Obligatory Solidarity (Christmas Tale)
Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
23 May, 2017
Fecha de publicación original: 23 diciembre, 1997
Spare the rod and spoil the child
“You are on *Standby* mode. Please wait. New instructions will arrive soon. Signed: OS”. Juan looked quizzically at the screen of his electronic notepad. The message had popped up all of a sudden in a jolly Christmas frame. The navigator had been brought to a standstill in the electronic supermarket where he was doing his last minute shopping. The images did not move and the voice that had been extolling the virtues of each product had fallen silent. His apparatus didn’t respond to any command. He tried to get out of the programme, but he couldn’t do that either. The computer was dead and the message seemed to be its epitaph. He waited a while until he realised he was still connected by the infra-red beam to the reflector in the wall. He put on the protective hood to deactivate it. He switched off the notepad. He waited a moment and then turned on the computer that controlled the gigantic wall screen which had direct connection to the Net. Immediately the frame in question popped up again. There was no way of getting rid of it. He tried to make the connection by telephone. Immediately another message appeared, this time designed like a form with a box and a cursor inviting him to participate. “Do not turn your computer off, new instructions arriving shortly”. Juan decided to ask, “Who are you?”. For five long minutes no reply came. At last, after a little jingle, another line appeared: “You are connected to the global network Obligatory Solidarity”.
Obligatory Solidarity? What the hell was that? In all his years as an internaut he’d never heard of such a network. How had they got into his computer? How had they managed to bring it to a halt? Was this a game? He decided to be light-hearted and said jokingly, “Have I been kidnapped by some evil force?” He had been playing various online games for some time now. But he had never been forced to play one before, in fact, he didn’t know it could be done. A few seconds later the reply came: “On the contrary, we are a benign force. We are completing the connection. Our representative in the Iberian region will be contacting you shortly”. After a few minutes silence, he switched off the computer. Juan decided to phone José Antonio, a neighbour with whom he worked in an urban telematic workshop. The network telephone and his cellphone had been cut off. Silence reigned. What was going on? He switched everything on again and the dialogue frame came up instantly, with a new message this time: “Please, do not turn off your computer and watch your screen. Signed: OS.
Juan was hypnotized. He couldn’t take his eyes off these letters which he would have liked to prefix with another S. He switched the wall screen from the computer mode to the TV. He gasped when the very same message appeared on the first channel he tuned in to. He changed to the other digital satellite dish. The same thing happened. This is serious, he thought. He switched on his electronic notepad and decided to leave the wall screen with the TV on and closed his eyes trying to imagine what was happening. After a while the jingle was back and there was a message on his notepad: “Are you having a happy Christmas?”. He looked at the TV, but the previous frame was still there. He said: “Why should you care?”. Jingle: “We care a lot. Millions of people in the world have reached the first half of the first decade of the XXI century with nothing on their plates to eat. At this very moment, there are 50.000 people trying to survive the latest floods in Bangladesh. Famine in the south- and north-east of Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa it has cost the lives of 350.000 people over the last three weeks. Did you know that Juan?”. Heavens, they know my name, he jumped. After a few moments he calmed down: that wasn’t so difficult after all, he thought.
“And what’s that got to do with me?”. Jingle: “A lot. We have been saying for years that the First World’s way of life has direct repercussions on what happens on the rest of the planet. Despite the fact that you have confirmed this with proof obtained from your immense scientific powers, nothing has changed. Your cities are getting more and more polluted and, in the process, you pollute the rest of the world. Consumerism rampages on unabated, production and trade are concentrated more and more in just a few corporations and this Christmas the OECD has spent the equivalent of the GNP of the 70 poorest countries on the planet. And you, just like lots of others, do nothing, as though the rest of the world did not exist”. I know, Juan confessed, but what do they want me to do about it? Jingle: “85% of the world’s trade takes place on the Net. The globalisation of commerce via electronic means is reaching its culmination. Well, we have had enough! At this moment, the information systems of the governments of the OECD and hundreds of thousands of citizens in the First World are down. We thank you for having put this technology at our disposal to enable us to do so. What you did not want to do voluntarily, we will negotiate now via obligatory solidarity”.
Juan glanced behind him at the television: there was the message he had just read. Suddenly he didn’t feel so alone. Someone at the Palau Sant Jordi, at the Moncloa, at 10 Downing Street, at the White House or in the mansions of the big industrial tycoons was looking at the same thing he was. The TV displayed a list of all the systems hacked into all over the world. It included practically all financial, government, scientific, educational and commercial networks and loads of local ones. At the bottom, on the left, a counter decorated with Christmas baubles was showing, in real time, the hundreds of millions of dollars being lost every second.
“Who are you?”, he asked. Jingle: “A world coalition of social movements, fundamentally indigenous. We met for the first time at the end of 1997 via what was then called the Internet. Our first public appearance was at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Geneva the following year. If you have a look at our information centre in The Great ArchiWeb later on, you will see that we asked then that free trade should not mean the destruction of rural societies and the environment, that the cultural diversity and self-determination of our societies be protected and that social controls be exercised over big business investments. In other words, that only one way of life for the benefit of the the rich at the cost of our degradation should not be imposed upon us, as has been the case ever since the Industrial Revolution. And, you know very well what has happened over the last few years: CO2 emissions have reached uncontrollable levels, there is no green cover in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, indigenous populations have taken refuge in electronic reserves to preserve the last vestiges of their culture and you have converted the Net into the pinnacle of world police control via digital trade. We’ve had enough.”
This time the “enough” cracked like a whip in Juan’s mind. That meeting of the WTO rang a bell because it had taken place shortly after the collapse of the Asian markets. He had read in ancient archives, five years old at least, that thousands of companies had gone bust overnight, millions had lost their jobs and poverty had become the order of the day in the previously renowned Pacific Tigers. He knew that that social upheaval had caused many mini-wars, some of them even tribal, which had almost led to a larger, more general conflagration. In the end, Juan racked his brains to remember that, India, China, Japan, the US and Germany “pacified” things and emerged as the super powers in the world. The tigers became their poor kitty cats. Yes, that must have been very serious because even parts of Latin America, such as Mexico, had been drawn into it, and Africa’s destiny had changed ever since because the factories of the big transnationals had moved to theirs cities looking for a cheap supply of labour.
Was it this state of affairs that they wanted to change by simply hacking into the global networks? Their methods seemed puerile. He said: “They’ll tear you apart. They’ll seek you out one by one and charge you with the new criminal statute established with the blessing of the UN for attacks on the security and welfare of the world and they’ll put you in prison for “saeculae seculorum”. And the century is just starting.” That made him feel a little better. Then the jingle came again: “We are them, Juan. There’s no sorting the wheat from the chaff any more. We aren’t hacking into the system. The system is hacking into itself. This is something we learnt a long time ago. It should ring a bell for you because it happened in your country. In 1997 someone was murdered in Spain by that organisation called ETA. In great indignation, thousands of internauts bombarded the pages of an information system which supported ETA. That was the first time we saw clearly how much power internauts had if they operated in a chain reaction going for certain specific targets. However, whenever you did something like that, it was always because something had hurt you, you got fed up with. In any case, ten minutes later you were already buried under a new wave of information so that you forgot all about it and went back to your old ways: the more capacity for consumption, the less you thought about others. We have learnt a lot since then. Now all we have to do is start up the necessary programmes and we can count on the collaboration — willing or not– of thousands of internauts like you all over the world, to make you aware of our existence, that we inhabit the same territory and that you condemn us to a miserable existence every day”.
Like me? expostulated Juan. “Like me?”, he asked. Jingle: “You have all the services the Net offers to avoid email bombing. Where do you think those messages go if they don’t reach any of your terminals? The bits are automatically redirected to digital dustbins which absorb its electronic impulses. We are connected to them through you. All we have to do to you and thousands of other internauts is start a massive email bombing campaign which will in turn have immediate repercussions throughout the entire Net. We take the number of each user who rejected it, we personalise our dialogue and then bombard anew. We live, as always, on the garbage and from the garbage, only now it’s digital. Thanks to your affluent resources we are able to recycle a part of that wealth and block the global system. In your case, you are an internaut forced to show Obligatory Solidarity for the underprivileged of the world, like the the President and his government ministers. Others do it voluntarily. But there is no way of knowing where the attack comes from, because all of you participate in it.”
The sound of a voice made him turn round. On the TV there was an indigenous person, from Chiapas, perhaps, or Australasia, he couldn’t tell. He was talking in Spanish, although it was obviously a simultaneous translation. He was asking for a meeting of the peoples belonging to OS with the WTO, the 40 corporations that controlled 77% of world trade, representatives of the World Union of Cities and the Global Consortium for Sustainable Development made up of the thousands of small companies worldwide. The Net would be freed in 10 minutes. If the rich countries decided that they were unable to do anything for the rest of the planet, except to carry on exploiting it with the tacit complacency of its citizens, then the world economy would be brought to a definitive standstill with their next action. “Don’t worry, we still know how to work the land and set up markets in city centres. We have kept our knowledge in the networks and will use it again to feed you”, concluded the indigenous man in his message.
Juan was still gazing at the TV when his electronic notepad alerted him he could carry on with his shopping in the electronic supermarket.