In the beginning, there is perfect Power, Power with a Thousand Faces: pharaoh, padishah, emperor, king, Lord Protector, Generalissimo, El Presidente. Power pure and uninterrupted. We have but to think the word and it is so. We are in a world apart, protected by G*d, by ritual, by blades and dumb muscle. Nothing enters save by Our permission, and then only when stripped naked, bound, and bowing. This is the perfect relation of perfect power: absolute and absolutely asymmetric.
While we have him questioned, Our leading economist relates a report, recently received, tying the wealth of nations to their connectivity. The people need no one else, he tells Me with his dying breath, but We need the money. He spoke the truth: We need the instruments of Power to reinforce Our reality, and these do not come cheaply. Our remaining advisers, chastened and respectful, suggest beginning with television – projecting Our Presence into the homes of Our people – and an auction (to Our most loyal friends) of radio spectrum suitable for mobile communication.
Our eyes, downcast, unable to look upon the Power except in its perfect portraits, had never seen the frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command that cameras captured, passions read and broadcast: a heart that mocked us, a hand always raised in reproach, as if we, ungrateful children, needed the constant admonition of the rod. This plain as nakedness: all the smooth words of newscasters, commentators, spokespeople and ministers could not remove that stain from Power. Each thought ourselves alone in this treason, and quickly burying it beneath other, safer thoughts.
Hidden truths undermine us in our humour, moments of lèse majesté, whispered giggles hidden behind our hands, scribbled graffiti above the pissoir, so shocking they made us gasp, and then, thereafter, we knew them as truth. Other lines joined them, more foul, funny, shocking and true, a vast fabric of written rebellion, expressions of everything we had always known. On the day the first text message arrives, with a joke that could get us killed, we delete it – though not before we forward it along to a few of our friends, who send it along, who send it along. Suddenly the secret insult is common knowledge.
Those who mock Us seek to destroy Us. Those loyal to Us scrub treasonous filth from walls and streets. We secure and question anyone nearby, their confessions Our entry points into a hidden nest of radicals, revolutionaries, and anarchists. These We monitor closely, tapping their mobiles, looking to whom they contact, building a map from these connections, tracing the outlines of their conspiracies. Our friends who own the telcos willingly hand over the information which spell out comings and goings of these traitors. In one sudden strike we take them, whole, to summary judgement. Treason troubles us no more.
They came in the night, roused us from sleep, and took him away. We never saw him again. Without a body, how could we mourn? How could we bury our grief? We could not speak of it, lest we ourselves disappear. Someone – we know not whom – set up a memorial on Facebook, inviting those who knew him to share themselves. We stayed away, but were told that one, then two, five, ten, fifteen, fifty, hundreds and finally uncountable thousands came to share; those who knew him, and those who only knew what he believed in. We were afraid, but content.
Those who love traitors are traitors themselves. We have no love for them, but We are thankful for their foolishness. Facebook reveals them to Us, and everyone they know. Treason breeds treason. Traitors hang together. We friend, and listen, and draw another map of another conspiracy until the picture, finely detailed, demands action. Another night of gathering, judgement and cleansing. This ends that. There are not even whispers against Us.
Internet dating – has there been a greater invention? Men and women who would not normally find one another can seek each other out in the privacy of their own homes. Here, this one is pretty. Such lovely green eyes. And what a lovely green jacket. And beautiful fingers, held up in such an attractive pose, count them: one, two. And the photo, taken in the Capitol Square? How interesting. I’ll tell all my friends that I have a date, a Green Date, in Capitol Square, on the 2nd. Yes. I’ll tell them all. They’ll want a date as well.
Inconceivable! They gather in My capitol, in My square, in their tens of thousands, to make demands. Impudence! They should thank the heavens for their homes and daily bread. Ingratitude! By what witchcraft have they come together? We tapped the phones, blocked the websites, and still they come, in their hundreds of thousands. Some advise it must all be unplugged – at once – but others tell Us we have grown too dependent on the network. Flip the switch, and We blind Ourselves, dragging Our loyal subjects into darkness, Our economy into ruin. But the storm must be stopped, the plug pulled.
It didn’t surprise us when the network failed: half amazed it took so long. We found ourselves thrown back into another time: before instantly, before everywhere, before all-at-once. But lessons learned lingered, taking on different forms: graffiti in hidden places, posters in public, chalk laid out on the sidewalk so anyone could add their own voice, so we could to move together, in unity. This grew into a code: jumbled letters and numbers in text messages and spray painted street signs, which told us where and when.
And still they keep coming, in their millions. How? Without eyes to see and ears to hear, how do they know? Our friends grow concerned, see Us sinking beneath this rising storm, but We apprehend the root of Our troubles, and will root it out. This all began when We foolishly permitted our people to connect. That must now stop, to preserve Us. Against the wishes of My friends – who will lose their fortunes so We might maintain control – We have mobile networks shut down, and wait for the inevitable collapse, as those against Us lose contact.
It took a few moments to realize that these handheld lifelines had become useless lumps of silicon and plastic. It seemed like silence had descended in the midst of the crowd. Then someone said, ‘Here, take this’, and gave me something that brought my mobile back to life, allowed it to connect with everyone else in the crowd, and to the world beyond. In lieu of thanks I was asked to pass it along, and did, with the same instruction, so it spread like wildfire. We could see around the tanks, around the police, around everything, moving faster, moving everywhere, moving NOW.
The guards join with us as we storm the palace.
We The People, in order to form a more perfect union, choose from amongst ourselves those fit to represent our franchise. The elections, free, fair and hard-fought, divide, inevitably, along a spectrum from left to right. But whatever ideology, no one argues the need to reframe power as governance, making a mystery of the obvious, placing it beyond reproach. Power – however dressed – draws those who lust for it, who benefit from the application of it, and this, too obvious, would ruin everything, igniting another Revolution. In secrecy and silence, safety.
You can only be told ‘No!’ so many times before the blood begins to boil and overflows into action. They’ll let us march in the streets now, but leave us impotent at the seats of government, demanding ‘process’ and ‘decorum’. How can we be polite as our future is stolen away? This shell of democracy – perfect in form but crowded with corruption – needs to be punctured, so the rot beneath the skin can be exposed and excised. Thankfully, someone with conscience – sick to death with the stench of power – comes forward with evidence enough to condemn everyone, bringing them down.
Madness! How can anything be stable when everything is exposed? How can we guide the nation into prosperity with saboteurs underfoot? Incredible. The government will go on, will nail down roof nearly shorn off by these ‘revelations’. We will ensure those who work for the government remain true to it: by oath and affirmation, surveillance and monitoring, force of law and pain of imprisonment. Only when guaranteed privacy can we work to preserve the continued security of the nation. It’s in these moments our democracy proves itself supple enough to meet the challenges of our times. We can all congratulate ourselves on a crisis successfully overcome.
They threw him in jail – of course – claiming espionage, charging treason, crying for his head. The message was clear, and silence descended, a curtain protecting them from us. Behind it, they grow deaf and arrogant, manufacturing a managed dissent, bringing their full power down upon on anything else. Still, a friend showed me something: a magic box. Anything placed into that box finds finds its way to magazine editors and newspaper reporters and bloggers and loudmouthed radicals, no questions asked, in perfect anonymity. That could prove irresistible.
If secrets they want, secrets they shall have, by the hundreds of thousands, a tsunami broken silences, signifying nothing. All of the effluvia and trivia of state, dressed up as meaning, each item seeming significant, demanding more attention than even a planet of mischief-makers, continuously clicking through pages, could possibly hope to digest. Let them chew on that as the government draws these paranoids closer, tantalizing them with the shadows of conspiracies, just beyond the horizons of reason, yet believable enough that they will inevitably overreach into folly. As they implode in a ruin of accusations and mistrust, the government will step in, bringing order to chaos, carrying on as before.
Do I know you? How do I know you? Who knows you that I know?
We have two choices before us: closely bound, connected at a thousand points of past and presence; or atomized, invisible, and ANONYMOUS. On one hand, the tribe; on the other, legion. The tribe is loyal, safe and steadfast, the legion strong, but mercurial and diffident. We can subvert from within, or pervert from without. In the right circumstances, we might even do both at once. We might not always get our way, but we can resist, redirect, repurpose, and sometimes win. Success is our greatest threat: the enemy learns, and nothing works twice.
Credentials, please. Access granted. You are now logged into the government. You will need to re-authorize your credentials every fifteen minutes to prevent unauthorized access. Today’s status report: sixty-five percent of systems are functioning normally; twenty percent are undergoing integrity checks, ten percent are under persistent attack, and five percent are compromised. As a security measure your access has been temporarily restricted. Please confine your activities to the indicated systems. WARNING: There has been an intrusion detection. All system access has been restricted until further notice. Thank you and have a nice day!
I ask for a password. It comes along a few hours later, buried in the back-end bits of a cute little image of a wet kitten. That’s a start, enough to log in. But what then, as the network watches my every move, measuring me against the real person behind this account? How should I behave? I whisper. Just above the throbbing dubstep soundtrack of this shooter, my fellow players feed me replies which could be actions within the gameworld – or something else entirely. I make my moves, as advised, and when I see WARNING: There has been an intrusion detection, I know we have won.