Gridlock city

And so it came to pass that the city imposed parking fees. Not just on the parking spots it owned directly, but all of them. The legalese was technical and involved, but it amounted to this very straightforward practice: if you parked anywhere for any length of time, you pay the fee. The more you parked, the higher the fee. No ifs, no buts, no refunds. Even if it happened to be your own parking spot at your own house.

At first, riots. This was not a popular move, by any measure, and discontent rose among the masses. But time went by, and everyone still had to go to work, and life moved on, and everyone got used to it. It made no sense, but as with so many other things in life that do not make sense, it would simply have to get in line.

Some years later, the city raised these parking fees. A lot. So much so that it became cheaper to just drive the car around. The price of gas, sure, but it would still amount to less than the parking fees. The math checked out, and eventually this too became a new state of normalcy.

A few years on, another increase. Suddenly, it became a sensible deal to hire others to drive your car around. Sophisticated ride-sharing schemes were developed, to ensure that the car was in motion at all times, never stopping for anything other than red lights or driver changes. Some of these arrangements approached levels of complexity only ever seen in advanced computer modelling or ecological systems, yet ordinary folks seemed to take to it. Traffic skyrocketed, but as usual, this too became the new status quo.

Science happened here, of course. A social scientist found that, when asked a representative sample of citizens if it would be possible to simply not have a car, the average response was a facial expression conveying that a brand new and profound chasm in ontological comprehension had suddenly been revealed, an abyss which was gazing right back at them. More often than not, this was the totality of the response, all thought ceasing upon the grand design of this cosmic incomprehensibility. On more than one occasion, specifically trained Kantian trauma teams had to be called in to suture the philosophical wounds.

On the pragmatic impracticality of equality

“So here’s what I do. I go to free speech rallies, and I wear my trademark outfit”

“A trademark outfit, you say?”

“Oh yes. It takes very careful and deliberate attention to detail to pull it off. Just winging it won’t work; they’ll see right through it. Gotta effort it, make it just right”

“So how do you prepare?”

“At first, I tried various methods of artificially inducing the look. None of them worked, but they all took a lot of time and effort. Determined not to give up, I persevered, and then it struck me. The one surefire way to get everything just right is to actually bona fide do it”

“So you became homeless?”

“Well, no, of course not. I just spend a lot of time in the urban outdoors, day and night. This had the desired effect, and made me look the part. I also learned that there are a lot more alleys, overpasses and forgotten side streets in this city than I’d previously thought. Also, newspapers are golden”

“And then you looked the part?”

“Oh yes. But I didn’t act the part, so I had to integrate myself with the local community. Turns out it’s easy to do if you actually sleep outside; shared miseries become a bond of sorts, if you’re not a jerk about it. Bringing booze helped as well”

“Yes, about that”

“See, I looked and acted the part, but didn’t smell it. Again, you can’t wing it. Smelling like any old alcohol won’t do. You have to know the streets and what’s cheap on them. Fancy whiskey is a no-no, gives it all away. There is this guy with a still up on Third, however. Get some of that on you, and you’re right as rain. I would not recommend getting it in you, though”

“So. Looking, acting and smelling the part. All set, then?”

“For my purposes, yes. So here’s what I do. I show up in my best homeless, slightly drunk impression, and demand that my voice be heard. Moreover, I insist that as a citizen I am entitled to the same freedom of speech as any person who has taken it upon themselves to wear a suit. It’s a universal right, see, unalienable even”

“How does that turn out?”

“Usually, with throwing. Sometimes at me, sometimes me. Turns out some people are less equal than others, when push comes to shove. Or throw”

When you see it

The video clip began

Immediately, it was apparent that this was porn. Nothing in the proceeding seconds did anything to dispel this insight. Strangely enough, they also did very little to support it. As the moments went by, very little of a pornographic nature took place. Very little, in fact, took place. There were no characters to speak of, barely even anything in motion. Still, somehow, the very essence of porn was evident all over, communicated loud and clear to anyone who saw or heard it unfold. All this without bothering with people, plot or anything else beginning with the letter p. This video clip managed to convey everything without everything – a masterful subversion of genre and medium

Needless to say, a great many academic articles were written about this relatively short video clip. Not a single one of these articles dared mention it directly, leading to a powerful surge of circumlocution, some more skillfully performed than others

The most philosophical arguments

He had a peculiar hobby. He liked to find philosophical disputes and trace them back to their point of origin. The longer and more bitter the dispute, the better

Needless to say, he was not popular among philosophers

Given, however, that these philosophers were on the methodological record as saying that unless something was explicit it did not count, it has to be said

The thing that gave him most enjoyment out of the whole ordeal was that, more often than not, the inciting accident was a minor gaffe that lesser minds would think very little of and promptly forget with ruthless pragmatism. Surprisingly often, these gaffes were translation errors, hastily constructed sentences which could be construed as insults, and other such linguistic unclarities. Once, it had all begun as an offer in jest to take a lift on an escalator, and proceeded from there for decades. Another time, a letter had arrived a day later than expected due to a bank holiday, prompting an all out denouncement of every thing the sender had ever said or implied. Yet another feud had begun when a philosopher took the last bagel without asking if anyone present had dibs on it. And so on. The reasons were very seldom philosophical, yet the disputes proceeded fully dressed up in formal wear

Needless to say, he was never invited to anything even remotely philosophical

Kafka does not live here

“You say your story is Kafkaesque”

“Yes”

“What makes you think it is?”

“Well, see, there is this bug that has to navigate what seems to be a routine bureaucratic errand, which turns out to be the start of a series of inexplicable events, and”

“Let me stop you right there and give you some of my impressions”

“Shoot”

“Here’s the thing. Your protagonist seems to have a firm grasp of who he is, even though he is – as you said – a bug. Moreover, the worldbuilding you do seems to indicate a stable set of circumstances whose particulars are known and relatively unchanging. Atop of that, the plot is intuitive, possible to grasp without too much in the way of close reading. It is very easy to follow along and know just exactly what is going on, and why. The antagonists – no pun intended – have clear motivations, and act on them in an understandable (albeit unfortunate) manner. Lastly, there are virtually no emotional confrontations with father figures of any kind”

“I do not understand”

“Indeed. Let’s continue this discussion with the shared understanding that this story is not, in fact, Kafkaesque. What do you see in the future of our protagonist?”

The worst curse of them all

The first impression was that it wasn’t too bad. To be sure, it would be a massive inconvenience with a distinct possibility of going horribly wrong at any point, but compared to the alternatives it seemed like getting off lightly. In the vast range of curses – going from eternal life immolated by infernal flames, to impossible ordeals including rocks and hills, to being condemned to watch the entirety of Friends one more time – this one did not stand out as worthy of nightmares. It rather seemed like a recipe from a slightly too advanced cookbook – it would be an effort, but it could be done.

The curse was thus: one morning, you would wake up to the sight of a positively massive amount of drugs that had to be gotten rid of somehow. Not in an immediate sense of the cops chasing you right there and then, but definitely in the sense of something beginning right now. A marathon rather than a sprint.

At first, solutions would spring to mind, one after another. Soon, though, they would all find themselves lacking in the face of the sheer amount of drugs. Can’t give them away fast enough (and it would draw attention); can’t dump them in the river (without running out of river); can’t use them for anything constructive (and taking them would only be counterproductive to the whole endeavor). Moreover, they take up a substantial amount of living space, so there is no living around them either (especially not when faced with the possibility of an imminent parental visit). Solutions would abound, only to be hampered by sheer overwhelming quantity.

Given time, the whole situation would become dominated by an ever-present medium-intensity anxiety. Every move would have to take into account how to get rid of this stuff, even if only as temporary stopgap measures. There are no short-term solutions, and the prospects of long-term courses of action are slim at best. Everything becomes middle-term, a mix of ad-hoc habits and a hope of these habits becoming routine. Even the biggest of mountains can be moved if chipped away at for long enough, and this particular mountain would only become easier to hide as it shrank. It was all a matter of enduring the uncertainties of middle-term pragmatic hopefulness. One batch at a time.

The curse, of course, consisted just of this very pragmatic hope. The task was not impossible, nor was it demanding once the learning curve got going. But at no point before absolute completion could it be considered an easy going; every step of the way is high-risk, where even the tiniest of mistakes could have dire consequences. Never a moment to relax or settle into just another day in the process; always potentially something.

To be sure, it was one of the worst curses out there, made worse by the difficulty of conveying just how terrible it could become –

Relentlessly selfish altruism

“So what you are proposing is…?”

“Yes, that’s right. Free healthcare for everyone, no fuss, just go to the doctor and get it. No ifs, no buts, no pre-existing conditions, virtually no paperwork. Clean and simple”

“Isn’t this rather controversial, though?”

“There is no point beating around the bush, so we will just come out and say it. Yes, we are literal demons, whose main interaction with the moral realm is the possession of mortal bodies for the purposes of evil and/or chaos. Everyone knows this, so there is no reason to pretend otherwise”

“So, why this sudden unexpected proposal?”

“See, here’s the thing. When you are possessing a body, you get to feel everything it feels. It’s part of what makes a possession a possession. If it was only a matter of getting people to do what you want, it would be more akin to rhetoric, and for that we can simply outsource the process to other humans. No, when you possess someone you go all in, and get to experience every bruise, ache, forgotten sudden pain when walking in the wrong way, and so on and so on. Humans, as they grow older, also grow accustomed to an ever expanding repertoire of subtle pains. Jumping into it unawares, to put it simply, hurts”

“So the free healthcare…?”

“It is basically a workplace health and safety issue. By improving the general levels of health among the human population at large, we reduce the risk of suddenly possessing someone with preventable arthritis or broken bones that didn’t set right or whatever other ache people nurture over the years. Prevention is better than cure, especially if the cure is painful to undergo”

“But aren’t you worried that no one will show up to your clinics, given the risk that you will possess them?”

“There are two answers to this question. First, there are more of you than there are of us, so even if we wanted to we could not possess everyone. It’s like cars: some crash, most don’t. Second, hospitals are scary as hell, if you’ll pardon the pun. They are the least natural, most sterile environments in existence, and the possession ritual simply does not work there. You have to effort it, of course – simply calling somewhere a hospital won’t cut it – but if you bring the facility up to a certain scale, the magic simply fizzles out. It’s all germs and stethoscopes and science all the way down. Frankly, we scare our demon children by threatening to send them to these places”

“So this whole thing is actually motivated by rational, ruthless self interest?”

“Well, we are demons, after all. It just turns out that sometimes you have to think one step further to get what you want”

Non-inclusive yet all-encompassing writing

Theory

Foucault (1970, 1977, 1982)[1]

 

 

[1] This might seem an unorthodox theory section – consisting of only a name and three numbers which are presumably years of publication – but it makes sense if you think about it. Those who already know Foucault’s theories know them to such an extent that repeating them would only be to retread old ground, with an added risk of miscommunication due to imprecise wording and nuances lost in translation. Meanwhile, those who are not familiar are unlikely to become so through a brisk discursive walk through the highlights; again, the specter of miscommunication looms overhead. Thus, those who know already know, while those who do not know will not be enlightened.

The job interview

“So tell us. Why did you apply for this job?”

“I am in need of money. Your advert said you needed someone to do something I can do, with the implication that I would receive money for doing it. This is the extent of my reasoning”

“So you are not excited about potential new experiences and potential to grow as a person or something like that?”

“The way I figure, a person who would genuinely be someone on the lookout for stimulating challenges that would place them in dynamic situations with prospects for personal as well as career advancement – would have already managed to do enough personal growth that stating such ambitions would be superfluous to the process of realizing them. Going through the motions of restating such sentiments would either be a disingenuous performance, or an indication that the process was still early days; neither of which is optimal. By merely stating that this is a straightforward potential employer-employee situation, on the other hand, I can move things forward to the point where we’ve established a mutual understanding of the rules of the game, and can get right to getting things done. It saves time and effort for everyone involved”

“Fuck it. You’re hired”

Graduation day

“It says 25. It should say 20”

The thought loomed. All attempts at distraction failed, turning into unwarranted meditations on how to make the number go down. Eventually, he simply resigned himself to the obsession and set to work

And work he did. He threw everything he had at it – algorithms, libraries, undocumented backhacks, brute forcing it through third party software just to see what happens, triple-booting virtual machines, leaving the tap water running in the kitchen sink. Still, the number remained at a steady 25, utterly unphased by all this creative destruction and unrelenting tomfoolery

But then

One night, he awoke, bolted upright, and walked straight to the computer. Nary a word was uttered in his internal monologue, just a vague but strong intuition that this one particular thing might actually work. He booted up one program, then another, then another, then had them ping-pong each other until

24

23

22

21

20

Finally

In his excitement, he forgot everything about having severe phone phobia and called someone to tell about what had happened. Not being well versed in phone etiquette, he began the call thusly:

“It says 20”

“My friend” the voice on the other end said, “you get it now. Congratulations”