I am only into the third in this series of books but I thought it time to both recommend them, as well as use their theme as a way to give a wider audience to the fundamental question underlying their theme.
These are good reads and I do recommend them. They are a decent balance between an engaging story, reasonably believable characters, and a truly interesting sub text; which is, of course, by main point of focus here.
In a nutshell, the idea presented is this: Extraterrestrials created a virus that would dumb us down into overly aggressive, and selfishly oriented, individuals, with the intent being to keep us tribal, disorganized, and generally at each other's throats as a matter of course. As I understand it so far, their purpose is to be able to have war like cannon fodder they can easily manipulate. Another virus, however, comes along from a source that isn't clear yet. Some Russian scientist is given the means to create it, as a retrofit of the dumbing down virus, by extra normal communication. He is a secret Jew forced to work for their bio weapons program but he maintains the core morality to create the virus without telling his masters; for he can see how they would react to it. The only problem is that not only does he not quite get it right, but the fall of the old Soviet Empire results in his work getting shut down with the rest of many secret bio programs, and forgotten.
In the aftermath of the Soviet fall, with facilities looted, and the various death agents coldly sold for profit, chance intervenes when certain canisters containing a still viable store of the pure virus are found by an equally cold CIA operative. An operative who see's not only great monetary gain from what it can do, but as a means to leverage power far beyond what money alone would provide.
Which brings us to the core of the matter here. What this new variation of the dumbing down virus can do. Quite simply it is two things: 1. It provides an absolutely comprehensive healing mechanism throughout the body; one that allows for the curing of all ailments and diseases, as well as prolonging life to many centuries at the very least. 2. It also creates what the books refer to as the “virtue effect.” An effect related to putting all of the brain circuitry back into perfect working order. And the upshot there is that this effect makes those who carry the virus altruistic to a fault. So much so that even the thought of doing harm, or taking advantage of others, makes the carrier quite ill.
The question the books then pose is this: would the powers that be see such a boon to human health, not to mention social cohesion, as a positive thing, or a very threatening thing, and the answer, as you might expect, is the latter.
It is such a resounding recourse to the latter, in fact, that a possible criticism one might have for the series comes up. One could argue that it goes a bit overboard on how broadly spread the greed and power aspect would be throughout government at the highest levels. It is certainly a debatable point, given the degree to which greed and power has taken hold of American governance now. I would hope, however, that an immediate reaction that would cause a President to nuke Los Angeles, or destroy a cruise ship, simply because all the people therein were infected, would be resisted to a considerably greater degree than what the books suggest would happen.
That being said, though, still does not change the bottom line in the contention that significant numbers of powerful people would not want to have the current economic arrangement taken away from them to the degree that such a development would allow. And you needn't think too long, or deeply, to see even the half of it.
The health care and pharmaceutical industries alone are a big percentage of our GDP now and, as such, significant profit centers. Forgetting for the moment that jobs are also involved here (because they certainly are), if you took those profits away you'd be taking a tremendous bite out what gives Big Money its ability to have its way with how the “inequality of outcomes” works. But that's just the beginning.
There are two other aspects to keep in mind here. First is the mere fact of what having control over near immortality would provide. Do you think the elites would let the common folk have unfettered access to that? And the second aspect would be the new found difficulty in not only corrupting folks in the first place, but to be able to have minions do the harsh leg work of enforcing the will of the selfish at all.
It does not paint a very pretty picture of an economic mind set that would prefer institutionalized suffering as opposed to change that would, quite certainly, be difficult to say the least. But that admission also allows me to get back to the question of “jobs” that I set aside a couple of paragraphs before. It is here that one of the most disquieting aspects of Capitalism comes to light.
Because it was originally based on the idea that, since skill sets were not easily transferred, and that production not easily moved across large distances, specialization in labor, as well as regional specialization in the kinds of things produced, made good sense. In league with these factors was the fact that the increase in basic knowledge that would allow for wholly new ways of doing things would also not happen that frequently. Change happened, but it took time. Time that could help a great deal in smoothing out the dislocations inherent with it.
Now that not only has the base of our knowledge grown so spectacularly, but that we have virtually all technique instantly transferable, most skills quickly retrievable, and capital able to go where ever it wants to at the speed of light, all of the above paragraph is no longer valid. Everything happens at ever increasing rates. New developments. New ways to do things. And certainly the machine tools, the robotic arms, and coded processes that scores of secretaries, clerks, draftsmen, and book keepers, used to do, don't care one wit about being reprogrammed for. Reprogramming people, on the other hand, is a great deal more problematic.
The interesting thing in this is that the one percent and less of us don't care nearly as much if a new way to do things puts people out of jobs if it also comes with a new profit center to replace what those jobs revolved around. For them this gets characterized as the unavoidable consequence of “innovation.” Propose a change, however, that takes away both jobs and their profits and you have what is characterized as “economic chaos.”
As a systems analyst I often find myself asking the more fundamental questions. A lot of times in the course of creating new, or reconfiguring existing, data processing systems, you are confronted with a moment where you have to do what I always used to call “doing a reality check.” This would entail confronting an aspect of what was required in the new, or existing, system that presented contradictory trade offs. A new system, for instance, might be feasible (in terms of the ability to engineer) but it would take years longer than was practical (often to the point where things would already have changed to the point of demanding new design requirements). Or the change in the existing system would require ten times or more of the effort (both in original programming, as well as the subsequent debugging) that a new system would require.
When this occurred I would say to management that we have to reassess all of our fundamental assumptions. Either we need to look in a completely new way at the system we wish to automate, and thus come up with a wholly new paradigm for the design requirements, or the automation we already have is so fundamentally out of whack with the operating environment now in effect, we need to start over in evaluating what the new environment does, and how it does it, so that completely new requirements can be created, and for which an appropriate design to address them can then be put together as well.
This is, in a nutshell, what we face now with an electrified information environment. Jobs now cannot be tied to livelihoods not only because human skill as a commodity makes no sense any more, but also because what need produced, and how we produce it, needs to be both infinitely more flexible, as well as infinitely more integrated into society as a whole as to the making of those decisions. Marketized commodities can't do it. The collateral damage of the hyper consumption such an approach entails ought to have made that more than abundantly clear by now. Each and everyone of us, at the level of some kind of “City State,” needs to be directly involved in both the management, and the maintenance of production; sharing the output of basics so that each individual can then choose to make their own end use items. I just don't see any other way to do it.
We may not have now a medical advancement so momentus as an “Eden Plague” virus at hand, but we do have developments that match it in importance. So many natural, and social, systems are nearing their breaking point precisely because of the “contradictory tradeoffs” now required with either doing nothing, or making changes in a fundamentally invalid economic operating system. An unanswered “Reality Check” has been hovering over us for quite some time now and we ignore it at the peril of our species surviving at all much longer.