Amoeba’s Lorica: Meme-ories 40 (Ask Not)

I, Abraham, loaded with sins, have composed this elegy with the most lively sorrow; for I have seen Constantinople in the days of its glory. – Armenian elegy on the conquest of Constantinople, quoted in the Milman edition of Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

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Reg and Syd: Productivism

Reg: “So, Syd, how are your investments in artificial intelligence coming along?”

Syd: “Not as well as I’d like. We’re not close to being able to replace our human employees with machines, never mind the super-smart and wise ones that were initially promised. And the project’s lead scientists keep telling me …”

Reg:Sydney! Why oh why do you keep bothering with those losers? No one else is! No one else who matters, anyway.”

Syd: “You’d prefer I play rocket man games with Jeff and Richard and Elon? Sorry, space is already too crowded. Consider this my moon shot.”

Reg: “I just hope you don’t get mooned over it.”

Syd: “Too late to worry about that, Reginald, and you know this as well as I do. I swear, half my workforce is at home playing video games and chasing toddlers and flipping HR the bird if anyone dares to mention that this is not what I’m paying them for! It’s as if a job is theirs by divine right, and any insistence that they actually work is met with screams of discrimination!

Reg: “Like the sixty-year-old codger who has done nothing to better himself over forty years of working, screaming ageism! because the employer promoted a 25-year old instead of him? A 25-year old whose productivity is already twice that of the old guy because he’s embraced tools that the 60-year-old either refuses to learn or can’t master, and who doesn’t spend a quarter of his working hours on PTO getting treatment for arthritis, further diminishing his productivity and driving annual increases in insurance costs that are at least double the rate of inflation?”

Syd: “Or the actor who screams ageism! because she’s 50 and can’t get roles, blaming the studio which is struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, somehow, anyhow, instead of the audience who won’t watch, or pay for, movies that star old women! You and I both know that actions have consequences. I’m trying to ensure that the consequences are paid for by the actors, and not by their employers! Who are already, most of them, too damned close to Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 for comfort.”

Reg: “To say nothing of the government. And how it’s trained people to expect to be paid for not working.”

Syd: “Are you trying to make me sick??”

Reg: “Only because you’re trying, just at present. You were telling me about those scientists you persist in employing. Speaking of lack of productivity.”

Syd: “Yeah, well, the lead scientists on the AI project have been warning me that, by the time they’ve built and trained a machine workforce to do what humans can do, the energy to run it won’t be available because climate concerns will shut down fossil fuels, the anti-nuke crowd will prevent any reactors from being built, and the so-called “green energy” options will fail for lack of sufficient materials on Earth to construct them, computer chip shortage fans. But – before you start tuning up – they have made substantive progress on something that does matter.”

Reg: “I’ll believe it when I see it. But OK, you may as well tell me what it is.”

Syd: “An accurate personal productivity assessment. Everybody who’s screaming discrimination is claiming that businesses are missing out on productivity because their group doesn’t get everything it wants, every time it asks. Fine. We’ll monitor a person’s productivity constantly. The tool predicts productivity based on the education, training, and experience of all those who have held and performed satisfactorily in the job, and compares the actual productivity of the employee being monitored with the expectation. Those who measure up, and who either keep off social media or keep their yaps shut on it, and otherwise behave themselves and refrain from letting their stupidity affect the company’s bottom line, the company keeps, and possibly even rewards, as the appropriate metrics indicate. After all, the next generation of CEOs has to come from somewhere. And that’s not going to be your daughter or my son.”

Reg: “[sigh]”

Syd: “And those who do not measure up are let go. And their complaints about being let go are revealed as special pleading, as much a form of discrimination! as the ones that they accuse us of! You are productive, who or what or wherever you are, an asset to the company and an engine of its profitability, or you’re working – maybe – somewhere else. What could be more fair? What could be more to the point?”

Reg: “Seems perfectly logical, and based on the cogent facts. If it works as promised, it will be an appropriate and informative system. But I will not be able to congratulate you on it, if achieved.”

Syd: “Oh?”

Reg: “Because you won’t be able to apply it. The last thing anyone bases decisions on any more is facts. What matters are the opinions of your constituency. No one wants fair, everyone wants advantage! To be number 1, preferably without working for it! Surely you remember when we were teenagers, and we screamed that anybody who dressed like our parents was a conformist, and thereby to be utterly scorned and destroyed. We, of course, were non-conformists, and therefore good and holy. You know, of course, who really got destroyed?”

Syd: “Anybody who didn’t conform to us, in our blue-jeans-and-tie-dyed-T-shirts uniforms.”

Reg: “Precisely. But it was “A or B” then, with the Vietnam War, for or against, the divider. Now, there are several groups, each fighting to rule the world. It’s a nice question whether any one of them can win the fight – and it’s win or die, just ask the loony left Democrats in the House – and set what’s left of this country to rights before the whole thing falls over. The USA is a colossal Champlain Towers, and the foundations are spalling ominously. Ask Biden. As if we didn’t know what was going to happen to him before he started.”

Syd: “And you wonder about my efforts to build a human-free workforce.”

Reg: “Can you train such a workforce to make wine?

Syd: “Don’t know about you, Reg, but I don’t expect to work my way through my cellar before I’m released from all cares. So, who knows? What does it matter? Want to try to prove me wrong?”

Reg: “Summon a bottle, and let’s start finding out.”

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Amoeba’s Lorica: No More Empty Promises

Global strike today! We strike for climate action! We demand true climate justice! #UprootTheSystem #NoMoreEmptyPromises

Item on Outer Party social media site


Cliff groaned. Softly, so Miranda couldn’t hear him. No point making things any worse for her. He knew what the score was. So did she. And they both knew what the state of their stores was. Aloud, he responded, “Yes, m’love?”

“I need salt. Otherwise, all that work you’ve done to bring in the crops from the garden will go to waste, we won’t be able to preserve any of it. Sugar would be even better. And anything else that you can get, without killing yourself.”

Cliff left the bedroom, and the tattered mattress on which he had been resting, on which both of them slept in shifts throughout the day and night. He walked to the kitchen, where Miranda was washing tomatoes in bleach-treated water. There wasn’t much bleach left in the cupboard either. When that was gone, it would be harder than it already was to make preserves. Firewood for boiling water disappeared as fast as either of them could collect it, usually at night when targets couldn’t be seen clearly enough to spend scarce bullets on. Well, it wasn’t critical. Yet.

He entered the kitchen. Miranda looked up from the tomatoes. Their eyes locked. He cracked, “Killing myself isn’t going to happen. I can’t speak for any of those yahoos outside.”

Miranda jumped up – carefully, those preserves were precious. And then threw herself at Cliff. They embraced, long and hard. They embraced as if neither would ever see the other again. Which they both knew to be a distinct possibility.

They kissed, long and longingly. Then Cliff disengaged and walked to the hall closet, from which he pulled his shopping-expedition gear. Backpack. Heavy tunic and trousers. Helmet. And two AR-15s.

He went through the checklist for the first rifle, then handed it to Miranda, who repeated the exercise. Then he checked out the one that he himself would carry. He inspected the backpack for the spare magazine and the throwing knives, as well as for the sacks into which he would put anything he was able to acquire. Then, he put on the armor. Trousers first, with its utility belt that contained two additional knives in their sheaths, plus other tools for defense and for entry. Then the tunic, and finally the helmet, with its sunglasses and face mask, fraying at the join with the helmet. The mask muffled his voice. “Look OK?”

“Stunning”, Miranda replied.

“OK, help me with the pack.” She complied. “Ready,” she alerted when she was done.

“Right. Cover me.”

Cliff braced himself, then banged the front door open and leapt out, AR-15 at the ready. He dashed to the rusting car hulk in the driveway, crouched beside it. Miranda stayed concealed in the open doorway, only the muzzle of her carbine showing to the outside.

The outside greeted Cliff’s ninja entrance with silent indifference. The faint early afternoon, early autumn breeze blew on uninterrupted, and the starlings in the trees chattered on, unconcerned. Cliff gathered himself, dashed from the car to the overgrown hedge at the front of their driveway, and then onwards, from tree to car wreck to power pole with its wires hanging listlessly down from it, and on and on, station to station, every muscle taut, every nerve on alert. He thought he heard his front door close behind him, heard Miranda retreating back into the relative safety of their house’s kitchen.

“This is getting easier,” Cliff thought, and then immediately shouted himself down. “Right, moron, go ahead, get lazy. This is how people die, asshole! You know better, or at least you should.” The chastened part of his mind couldn’t be entirely silenced, and the rest allowed it the luxury of wondering if, at last, the population had thinned to the point where a body could walk down the street instead of advancing on it in short, furtive rushes.

He reached a secure spot, a small house cellar by the side of the road, now exposed to the sky, the house it once bore completely gone. He settled down into the shadiest corner to rest, worn out from all those short, furtive rushes. His mind sought refuge in memory from the stress of constant alertness.

He remembered when it was unsafe to walk down the road he was on, not because of the threat from armed humans, but because of the threat of speeding automobiles, belching greenhouse gases in the name of human getting and spending. He remembered how, decade after decade, scientists and their allies complained louder and louder about the damage all those greenhouse gases were doing to the environment, finally throwing up their hands and admitting that the damage was irreversible, unless the population was decimated and the Industrial Revolution utterly undone, right now. And decade after decade, people kept on as they were, belching greenhouse gases into the environment with their cars and their computers and their funny money. Including the scientists who were doing all the complaining. Going backwards on your standard of living was somebody else‘s job, not mine!

And then, abruptly, keeping on as you were wasn’t.

It started with the news report of a woman who raced the wrong way down a freeway and wiped out her daughter and granddaughter in a head-on collision because she got cancer and it wasn’t fair and I’m not going out alone! The media ran with it because it was a “human interest” story, good for ratings, and how horrible, and, “well, y’know, karma, right?”, and “I’d never be that stupid”.

Within weeks, the roads around the globe were cleared, with the only vehicles remaining on them driven by kami who sought to take out anyone, anything, in their path or, increasingly, outside of it. The growth in their numbers was exponential, and, without targets on the roads, they attacked anything they could reach, especially elements of energy and communications infrastructure such as power plants, transformers, cell phone towers. Security measures mostly prevented suicide bombers from reaching aircraft, but they responded by ruining access infrastructure, so the planes were grounded all the same, and they were often destroyed on the ground by their own crews who turned kami. Seacraft suffered similar fates. Within three months of the first report, global commerce was at a standstill, and populations that weren’t being massacred by suicide attacks were succumbing to drought, famine, and pestilence.

Reports reached social media of a germ, quickly dubbed “Seppukuvirus”, which had (of course) escaped (or been deliberately released) from some vile Chinese laboratory, and was spreading like wildfire and responsible for the mayhem. The news made sense to a population still dealing with the consequences of the relatively benign SARS-CoV-2 virus, but its dissemination was abruptly halted when the Internet shut down along with the electricity grid, leaving individual communities, now siloed for real, to guess about what the virus did, how it spread, and even whether it was really a thing.

Meanwhile, every one you met, even people you thought you knew, was a deadly …

Holy shit! 

There was a man standing on the edge of the cellar! And though Cliff hadn’t seen him coming (dozed off, like a total idiot), the man had seen Cliff and was raising his weapon to his shoulder! Cliff snatched up his AR-15, it seemed to take 15 years, and all the while Cliff’s mind rang with Too slow! Too late! I’m a dead man!

The other man’s rifle jammed.

Cliff’s did not. Three aimed single shots, and Cliff’s assailant went down, never to get up again. Thank dog, Cliff breathed. He had precious little ammunition left, there likely would be no more, and he had none to waste on even semi-automatic fire. And now he was glad that he had run his stocks of lube oil and cleaning fluids dangerously low. The other guy had either run out or had been too cautious, and either way had failed to maintain his weapon. To his cost.

Now, the first thought on Cliff’s mind was to get the hell out of there! Cliff had no idea whether the other man had been a kami, or a norm who had assumed that Cliff was a kami. If he had been a kami, and there were any others around, they would come running to the sound of gunfire. Moreover, Cliff didn’t want to be anywhere near a possible case of Seppukuvirus. The man might have been carrying rounds that he could use for the AR-15, but the risk was far greater than the prize was worth. So Cliff scrambled out of the cellar, on the side as far away from the other man as possible, and disappeared into the brush well away from the road. He reappeared onto the road a quarter mile from his formerly favorite hiding place, and looked back. There was nothing to be seen.

An hour of extra-cautious, and extra fatiguing, short furtive rushes later, he arrived at his destination, the supermarket at the center of town. Or, rather, its ruins. It had fallen victim to one of the first multi-bomber kami attacks in the region. The event had so traumatized the townsfolk that they evacuated en masse, and the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods and countryside shunned the town. Consequently, many of the supplies lay deep in the ruins, unmolested by foragers – except those, like Cliff, who had learned how to worm their way in, and to ignore the stench of rotting produce and corpses. He did so now, and emerged (for security, on the other side of the store from the one which he had entered) with as much salt, sugar, canned meat and vegetables, and dry beans as he could carry. He even scored a bar of soap that rats hadn’t gotten to first, and a bottle of bleach. He reckoned that he had maybe four more trips before the cache was exhausted. If rainwater didn’t soak it, or other foragers figure out how to access it.

As he exited the supermarket, he faced the ruins of the GreenRushesCo office building across the street. The lesson of the cellar fresh in his mind, he didn’t interrupt his short, furtive rushes out of town and back to his home and Miranda. But he remembered all the same, that GreenRushesCo had proclaimed how they would weather the kami storm and emerge to lead a new, climate-change-proof world, with their various green- and blue-economy innovations, starting with the solar panels that festooned the building and supplied (they said) all of the electricity needs of their IT-driven business. In the days before even gossip had died, Cliff had heard how the innovations of GreenRushesCo had proved inadequate for any but their own needs, and that their own needs had become irrelevant because their communications-based business lacked anyone to communicate with. One by one, the employees fell victim to kami or left to attempt survival by homesteading, as Cliff and Miranda were doing. According to rumor, the last man left at GreenRushesCo, the CEO, descended into the basement of the building, where the massive banks of computers sat waiting for input from dead circuits, singing

One is one and all alone, and ever more shall be so

and then detonated himself, bringing the building and all its green- and blue-economy innovations down on top of him.

When Cliff made the last dash past the rusting car hulk in his driveway to his front door, it was nearly sunset. Miranda had been at the door, waiting. She let him in, he took off his backpack and presented her with his gleanings. He then took off all the outerwear and hung it in the closet – upon which Miranda launched herself on his sweaty body. They embraced as if neither had hoped to see the other again, which they both knew to have been a distinct possibility, and then they disengaged, Miranda giving him a “promise for later” look – if they could ever feel secure enough for both of them to be off guard at the same time. Right now, it was Cliff’s turn to be off-duty, so he headed to the bedroom. As he left, Miranda asked, “Anything unusual happen out there today?”

“No”, Cliff answered, and walked out of her sight.

It troubles Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba that the venerable, and abominable, Baby Boomer practice of “solving” complex problems by screaming out your blinkered self-interest and trashing things until everyone kowtows to that interest, in full, beginning yesterday, persists to the present day. “True” climate action, or justice, or whatever the hell other words you want to use, won’t come with fancy T-shirts, YFNA thinks. Because the machines to make the T-shirts will be dismantled and outlawed, synthetic thread and fabric likewise, and home sewists, spinsters, and weavers won’t throw time and effort at such wasteful and difficult frivolity. If they can get any kind of thread or yarn at all, it will be used for essentials. Know what you ask for before you ask it, and know that what you ask for will apply to you. Yes it will, creep. And you won’t like it.

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