The Seed

“Explain that again.”

“Explain what?”

“The thing about choices and freedom.”

“Are you sure? You said your head spun last time. Besides, I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of your friends. Or you.”

“Embarrass yourself in front of me, or embarrass me in front of my friends, along with you?”

“I will not fall for your little games, Jason.”

“Oh, come on, please!”

“Yeah, please! Now we want to hear about it too.”

“See? Now they are all expecting some profound thing I’m not sure I can deliver.”

“And what’s the only way to know?”

“Smart ass.”

“Come on, Jackie. You know you want it. You always want people to hear your crazy ideas.”

“I’m not sure they will want to hear them…”

“Yeah, we really do!”

“Ok, ok. But don’t blame me for the hangovers tomorrow. Philosophy and vodka don’t always go well together.”

“The Russians disagree.”

“And I thought it was politics.”

“A bit of both. Anyway, if you really want it, pay attention.”

“We will.”

“Here’s the thing: the best way to control people, the way nations have done since three people started sharing the same space, is through choice and freedom. Sounds paradoxal, controlling through those two things, but that’s the trick. You don’t just go and give people real freedom and real choice. You only give them the illusion of it.”

“How come?”

“Let’s say I give you one hundred dollars, right now, and say you can do whatever you want with it. Did I gave you choice and freedom to use that hundred dollars?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? Tell me some things you could do with it.”

“Buy one hundred dollars worth of vodka, right now.”

“Keep it for a rainy day.”

“Buy that new game I want.”

“Burn it.”

“Tear it.”

“All good things. And, true, once I gave you the bill you could do all of those things. So, I gave you choice and freedom to spend the money, right?”

“Right.”

“Jason, how much does that game cost?”

“About eighty. I would still have twenty to spare.”

“But you need the console first, right?”

“Well, yeah, but I’m already saving for it, so…”

“So, with just the hundred, you can’t play the game, right?”

“If I already got the console, I could.”

“What about power? That powerful machine doesn’t run on hopes and dreams.”

“I pay my bills in time, it is unlikely my power will be cut anytime soon.”

“But could you pay your energy bill with that twenty you have left?”

“No, but…”

“And what about rent? And a TV set? Food? I gave you one hundred dollars, there’s not enough money to all that.”

“I see. You only gave me the choice and freedom to do whatever I want within the constraints of the face value of the bill, or to use it as fuel for a fire.”

“You got it. But would you get to this conclusion if I haven’t asked all those questions?”

“Probably not. I would have taken my hundred and be happy about it.”

“So you would have fallen into the illusion. Now let’s crank things up a notch. Actually, several notches. There will be an election soon. Are you free to elect the person you think is most qualified for the job?”

“I want to say I am, but I can see where this is going.”

“I don’t. You say the system is rigged?”

“In a way, but it doesn’t have to be. Well, you have a lot of options indeed. But you still have to vote within the available candidates.”

“But that’s just how it is organized. Imagine if everyone could run for it.”

“Yes, imagine. Just the other day, you said your Political Theory teacher would make for a great congressman. Why can’t you vote for him?”

“We can’t just vote for whoever we want, it would be chaos.”

“Not to mention extremely hard to count the votes.”

“Yes, it would. But, then again, who’s to say better politics wouldn’t rise from such a system?”

“Still, the person would have to run things according to a set of rules.”

“Precisely. Another layer of illusion. We have the choice to vote for whoever we want if this person is affiliated with a political party that has a sizeable number of signatures to be enlisted in the voting system. The elected person must follow a set of rules even to change the rules. The people have the freedom to do and say whatever they want within some thin barriers, so thin most people never realize it is there. We are free unless we do something forbidden. We have choice unless we want something different. But they keep us satisfied enough, so we rarely venture outside the cage.”

“What about the common good?”

“What about it?”

“Without any rules, we would descend into savagery. Our society agreed on cutting certain choices and restraining the freedom to a specific circle so we could live together without killing each other. The good of the many supersedes the good of the few.”

“Well said. But where is the limit to all this? Do you believe your government is acting with your best interest in mind, for the good of the many? All the time?”

“Not all the time, but…”

“And what about rules that no longer serve their purpose?”

“We can change those. We do change those from time to time.”

“Yes, but who does the change?”

“The politicians. I get it. The same politicians we put there because they never gave us other choices. The ones we can’t trust to have our best interests in mind all the time.”

“But how we fight it?”

“Well, who put those guys there?”

“Us.”

“So we can take them off, too. They are there to represent us, never forget that.”

“But what if we don’t know what they are doing there?”

“Ah, that’s another layer for the same principle. We like to think we have freedom of choice for the information we get, that we can consult the many sources available to us today. And we have so much information around that we have to filter some of them or we will get crazy. They throw so much at us that we have to dodge a lot. And they count on that. Even worse: they get to choose what will be taught in schools. They get to choose how to teach us to think.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying the people in charge, politicians or not, are the ones choosing what will get to us, and how much. They get to decide what makes news, what scientific studies will be bumped to front pages, what important decisions will be announced. There are limits to this, of course, especially today with so much user-produced content, but that only goes to a certain extent. They count on us choosing to watch that latest cat video on YouTube instead of looking for the decisions being made in our name. They count on our laziness, on the fact we will most often than not keep our minds busy with trivial information and they get us just satisfied enough to avoid greater conflicts.”

“In other words: we are being controlled by the people in charge, and we don’t even realize it. We are buried in layers of lies so well built we can’t even see it.”

“That’s a nice summary.”

“It is also dangerously close to pretty much any conspiracy theory around.”

“Yes, it does sound like 1984, only we don’t have a Big Brother watching over us.”

“Oh, but we do. It does sound like a conspiracy, but it is real. And even more dangerous than 1984, because we don’t see them as the enemy. Not all of them are, that’s true, but they are there. We put them there, and we have been putting them there for a while, thinking they are on our side. They control us in a way no dystopian dictator could ever achieve. They are so much inside our heads that they got us thinking we are making the decisions in our lives. They got us sure that we have choice and freedom. But make no mistake: if you step outside the lines, a red dot will start blinking somewhere. They are watching.”

“So, there a red dot blinking right now?”

“Maybe. They have the technology to turn our phones on without us knowing it, and just start listening.”

“That’s why our batteries last so little, then.”

“Think about it: most of our communication passes by some kind of electronic system nowadays. It is just bits and bytes through lines and satellites. How hard is it for them to have someone snooping in everything we do?”

“Hard enough, I think. It would be too much information to go through. I don’t think it is possible to have this kind of surveillance.”

“That’s right. But it is easy enough to have flagged information.”

“And what would that be?”

“If you ever go after some kind of information they don’t want you to know, there are probably some system to detect that.”

“And make a red dot start blinking.”

“You got it. It was harder before, they had to have spies everywhere. Today, it is much easier.”

“And why do you think they do that?”

“Surveil us? Simple. They are afraid of the only threat to the system: people who get to see beyond the lies. People who realize what’s really happening and will alert others.”

“But how did it all started? And why control people?”

“Oh, I can think of a number of reasons. Even not so evil reasons. I do believe it started as a way to keep things in peace, stop us from killing each other. The greater good, as Chris said. But, you know, power corrupts. And now the people we put in power just want more power, the original goal so far behind they don’t even remember it anymore. But I might be wrong. Maybe the system is working perfectly and we survived that long because of it. Either way, it is happening.”

“And you say we can fight it?”

“Well, even if the rules are there to protect us from ourselves, nothing says the rules must stay the same forever. Things change, people change, from time to time some rules have to change too. And at times like that we must be the ones pushing for the changes to make sense for us, more than for them.”

“We have to remind them they work for us, not the other way around.”

“Yes. We relinquished our power so we could get on with our lives. We gave them what they have. The problem is we forgot all about it. But it is still ours, the power to put them there. We must use this power for the rules to benefit the majority once again. Every time we see something that’s not working the way it should, we must act. Every time they abuse the power we gave them, we must act. All we have to do is look past the thin layer of control. All we have to do is realize we have more choice and freedom than we are aware of.”

“Ok, that’s too much for me.”

“What, the vodka or the talk?”

“Both, together. I’m out.”

“I think I’ll go, too. My head is already spinning, and I didn’t even drink that much.”

“I think it was enough for one night, guys. Let’s talk about it again sometime, whenever you want.”

And with that, Jackie left, satisfied with herself, confident in the knowledge she had succeeded in planting the seed.

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