Monday, February 22, 2010

Airport. (Part 2)

Experimentation into memory grafting and personality augmentation carried on apace into the 21st century. By the middle of that century, it had attained a degree of sophistication whereby a whole secondary personality could be created, and stored in the left-hemisphere of the brain. The black budget scientists involved in the American Project Gemini, and its Soviet and Chinese equivalents, quickly discovered that the test subjects who were given a large number of artificial memories often developed fragmented secondary personalities. When a series of formative experiences, arranged in neat chronological order, were grafted, the test subject's memory would literally embellish the connective tissue between each incident, engendering a full, stable personality. Memory in this sense operates like a spectator observing a truncated narrative in a film, who automatically recognises the elision of certain events and time periods, and begins to imaginatively fill in the blanks.

Personality construction simply required the creation of between 25 and 30 memories for a fully grown adult. The bulk of are these are formative memories of childhood and adolescence ,where, properly speaking, the personality really develops. According to Professor Lance Ulrich "As depressing a fact as it it to acknowledge, the heavy lifting of personality formation is all completed by age 25. By this point, generally speaking, the personality has acquired a rigid sense of self and of the world, which cannot obsorb new stimuli, but rather will always modify, censor, or misapprehend new stimuli so as to represent a confirmation of its own internal biases and assumptions. This is related to the very rapid atrophy of general learning and adoptive faculties in human beings, and also, I suspect, to atrophy of the part of the brain that recognises and appreciates novelty. This in turn results in what we call the algorithmic compression of experience, where large chunks of experience and time are condensed down into the interchangable, repetitious experience of the same things, over and over. This we offer tentatively as an explanation for the speeding up of time which is a common facet of growing up: the atrophy of novelty recepters, and consequent transformation of general perception from a mode of novel experience into the habitual reiteration of the already experienced. This is good news for the science of personality construction. It means that while a lot of work needs to be done in drafting the outline of an artificial childhood and adolescence, the adult years can be covered with a mere handful of experiences. We construct a typical day at work, a typical day off, add some spice with a cancer scare and the performance of an inappropriate sex act, and voila: we have a stable adult sense of self."

Meanwhile, above ground in the 21st century, open source terrorism was spreading and expanding rapidly. Initially, the phenomenon had been confined to Islamic fundamentalist groups and insurgencies against American occupied territories in the Middle East. Now, in the social chaos that characterised the post-Bailout Depression, terrorist cells found an unlikely home in all sections of Western society. The terrorist of the new century belonged to no specific ethic, economic, or ideological demographic. Burnt out ecologists, smarting from the blacklash against the Green movement during the Depression; upper class English flash-mobbers, disillusioned by the lack of political reform incurred by synchronised performace art and public Rick-rolling; middle class sociopaths, bored to extreme ultra-violence by weekender supplements,ethnic music, and good food; unrepentant pedophiles and sex tourists whose many attempts to classify their activities under the banner of neurological diversity had fallen on deaf ears; university professors who had given up trying to figure out what comes after postmodernism; ultra-desensitized Gamers who had transformed the meatspace of the real world into a the ultimate interactive platform shot 'em up. All had been seduced by a shared dream of the destruction and rapid-freefall of everything history had slowly constructed, with its ambiguous dialectic of grandeur and oppression; by apocalyptic visions of airplanes tumbling from the skies, and sky-scrappers falling into their own footprints in immense, mushrooming aerial dust sculptures.
By now, the threat that loomed over Western society had become so ill-defined and amorphous that as a group it was simply designated on a national scale as our Enemy, and on a global scale as the Enemy. In 2054, President Cooper made his famous inaugurial speech which began: "The Enemy is now an all-pervasive, undetectable reality.....we can no longer look to our own nation, to our friends and collegues, even to our own families, as safe fortresses against the incroachment of the Enemy.......we are no longer protecting and upholding our way of life, but rather instigating a new way of life, which will ensure that the old one, were it still in existence, would surely be safe from the threat poised by our Enemies." Guantanamo Bay and the old detention centres, whose closure had been postposed since the early years of the century, now expand into town and city sized complexes. In a gesture typical of the sly wit and casual intellectualism which characterised his presidency, Cooper renamed Guantanamo Bay the "Joseph K. Complex." "So typical of the Coopster," enthused the Huffington Post, "his erudition impresses, and soars gallantly above the heads of the Republican demagoue". "Will somebody find out what Stalin's middle initial was" screeches the electronic vocal interface of Bill O'Riley's brain, now encased in a luridly bubbling and hissing cannister, "cause this smells like Communistic bullshit to me!"

The transformation of the airports continued apace. The power of the TSA had grown immersurably in the ensuing years, having effectively ousted control of the global drug trade from the CIA. Passengers wishing to fly had now to present themselves at the airport a full 48 hours before their depature day. During that period, they were subject to a series of searches, interviews, and "randomly timed procedures of an extremely humiliating nature, designed to effectively root out, and pro-actively create, terrorists and subversives." Showing a warm deference to the delicate sensibilities of women, the TSA have made them exempt from mechanical body scanning, requiring instead that they present themselves in the more "tasteful and empowering" form of a bikini parade, modelled on the old beauty pagents. In a plaza in the main concourse of the airport, cheap sound-alike covers of Celine and Shakira play as the awkward, terrified women present themselves before the panel of judges. (Gradually, minor reality television shows develope around these contests, and the panel of TSA officials are replaced by the full pomp of the Foul Mouthed Chiefs and Surly, Perma-tanned Music Impersarios of reality TV notoriety, who have by this point taken up most of the significant positions on the judiciary, and indeed on any body, anywhere in the world, responsible for taking important decisions by commitee.) Meanwhile, as the ersatz-Shakira reaches it's fiery cresendo, groups of naked, emasculated men are pursued through labyrinthine mazes of perfume stores and fast food franchises by latex masked, rubber gloved TSA officials. Two of the harried men temporally lose their pursuers by pretending to be mannequins in the window of a Tommy Hilfiger store, seamlessly worked in the cornice of faux-Morroccan bazaar. "You know, Bill" says one ruefully, when the coast is clear, "I should have just bit the bullet, and drove us to this damn convention!" Whereupon they transform themselves, Abbot and Costello style, into a gypsy fortune teller and bellicose husband, and spend the rest of their days in the Morroccan Quarter, assuming different disguises and solving mysteries, always just one step ahead of the fated cavity search they had so narrowly eluded.
Global affairs were gradually shifting into a state of permanent paranoia and borderline chaos. The combination of economic upheaval, ecological change, and constant political intrigue engendered an atmosphere of apocalyptic trepidation. In such times, when history appears to thread upon a profound, mysterious faultline, there is always a pervasive sense that virtually anything is possible. The curious engine whereby ideas are theorized and beliefs formed goes into overdrive, and events become hopelessly immeshed in their own mythic traces and after-effects. By the middle of the 21st century, the radical democratization of the media had reached its apogee. Alternative medias had utterly swamped the mainstream, effectively rendering obsolete the old giants of corporate news and entertainment. The sober, diligent news-readers of the old world were gradually replaced by the oracular shock jock of exotic conspiracy theory. The print journalists too, no longer beholden to an ideal of anonymous, objective observation, flowered intead into a species of catastrophe poet, producing an impressionistic diary of life in the endtimes, and an experimental exegesis of the ongoing global Revelation. Immensely popular and influential, the Conspiracy Readers were equal part shaman, actor, preacher, and snake-oil salesman. Their popularity reflected a pervasive sense that reality and daily life were themselves adrift in a hinterland between facts and sci-fi mythologies; that all events were rapidly moving towards an event horizon, beyond which nothing would be quite the same again.

In the mid-fifties, the science of psychological grafting exploded into the mainstream. (How this happened remains a mystery, and the subject of many conspiracy theories.) Almost overnight, underground memory implant clinics became as commonplace and cost-effective as crystal meth labs; in all the major cities, the familar sci-fi premise of the commercial trade of fabricated memories became an unregulated reality. In terrorist and counter-terrorist circles, the long standing dream of the Manchurian candidate became a reality. It became possible to be a zealot, a subversive, and an enemy of the state, without even realizing it. A tailor-made surrogate personality could be implanted, and left dormant in the left hemisphere of the brain, awaiting a specific trigger to awaken it. Because psychological grafting altered the brain's incorporeal, information content, and not its physical or neurological aspect, it was completely untracable.

Events came to a head in the bleak year of 2058. The Enemy brought down forty passenger airplanes that year, using sleeper agents whose specific trigger was the ritual dumb show of safety instructions performed by the air stewardesses. The subconscious of the world was scarred by nightmares of aerial panic, by an iconography of scattered airplane debris, and all the emblems of the modern world toppling at lethal velocity back down to earth. "Always remember how you felt in '58:" said the atrophied brain of Glenn Beck, now represented in the mediascape by an 8 foot 3D motion captured giant, "full of fear, confusion, and SHEER PRIMORDIAL HATRED towards a vaguely defined Enemy". Despite the all-pervasive panic about flying, air travel received a massive surge in its final vigourous years. A small minority, often members of the Catastrophe Kid subculture, became frequent flyers, regarding the gamble as a perverse, fatalistic pleasure that far outstripped the jaded parimeters of sexuality. (These adventurers were a fixture in the airport bars and lounges in those years, proudly displaying their collected boarding passes to fellow enthusiasts, like old soldiers comparing wounds.) Most people, however, were simply taking one-way flights. Everybody knew the Slow Down was coming, that the old dream of the Global Village could only continue in the realm of communications technology. People were returning home to their families, or to whatever places they envisioned spending the rest of their lives. The tension when those flights took off, naturally, was unbearable. For the whole duration, in fact, there was scarely a world spoken among the passengers. But they looked at one another, with an extraordinary intensity. Sharing the risk of a horrible death, travelling one last time to the places where they intended to put down roots for the rest of their lives, those people experienced an extraordinary sense of shared humanity, of the ultimate commonality of all human experience.

In October 2062, President Cooper made a famous speech which began with the following absurd, yet somehow inevitable, sentiment: "My fellow Americans, and friends and allies in the global community, we can no longer look even upon our own minds as safe fortresses against the incroachment of the Enemy. The Enemy has found the most cunning, the most perfect hiding place: inside the left hemispheres of our own brains."
To be concluded shortly.

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