by David Courtney
“…this is KKTZ news. Police reported a terrorist…” droned the radio.
It was 6:00, and the radio alarm clock went off. The radio was supposed to be less jarring than an alarm; but it wasn’t.
It was another Monday morning. Rodger slowly shook off the veil of Morpheus as he wiped the sleep from his eyes. He was immediately seized by the grim realization that it was Monday morning and that he had another miserable week ahead of him.
He staggered into the bathroom to freshen himself. He quickly showered, dressed, and then went into the living area.
Rodger grabbed a frozen egg and biscuit sandwich, tossed it into the microwave oven. The microwave oven’s fans started turning and it purred as the sandwich rotated about its internal carousel.
He sat down at the nearest chair to go over some email while the microwaves did their duty.
His apartment was nondescript. It was a small efficiency that was furnished with an assortment of things. The living area had a small black futon that was left over from his college days. There was an aquarium next to a flat screen TV. A large ornate hookah sat in one corner. In another corner, there was a big cardboard box that contained his ex-girlfriend’s stuff. It was clumsily sealed with grey duct tape, and seemed to taunt him as it waited for its owner to come and retrieve it. It was a dark reminder of the breakup that Rodger had just a week earlier.
“I am glad to be free,” he writes in the subject line of an email to a friend. In this email, he talks about the breakup with his girlfriend.
Rodger was 33 years old, he wasn’t a kid anymore. He felt there should be some clear direction in his life. But there wasn’t, and it bothered him. These thoughts seemed to have a special intensity now that his girlfriend had gone.
The microwave oven stopped with an abrupt “ding.” Rodger took his food and ate a particularly unsatisfying breakfast.
He took his small backpack containing papers, a laptop, and his lunch, and headed for the car. As he started the ignition, he fantasized about not going to work. He imagined himself heading out on an open road as far away as possibly. But he knew that this just wouldn’t happen.
It was just another day in Vespucciland. The road and the buildings were the same across the country. His car was like every other car, and the drive to work was just like every other. Although his car was capable of high speeds, it generally took an hour to travel the two miles from his apartment to his work place. When his car stopped at traffic, he reflected upon things. He mused over the name “Vespucciland”. Rodger remembered the ancient explorer Amerigo Vespucci and wondered what he would have thought if he could see this place today.
Rodger turned on the radio. For a number of years, all of the radio channels in the country were owned by Transparent Channel Communications. All the radio stations had the same format. The top of the hour was 5 minutes of news, 10 minutes of commercials, thereafter the rest of the hour would alternate between the “song of the month’ and another 12 minutes of commercials. This same format would repeat 24 hours a day across the entire country. Rodger could remember a time when radio channels played more than one song.
After some time the 5 minutes of news came on. There was a brief talk about the weather, some sports, and the latest terrorist attack. These terrorist attacks were a daily occurrence now.
The radio had just started one of its 12 minute commercial breaks, so Roger’s mind began to wander.
Slowly his car passed the church. In front of this church was a small park where there were hundreds of homeless people. They lived in the park because there was no where else for them to go, and the church fed them. These people were commonly called Raygun’s army.
“Raygun” was the nickname of an old president named Ronald Palmer, but he got the nickname from old movies that he used to act in. He was in a lot of old “B” Sci-Fi films with his signature ray-gun, and this soon became his nickname.
It seems that Ronald “Raygun” Palmer was not much of an actor, so he turned to union activities and later to politics. The ruling class took a liking to him and installed him as the president of Vespucciland. Of course after his installation, he instituted a number of “reforms” that greatly enriched the ruling class. All of this lead to economic problems for everyone else. Immediately the homeless became visible across the country. That was years ago and the economy recovered, at least the TV said the economy recovered. But if the economy recovered, then why was it that “Raygun’s Army” kept getting bigger.
“Oh well, that’s life.” Rodger thought to himself.
He pulled into the parking lot of the Vespucci International Group (VIG) building. Just over the door was the motto “Work Makes You Free.” He didn’t have time to think about it, for he had to be in his cubical in another four minutes.
Rodger exited the elevator and got a glimpse of Bison Bayou through one of the large glass windows. The bayous were a famous part of Bayou City. This particular stretch was particularly beautiful. Rodger looked wistfully at it. He did so for two reasons. Primarily he longed to be resting on its green shores: that would be much more pleasurable than working. But there was another reason for melancholy; he knew that this stretch of bayou was slated for commercial development. He would be sad to see it go, but he understood that it was necessary in the name of progress.
Rodger went to his cubical. His workspace was identical to everyone else’s. Each was roughly five feet high and four feet square. In this tiny space was a computer, a telephone, and a small desk. Rodger opened the desk and deposited a lunch that consisted of a small drink, chips, and a chicken sandwich. He was always particular to use only free-range chicken.
He was an insurance claim processor. His job was to take every claim that come to him and write a nice, personalised, rejection. It was always a rejection because Rodger was not authorised to approve any claim. If the customers really pressed hard, they would be transferred to a processor who actually had the power to make an approval. But in most cases the process would be drawn out until the time limit was reached, at that point they could no longer make a claim.
Rodger hated his job. Everyone in VIG hated their job. Dissatisfaction was so intense that there was a collective, yet unspoken slow-down. Employees spent a large amount of time on the computers doing things that were completely unrelated to their work, but at least gave the appearance of real work.
It was 10:30 in the morning and Rodger decided it was time to just pretend to be busy.
Everyone at VIG avoided work by cruising the internet. Most people would download porn or amuse themselves playing Kandi-Krunch on Facepage. But Rodger had a different pastime.
Rodger’s pastime was forbidden search terms. This was by no means an easy thing to do. First he would have to log into a foreign proxy server, and from there he would go to the Hoo-Ray search engine. Almost no one used Hoo-Ray because it was considered to be inferior to Guugle. But Guugle was too entwined with the government. Hoo-Ray was more likely to process his search request.
A few weeks earlier Rodger had been able to find out about the public sector in this manner. It was obvious that he couldn’t just type in “public sector,” for this was a restricted search term. But he could type in “Post Office.” Although the Post Office had shut down years ago under political pressure instigated by Fedtex and USP, too many people had worked for it. Therefore, they couldn’t block that as a search terms.
It seems that at one time the government ran a Post Office. But it was more than just for mailing letters, it provided a variety of services to the public. There was the postal bank, you could buy savings bonds, you could get your passport processed there, and virtually every government form imaginable was there. Perhaps even more importantly, the hiring practices supported veterans and disadvantaged communities. This reduced the dependence of many communities upon government aid.
But that was in a time when there was government aid. Now, it was just history.
Rodger’s digital path led from his computer, to the Post Office, then to a general discussion of the public sector. Here, Rodger found that in the past, entire portions of the world’s needs were being taken care of by people who placed their service as the top priority. For instance the Post Office had the delivery of mail as the top priority, while the private firms had profit at the top priority. England’s BBC had entertainment and education as their top priority while Vespucciland’s TV had selling ads as the top priority. Not a single industry in Vespucciland had service as their top priority, because this position was always usurped by the desire to make a profit.
Rodger mulled over these things, but he didn’t really know what to think.
He continued with the day’s quest. He was trying to find the most forbidden search term of all. He had only heard vague rumours that such a thing even existed.
The proxy server connected to Hoo-Ray and sluggishly opened its home page. There was the news … another terror attack in New Orleans … some weather. It was just the usual stuff.
“Value theory”, he typed in. But he got nothing but a list of Black-Friday sales.
Next he typed in “value theory”, but placed the terms in quotation marks. This time he got some general philosophical articles, but not what he was looking for.
Next he typed in “labour value theory”.
“Your search, ‘labour value theory’ is a restricted search term, please try again.” said the computer.
Rodger realised that he was getting close. He typed in a few more words. Each time the same “restricted search term”, response would come.
It was clear that the direct approach was not going to work. He was going to have to try an oblique approach. But what could it be? The relationship between “public sector” and “Post Office” was easy, but what could he put into a search engine that would lead to “value theory”.
Suddenly he remembered something. Some foreign blogs referred to “immiseration.” He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he typed it in to see what the computer would say.
“To make miserable, to impoverish”, was the response. But below this there was a link that lead to “immiseration thesis.”
Rodger was getting excited. Nervously he clicked on the link. After a reading a few paragraphs he saw another link marked. “Immiseration, surplus value, and value theory”
“That’s it, I’ve found it!” thinks Rodger excitedly to himself. He goes to the page, ascertains that it really is what he is looking for, and transfers the entire contents of the web page to his thumb drive. Nervously he slips the thumb drive into his pocket, and continues with the day’s work.
Roger didn’t go directly home after work, but went to a pub near his house. The usual gang was there. They were an OK group, but Rodger thought they were a bit dull. They seemed to only be interested in sports. He ordered a pint of his usual beer, then pulled out his laptop, inserted the flash drive, and started to read.
He read … and he read… and then he read some more. The material was confusing. Words did not mean what he thought they meant. Words swirled in his head,…value theory….exchange values…use values…commodities.
Then it all started to make sense.
Every commodity in the world, such as the beer in his hand, had value. There were many types of value which could be associated with it, but two important ones were “labour value,” and “surplus value”.
The “labour value” represented a composite of all of the labour that went into that beer. There were the farmers that grew the hops, barley, and rice. There were the roughnecks that drilled for the oil to fuel the breweries. There were the brewmasters, and every person that was engaged in the production process.
But there was also the “surplus value”. This represented the profits of every company that was involved in brewing of the beer, the rents, and the interests on the business loans.
Here was were the problem came. An ordinary person like Rodger would go to an employer and sell himself for his labour value. But for every commodity Rodger would buy, he would spend according to the labour value plus the surplus value. And where did all of this surplus value go? It went right to the ruling class!
The entire economic system was rigged against the people. Yes, it was possible for someone like Rodger to work extra hard, become educated, and a command a premium price for his labour. But is was impossible for the entire world to do the same. If the ruling class was going to come out ahead somebody had to fall behind! The entire system was based upon the immiseration of the people.
Rodger thought about this on the way home. In the car, the five minutes of news talked about another terrorist attack. This time it was in Los Angeles.
As Rodger was going to bed, he thought to himself, “Yes, the game is rigged. Yes, work conditions are terrible ,and I hate my job. But I live in Vespucciland, the greatest country in the world. The ruling class gives me my job, the Government keeps me safe from the terrorists. Even if the fruits of my labour are taken by them, it is OK. This is a small price to pay for my freedom.”
“I’m glad to be free.” he says to himself.
Then Rodger goes to sleep.
There is a building in the middle of the Badlands. To say that it is big is not adequate, for it is truly massive. The building sprawls over several acres, and is 10 stories high. It has no windows. The walls are several feet thick and made of concrete. The building is designed to withstand an atomic bomb.
In this huge complex there is a room on the third flour. The temperature in this room is set at a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This may be chilly for people, but it is just right for a server farm. The room is nearly dark. There is no need to have much light because humans seldom come here.
But that doesn’t mean that there is no life, for there is a sort of life - an electronic one.
At this very instant, on isle number 3, and in rack number 22, there is a Dell PowerEdge M1000. This is a server with multiple blades. One of the blades, known only by its IP 184.108.40.206, springs to life. It has been called up to do some important work. It has been called to log a request for restricted search terms.
It seems that a person down in Bayou City forgot something very important. A proxy server may obscure the IP of the user, but it does not obscure their machine. Every machine has a unique fingerprint which is composed of its CPUID, Mac addresses of its various adapters, and other components. Furthermore, this person forgot that it was an easy task to put a name and face to this hardware fingerprint simply by following their online habits.
Our server blade dutifully logs in the information about Rodger. Among the IPs, processor information, and other arcane internet related material, it contains his full name, address, and the following info:
“11:05am restricted search terms: value theory, immiseration thesis”.
“06:20am, email-subject: I’m glad to be free”
by Guest Author