It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global microdemocracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.
With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?
Domaine sees himself as being like one of those campaign workers, or a high-level Information agent like Mishima (Mishima! He wonders if it’s her first or last name). He’s working himself to a thread, traveling constantly, playing the geopolitical Great Game. He’s just doing it for a different cause.
“Yeah, just like them. Except you hate everything they stand for,” says Shamus.
Shamus is a second-generation Irishman whose maternal and paternal grandparents were, respectively, from Zambia and Gambia. “Really,” Shamus says. “Imagine the limericks.”
Domaine tries. “What was the fifth-line rhyme?”
“Usually Namibia. If you have enough of a brogue, you can make it work.”
“You must have had fantastic geography courses,” Domaine says. “Most kids where I grew up couldn’t have named one country in Africa, let alone three. Hell, most of them thought Africa was a country.”
“And where did you grow up, then?” asks Shamus. “Not Africa, I take it.”
Domaine ignores him, glances up at the massive threedimensional football game projection above the bar. They are sitting in a pub in Addis Ababa, Domaine’s second port of call since the Buenos Aires party. Shamus is a graphic designer and self-described “advid concept man extraordinaire.” In point of fact, Domaine can’t afford the best. In the past, though, he’s been happy with both Shamus’s creative output and his prices, happy enough to have a beer with the man.
Ideologically, they’re on opposite poles, would probably be at each other’s throats if Shamus cared enough about it, which makes the beers more interesting.
Shamus moved to Addis after the first global election, during the now-traditional period of loosened immigration controls. The whole point of micro-democracy was to allow people to choose their government wherever they were, but plenty of people didn’t agree with their 99,999 geographically closest friends. Some areas—Ireland being one classic example, vast zones of what used to be the United States another—had been polarized so deeply and so long that your choices if you stayed were pretty much A or B.
“Or maybe I was looking for a better climate, didja ever think of that?” Shamus points out.
Opening the borders (such borders as remained, anyway) allowed the new governments to pull in more like-minded people, consolidating their holds on their centenals for the next election and stretching into neighboring ones as populations surged. Some journalist two decades ago dubbed the process mandergerrying, although it is also known as reverse osmosis, because it results in greater concentrations of like-minded—and, on occasion, racially or ethnically alike— constituents.
“And that’s exactly what’s wrong with the system,” Domaine says, thumping the bar.
“The system’s treated me all right, mate,” Shamus says. “Plus, the immigration bit isn’t even part of the system—that’s something governments choose to do, and not even all of them, mind. It’s a by-product.”
“Systems include their by-products; it all comes from the pattern of incentives they create. It’s how they make people think, how they make people behave.”
Manchester United scores, and the crowd goes wild, drawing both of them to look up at the projection hovering above the bar. Most of Manchester, including the team, now belongs to Heritage, and when the broadcast projection shifts to a graphic representation of celebratory comments and memes related to the goal, it glosses pretty closely to a map of Heritage centenals, liberally splattered around the globe. Shamus, who’s rooting for the Black Stars, shakes his head and taps in an order for another Guinness.
“Look, mate,” Shamus says. “Seventy years ago, do you think my grandparents, may they rest in peace, chose Ireland? Do you think they, in Zambia and Gambia, went, ‘Let’s see, which of the developed countries will give our kids the best chance of making it good, i.e. letting us live out our old age in the lap of luxury? Which combination of welfare state and promotion of free enterprise will get them there?’ Do you think they said, ‘We want our grandkids brought up Catholics and football fanatics with Gaelic names in English spelling?’ ‘Yeah, we wanna be rained on all the bleedin’ time?’ D’ya think they made an informed bloody decision?”
“Don’t get me started on Information,” Domaine growls.
“They didn’t! They made it to Morocco lugging everything they still owned and met someone who knew someone who had the connect in Cork to slip them through, and that was that.”
Shamus getting worked up actually calms Domaine down. “They could have reformed immigration without redoing the whole global system.”
“Apparently they couldn’t, could they? Besides, why should people have to move halfway across the world—well, okay, a quarter or so in my grandparents’ cases, perhaps more in yours—to have a decent government? And not for nothing, mate, but you should shave off that fro, at least while you’re here. Look like one of those white Rasta pretenders.”
Domaine runs a hand through his pouf absently. “I agree that loosened immigration is often better. Economically, it usually is. The problem is the concentration of ideologies— and, in some cases, ethnicities.” He doesn’t bother to look pointedly at Shamus.
“Where people want to live isn’t an ideology,” Shamus says. “How they want to live. Whom they want to live with. It’s only an ideology when they try to tell other governments to do the same thing.”
“It doesn’t have to be.” Domaine says. “But the election makes it that way.”
“The fact that you’re anti-election just tells us that wherever you lived before it started, you were privileged. Don’t you remember what it was like? Except for that global few for whom borders didn’t matter, you were affiliated with where you were from. Kids born in Cuba were labeled communists, kids from the US imperialists, black kids from Ireland immigrants and opportunists. It didn’t matter if you disagreed or voted for the opposition. Your fate was ruled by the majority or the powerful minority, no matter how large.”
“The fact that you can still accuse me of being from somewhere privileged shows that the election hasn’t changed anything,” Domaine says.
“All right,” says Shamus, standing up and slapping some money on the bar. “I’m in for the night. I’ll get you some product shortly—how long are you in town for?”
Domaine shakes his head. “Out early tomorrow morning.”
Shamus stares. “You don’t need to convince them not to vote—they don’t!”
* * *
Policy1st doesn’t have a full-time operative in the Ryukyus. It’s a small archipelago with minimal domino potential, so only local governments and the biggest, best-funded players keep permanent staff there. But after hearing the rumor Ken passed on from Amuru, Suzuki (who is one of those people who always knows someone everywhere) gets in touch with a contact. At fifty-one, Yoriko is old enough to have a Japanese name instead of the more Okinawan versions that became popular since elections started.
“That’s not how you say it,” she corrects the salaryman in the back of her taxi. “This name didn’t exist in Okinawan.”
Offended, he doesn’t tip her.
Yoriko absent-mindedly curses him out through the windshield. The conversation they had on the way downtown (Yoriko suspects him of heading for a love hotel) gave her plenty of information to pass on to Suzuki. And while taxi driving pays the bills, being Suzuki-san’s Naha Irregular is far more interesting. She’s getting paid to gossip. She pulls over into an alley and opens a comms feed.
Suzuki is not impressed.
“That’s very good work, Yoriko-chan,” he begins. Suzuki is the kind of manager who starts everything with positive reinforcement—maybe it’s the non-Japanese part of him— but she can tell that he’s not happy. That there will be a “but.”
“But we know all that. We know there are still people in Okinawa who hate Japan and would vote to go to war. We know ‘vote for us and we will smite your enemies’ works; it has worked since the Old Testament. What we need to know now is who is propagating the message, and ideally some proof.”
“Of course,” Yoriko says, trying to look intrepid.
“And I suppose,” Suzuki adds to himself, “it would be good to know whether they mean it or not.”
Yoriko bows again. She already has an idea for how to proceed. She has no idea how dangerous it will be.
Excerpted from Infomocracy, © Malka Older, 2016