There’s a war going on. It’s getting in the way of my work. I’m trying to data mine and it throws off my searches. I keep having to rewrite the search routines for my bots, or I search for the details on a new chemical process for rapid data retrieval from DNA storage and I get back a litany of results about DNA targeting weapons; genetically specific pathogens designed to kill only one individual or someone with a very specific combination of genetic and racial genes. It’s kind of scary to think that these things exist out there, passed from person to person without as much as a sniffle until they reach their designated target. Of course, the government denies that such biological vectors exist. They denounce the very concept as repulsive – only the kind of thing that the enemy would do. The problem is, the enemy is not very well defined. Haven’t been for a long time. Since the last century, the enemy has been terrorists. A label easily applied to anyone who suits the purposes of government and big business. I’d better be careful making such claims in public. They watch for things like that. But it’s true. There are cases that always happen and are quickly quashed about some country or political figure or foreign corporation that is either directly or indirectly giving aid and comfort to enemies of the free peoples of the world. It’s easy enough to cover up petty political agendas under the guise of fighting terrorism. So it’s become a low-level, continuous war fought in other countries. Not even front page news anymore. The people of the Sprawl, like me, have more important things to worry about, like paying the rent and buying groceries and mundane things like that. Of course, they herald some big success from time to time to justify continuing the conflict. They’ve put a big war machine in place, involving several very powerful global corporations that build the weapons. It’s a combination of big business, bureaucracy and inertia. It can’t stop, it has to keep going on or a lot of people are going to be out of a job – and we can’t have that. So they keep it on the back burner, but just visible enough to justify the latest tax increase or the latest violation of our civil rights. Anyone who argues that their privacy is being invaded is damned un-patriotic.
OK. So we have this insidious, low-level, permanent war going on in the background. But there was a time when it was covered by all the major news channels, and back then there were real terrorists and somewhat moral justifications for doing what they did. A combination of fear, the economy and high-tech led to a reinstitution of the draft. This amorphous conflagration was turning out to be much more protracted than the politicos first thought it would be. We could build more weapons, but it wasn’t very palatable to have eighteen-year olds dying on the front lines. It was all right to have a war that we were fairly isolated from. Conflicts, natural disasters, plagues; as long as it happened half-a-world away and we didn’t have to give it much thought, we could deal with it. When our kids started dying it was front-page news and that affected the opinion polls. So the solution was not to change from direct conflict to economic sanctions, but rather to invest in the new technologies and carry out wars by remote control. The use of nanotech, robotics, genetic pathogens, and unmanned vehicles, by air, land and sea, meant we could carry out a “clean” war. It also removed the immediate need to limit the scope and extent of these conflicts. Millions of kids were drafted now, but it was ok, because they would be safe at home. They would all be trained to man banks of video games. War was reduced to an arcade game. When accidents happened, they were always to strangers in strange far-off lands, and not friendly fire accidents against us or our allies. Of course, now we have millions of our young employed in rough economic times. They have safe, secure jobs. And we have to support our “troops”, right? So the conflict just became a way of life. The moral justification may have been eroded – replaced by economics and political agendas, but it wasn’t such a bad thing to stabilize the world, right? When this is all over, everyone will love us for bringing democracy to their corner of the globe, right?
I think I bought into all this when I was in college. The world is always much more black and white when you are young and idealistic. I think that’s partially because you want to believe that everyone is nice like you. You want to think that the justifications are moral and well thought out. Maybe you aren’t cynical enough yet, but you want to believe it because it makes the most sense. If the world is more complicated and situations don’t always have a right or wrong answer, then it’s a lot more confusing and hard to deal with. We want a government that is more like our parents. Fair. Just. With good moral foundations and compassion for us all. It isn’t until later, after years of experience to the contrary, that we realize that the government is an extension of corporate interests, and looking out for itself. Most individuals in government are good, but the system perpetuates the status quo and benefits the constituents with the deepest pockets, and sadly that is corporations and their bottom line, not the ultimate best interest of the consumer, the citizen, the voter, you and me.
When I was in college, my roommate joined up with the cyber-military. He went off for training and learned to kill by remote control. He used a joystick instead of a gun. But it all had the same effect on the other end. Someone died. He never seemed bothered by that. It bothered me that he didn’t lose sleep over it. He just went to war like it was going to work. He put in a few hours a week and one weekend a month. He flew recognizance drones, tanks, armored soldiers, battle bots, and then he came back to the dorm and drank and partied. He wasn’t atypical though. Many students took advantage of a free education, and like I said, it may still have had some moral justification back then. So I put up with it. I turned a blind eye to his occupation, as it were. I took out my student loans and rested better knowing that when I was paying it back for decades after I graduated, I wouldn’t have to brainwash myself that I was doing something noble by “playing war” on the weekends.
My roommate and I had a falling out about two months after he enlisted. I had a hard time liking him because of the cold and impartial way in which he served his country. He was charismatic though. Sometimes I forgot about our differences and enjoyed just cutting loose with him. I was a freshman, and needed someone to be my friend, and thought I should work harder to fit in. I didn’t have girlfriends. I was busy just trying to keep my head above water with my advanced classes. I would party from time to time, hoping that some girl would notice me and want to be with me, but I was shy and for the most part accepted that it was my lot in life to stick it out on my own. My roommate was better with the ladies. There were many times I’d return to the dorm and find a sock on the doorknob. It was a signal we had devised, so the person inside could have some serious privacy with a girl. Of course, I was never the one on the inside. I was always the one outside waiting for him to finish. There was one girl in particular he had been interested in for a long time. He kept having her over, but he couldn’t get her to go all the way. I respected him for being patient and having a long-term relationship. It thought maybe he was becoming more mature. I came home one night and after waiting for two hours, walking up and down the stairwell, I finally walked in on them. He was lying awake in bed. She was curled up, naked, on the floor. He hadn’t had the decency to cover her up after they had clearly had sex. Then I noticed the empty rum and gin bottles on the table. Pop cans were littered on the floor and a bag of chips had been spilled. It became apparent quickly that he finally decided this would be the night he would score. He got her drunk and fucked her brains out. He had a mile-wide grin on his face, but the poor girl was lying cold and naked, twitching on the floor. I moved to cover her up with my blanket, and my roommate told me to leave her, that she’d be fine. I just ignored him and covered her naked body. I cleaned up the room somewhat. My roommate was unhappy that I was making noise and keeping him up. I guess date rape is tiring that way. After a bit, the girl woke up and wretched in our trash can. I handed her clothes to her and turned away as she dressed. She was sick and embarrassed and stumbled out of the room quickly. I heard she dropped out of school; I never saw her again.
I never felt right about that whole situation, but I ignored it. Just like the war, it was something I couldn’t handle if I looked at it straight on. I didn’t know how to respond. I was disgusted with my roommate, and I was disgusted with myself for my inaction. I tried to just ignore it and forget it, but I never will. I guess I’m just messed up that I let it continue to bother me. That’s the way I am. I’m stuck in the Sprawl, in a situation where I have almost no power to affect a change on the system. I just keep trying to do the best I can with what I can control, day after day, and I turn away from the awful things I see around me because if I let them get to me then I won’t make it through the day. Our brains were designed that way, to avoid dealing with trauma head on. We have the ability to ignore the really big things that would otherwise incapacitate us. I can’t say that it doesn’t affect me though. I know it’s there, even if it’s in my blind spot. It makes me dark and cynical. But I move on, and hope it gets better tomorrow. Right now I have to get back to work.
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