PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE.
Socoro, who is the narrator.
And others who are mute auditors.
The scene is laid at the police station where Cephalus works; and the whole dialogue is narrated by Socoro the day after it actually took place to her companions.
I was arrested yesterday, after our operation failed; and they kept me in custody for the night. I thought it would be the end of our movement, that they would torture me until I gave you all out to dismantle our network. I thought that we had failed to overthrow the System. What I experienced was perhaps worse than that.
Cephalus, son of Johnson, looked old and tired as he walked reluctantly in the room where I was kept waiting. He said to me in a sigh:
“I assume you know why you’re here?”
“It’s because we’re a threat to the System, isn’t it? You want to take us down before we take you.”
“The only thing you’re a threat to is me going home early tonight. Let’s just get this over with, shall we.”
“You won’t get anything from me. This is not over. My companions will pick up where I left off. We are legion, you cannot stop us all, and soon we’ll be down with your tyranny!”
“Sure, sure, let them. You certainly think highly of yourself, don’t you. Do you think you’re the first “chosen one” who tries to “expose and overthrow the oppression of the System”? There’s so many of you that we have a dedicated procedure. Your little heroic act is just bureaucracy to me.”
“What are you going to do? Torture me? Silence me?”
“Quite the opposite. My duty, whether I like it or not, is to have a little talk with you.”
“You can’t really indoctrinate me if I don’t listen!”
“I don’t enjoy this any more than you do, but I have to apply article 7, subsection 13, paragraph B of the Auction code, so do as I tell you.”
“Well, then, get on with it, but keep in mind I won’t listen.”
“Allright, all the same to me. There’s a few questions I have to ask you, and based on your answers I have scripts to read you. Now tell me, what’s so unbearably bad about society that you ended up here?”
“Are you joking? This world is rotten and obsessed with money! I won’t participate in an Auction of human beings! It’s immoral and disgusting!”
“So you dislike the fact that our society is built around the price of human life?” he said while ticking a box on his form.
“Of course! Any society built around such twisted principles cannot possibly be good!”
He ruffled through his notes for a moment and said:
“Ah but you know, young girl, it’s an eternal philosophical question. Did you ever consider how society would best be run?”
“Do you agree that it’s pretty dangerous to have all the power in the hand of a single person, for they cannot possibly know everything, never err, and live forever. If this person grows crazy, corrupt or tyrannical, nothing can be done to save the world.”
“Do you therefore agree that in a perfect system, decisions would be taken in a decentralized way, without this single point of failure? Anyone could contribute to the decision-making process, ideas would openly compete and our perfect system would figure out the best consensus.”
“Well this is what a market is. Prices are negotiated by supply and demand, and anyone who knows or performs better can influence the equilibrium by making a profit. Consider how hard it must be to compute how much food should farms produce for everyone. The markets offer a distributed algorithm to allocate resources efficiently.”
“Yes, but such a perfectly efficient society is not necessarily good. You could be extremely efficient at causing a lot of suffering. That, surely, is bad.”
“The problem of which you speak is called the problem of alignment. If nothing influences the manner in which an efficient system operates, there can be no doubt that it may go to undesired extremes. In fact, the system left to its own devices would probably seek to increase its value and to protect itself. Therefore, it follows that we require an independent third party to enforce by some constraints that our system remains moral, ethical, and altogether good. It could be through taxes, or rules for example.”
“I should like to know how you may find such an arbiter.”
“Is it not the role of the government?”
“It may well be in theory, but it can hardly be said to be independent of the economic market, since all humans exist within it.”
“Exactly, and that is precisely what brings us to our current System that you so despise. Let us agree that we need our arbiter to be independent, and efficient. Now we have both agreed that the best way to find one would be some sort of decentralized meta-market, where the best ideas would win the competition.”
“You mean democracy?”
“Exactly so. But humans are not independent of the economy, nor are the politics independent of finances. People can be blinded by their circumstances and desires. And so you see the driving force behind our system. Only humans can drive the ethics of our society, but they cannot do it without bias or errors.”
“So this is the purpose of the Auction?”
“Did you ever wonder why the Auction asks for a single number? It’s a clear and strong signal to align our economy, and at the same time it’s as simple as possible, in order that it may minimize noise and imperfection. Since the economy gives everything a price, it also gives a price to human life. You may find it unbearable, and many of our ancestors refused to look that truth in the eye, but denial is rarely a helpful strategy. This is why the Auction is mandatory.”
“It doesn’t mean we should just accept it!”
“But you see, young girl, that is precisely what the Auction does. It puts us in control of the market, and not it in control of our lives. Certainly we can’t let the market choose it for us, so it follows that we must dictate it. And what better way to do so that by asking everyone what it should be? Many democratic systems could exist, but none would be as clear cut and simple as the Auction. Your own life is the thing you have the most expertise in, and also the most interest in. Any other way would suffer from biases and partiality. Asking everyone to estimate the price of their own lives, and to follow through on that guess with an actual bid for their lives, is actually the most neutral and fair solution. You could just see it as a tax, since it provides public funds and helps ease out the most irrational disparities of our markets.”
“I need to think about all this.”
“Please do. Remember when I told you that you were not the only insurrection group? Most of us rebelled at some point. Some failed, but others succeeded. I was part of one, and we were damn great. But all of us, without exception, ended up endorsing the Auction. Because what comes after the revolution is the design of a new world, and there simply is no better than this, when you get down to it. So think it over. We’ve all been there. You have one more week to make your Bid. And if you accept it, as you cannot but do, all shall be well with you in your life.”