and nasty, but he was working hard and the weather felt bleakly appropriate.

“I'm a cornerstone,” the cinder block announced. “Good for you,”

The construction system was smart enough to manage a limited and specific vocabulary. Unfortunately, the system simply didn't hear very well. The tiny microphones embedded in the talking tape were much less effective than the tape's thumbnail-sized speakers. Still, it was hard not to reply to a concrete block when it spoke up with such grace and authority. The concrete blocks all sounded like Franklin Roosevelt.

Like all of the architect's brainchildren, his system was very functional, yet rife with idiosyncratic grace-notes

There was no pretense to the system—no question that it worked. Any number could play. It was a system that could find a working role for anyone. It was both a network and a way of life, flowing from its basis in digital communication and design into the rock-hard emergent reality of walls and floors. There was a genuine comfort in working within a system like this one, because it always kept its promises, it always brought results.

plumbing, always the most troublesome construction element. Plumbing was a very old technology, not so plug-and-play, never so slick and easy as the flow of computation. Plumbing mistakes were permanent and ugly.

Still, there was more than one kind of smarts in the world. He felt quite sure he could distract her if he simply kept changing the subject.

“Why did you send me those flowers?”

“Buna's a city for flowers. After sitting through those committee meetings, I knew you must need a bouquet.” Red poppies, parsley, and mistletoe—he presumed she knew the flower code.”

“I can't even think properly anymore. They don't let me think. I try to stay alert during those meetings, but it's just impossible. They won't let me get anything accomplished.”

The plumbing pipes were made of a laminated polyvinyl the color of dried kelp. They had been computed and built in Boston to specifically fit this structure, and they were of a Chinese-jigsaw complexity that only a dedicated subroutine could fully understand.

Romance in the sciences . . . 'The odds are good, but the goods are odd

Anyway, Logan was Method acting deep into the role, and he and wife number three had a solid relationship at the time, as Logan's marriages went, that is. So he decided that as a kind of combination personal-growth move and film-related publicity stunt, he was going to adopt a real victim child from a real embryo mill.

My original egg cell was product sold on the infertility black market, and it ended up in a Colombian embryo mill. It was a mafia operation, so they were buying or stealing human eggs, fertilizing them, and offering them at a black-market rate for implantation. But there were quality problems. With resultant health problems for the female buyers. Not to mention the lawsuits and ethics hassles if somebody ratted them out. So the crooks started developing the product inside hired wombs, for a somewhat more standard, post-birth adoption …. But that business plan didn't work out either. The rent-a-womb thing was just too slow a process, and they had too many local women involved who might rat them out, or shake them down, or get upset about surrendering the product after term. So then they decided they would try to grow the embryos to term in vitro. They got a bunch of support vats together, but they weren't very good at it, because by this point, they'd already lost most of their working capital. Still, they got their hands on enough mammal-cloning data to give the artificial-womb thing a serious try with human beings. So I was never actually born, per se.“

Look, the tissue's just tissue. To hell with my tissue. The truth is a much bigger thing than my tissue. The truth is that people have a prejudice against persons like me

He spread his hands. “Let me tell you how different I am. I don't sleep. I run a permanent mild fever. I grew up really fast—and not just because I spent my childhood in the L.A. fast lane. I'm twenty-eight now, but most people assume I'm in my mid-thirties. I'm sterile—I'll never have kids of my own—and I've had three bouts of liver cancer. Luckily, that kind of cancer treats pretty easily nowadays, but I'm still on angiogenesis inhibitors, plus growth-factor blockers, and I have to take antitumor maintenance pills three times a month. The other eight kids from that raid—five of them died young of major organ cancers, and the other three . . . well, they're Danes. They are three identical Danish women with—let me just put it this way—with extremely troubled personal lives.”

“Okay. Let's imagine you're a net-based bad guy, netwar militia maybe. And you have a search engine, and it keeps track of all the public mentions of your idol, Governor Etienne-Gaspard Huguelet. Every once in a while, someone appears in public life who cramps the style of your boy. So the offender's name is noticed, and it's logged, and it's assigned a cumulative rating. After someone's name reaches a certain level of annoyance, your program triggers automatic responses.” Fontenot adjusted his straw hat. “The response is to send out automatic messages, urging people to kill this guy.”

“The sky is a different color when you know that you might get shot at. Things taste different. It can get to you, make you wonder if a public life's worthwhile. But you know, despite stuff like this, this is not an evil or violent society.” Fontenot shrugged. “Really, it isn't. Not anymore. Back when I was a young agent, America was truly violent then. Huge crime rates, crazy drug gangs, automatic weapons very cheap and easy. Miserable, angry, pitiful people. People with grudges, people with a lot of hate inside. But nowadays, this just isn't a violent time anymore. It's just a very weird time. People don't fight real hard for anything in particular, when they know their whole lives could be turned inside out in a week flat. People's lives don't make sense anymore, but most people in America, the poor people especially, they're a lot happier than they used to be. They might be profoundly lost, like your Senator likes to say, but they're not all crushed and desperate. They're just . . . wandering around. Drifting. Hanging loose. They're at very loose ends.”


The modern rich always maintained their private security. Bodyguards were basic staff for the overclass, just like majordomos, cooks, secretaries, sysadmins, and image consultants. A well-organized personal krewe, including proper security, was simply expected of modern wealthy people; without a krewe, no one would take you seriously. All of this made perfect sense.

The interior of the Hot Zone was rather less impressive than its towering china-white shell. The Zone was a very odd environment, since every item inside the structure had been designed to withstand high-pressure cleansing with superheated steam. The interior decor consisted of poreless plastics, acid-resistant white ceramic benchtops, bent-tubing metal chairs, and grainy nonslip floors. The Hot Zone was simultaneously deeply strange and profoundly mundane. After all, it wasn't a fairyland or a spacecraft, it was simply a set of facilities where people carried out certain highly specific activities under closely defined and extremely clean circumstances. People had been working in the place for fifteen years.

“Gazzaniga shrugged beneath his lint-free labcoat. “That whole gene-technology scare tactic—the giant towers, the catacombs, the airlocks, the huge sealed dome—I guess that made a lot of political sense in the old days, but it was always a naive idea basically, and now it's very old-fashioned. Except for a few classified military apps, the Collaboratory gave up on survivable bugs ages ago. There's nothing growing inside the Hot Zone that could hurt you. Genetic engineering is a very stable field of practice now, it's fifty years old. In terms of bugs, we use only thermo extremophiles. Germs native to volcanic environments. Very efficient, high metabolism, and good industrial turnover, and of course they're very safe. Their metabolism doesn't function at all, under 90° C. They live off sulfur and hydrogen, which you'd never find inside any human bloodstream. Plus, all our stocks are double knockouts. So even if you literally bathed in those bugs-well, you might well get scalded, but you'd never risk infection or genetic bleed-over.”

“That sounds very reassuring.”

In publishable papers per man-hour, this is the most productive lab in Buna

glial neurochemical gradients evoking attentional modulation

Politics is the art of reconciling human aspirations.

“Well, I guess . . . I'd want American science to be just like it was in the Golden Age. That would be in the Communist Period, during Cold War One. You see, back in those days, if you had a strong proposal, and you were ready to work, you could almost always swing decent, long-term federal funding. ”

“As opposed to the nightmare you have now,” Oscar prompted. “Endless paperwork, bad accounting, senseless ethics hassles . . .” Greta nodded reflexively. “It's hard to believe how far we've fallen. Science funding used to be allocated by peer review from within the science community. It wasn't doled out by Congress in porkbarrel grants for domestic political advantage. Nowadays, scientists spend forty percent of their working time mooching around for funds”

“So the Golden Age stopped when the First Cold War ended?”

“Well, basic research gets you two economic benefits: intellectual property and patents. To recoup the investment in R&D, you need a

gentlemen's agreement that inventors get exclusive rights to their own discoveries. But the Chinese never liked 'intellectual property.' We never stopped pressuring them about the issue, and finally a major trade war broke out, and the Chinese just called our bluff. They made all English-language intellectual property freely available on their satellite networks to anybody in the world. They gave away our store for nothing, and it bankrupted us. So now, thanks to the Chinese, basic science has lost its economic underpinnings. We have to live on pure prestige now, and that's a very thin way to live.”

“Yeah, Dutch appropriate-technology. . . . The Dutch have been going to every island, every seashore, every low-lying area in the world, making billions building dikes. They've built an alliance against us of islands and low-lying states, they get in our face in every international arena . . . . They want to reshape global scientific research for purposes of ecological survival. They don't want to waste time and money on things like neutrinos or spacecraft. The Dutch are very troublesome.”

“What did the Golden Age get us? The public couldn't handle the miracles. We had an Atomic Age, but that was dangerous and

poisonous. Then we had a Space Age, but that burned out in short order. Next we had an Information Age, but it turned out that the real killer apps for computer networks are social disruption and software piracy. Just lately, American science led the Biotech Age, but it turned out the killer app there was making free food for nomads! And now we've got a Cognition Age waiting.”

“I can't know. There's no way to judge. Society is too complex a phenomenon, even science is too complex. We've just learned so incredibly much in the past hundred years. . . . Knowledge gets fragmented and ultraspecialized, scientists know more and more about less and less. . . . You can't make informed decisions about the social results of scientific advances. We scientists don't even really know what we know anymore.”

“You've got to give me something, Greta. You can't expect to survive on sheer bureaucratic inertia. You have to make a public case.” She thought about it seriously. “Knowledge is inherently precious even if you can't sell it,” Greta said. “Even if you can't use it. Knowledge is an absolute good. The search for truth is vital. It's central to civilization. You need knowledge even when your economy and government are absolutely shot to hell.”

Oscar thought it over. ” 'Knowledge will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no knowledge.' You know, there might be something to that. I like the sound of it. That's very contemporary rhetoric.”

“The scientists weren't fully cognizant of their own situation, somehow—they would refer to their power structure as “collegial assessment,” or maybe the “succession process”—anything but

“politics.” But it was politics, all right”

The Collaboratory seethed with a form of politics that dared not speak its own name.

“Science involved falsifiable hypotheses, reproducible results, and rigorous experimental verification. Scientific knowledge itself wasn't a political construct, any more than element 79 in the periodic table was a political construct.

But the things people did with science were every bit as political as the things people did with gold.”

Oscar was optimistic. He was a Federal Democrat, a reform party with a reform agenda, and he felt that reform could work. As a class, the scientists were untouched and untapped; they oozed raw political potential. They were a very strange lot, but there were far more of these people inside the Collaboratory than he would ever have guessed. There were swarms of them. It was as if science had sucked up everyone on the planet who was too bright to be practical. Their selfless dedication to their work was truly a marvel to him

There wasn't enough money in the world to pay merely normal people to work as hard as scientists worked. Without this vitalizing element of cranky idealism from a demographic fringe group, the scientific enterprise would have collapsed centuries ago.

The krewe always played poker with European cash. There was American cash around, flimsy plastic stuff, but most people wouldn't take American cash anymore. It was hard to take American cash seriously when it was no longer convertible outside U.S. borders. Besides, all the bigger bills were bugged.

The original site of the Holly Beach settlement was now many meters out to sea. The relocated buildings had been moved upslope into a former cow pasture, leaving a network of old cracked pavement diving forlornly into the surf Needless to say, many such structures on the rim of the continent had not been so fortunate. It was a common matter to find boardwalks, large chunks of piering, even entire homes washing up onto American beaches.

Every beach he'd ever known had boasted its share of rusted bicycles, water-logged couches, picturesque sand-etched medical waste. In his opinion, zealots like the Dutch complained far too much about the inconveniences of rising seas. Like all Europeans, the Dutch were stuck in the past, unable to come to pragmatic, workable terms with new global realities.

Political reality in modern America was the stark fact that electronic networks had eaten the guts out of the old order, while never finding any native order of their own. The horrific speed of digital communication, the consonant flattening of hierarchies, the rise of net-based civil society, and the decline of the industrial base had simply been too much for the American government to cope with and successfully legitimize

There were town meetings in New England with more computational power than the entire U.S. government had once possessed. Congressional staffs exploded into independent fiefdoms. The executive branch bogged down in endless turf wars in an acronym soup of agencies, everyone of them exquisitely informed and eager to network, and hence completely unable to set a realistic agenda and concentrate on its own duties. The nation was poll-crazy, with cynical manipulation at an all-time toxic high—the least little things produced tooth-gritting single-issue coalitions and blizzards of automated law-suits. The net-addled tax code, having lost all connection to fiscal reality, was routinely evaded by electronic commerce and wearily endured by the citizenry

A policy once meant to be fluid and responsive had turned into blinding, boiling confusion

The American people would just have to get over the fact that software no longer had any economic value. It wasn't fair, it wasn't just, but it was a fait accompli. In many ways, Oscar had to give the Chinese credit for their cleverness in making all English-language intellectual property available on their nets at no charge.

America hadn't really been suited for its long and tiresome role as the Last Superpower, the World's Policeman. As a patriotic American, Oscar was quite content to watch other people's military coming home in boxes for a while. The American national character really wasn't suited for global police duties. It never had been. Tidy and meticulous people such as the Swiss and Swedes were the types who made good cops. America was far better suited to be the World's Movie Star. The world's tequila-addled pro-league bowler. The world's acerbic, bipolar stand-up comedian. Anything but a somber and tedious nation of socially responsible centurions.

It was important for a professional political operative to step back periodically, to take the time necessary to put his thoughts and intuitions into order and perspective.

“Go isn't a gambling game. Let me take your jacket now. Good. This isn't chess, either. This isn't a Western-style, mechanized, head-to-head battle. Those just don't happen anymore. Go is all about networks and territories. You play the net—you place your stones where the lines cross. You can capture the stones if you totally surround them, but killing them is just a collateral effect. You don't want to kill the stones, that's not the point. You want the blankness. You want the empty spaces in the net.” “I want the potential.” “Exactly.” “When the game ends, the player with the most potential wins.” “You have played go before.” “No, I haven't. But that much is obvious.”

A living species isn't just the DNA code, it's the whole spread of genetic

variety in a big wild population, plus their learned behaviors, and their prey and their predators, all inside a natural environment. But there aren't any natural environments anymore. Because the climate has changed.“

Only two kinds of plants really thrive in today's world: genetically altered crops, and really fast-moving weeds.

“It's very hard. If you get famous, they just won't let you work anymore. They bump you up in the hierarchy, they promote you out of the lab, there's a million stupid distractions. Then it's not about science anymore. It's all about feeding your postdoc's children. The whole modern system of science is just a shadow of what it was in the Golden Age—the First Cold War.

The band was playing classical string quartets. Typical Anglo ethnic music. It was amazing how many Anglos had gone into the booming classical music scene. Anglos seemed to have some innate talent for rigid, linear music that less troubled ethnic groups couldn't match.

Crazy people with time on their hands can learn a lot of weird things on the net. But they're still crazy people, no matter how much they learn. They're not players, so they just don't count.

Proles cheerfully grouped in any locale where conventional authority had grown weak. Whenever the net-based proles were not consistently harassed by the authorities, they coalesced and grew ambitious. Though easily scattered by focused crackdowns, they re-grouped as swiftly as a horde of gnats. With their reaping machines and bio-breweries, they could live off the land at the very base of the food chain. They had no stake in the established order, and they cherished a canny street-level knowledge of society's infrastructural weak-nesses. They made expensive enemies. Nomad proles didn't flourish in densely urbanized locales like Massachusetts, where video surveillance and police search engines made them relatively easy to identify and detain. But Green Huey wasn't from Massachusetts. He was totally indifferent to the standards of behavior there. Louisiana's ecologically blighted areas were ideal for proles. The disaster zones were also impromptu wildlife sanctuaries, since wild animals found chemical fouling much easier to survive than the presence of human beings. After decades of wild subtropical growth, Louisiana's toxic dumps were as impenetrable as Sherwood Forest.

Washington, DC, enjoyed a permanent haze of aerial drones. Helicopters were also extremely common, since the authorities had basically surrendered the streets. Large sections of the nation's capital were permanently impassable. Dissidents and protesters had occupied all public areas, permanently.

“The most remarkable of Washington's autonomen were the groups known as “martians.” Frustrated by years of studied nonreaction to their crazy grievances, the martians had resolved to act as if the federal government simply didn't exist. The martians treated the entire structure of Washington, DC, as raw material.

Their construction techniques had originally been invented by a group of overeager wouldbe Mars colonizers”

The system was now logging Oscar's presence and his movements, along with everything else of relevance inside the building: furniture, appliances, tools, kitchenware, clothes, shoes, pets, and of course all the squatters themselves. The locators were as small as orange pips and as rugged as tenpenny nails, so they could invisibly infest any device that anyone found of interest

This universal tagging made the contents of the building basically theftproof It also made communal property a rather simple proposition

It was never hard to find a tool when the locale, condition, and history of every tool was logged and displayed in real time. It was also very hard for freeloaders to anonymously steal or abuse the common goods. When it worked, this digital socialism was considerably cheaper and more convenient than private property

“Nakamura had twenty years of recorded public appearances in the federal files. Oscar had taken the trouble to have the man's speech patterns analyzed, ranked, and sorted. Nakamura was especially fond of the terms “prudence” and “continuity,” with “helpful” and

“a firm hand” on strong upward trends lately. Verbally mimicking Nakamura was a cheap nettrick, but like most such tricks, it usually worked”

“It's all about aggression, eating, and defecation. If you control those three behaviors, you can live in peace with wild animals. Luckily, that deep neural structure is very similar across a wide range of mammals.”

“Including humans, I imagine.”

“I can't employ a full-service krewe in this little place,” Lorena apologized. “So I had to install automation. It's just a baby system now, so it's still very fresh and stupid. There's no such thing as a truly smart house, no matter how much you train them.”

“How was your first committee meeting, Oscar? I never asked. Were you brilliant?”

“Oh, heavens no. They hate it when you're brilliant. Brilliance only makes them mulish. I just recited my facts and figures until they got very bored and logged off. By then, my chairman had all their voting proxies. So I asked him for a mile, and he gave me a hundred yards. But a hundred yards was all that I wanted in the first place. So my meeting was really successful. I have a much freer hand now.”

Romantic people are brilliant, artists are brilliant. Politicians know when it's useful to be dull.

Nothing life-threatening, but it wasn't the kind of response that formed the human standard.

rational game strategy not possible when pieces are invisible, intangible, or immaterial.

It was chaos, madness, a writhing nest of eels. It was just too complex. It was utterly unmanageable. Unless . . . unless somehow the process was automated. With more specific goals. Some reengineering. Critical path analysis. Decentralization. Co-optation. Thinking outside the box

“You can't do real science and be a businessman on your week-ends. If you're serious about it, there aren't any weekends.”

“That's my Kandinsky. Composition VIII, from 1923.” He touched the frame, adjusting it by a hair's width. “I don't know why they still call this

'modern art' when it's a hundred and twenty years old.” She carefully studied the glowing canvas, glanced at Oscar meditatively, examined the painting again. “Why do they call this stuff 'art' at all? It's just a big mess of angles and blobs.”

“Oh, any smart surveillance scanner can derive body measurements. That was a military-intelligence app at first—it just took a while to work its way up to haute couture.”

“Things are so different here in Boston,” she said. “Why?” “Politics,” he said. “The ultra-rich run Boston. And Boston's rich people mean well—that's the difference. They have civic pride. They're patricians.” “Do you want the whole country to be like this? Clean streets and total surveillance?” “I just want my country to function. I want a system that works. That's all.” “Even if it's very elitist and shrink-wrapped?”

A small furry robot entered the office with a pair of plastic packets in its tubular arms. It placed the packets neatly on the carpet, and left. The abandoned packages writhed and heaved, with a muted internal symphony of scrunches and springs. Geodesic sticks and cabling flashed like vector graphics beneath the translucent upholstery. The packets suddenly became a pair of armchairs

“For some reason, people just don't trust computation enough to sit on it.”

“I trust computation,” Greta assured him, and sat. The internal spokes and cables adjusted beneath her weight, with a rapid crescendo of tiny guitar-string shrieks. She settled daintily in midair, a queen on a tensile throne of smart chopsticks and spiderweb. Oscar admired responsive tensegrity structures as much as the next man, but he sat in the second chair with considerably less brio.”

“Well . . . realism is a matter of opinion.”

“Politics don't work anymore! We can't make politics work, because the system's so complex that its behavior is basically random. Nobody trusts the system anymore, so nobody ever, ever plays it straight. There are sixteen parties, and a hundred bright ideas, and a million ticking bleeping gizmos, but nobody can follow through, execute, and deliver the goods on time and within specs. So our politics has become absurd. The country's reduced to chaos. We've given up on the Republic. We've abandoned democracy. I'm not a Senator! I'm a robber baron, a feudal lord. All I can do is build a personality cult.”

“Everybody knows that the system is out of control. That's a truism. The only answer to chaos is political organization.”

“No, it's too late for that. We're so intelligent now that we're too smart to survive. We're so well informed that we've lost all sense of meaning. We know the price of everything, but we've lost all sense of value. We have everyone under surveillance, but we've lost all sense of shame.”

“It's the reasonable thing.”

“Sure it is, but I'm. not a reasonable person, and these aren't reasonable times.”

“But you are an oppressed class. It's the truth, it's the central burning truth of your existence. Science took the wrong road somewhere, the whole enterprise has been shot to hell. You've lost your proper niche in society. You've lost prestige, and your self-respect, and the high esteem that scientists once held in the eyes of the public. Demands are being made of you that you'll never be able to fulfill. You don't have intellectual freedom anymore. You live in intellectual bondage.”

“That doesn't make us some kind of 'oppressed class.' We're an elite cadre of highly educated experts.”

“So what? Your situation stinks! You have no power to make your own decisions about your own research. You don't control the purse strings. You don't have tenure or job security. You've been robbed of your peer review traditions. Your traditional high culture has been crushed underfoot by ignoramuses and fast-buck artists. You're the technical intelligentsia all right, but you're being played for suckers and patsies by corrupt pols who line their pockets at your expense.”

People can't unite against abstractions. You have to put a face on your troubles. That's how you rally people politically. You have to pick your target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

“The police have to go as soon as possible. Hire your own police. If you don't control your own police, you live on sufferance. The police are the core of any society, and if you don't have them on your side, you can't hold power

“All political leaders lead double lives. Public, and private. That's not hypocrisy. That's just reality.”

“There's way too many hats and rabbits.”

“No there aren't! Can't have too many! We'll just use the ones that we need, as we need them. That's the beauty of multitasking. It's that fractal aspect, the selfsimilarity across multiple political layers … ”

“If I had more time to figure it out, if there weren't so many distractions

…. Everything is hats and rabbits now. Nothing's predictable, nothing makes sense anymore, it's all rockets and potholes. There's no foundation left in our society. There's no place left for us to take a stand. There's a very dark momentum going, Oscar. Sometimes I really think the country's going mad.”

“Why do you say that?”

Kind of a tabloid vulture popstar momentum there.”

It was quite an intriguing report—a federal lab in Davis, California, was sorely infested with hyperintelligent lab mice, provoking a lawsuit-slinging panic from the outraged locals

“Yeah. Here's the situation. You've got a group of people here who are about to all lose their jobs. So you're gonna organize them and fight back politically. You'll get a lot of excitement and solidarity for about six weeks, and then they'll all get fired. They'll shut the whole place down and lock the gates in your face. Then you'll all turn into proles.”

“You really think so?”

“Well, maybe not. Maybe basic research scientists are somehow smarter than computer programmers, or stock traders, or assembly-line workers, or traditional farmers. . . . You know, all those other people who lost their professions and got pushed off the edge of the earth. But that's what everybody always thinks in these situations. 'Yeah, their jobs are obsolete now, but people will always need us.' ”

“I've never been the rest of anybody,” Oscar said. “Even people like me are never people like me. You want a coffee?”

“I'm very aware that huge numbers of people have been forced out of the conventional economy and become organized network mobs. I mean, they don't vote, so they rarely command my professional attention, but over the years they're getting better and better at ruining life for the rest of us.”

“Oscar, the proles are 'the rest of us.' It's people like you who aren't 'the rest of us.' ”

“But the economy's out of control. Money just doesn't need human beings anymore. Most of us only get in the way.”

“I used to live off reputation servers. Let's say you're in the Regulators—they're a mob that's very big around here. You show up at a Regulator camp with a trust rep in the high nineties, people will make it their business to look after you. Because they know for a fact that you're a good guy to have around. You're polite, you don't rob stuff, they can trust you with their kids, their cars, whatever they got. You're a certifiable good neighbor. You always pitch in. You always do people favors. You never sell out the gang. It's a network gift economy.”

“It's gangster socialism. It's a nutty scheme, it's unrealistic. And it's fragile.

“It can work all right. The problem is that the organized-crime feds are on to the proles, so they netwar their systems and deliberately break them down. They prefer the proles chaotic, because they're a threat to the status quo. Living without money is just not the American way. But most of Africa lives outside the money economy now—they're all eating leaf protein out of Dutch machines. Polynesia is like that now. In Europe they've got guaranteed annual incomes, they've got zero-work people in their Parliaments. Gift networks have always been big in Japan. Russians still think property is theft—those poor guys could never make a money economy work. So if it's so impractical, then how come everybody else is doing it? With Green Huey in power, they've finally got a whole American state.”

“Nobody. Nobody ever orders it. That was a fed bank, they were running cointelpro out of it. The word bubbled up from below, some heavy activists accreted, they wasp-swarmed the place. And once they'd trashed it, they all ducked and scattered. You'd never find any 'orders,' or anyone responsible. You'd never even find the software. That thing is a major-league hit-server. It's so far underground that it doesn't need eyes anymore.”

“Why did you do that, Kevin? Why would you risk doing a crazy thing like that?”

“I did it for the trust ratings. And because, well, they stank.” Kevin's eyes glittered. “Because the people who rule us are spooks, they lie and they cheat and they spy. The sons of bitches are rich, they're in power. They hold all the cards over us, but they still have to screw people over the sneaky way. They had it coming. I'd do it again, if my feet were a little better.”

“So you deliberately targeted her for elimination.”

“It's attrition. It's distraction. It looks perfectly natural. Those four are influential people, they're local opinion leaders. They're smart enough to create real trouble for us—if they had a mind to try it. But since they are, in fact, very smart people, we don't have to beat them over the head with the obvious. We just point out the reality of their situation, and we offer them a golden parachute. Then they see sense. And they leave.”

The lab's phone system was riddled with taps, and beyond secure repair. So, the strikers simply abandoned the phone system entirely, and replaced it with a homemade network of dirt-cheap nomad cellphones. These semi-licit gizmos ran off relay stakes, hammered into walls, ceilings, roofs, and (in a particularly daring midnight maneuver) all across the underside of the dome.

Greta's postindustrial action was a highly unorthodox “strike,” because the strikers were not refusing to do their work. They were refusing to do anything except their work. The general tenor of the Strike strategy was highly public noncooperation, combined with passive-aggressive cost-cutting.

The scientists were continuing their investigations, but they were refusing to fill out the federal paperwork. They refused to ask for grants, refused to pay rent on their barracks rooms, refused to pay for their food, refused to pay their power bills. They were refusing everything except for new instrumentation, a deeply embedded vice that simply could not be denied to scientists

The long-oppressed scientists had always had many galling problems. But since they lacked a political awareness of their plight, they had never had any burning issues—they'd simply endured a bad scene. Now, organization and action had shattered their apathy. Aches and pains they'd long accepted as parts of the natural order were searingly revealed to them as oppression by evil know-nothings. A new power structure was aborning, with new methods, new goals, brave new opportunities for change.

Like revolutionaries everywhere, they were discovering that every trifling matter was a moral and intellectual crisis. Every aspect of their former lives and careers seemed to require a radical reformulation. These formerly downtrodden wretches spent most of their free hours raising one another's consciousnesses.

All strikes were, at the bottom line, struggles over economic power. All strikers made a bold declaration that they were willing to outstarve their employers, and if they backed it up with enough bad press and moral pressure, they were sometimes right

“If a million scientists showed up here and joined you, that wouldn't be just a strike anymore. It would be a revolution. You wouldn't just take over this one federal lab. You could take over the whole town. Probably the whole county. Maybe a big part of the state.” Pelicanos laughed. “How are we supposed to manage a giant horde of freeloading scientists?”

“You'd use nomads, man. Who else knows how to run a giant horde of people with no money? You throw open your airlocks, and you promise them shelter in there. You give 'em propaganda tours, you show 'em all the pretty plants and animals. You get the cops and the feds off their backs for once, and you give them a big role to play in your own operation. The proles would become a giant support krewe for your egghead contingent. See, it's people power, street power. It's an occupying army, just like Huey likes to use.”

Oscar laughed. “They'd tear this place apart!”

“Sure, they could do that—but what if they decided not to? Maybe they'd decide that they liked the place. Maybe they'd look after it. Maybe they'd build it even bigger.”

“The watch was six minutes slow. “This thing looks like it's made out of jelly. ”

“It is made of jelly! It's a neural watch!” she told him. “It's the only one in the world! We made it in the lab.”


“You bet it is! Listen. Every mammal brain has a built-in circadian clock. In the mousebrain, it's in the suprachiastic nucleus. So we cloned a chunk of suprachiastic tissue, and embedded it in support gel. Those numerals are enzyme-sensitive cells that express firefly genes! And, Oscar, we gave it three separate neural clumps inside, with a smart neural net that automatically averages out cumulative error.”

“They've been harassing you for years about your

'pure science,' haven't they. As if they had the right to control your imagination, just because they pay your bills. Well, I'll tell you a secret, Greta. There's no such thing as 'pure science.' 'Pure science' is an evil lie, it's a killer fraud, like 'pure justice' or 'pure liberty.' Desire is never pure, and the desire for knowledge is just another kind of desire. There's never been a branch of knowledge so pure and abstract that it can't get down and dirty. If the human mind can comprehend it, then the human mind can desire it.”

Electromotive power! My krewe and I were researching new power sources for the American transportation industry. And we've created a new working model. It's mitochondrial ATP power generation. With signal transduction, protein phosphorylation, membrane diffusion potentials

You think it's easy running corporate R&D? It was just fine, as long as the guy didn't have anything. Jesus, nobody ever thought a goddamn sugar engine would work. The goddamn thing is a giant germ in a box! We build cars up here, we don't build giant germs! Then they pull this crazy stunt and . . . well, it Just makes our life impossible! We're a classic, metal-bending industry! We have interlocking directorates all throughout the structure, raw materials, fuel, spare parts, the dealerships . . . . We can't get into the face of our fuel suppliers, telling them that we're replacing them with sugar water! We own our fuel suppliers! It'd be like sawing off our own foot!”

“So you're telling me that you've achieved a tremendous scientific R&D

success, but as a collateral effect, it will eliminate your industry.”

“Yeah. That's it. Exactly. And I'm sorry, but we just can't face that. We have stockholders to worry about, we have a labor force. We don't want to end up like the computer people did. Jesus, there's no sense to that. It's total madness, it's demented. We'd be cutting our own throats.”

“You see, Ron, the true core issue here is the basic interplay of commerce and science. I've been giving a lot of thought to this problem recently, and now I realize that the old-style big-science game is just no longer tenable. Only savages and Congressmen could believe that science is a natural friend of commerce. Science has never been the friend of commerce. The truth doesn't have any friends. Sometimes the interests of science and commerce can coincide for a little while, but that's not a marriage. It's a dangerous liaison. If you're a working businessman, R&D

can turn on you with sudden, vicious speed.”

It's the new order, here at the Collaboratory. You just don't need major scientific advances in the American car industry. You've already had more of that than you can stand. You guys are a national historic treasure, like a buffalo herd or Valley Forge. You need protection from the menace of basic research. Instead of paying federal scientists to march your industry right off the cliff, you should be paying scientists protection money not to research your business. That'll ensure that your industry doesn't go anywhere.”

I used to think I'd react like Evariste Galois. You know, the mathematician. I'd write down all my deepest speculations in my math notebook, and hope that somebody understood someday …. See, if you think that problem through, there's an obvious deduction. Death is universal, but knowing when you'll die is a rare statistical privilege. So since you'll probably never know, you should take a few hours out of some random day, and prepare your final testament beforehand. Right? That's the rational conclusion, given the facts. I actually did that once—when I was eleven.”

Handguns were extremely illegal, and a source of endless trouble

The Canton Market had been a Texas tradition since the 1850s. Every weekend before the first Monday of the month, traders, collectors, flea marketeers, and random gawkers gathered from hundreds of miles around for three days of hands-on commercial scrap-and-patchwork. Naturally this ancient and deeply attractive tradition had been completely co-opted by prole nomads

Greta was stoic. She forced him to share her personal hangover cure: six aspirin, four acetaminophen, three heaping spoonfuls of white sugar, and forty micrograms of over-the-counter lysergic acid. This melange, she insisted authoritatively, would “pep them up.”

“Oscar pinched the clamp onto his left ear. The device emitted a little wordless burbling hum, the sound a contented three-year-old might make. As long as he moved with the crowd, the little murmur simply sat there at his ear, an oddly reassuring presence, like a child's make-believe friend. However, if he interfered with the crowd flow—if he somehow failed to take a cue—the earcuff grew querulous. Stand in the way long enough, and it would bawl.

Somewhere a system was mapping out the flow of people, and controlling them with these gentle hints. After a few moments Oscar simply forgot about the little murmurs; he was still aware of them, but not consciously. The nonverbal nagging was so childishly insistent that accommodating it became second nature. Soon the four of them were moving to avoid the crowds, well before any approaching crowds could actually appear. Everyone was wearing the earcuffs, so computation was arranging human beings like a breeze blowing butterflies.”

The strange part was that brand-new nomad manufacturers were vigorously infiltrating this jungle of ancient junk. They were creating new, functional objects that were not commercial detritus—they were sinister mimics of commercial detritus, created through new, noncommercial methods. Where there had once been expensive, glossy petrochemicals, there was now chopped straw and paper. Where there had once been employees, there were jobless fanatics with cheap equipment, complex networks, and all the time in the world. Devices once expensive and now commercially worthless were being slowly and creepily replaced by near-identical devices that were similarly noncommercial, and yet brand-new.

“I got some excellent career advice for you overachievers. Why don't you clowns just give up? Just quit! Knock it off, hit the road! Are you enjoyin'

life? Do you have a community? Do you even know what a real community is? Is there any human soul that you poor haunted wretches can really trust?

Don't answer that! 'Cause I already know. You're a sorry pair of washouts, you two. You look like coyotes ate you and crapped you off a cliff. Now you got some crisis you want me to help you with. . . . Hell, people like you are always gonna have a crisis. You are the crisis. When are you gonna wake up? Your system don't work. Your economy don't work. Your politicians don't work. Nothing you ever do works. You're over.”

“For the time being,” Oscar said.

“Mister, you're never gonna get ahead of the game. You've had a serious wake-up call here. You're disappeared, you're dispossessed. You've been blown right off the edge of the earth. Well, you know something? There's a soft landing down here. Just go ahead and leave! Burn your clothes! Set fire to your damn diploma! Junk all your ID cards! You're a sickening, pitiful sight, you know that?”

“We love those Regulators like brothers and sisters. We got nothingin common with you. Except that . . . well, we're Moderators because we use a Moderator network. And the Regulators use a Regulator interface, with Regulator software and Regulator protocols. I don't think that a newbie creep like you understands just how political a problem that is.”

“I'm going to loan you five platoons.”

“Fifty Moderator toughs?” Kevin said eagerly.

“Yep. Five platoons, fifty people. Of course, I'm not sayin' our troops can hold that lab against a federal counterassault, but there's no question they can take it.”

“Do these men have the discipline that it takes to maintain civil order in that facility?” Oscar said.

“They're not men, pal. They're teenage girls. We used to send in our young men when we wanted to get tough, but hey, young men are extremely tough guys. Young men kill people. We're a well-established alternative society, we can't afford to be perceived as murdering marauders. These girls keep a cooler head about urban sabotage. Plus, underage women tend to get a much lighter criminal sentencing when they get caught.”

It was almost impossible to look at girls between fourteen and seventeen and envision them as a paramilitary task force that could physically defeat police. But in a society infested with surveillance, militias had to take strange forms. These girls were almost invisible because they were so improbable

“As he tottered through the darkened gardens toward the looming bulk of the Hot Zone, weariness overcame him with an evil metabolic rush. His day's experiences suddenly struck him as being totally insane. He'd been abducted, gassed, bombed; he'd traveled hundreds of miles in cheerless, battered vehicles; he'd concluded an unsavory alliance with a powerful gang of social outcasts; he'd been libeled, accused of embezzlement and criminal flight across state boundaries . . . . He'd arrested a group of police; he'd talked an armed fugitive into surrendering. . . . And now his sometime lover and his dangerously unbalanced security director were uniting to plot behind his back.

It was bad. Impossibly bad. But it still wasn't the worst. Because tomorrow was yet another day. Tomorrow, he would have to launch into a massive public-relations offensive that would somehow justify his actions. He realized suddenly that he wasn't going to make it. It was overwhelming. It was just too much. He'd reached a condition of psychic overload. He was black, blue, and green with wounds and bruises; he was hungry, tired, overstressed, and traumatized; his nervous system was singing with stale adrenaline. Yet in his heart of hearts, he felt good about the day's events.

He'd outdone himself.”

There was just one more little matter, before he relaxed and came fully apart at the seams. He needed to have his laptop. That was a deeply comforting thought to Oscar: retreating into a locked closet with a laptop to hold. It was an instinctive reaction to unbearable crisis; it was something he had been doing since the age of six.

“It's a big neural breakthrough that's got you so anxious, and it has something to do with mind control. It's just like the animals in here. We would have turned into well-mannered zombies. We'd have become your deferalized pets, and we would have agreed to anything you said. That's your ultimate network attack: subverting the human nervous system.” Huey barked with astonished laughter. “What? Who do you take me for, Mao Zedong? I don't need any brainwashed robots! I need smart people, all the smart people I can get! You just don't understand!”:

“So what am I missing, exactly?”

“It's not that I have anything against Anglos! I mean, sure there are good, decent, law-abiding Anglo people. But—you know—look at the statistics! Anglos have white-collar crime rates right off the scale. And talk about violentman, white people are the most violent ethnic group in America. All those cross burnings, and militia bombings, and gun-nut guys .

. . the poor bastards just can't get a grip.”

It always offended him. to hear his fellow Americans discussing the vagaries of “white people.” There was simply no such thing as “white people.”

Oscar himself passed for a “Hispanic” most of the time, though his own ethnic background was best described as “Not of Human Origin.”

An American-owned fast-food multinational had accidentally poisoned a number of Dutch citizens with poorly sterilized hamburger meat. In retaliation, angry Dutch zealots had attacked and torched several restaurants. Given strained Dutch-American relations, this was a serious scandal and close to a casus belli. The President, faced with his first foreign-policy crisis, was blustering and demanding reparations and formal apologies.

memorized their names and the office flowcharts, and asserted himself in the organization by humbly demanding favors. They were small, easily granted favors, but they were carefully arranged so that a failure to grant them was sure to provoke a turf war in the White House staff. Consequently, Oscar got his way

Only organizational skill of genius could have retrieved it. Oscar didn't possess the skill of genius. However, he could successfully replace genius through the simple expedient of giving up sleep and outworking everyone else.

“It swiftly became known as the

“Emergency Committee.”

Oscar regretted this coinage, as he loathed and despised all Emergency committees; but the term had one great advantage. It didn't have to be explained to anyone. The American populace was already used to the spectacle of its political institutions collapsing, to be replaced by Emergency committees. Having the Collaboratory itself run by an

“emergency committee” was an easy matter to understand. It could even be interpreted as a prestigious step upward; it was as if the tiny Collaboratory had collapsed as grandly as the U.S. Congress.”


It was a misconception to imagine that the Moderators were merely violent derelicts. The roads of America boasted a great many sadly desperate people, but the Moderators were not a mob of hobos. The Moderators were no longer even a “gang” or a “tribe.” Basically, the Moderators were best understood as a nongovernmental network organization. The Moderators deliberately dressed and talked like savages, but they didn't lack sophistication. They were organized along new lines that were deeply orthogonal to those of conventional American culture

It had never occurred to the lords of the consumer society that consumerism as a political philosophy might one day manifest the grave systemic instabilities that Communism had

Not only were people broke, but they were taunted to madness by commercials, and pitilessly surveilled by privacy-invading hucksters. An ever more aggressive consumer-outreach apparatus caused large numbers of people to simply abandon their official identities

Nomadism had once been the linchpin of human existence; it was settled life that formed the technological novelty. Now technology had changed its nonexistent mind. Nomads were an entire alternate society for whom life by old-fashioned political and economic standards was simply no longer possible

America's two most profoundly noncommercial societies

both based on reputation, respect, and prestige

The apprehended Regulator had been posing as a poacher. He had a pulleyfestooned compound bow that would have baffled William Tell. The bow's graphite arrows contained self-rifling gyroscopic fletching and global-positioning-system locator units. The scout also owned boot-spike crampons and a climber's lap-belt, ideal for extensive lurking in the tops of trees. He carried a ceramic bowie knife.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “This thing's got a mitochondrial battery.”

“It's a piss bomb,” Burningboy told him.


“See those holes in the side? That's the timer. It's genetically engineered corn kernels. Once they're in hot water, the seeds swell up. They rupture a membrane inside, and then the charge ignites.”

Oscar examined one of the crude arson bombs. It had been created by hand: by a craftsman with a hole punch, a ball peen hammer, and an enormous store of focused resentment. The bomb was a dumb and pig-simple incendiary device with no moving parts, but it could easily incinerate a building. The seeds of genetically engineered maize were dirt-cheap and totally consistent. Corn like that was so uniform in its properties that it could even be used as a timepiece. It was a bad, bad gizmo. It was bad enough as a work of military technology. As a work of primitive art, the piss bomb was stunningly effective“

There's nothing dishonest about revealing the facts within the proper context

“You see, talking common sense to scientists just doesn't work. Scientists despise common sense, they think it's irrational. To get 'em off the dime, you need strong moral pressure, something from outside their expectations. They live with big intellectual walls around them—peer review, passive construction, all this constant use of the third person plural. . . .”

“I don't believe it in the way that I believe that two and two are four. But it's doable, it's my working metaphor. What can politicians ever really

'know' about anything? History isn't a laboratory. You never step in the same river twice. But some people have effective political insight, and some just don't.”

Knowledge is just knowledge. But the control of knowledge—that's politics.

The public fight was now about deep resentments and psychic starvations that would never, ever be cured, and were therefore basically irrelevant. But the noise was very useful, because it meant that enormous quiet progress could now be made on every other front.

deeply sinister DHIATENSOR

“You know what your problem is? Every time you lose sight of your objective, you redouble your efforts.”

Consider the Moderators, for instance. They actually have a functional, prestigebased economy.

wealthy, sophisticated, amoral, and refined—his kind of woman, really; a creature of the overclass, a classic high-maintenance girl, a woman who was really put together.

“Disaster relief buildings?

“We used to handle these things the way the Regulators do,” Burningboy confided. “Promote the best, and segregate the rest. But they ended up with an aristocracy—the Sun Lords, the Nobles, the

Respected, and down at the very bottom, all the lousy newbies. In the Moderators, we use balloting. So we have turnaround; people can spend their reputations, and lose them, and earn them back. Besides—and this is the killer point here—our technique prevents decapitation attacks. See, the feds are always after 'the criminal kingpins.' They always want 'the top guy in the outfit,' the so-called mastermind.”

“Look, Oscar, after thirty years of American imperial information warfare, everybody in the goddamn world understands counter-insurgency and political subversion. We all know how to do it now, we all know how to wreck the dominant paradigm. We're geniuses at screwing with ourselves and deconstructing all our institutions. We don't have a single institution left that works.” Burningboy paused. “Am I getting too radical here? Am I scaring you?”

“No. It's the truth.”

You're too straight, you just don't understand these guys' priorities. They gave up on you a long, long time ago. They don't expect any law or justice from the U.S. government. They don't even expect the government to be sane. The whole federal system just detached itself from them and floated off into deep space. They think of the government as something like bad weather. It's something you just endure.”

We went too far with this technology, we lost our self-respect. Because this is media, man. It's evil, prying, spying media. But we want it and use it anyway, because we think we've got to be informed. We're compelled to pay total attention to everything. Even things we have no goddamn right or business paying any attention to.”

“I'm with you, Jules. Disaster evacuations, Haitian refugees, charity housing, French language, that's all very Huey. So what is the problem?”

“Well, it's somethin', It's not just that they're foreigners. Religious foreigners. Black, voodoo, religious, refugee foreigners who speak Creole. It's something lots weirder than that. Huey's done something strange to those people. Drugs, I think. Genetics maybe. They are acting weird. Really weird.”

Science truly is going to change. It'll still be 'Science.' It'll have the same intellectual structure, but its political structure will be completely different. Instead of being poorly paid government workers, we'll be avant-garde dissident intellectuals for the dispossessed. And that will work for us. Because we can get a better deal from them now than we can from the government.

It'll be a lot like the Dark Ages, when universities were little legal territories all their own, and scholars carried maces and wore little square hats, and whenever the university was crossed, they sent huge packs of students into the streets to tear everything up, until they got their way. Except it's not the Dark Ages right now. It's the Loud Ages, it's the Age of Noise.

We live in the Age of Noise

Greta herself had absolutely no interest in the practical implications of the things she did. She couldn't bear the strangling intellectual constraints involved in having to care. She couldn't abide the foul and endless political and moral implications of the pure pursuit of knowledge. They bored her beyond all reason. They just weren't science. There was nothing scientific about them. The reactions of society no longer made any sense. Innovation had burned out the brakes. What could become of scientists in a world like that? What the hell was to be done with them?

the game had changed entirely. Pieces swam from center to periphery, periphery to center—pieces flew right off the board


nick off chunks from the deep past, and you splice it in the middle of next week—that's Huey's recipe for the gumbo future

“You see, Louisiana really is the future. Someday soon, the whole world is gonna be just like Louisiana. Because the seas are rising, and Louisiana is a giant swamp. The world of the future is a big, hot, Greenhouse swamp. Full of half-educated, half-breed people, who don't speak English, and didn't forget to have children. Plus, they are totally thrilled about biotechnology. That's what tomorrow's world is gonna look like—not just America, mind you, the whole world. Hot, humid, old, crooked, half-forgotten, kind of rotten. The leaders are corrupt, everybody's on the take. It's bad, really bad, even worse than it sounds.”

Fontenot suddenly grinned. “But you know what? It's doable, it's livable!

The fishing's good! The food is great! The women are good-lookin', and the music really swings!”

“Because the Dutch have been trying that for years. Everybody in the advanced world thinks they can reinvent peasant life and keep tribal people ignorant and happy. Appropriate-tech just doesn't work. Because peasant life is boring.”

“So it's like he's got two brains,” Kevin said slowly.

“No, he only has one brain. But he's got two windows open on the screen behind his eyes.”

“He's multitasking, but with his own brain.”

That's why they're never bored here. It's because they pray. They pray all the time—and I wouldn't be surprised if all that prayer wasn't serving some other purpose, too. I think it's some kind of relay between two separate streams of consciousness. You tell God what you're thinking every minute—and that's how you know it yourself.

“Huey's got his own new order—but it isn't new, and it isn't order. Huey's a funny guy. He can crack a joke and pound the ol'

podium, he'll buy everybody a drink and make public fun of himself But he's got it all: total control over the legislature and the judiciary. A brownshirt militia on the rampage. His own private media network—his own economy, even. A blood-and-soil ideology. Secret retreats full of vengeance weapons. Huey kidnaps people. He abducts whole little populations, and makes them disappear. I suppose he does it all for the best of reasons, but the ends don't matter when you're using means like that. And now, he's dosed himself with some off-the-wall treatment that makes people permanently schizoid! He can't possibly get better after this. He can only get worse and worse.”

“Kid, everybody goes to the future to die. That's where the job gets done.”

“Well, what happened to the mosquitoes?”

This was a classic political coalition: it had worked in medieval France. It was the long-forgotten bottom of the heap, allied with the formerly feeble top, to scare the hell out of the arrogant and divisive middle.

“The new CDIA, for its own part, revealed some impressive new tactics. The CDIA lacked the legal power to arrest anyone, so they pursued Emergency committee members with nonviolent “body pickets.” These were armbanded bursars who methodically stalked committee members for twenty-four hours a day. This tactic was not difficult for a prole group.

“Body picketing” was basically an intelligence stakeout, shadowing; but it was not surreptitious. It was totally open and obvious, and like all paparazzi work, it was extremely an-noying to its victims.

The proles took to this job like ducks to water. They had always been organized much like intelligence agencies—small, distributed, surreptitious networks, living on the fringes of society through shared passwords and persistent scrounging. But as a national goon squad, ordered from above, the prole networks suddenly coalesced into a rigid, crystalline substance. For the President's enemies, they became a human prison of constant surveillance”

But people were still people; they ran out of charisma, and the sense of wonder ate its young. The need for money was always serious, and always there.

“They're stealth missiles, mostly plastic, and they vaporize in midair in a silent burst dispersion. Their payload is a fog: gelatin-coated microspheres. The psychotropic agent is inside the spheres, and the spheres will only melt in the environment of human lungs. After a few hours in the open air, all the microdust cooks down, and the payload becomes inert. But any human being who's been breathing in that area will absorb the payload.”

The place was an intellectual magnet for every species of dreamer, faker, failed grad student, techie washout, downsized burnout; every guru, costumed geek, ditzy theorist, and bug collector; every microscope peerer, model-rocket builder, and gnarly simulationist; every code-dazed hacker, architectural designer; everyone, in short, who had ever been downgraded, denied, and excluded by their society's sick demand that their wondrous ideas should make commercial sense.

“That isn't 'nomad architecture.' It's ultrascale emergency relief.”

“That's an interesting distinction, Alcott, but let me just put it this way: it's nomad architecture now.”

“Do I understand this 'prestige economy' business? It seems to run entirely on instinct. They spend all their time doing each other little volunteer community services. And they rank each other for it. Eventually somebody pops out of the mix and becomes a tribal big shot. Then they're required to do what he says.”

“Well . . . it's complicated. But yes, that's the basics.”

“They really just don't fit in the rest of American society. Not at all. ”

“It was designed that way.”

“I mean they don't have any way to properly deal with the rest of society. They don't even have proper ways to deal with each other. They have no rule of law. There's no Constitution. There's no legal redress. There's no Bill of Rights. They don't have any way to deal with the rest of us, except through evasion, or intimidation. When one network meets another that's set up along different lines, they feud. They kill each other.”

“Sometimes. ”

They'll just fold all this up, and we'll find some other distraction. That's the way life is now. Stop fussing about it

People had seen enough. The gawkers, and the fakers, and the most easily distracted trendies, began to realize that a glamorous, noncommercial, intellectual-dissident Greenhouse Society was simply not for everyone. Living there was going to involve a lot of work. The mere fact that money was not involved did not signify that work was not involved; the truth was the exact opposite. This congelation of science and mass economic defection was going to require brutal amounts of dedicated labor, constant selfless effort, much of it by necessity wasted on experiments that washed out, on roads that were better not taken, on intellectually sexy notions that became blinding cul-de-sacs. Beneath the fluttering party streamers, there was going to be serious science in Buna: “Science” with a new obsessive potency, because it was art pour l'art, science for its own sake. It was science as the chosen pursuit of that small demographic fraction that was entirely consumed by intellectual curiosity. But the hot air of revolutionary fervor would leak from their bubble, and the chill air of reality would leave it somewhat clammy, and unpleasant to the touch.

“We don't have roots. We're network people. We have aerials.”

. . . it needs the founder of a civilization, a saint and a prophet, somebody impossibly wise and selfless and generous. Somebody who can make laws out of chaos, and order out of chaos, and justice out of noise, and meaning out of total distraction.“

“We'll really, seriously concentrate, without any distractions at all. We'll write a Constitution.”

“What? Let the President do that.”

“That guy? He's just more of the same! He's a socialist, he's gonna make us sane and practical, just like Europe. This place isn't Europe! America is what people created when they were sick to death of Europe! Normalcy for America—it isn't keeping your nose clean and counting your carbon dioxide. Normalcy for America is technological change. Sure, the process ran away with us for a little while, the rest of the world pulled a fast one on us, they cheated us, they want the world to be Rembrandt canvases and rice paddies until the last trump of doom, but we're off our sickbed now. A massive rate of change is normalcy for America. What we need is planned change—Progress. We need Progress!”

It seemed to hit people differently. Maybe there were as many ways to think doubly as there were to think singly.

That's a byproduct of what's basically a semifeudal, semilegal, distributable-deniable, net-centered segmented polycephalous influence sociality process.”

They seemed free and controlled at the same time, regimented but spontaneous, bacchanalian but exquisitely channeled.

But, son … you're twice the man you were! You can think in two languages at once! If you work at it, you can do amazing things with both your hands. And the best of all, boy—is when you get two good trains of thought going, and they start switching passengers. That's what intuition is all about—when you know things, but you don't know how you know. That's all done in the preconscious mind—it's thought that you don't know you're thinking. But when you're really bearing down, and you're thinking two things at once—ideas bleed over. They mix. They flavor each other. They cook down real rich and fine. That's inspiration. It's the finest mental sensation you'll ever have. The only problem with that is—sometimes those ideas are so confounded great, you have a little problem with impulse control.“

“I see, sir. Much like the old days. So are you left-wing, or right-wing?”

“I'm down-wing, Oscar. I have my feet on the ground, and I know where I stand. Everyone else can be up-wing. They can all be up in the air, scattering crazy, high-tech, birdbrained ideas, and the ones that fall to ground without shattering, those will belong to me.”

“They don't have any grasp of political reality, but they're going to blow the doors off the human condition unless something is done with them. I'm thinking: something subtle. Something attractive. Something glamorous, something that would make them behave less like Dr. Frankenstein and more like artists do. Modern poetry, that would be excellent. Costs very little, causes intense excitement in very small groups, has absolutely no social effect. So, I'm thinking mathematics. Nothing practical, just something totally arcane and abstract.”

“You can't trust abstract mathematics, sir; it always turns out to be practical.”

Oscar enjoyed the Mardi Gras crowds. He felt at ease as the only sober being in a huge, jostling mess of flat-footed drunks. Among them, but never quite of them. It was the story of his life

No, I love bicamerality. That's what I really like about our little gift and affliction. All those other troubles, humanity's stinking little prejudices, the race thing, the ethnic thing …. It's not that they disappear, you know. That's too much to hope for. They never disappear, but the new problems screw them up so much that the old problems lose center stage. Besides, now I can multitask.

I'm not the future, I've never been the future. I'm not even the truth. I'm just the facts

She smiled. “I didn't mean to make him happy. Science gets the credit for things science never meant to do. Science isn't a better effort just because it sometimes helps humanity. But on the other hand, that must mean that science isn't really any worse for causing mankind harm.”

distraction_sterling.txt · Last modified: 2017/02/17 17:55 by nik