reading notes for Informocracy by Malka Older. part #1 of Centenal Cycle
Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute
Even Information has little to say here.
Sure, it’s not one of those centenals in the Gobi Desert or the Australian Outback where the hundred thousand citizens are scattered over hundreds of empty miles. There are towns here, tiny shrunken ones that show up as dots on his map projection, almost lost within the erratic, widely spaced centenal borders.
“You don’t vote?” The girl’s tone rises with the incredulity of someone who has sucked up every mag article and vidlet about this being the event of the decade, the election of the century, the most important vote yet, a chance to change the established order, blah blah blah blah blah.
Yes, it’s all about participation. No matter who wins or loses, as long as everyone plays the game. Never mind that half of Buenos Aires belongs to Liberty and is likely to continue to, and the other half has its head up its denialist ass and consistently votes itself into what’s left of the European Union. All this surrounded by a checkerboard of populist and regionalist governments in the provinces, few of them with any centenals outside the southern cone.
Ken is impressed by the spear gun: an unorthodox weapon, sure, but both legal and lethal. That the person holding it is from Okinawa gives it additional credibility. He takes a cautious step forward. “Perhaps you could start by describing to me the situation as it stands in the Ryukyus?”
Policy1st is hardly the first government to try to campaign without broadcasting its strategy
Policy1st tends to attract people with a grasp of the issues and of what’s at stake. Every centenal, every collection of one hundred thousand neighbors, matters, whether it is spread over hundreds of miles in the tundra or crammed into a couple of overdeveloped blocks in Dhaka.
“More powerful than micro-democracy? More powerful than peace?” “Micro-democracy has brought winners and losers in the Ryukyus, like everywhere else,” Amuru answers. “As for peace…” He shrugs, and fires off a four-character adage that Ken’s not familiar with. It seems to suggest peace without justice isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or peace without vengeance. The phrasing is ambiguous.
One thing Ken has learned in this job: people like to think they know things, even the unknowable.
“It would help,” Amuru goes on, “if you gave us a person to vote for. Ideally someone photogenic and smooth talking, like the others have.” It isn’t the first time Ken has gotten this request. “We want people to understand that they’re choosing a set of policies and principles, a way of life, not a person. Of course,” he adds as Amuru waves his hand, now alarmingly holding the spear gun, in annoyance, “we will have people representing us at the debates. Attractive, well-spoken people.” “People?” Amuru asks suspiciously.
Sixteen days until the vote and one of the corporates is threatening war. There’s a lot of work to do.
radical antielection movements
He’s not a dictator, even though Heritage has held the Supermajority since the election system started.
various ranking schemes (official associations, user-generated, statistically based)
Twenty years ago, the people of the world came together in an unprecedented step to form a new international order. Since the first global election, war among participating jurisdictions has been eradicated, and prosperity and trade have spread. Policy1st believes in the principles of the elections. We offer you a clear, honest expression of our policy positions, and seek peace and economic growth in all our centenals. Visit one of our centenals, check us out on your comparison sheets, and use your Information to see what Policy1st can do for you.
Asia’s Return—they have particularly lax controls on pirating electronics.
what else would he be doing there, in person and apparently alone and unarmed? Disillusioning voters one at a time?
It’s a tactic that reminds her, every time she uses it, of the panels from Watchmen where Ozymandias watches multiple TVs tuned to different channels to reach a composite view of society and make predictions, both financial and political. Not for the first time, Mishima wishes that her world had as few channels as his.
“Who are the least-campaigned voters?”
While it was solidly Sony-Mitsubishi back then, shifts in employment and a couple of minor bureaucratic scandals have left it open to contestation, and both Heritage and Liberty are advertising heavily there.
Citizens can even see a personalized grid with specific outcomes of each government for them: how much they would pay in taxes, for example, or changes in the funding projected to go to their kids’ schools, or the probability that their local bar will be shut down. It’s a popular tool, and surveys last decade showed that a plurality of citizens used it to decide their vote.
deviation from that stated position indicated either by previous
The whole point of micro-democracy was to allow people to choose their government wherever they were, but plenty of people didn’t agree with their 99,999 geographically closest friends. Some areas—Ireland being one classic example, vast zones of what used to be the United States another—had been polarized so deeply and so long that your choices if you stayed were pretty much A or B.
Opening the borders (such borders as remained, anyway) allowed the new governments to pull in more like-minded people, consolidating their holds on their centenals for the next election and stretching into neighboring ones as populations surged. Some journalist two decades ago dubbed the process mandergerrying, although it is also known as reverse osmosis, because it results in greater concentrations of like-minded—and, on occasion, racially or ethnically alike—constituents
“Where people want to live isn’t an ideology,” Shamus says. “How they want to live. Whom they want to live with. It’s only an ideology when they try to tell other governments to do the same thing.”
We know ‘vote for us and we will smite your enemies’ works; it has worked since the Old Testament. What we need to know now is who is propagating the message, and ideally some proof.”
JaBoDeTaBekBan, the urban conglomeration with Jakarta at its heart, has more than four hundred centenals within the administrative limits, and perhaps another three hundred in its sprawl.
Of the two thousand, two hundred and seven registered governments, nearly one hundred and fifty hold at least one centenal in the northwest tip of Java.
He can put up more or less legitimate credentials and mute the rest of his public Information, as is common in professional settings.
Heritage, the Supermajority government, has a modest lead over the next clump of governments, which are too closely matched right now to be cleanly ordered. Last time he looked PhilipMorris was in second place; now 888 has edged them, with Sony-Mitsubishi, Liberty, and several other corporates, trendy technogovernments, and 1China also in the mix. Policy1st needs another five hundred centenals to even be in the same weight class as those governments.
PhilipMorris, maybe one of the moderate Islamic governments, a couple in YouGov or Oranje or SecureNation.
You would think, with all the access to Information, that people would pay more attention to what their governments do in other centenals, but you know what they say: you can give a voter Information, but you can’t make him think.
She usually concludes that it has nothing to do with the structure of the organization. The power it wields is enough to make people hate it.
Why the corporates hate Information is clearer and just as evident in the structure of this building. Like much of the other hardware involved in the effort to keep people well-informed, the Singapore hub was funded by the massive settlement accorded after People vs. Coca-Cola et al., the civil action when Americans realized that diet soda was depriving them of their right to be thin.
Dismantling the election system, unlike war, leaves her out of a job
All the search terms are so oblique as to be almost counterintuitive
The adwriters for Liberty have been careful (if there is anything to be careful about). They stick close to their tagline of Freedom, and attach it to everything. Economic Freedom, Family Freedom, Educational Freedom, Consumer Freedom. Mostly Economic Freedom, the headline accompanied by sharply animated 3-D vids explaining wordlessly how lack of regulation leads to economic growth
IGNORANCE, it says, in that sharp-edged script, humming in place. The word flies away and is replaced by another. IS BLISS And then it’s gone in a scintillating starburst. No feed address, no Information link, no explanation of what they’re selling.
SavePlanet and Economix
“The peoples of the world didn’t choose it, though,” Domaine says. “Did they? I mean, the system was dreamt up and pushed through by some soon-to-be-ex-UN officials who grew a pair, and ratified by governments under duress or false promises, not all of whom even called themselves democratic.”
“Which is exactly why we should work together,” Domaine says. The sheikh deigns to raise his eyebrows. “You, who believe the system is not democratic enough, and I, who believe it is far too democratic?” “Exactly,” Domaine says, making his voice vibrate with urgency. “We form a coalition. Now is the time, before a new government takes over the Supermajority and starts to cement its power.”
“But still.” Domaine leans forward. “The election system, flawed as it is, is constantly held up as a paragon of democracy, peace, consumer choice. It exerts an insidious appeal on nonvoters, no less dangerous for being false.”
The open question breaks the tension, and the sheikh laughs. “Why would we want to change it? There is nothing that suits us more than most of the world believing that their will is being carried out by governments that do exactly as they please.”
Ken’s antennae jump again as he’s leaving his fourth interview, and he jumps too. His first thought is that he’s glad he invested in the antennae, because he’s so hyped from the conversation he just had that he probably wouldn’t notice anything without them. His second thought is: because of that conversation, this must be the real thing.
The Merita hotel chain offers rooms at a steep discount to people whose Information shows that they are interesting: as cocktail-chatter counterparts, as connections for entrepreneurs, as potential romantic partners. It’s a strategy to convince wealthier, duller clientele to pay a premium in order to share some sparkling conversation, or in the hopes that they will be able to pass for one of the glintelligentsia themselves
She checks the most recent data correlating voter interests and Information usage, basically whether people are looking up what they should. It isn’t promising. In the first election, Information leadership was naïve and idealistic (Mishima’s read not only of the broadcast speeches but the internal memos). They thought that providing data about each candidate government would be enough for people to make informed, more-or-less-sensible choices. That did not work out so well.
The new Heritage coalition of wealthy, experienced global corporates ignored the accessibility of Information, produced their standard glossy misinformation, and not only took the Supermajority but won centenals where, analysts agreed, it was demonstrably not in the interests of the people living there to vote for them.
people continued to vote in ways that were highly irrational from any standpoint
This cycle, there are strict budget equivalency rules: no Information campaign can be more expensive than the campaign of the governments it is evaluating. Mishima suspects that when the dust settles, they’ll find a lot of government vid budgets were larger than reported, but beyond that technical problem is a larger one. Information is still reacting, and the corporates—and the other major governments, by this point—are far too smart to play that way
There was a study done with minimally educated voters who, given a hypothetical ballot, picked the names of famous serial killers over randomly generated names as well as over those of actual, less well-known politicians. Most of the discussion among the Information workers was about how to increase the name recognition of the politicians and governments in this election, or whether there’s any way to evaluate the exact degrees of name recognition different actors have or even—and here the conversation gets very tentative and hypothetical—weight the voting accordingly.
He falls asleep without dimming them, and the feeds keep leaping into place to compete for his attention until his handheld realizes nobody is watching and autoextinguishes.
He’s managed to find a centenal where alcohol and marijuana are legal but tobacco and pop-out advertisements are not.
all over the nonelection world—in Saudi Arabia, in Switzerland, in holdouts of the former USA and PRC and USSR, people are watching the debate for its entertainment value and loving every dig at Information.
AllFor1, a middle-tier government that has been trying aggressively to move up in the ranks this time.
In the last election, when they were targeting mainly European and American markets, the supposedly individualistic cultures that some cubicle analyst thought would be a better demographic for them, they were ALL4ONE. This cycle, having realized that Asians like personalized attention too, they’re trying to go global, and that meant adjusting their numerology.
Tokyo is almost as dense as Jakarta, but not nearly as diverse in terms of governments—or, really, in any terms Ken can think of. A lot of it has belonged to the technocratic Sony-Mitsubishi merger since the first election, with a few centenals going to Japanese nationalist governments instead and the usual outposts of the top players: Liberty, Heritage, PhilipMorris, SecureNation around the military bases, and yes, Policy1st,
The hot-button trend this year is the few local “progressive” governments focused on legal and economic systems that try to enable young entrepreneurs. Despite that story having been told in every generation since the first election, they still haven’t swept away the old guard of entrenched corporates, and the safe money is that they never will.
the conversation eventually wanders on to Tokyo’s canals and waterways (cleanliness of, alternative uses for, risks of) and from there to a new blood glitter that subtly highlights the veins beneath the skin
a small but not insignificant coalition of haves who think they deserve to be have-mores; nationalists who consider some aspect of identity (ethnicity, religion, place of birth) more important than the government one chooses; and all-out cranks and contrarians.
we forget the physical weight of all the things we’ve built up around us.
Disaster Reduction and Human Innovation Institute, established after the Hanshin-Awaji quake at the end of the last century.
It’s a montage of world undesirables—a Saudi minister, the leader of a band of violent Sahelian rebels, a religious autocrat in the former United States—each identified with subtitles, each lauding the micro-democratic election system, which allows them to pursue their decidedly undemocratic ends. Or, as the sheikh puts it: “There is nothing that suits us more than most of the world believing that their will is being carried out by governments that do exactly as they please.” “Tell me something I don’t know,” Mishima says when it’s finished. So, that’s what Domaine was doing in Saudi, she thinks. No wonder she didn’t find any connections between him and Liberty. “You’re fine with being part of the problem?” Domaine asks, eyes still closed. Mishima doesn’t deign to answer. “Most people don’t know, or never think about it,” Domaine goes on, finally looking up. “The fact that the election system enables the atrocities of its so-called enemies? It’s going to make a compelling anticampaign ad.” Most people don’t care, Mishima thinks. “It doesn’t look like these people were filmed with permission.”
a policy-based government like Policy1st, an environmentally focused government like Earth1st, or even an individualist government like YouGov
Election guidelines are fairly strict on coalitions. They do not affect the count to the Supermajority unless the two governments fully merge—identical policies, complete subsuming of one into the other. Policy1st and Earth1st form one of the rare pairs that can pull it off, mainly because they used to be a single party. The Earth1st spinoff was a matter of emphasis rather than difference, a savvy marketing stunt that had produced significant gains. Sort of the opposite of synergy, the sum of the parts greater than the whole.
People like to think micro-democracy is stable, safe, unbreakable, because there have been two successful elections with plenty of power shifts at the centenal level. It’s too easy to forget the system hasn’t seen a peaceful Supermajority transition yet.
SecureNation always gets a fair amount of votes, and owns most of the centenals on military bases; LaRaza and ElNuevoPRI battle over wide areas; and StarLight tends to do well.
Asia Minor after Sykes-Picot
Addis is reliably AfricanUnity (a somewhat optimistic name, which the government is nowhere near achieving),
Perhaps he’ll learn something, although he suspects this election interruption has nothing to do with the people who want to interrupt elections and everything to do with those who want to win them.
Ken clears his throat. “Can I pay you with an Information chit?” The clerk with the handheld holds out his hand without looking up, brings the slip of paper that Roz gave Ken up to his eyes, checks the number against something stored in his handheld. “Sure,” he says. He glances at Ken’s purchases and writes out a double receipt, handing Ken a copy. Ken pockets it, wondering how long it will take for the world to slip irrevocably back into paper currency.
Small arms seemed an entrenched problem during the early twenty-first century. The invention of the Lumper changed that. The backpack-sized device uses precisely targeted magnetic force to permanently disable all metal firearms within its effective radius. It took some time to catch up with the surplus of guns in the world, but since the technology was cheaper than an AK, readily accessible, and safe (with the exception of some unconfirmed reports of bad interactions with old-model pacemakers), it eventually rendered metal firearms all but obsolete. It is still standard practice to deploy one before any security operation
The whole scene is not at all how he would have pictured a high-level meeting in the inner bowels of the menacing Information bureaucracy: ominously dim, the speakers’ faces angled with shadows, the surfaces hard and polished to a high gloss. Rather, it is a conference room awash in the latest thinking on productivity and harmonious consensus. Classical Arabic music plays at the edge of hearing to promote complex thought, and the lighting is soft and variable, designed to suggest that they’re sitting under a broad, spreading tree. There is even a faint breeze from time to time, bringing a hint of sea smell. Of course, it must have been ridiculously expensive, but right now, Ken is the beneficiary of this pleasant space, and it makes it hard for him to believe that the people around him are conspiring against the world.
“Information is a public good,” one of the older men says with finality. “It may fail for technical reasons, and we may strategize about the best technical approach to get it back up, but we will not withhold Information once it is in our power to make it available. We cannot give ourselves the power to see and leave everyone else blind.”
Her narrative disorder is the background palette, a bright but 85 percent transparent pink faintly patterned with lightning bolts, ninjas, flowers, sailing ships, smoking guns, and horses.
On the other hand, he exudes a kind of righteousness, the conscious nobility of a bad boy who’s stepping away from his persona to consider the greater good, a little Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club. It’s cloying.
hints and impressions and cackling self-congratulatory cryptic messages
“I hate your stupid pseudodemocratic infomocracy, true,” Domaine agrees. “But I would hate a corporate dictatorship manipulated by the military-industrial complex even more.” A pause.
“A double agent?” Ken is intrigued. That would imply that there are single agents.
“Why do people always expect you to trust them? With all the shit that goes on in this world, I don’t know why anyone expects my trust just because they are unverifiably, according to themselves, a nice guy. Who the hell defaults to trust?”
If she were the one to choose the quote that is found above the entrances of Information offices worldwide, it would be the one that says democracy is the worst system, except for all the other ones.
Yes, they are right on principle, but democracy is of limited usefulness when there are no good choices, or when the good choices become bad as soon as you’ve chosen them, or when all the Information access in the world can’t make people use it.
YourArmy or LesProfessionnels
“I’m on the SVAT team.” Ken struggles with it for a moment. “The what?” “Specialized Voter Action Tactics team. For those places where the work you’re doing is just too subtle.”
one of our indicators for this is the density of searches for The Art of War in local translation
She veers back to the outcome she fears most, the worst case she has avoided envisioning until now. Information, fading into irrelevance due to the stable Supermajority, planned the whole thing. Frustrated with the impossibility of getting people to make informed choices, stymied by the name-recognition problem and the celebrity factor and a million other quirks of neurobiology, the people who cared decided to manipulate the people who didn’t. Trite, she thinks. But now that she’s looked, she can’t look away.
tests for narrative cohesion, for character motivations, for verisimilitude.