Aristocracy Amplified

Well, this is my first attempt at keeping a diary, but I thought the historical significance of what I'm about to do merits an accurate account of my thoughts and actions for the next few weeks...or months...or years...So here goes.

Diary Entry: March 6, 2200--

Looking out of my apartment window this morning, I saw the night-shift workers trudging back to their pre-fab government housing. I turned my face from the smog-filled March sky, glancing at my barren refrigerator. Oddly enough, I just haven't been in the mood for breakfast for the last few weeks. Or much of anything, really...except for those long nights in my cubicle at work. You see, I've found the secret behind my social class's separation from the elite. And the revelation has lit a fire in my mind--a persistent fire, insisting on action...and very soon...

"Why have we waited this long?" I thought as I dressed for work. "How did the gap ever widen so much between us and 'the elite,' as they call themselves? Why did we allow ourselves to be dominated without knowing it? And, most importantly...what can we do now?"

I had agonized over these thoughts for many months. Over the last two hundred years, the elite had amassed the vast majority of the world's wealth for themselves, and had effectively commandeered all authority over the workforce, consisting of the millions of minimally educated poor. I wondered how they had managed to successfully manage such a feat, but I realized that the "commoners" have been trained to believe that they have no right to question or try to alter their status. Questioning our status would be equivalent to denying our very culture and country, practically treason--according to the elite.

After all, most of my kind have quietly accepted their destinies. I find it difficult to blame them, actually; they live very simple lives--almost verging on poverty. But they were content with what they viewed as their delegated responsibilities in society. From kindergarten, they were each trained to do the specific task they would perform throughout their lives--they did them well, and found satisfaction in the performance of their "responsibilities." And, anyway, I thought, how were they supposed to know what they were missing? All textbooks are written by the elite and all schoolteachers are members of the elite. The Web is carefully monitored for any information revealing too much of the elite lifestyle; the elite live in electronically-barricaded neighborhoods; some commoners have never even seen a member of the elite class. So what is so bad about our lives?

Plenty. But it's not like we've been living in abject poverty. We have relatively comfortable lives. The elite partition and delegate what we can and cannot have. Government-subsidized housing is the rule; apartment buildings are the norm, with a few grudging exceptions made for large families. We all are publicly-schooled from age five to age twenty, with the last five years consisting of highly specialized technical training in a specific field. We are given no choice in our professions; the elite assure us that they choose the most suitable jobs for us based on our aptitudes. Books are strictly limited to light novels, technical writings, and elite-produced books stressing the honor and pride inherent in loyalty to our class and jobs. Clothes are government-issued; not exactly prison uniforms, but not much variety, and very durable. Food is decent--they've got to keep us healthy enough to work--but it's by no means gourmet.

So what's so bad about our lives, people think. We've got basic needs supplied, and all we give in return is a good day's work. Entertainment is decent on the weekends--amateur groups perform in the few public eating houses in each town. Otherwise, there's the all-invasive WebTV (elite-regulated, of course) to soak up our time and intellect. A decent life--better than that of almost any generation before, we are assured by the elite. So what's so bad?

But I've found out what is so bad. I've hacked my way into the elite's separate section of the Web. Ten years ago, my slightly naive computer science teacher told me just a little too much about the mechanics of the Web. And in January, I had finally made it. I had broken their system and had surfed their territory. I devoured everything I could find about them--their rise during the early 21st century, their reorganization of the educational system, their political and corporate takeover, their isolation techniques... I had found out. Late at night, in my cubicle at work, I would soak up the information on those sites, carefully emptying my computer's cache before leaving each night. Fortunately, my job description included the title of systems administrator; my password guaranteed that nobody except me could get to the access logs, either. This had gone on for two months. Now, I finally know enough. I know what I--and the rest of my class--have been missing. And I know I want it. I just don't know what to do about it.

So many options, but which should I attempt? I could single-handedly confront the elite--go straight to the top, state my grievances, demand equality, and await the consequences. Such a bold, flamboyant approach has its appeal. But I doubt the effectiveness of that plan of attack. A group of several "freedom-fighters" such as myself would surely have more impact. But I'm not sure how the rest of my class will view my crusade. Quite unfavorably, I'm afraid. Will they view me as disloyal to my own people--a traitor to my class--a rainbow-chaser? Or will they deem me their hero--their "freedom father"--their leader in the ensuing fight? It could go either way; but I can't restrain my impulses any longer. Today is the day to begin...

During lunch hour, I pulled Rick aside. I've worked in the cubicle adjacent to his for seven years, and I've been his closest confidant and friend for almost as long. If anybody would agree with me, it would be Rick. So, while we were opening our brown bags, I cautiously approached the subject.

"Rick...have you ever wondered why we're where we are? I mean, why is our social structure like it is? Don't you ever feel like we're missing something?"

Rick looked up at me from his rice and beans. "Tom...did you sleep all right last night? Your eyes are awfully bloodshot, buddy. And I know you've been working way too much recently. What are you talking about?"

I was ready for this. I didn't expect anyone--even Rick--to understand at first. "Listen...I've broken into their webring, Rick. I've found out all about them--the elite. I know why we're this way. I know how we got here. And I know what we're missing. Rick, we're missing everything...everything that matters."

Rick's fork had dropped from his hands, and he was staring incredulously at me. After a minute, he opened his mouth, and finally, he found his voice. "You broke...into their...webring, Tom? I don't believe it. That's only a rumor, that whole 'the elite have a secret portion of the web' stuff."

"No, it isn't--it's real. And it has everything we need to know. I've scoured it for two months. I know what's going on. We're their puppets. They've manipulated us for one hundred years, for their own benefit. The things they know--it's amazing. These specialized training courses of ours--we've been blocked from learning so many things. They've used us as the building blocks of their society and economy. Rick, something's got to be done. I've read about what society was like during the late 20th century. There's a concept called democracy--equal voice in politics for all citizens. We all vote for leaders, we all compete for jobs in all levels of society, we all have the opportunity to enjoy at least some the benefits the elite enjoy so much of. We've got to get that back. I want you to help me."

After a little more prodding, Rick finally agreed to be my accomplice in what many of my own people, and everyone else, would consider a heinous mission: invading the elite's culture, and demanding a part in it. But I will do this for myself--and for those who will follow me and understand why...if there are any such people. Why should I feel threatened by the inevitable self-alienation I am about to cause myself? From the beginning, I knew I didn't entirely fit into this class and its value system--I knew something was missing. I don't feel like the rest of my people. I don't think even Rick understands me when I say I feel different. I don't know if the elite's lifestyle will help me find myself. But I know for sure I'm not finding me here...

Diary Entry: March 21, 2200--

We have begun. But there is so much to do, I'm overwhelmed with the process. My work is suffering; my boss roundly criticized me today for my low productivity during the past month. I know--I've been thoroughly distracted. But soon, it will pay off. Fortunately, I don't have a family to support, or I'd be feeling guilty about now. Another good reason to be single; remind me to address that in my speech to the Senate--to criticize the elite's encouragement of early marriage within the working class. Yet another way to tie us down, both financially and emotionally. Keep us distracted...

Yes, that's right--my speech to the Senate. That computer-programming teacher I befriended in technical training school six years ago paid off. He's now the personal computing advisor to the Senate's surprisingly computer-illiterate President. Yes, I'm going to present what I told my former teacher I would present: an exposition on my new programming language that could quite conceivably revolutionize the computer industry. But that's not all I'm going to present...they just don't know it yet. They won't until I'm up there--that's when I'm going to make my move. My speech is almost written. I've worked on it almost continuously with Rick--every weeknight and constantly on the weekends. His rhetorical skills have come in handy--I have a near-masterpiece on my hands. A veritable treasury of appeals for human rights, demands for equal educational opportunities, complaints of current treatment--and a clear explanation of how I found out about our repression. I can't be prosecuted for what I've done, technically--they never thought to write a rule into the books prohibiting entrance into their webring--they never thought any of us would be able to do it. Of course, they'll probably throw me in jail for a little while, anyway, just for effect. At least until they figure out what to do about me and what I'm about to say to the world. What will they do...

Diary Entry: April 16, 2200--

Well, it's finished. I present our speech to the country tomorrow. Rick just worked up the final copy. I'm nervous--terrified, actually. But it's a delicious nervousness. I feel super-charged, like a stretched rubber band--under stress, but full of potential. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep writing diary entries for a while. I'm predicting an escorted trip from the Senate room to the DC police station immediately following my speech. Maybe I'll never write again--they could give me life in prison for the things I'm going to say, if they wanted to. They could kill me. Who would stop them? My own people will surely turn against me, and the elite will be happy to lock me up for life. We'll see--I'm doing what I have to do. My conscience will not allow anything else.

Diary Entry: September 6, 2232--

The last time I wrote in this book was when I had my whole life in front of me--a 22-year-old, gung-ho crusader fighting for the rights of my people. I took on the world...and it took me. I am now fifty-four years old. This morning, I was released from prison. Released by one of my own people, into a country run by many of my own people. I spent twenty-two years of my life in a 10x10 cell, but the elation I felt at that moment made every second of those years worth it.

During our time in prison, Rick and I had been prohibited from hearing any information about the outside world while we were in our cells. Twenty-two years of not knowing...that was the worst part of our confinement. My dream had been to see my people rise from their ignorance. Now I did not even know how any of them had reacted to my speech so many years ago. The ignorance had been intellectual torture.

This morning, I once again stepped into the sun, a free man--uninhibited by the menacing iron gates of a maximum-security prison. But the sunlight that enveloped me as I walked through the door did not only reinforce the realization that I was physically free; it was also symbolic to me of the light that has been shed on my people.

Earlier that morning, Rick and I had been awakened by a prison guard Jones running down the corridor and shouting our names, the keys to our cells jingling in his hand.

"Sirs, get up! We did it! It took us twenty-two years, but we finally did it!" He was shaking from head to foot, and his voice was wavering violently.

"Umph...What? What do you mean?" I asked, pulling myself to a sitting position and trying to focus my blurred eyes on his trembling face. Surely he didn't mean we as in we--my people. Maybe there had been a jailbreak or something.

"Come on, we've got to get you two up and out of here--they're shouting your name all over the country! They're demanding to hear you speak again. They thought that, since this all began with a speech of yours, that's the way it should end, too. Come on, I'll get you two a couple of suits."

I looked over at Rick, who was gazing incredulously at the disappearing figure of the guard. He turned his head slowly towards me, his lips twisting into a half-smile, half-"surely he jests" expression. "Tom," he whispered, "whatever is he talking about?

"I'm not sure., not after all this time. Get real, it's been twenty-two years...what's happening here??" I sat in stunned silence, afraid to wake myself from what could be the best dream I'd ever had. I reached down and pinched my arm--it hurt. So what? If I could dream that my people had overcome, why couldn't I dream that I was in pain? The reality finally struck me when I felt the guard pulling me to my feet and handing me a suit coat and tie. I demanded more of an explanation before I would head for the shower. "Start at the beginning, Jones. What are you talking about? Who is the we you're talking about?" I motioned towards the stool in my cell and persuaded him to sit down, although his hands were in constant motion during his entire explanation. Rick sat down next to me on the cot, expectant and pale.

"From the beginning? Why, of course--you don't know any of this, do you? For so many years, we all wanted to tell you, but we couldn't. Direct orders from the boss. Now, I can tell you!" The guard let out a gleeful, almost childish series of squeaky giggles. His excitement was contagious.

"All right, then. Sit back and enjoy...OK, your speech--it started everything. Of course, not everyone agreed at first. Very few did, in fact. Naturally, your ideas weren't exactly mainstream. But there were a few men who took what you said to heart. They went from there--went to your office and found your diary. They guessed your password and got to the hidden web. Then they posted it all on the real web. That's when the trouble really started...the elite thought they had it all taken care of when they locked you two up." Another squeaky giggle slipped out of his mouth.

I flushed with a sudden sense of pride. My speech had worked? "I figured that it had been taken care of, too. I had expected my whole speech to fall on deaf ears."

"Well, after people saw the hidden web, a lot more of them became convinced. There were riots--lots of them. People were furious. There was still a faction of us who weren't convinced--thought it was impossible--just a figment of your imagination devised to cause trouble. But there was enough of the rest of us to do it. It was a slow process. We knew we needed a leader. We wanted you, but obviously, that wasn't much of an option. So we organized ourselves under a guy named Greg Petrie."

"Greg Petrie!" I did a double-take. Greg had been my roommate in technical school. Last time I heard from him, he was head computer technician at the Seattle plant of my company. Always had great leadership qualities. He was always popular with the kids, too...especially the girls..." My mind flashed back to an image of the girl he had stolen from me sophomore year. That had stung.

Jones continued. "So Greg spoke for all of us when the elite demanded that we return to our jobs. Greg simply told them that we'd certainly go back to work--as soon as they did."

"Ha! That's Greg for ya. He was always good for the pithy quotes."

"Yeah, he's got the charisma all right. Not a lot of common sense, though. After a small group of elites surrendered peacefully, we had to physically restrain him to prevent him from royally chewing them out. Doesn't quite know when to stop, that boy. Anyway, we took them in and hired them on our terms. The top technicians in all the major fields placed them where they were qualified to be. That meant that most were given manual labor or unskilled jobs. Some of them weren't too happy about that, but again, they didn't have much choice. But we offered them free on-the-job training for any of them who wanted it. And a few of them even joined us in our outward resistance."

"What do you mean, resistance? Was there any violence besides the riots you mentioned?" This wasn't what I had planned. I feared that blood had been shed in the name of my cause...That bothered me.

"Oh, yes--lots of violence, unfortunately. It wasn't what a lot of us wanted. I thought we could have solved it peacefully. Negotiating and reasoning with the elite. But others believed that they just couldn't reason with them. So they fought them. It wasn't pretty...the elite had much superior technology, but we had the manpower. Which meant there were lots more of us to kill. Fortunately, though, they didn't use nuclear warfare--all of our communities are close enough to elite areas that the fallout would have killed them, too. But they got enough of us as it was."

I groaned under my breath. A large number of my people had died, and I had been the cause--or at least, the initial impetus. But they had not died in vain. I knew that, many years from now, they would be regarded as true patriots of the common man.

"So, that has been going on for the last twenty-one years. Until last week, when they finally said they were ready for negotiations. They negotiated with Mr. Petrie and his advisors until last night. We haven't gotten all the details--just what was on WebTV news this morning. Peaceful integration is part of it, though. It's not like we're set on wiping them out or anything--at least, most of us.

My mind jump-started. "So are you saying that everybody is working now? Side by side? Together?"

"That's what I'm saying."

A shiver of delight went down my spine; finally, we were all working together, we all had the same opportunities. For a minute I almost felt like gloating in my success. I felt like a regular freedom fighter--practically a martyr for my cause. After all, who had figured out the elite computer system in the first place? Nobody would have known anything if I hadn't discovered the hidden web. Then I reconsidered: who was the one who had put so little faith in his own people? Expected so little from so many? All but written off anything but a personal sense of satisfaction from my whole endeavor? Sure, I did my part, but I seriously under-estimated the efforts of others--and perhaps over-emphasized the value of my own.

"We're being perfectly amiable about it all," Jones continued. "No punishment, no enforced segregation, no discrimination. All in all, they're adapting pretty well, although they still have a way to go. But we've got a lot to learn from them, too. Your speech only touched the tip of the iceberg, as far as the extent of the intellectual riches that used to belong only to them. So many great works of literature, music, and art have been produced by these people! We have so much to catch up on..." I could see a glimmer of myself in the guard's eyes as he gazed wistfully into space--that same hungry look, that same desire for knowledge withheld. Maybe I wasn't so unusual after all.

"What exactly have you found?" I thought maybe there was more than I had even found on the web.

"Their culture--it's amazing. Like nothing I've dreamed about. They live a totally different lifestyle. They've created a network of artistic fecundity; their homes were literally overflowing with books--new books on everything from critiques of ancient masterpieces to new ideas in psychology, sociology, and theology. They had cut our Bible--let us see what they thought it would be safe for us to see. Did you know there are verses in there about all of us being equal in God's eyes? About the necessity of all people working for their livings? We've got a lot of catching up to do there."

I shuddered on hearing this. Tampering with our corporeal lives was bad enough. Hiding crucial information about the next was a travesty. "What else is there?"

" much music! They have written beautiful symphonies, sonatas-- developed new musical forms. All of them play an instrument; most play several. They have these violins made by a guy named Stradivarius that lived in the seventeenth century! We found recordings of music played on those violins--they sound like liquid silk..." He again relapsed into a distracted reverie. It was obvious this guy was a musician. He had that same look I used to get when I heard about a new software program...

"What else?" I asked, rousing him from his brief reverie.

"Oh, yeah," he recalled, shifting in his seat. "Well, we found out that they all look really different. They're taller, healthier, in better shape. There has been a bit of genetic engineering they've experimented with, but for the most part, it's just their lifestyle. They're all vegetarians--they don't smoke or drink. They work out constantly. Each person has his or her own workout room. And as for communication, it's even better than ours. Every person has his own cell phone--the phone number is assigned at birth, like a social security number. Their computer screens can be remote-controlled, and they're built into the walls."

At this point, my ears perked up--he was talking my language now.

"They've taken our innovations and run with them. Of course, you'd know about that, with your discovery of the hidden web and everything. That must have been quite a trick. Anyway, there are other things--new literature, poetry, art--but for now, I think this is enough explanation. They're chanting your names outside. We've set up a podium for you two. It's time you make your appearance."

"But what will we say?" Rick stared timidly at Jones. He had always preferred to be facing a computer screen and not real people.

"They mainly want to cheer at you two and hear your reactions, I think. Just tell them what you've got in your heart--how you feel."

I smiled. "Well, I can try, but I doubt what I'm feeling right now is going to come out in words."

Jones left us with our fresh suits and razors. Rick and I made ourselves presentable and headed down the hallway towards the exit sign. We reached the door and looked at each other, still incredulous.

I turned the knob and stepped out into the brilliant sunlight.