Reality Inspector, chapter 16

Copyright © 1982 John Caris

Hank and John were standing at the corner of Fourth and Mission Streets, looking at the several blocks leveled by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Poor people lived in the South of Market area--people on a small fixed income and people on no income. Like the Tenderloin, the South of Market area had its derelicts and prostitutes, its cripples and parolees, its poor and unwanted. As it did in the Western Addition, the city was trying to evict its misfits by bulldozing their shelter. Many blocks, already leveled, were awaiting new construction, but not for the city's people, only for its commuters and tourists.

Hank had proposed that they spend the day downtown; he had some things that he wished to show John. After his experience with the old man's box, John was interested in learning about other special talents that he might have. With Hank, one took a wait and see attitude. He was unpredictable, and he was impeccable at being that. Hank was himself, at all times and in all places.

John agreed to spend the day with Hank since he had visited ZAC yesterday. He relied heavily on his feelings for the proper moment for making his visits. Some days were futile while others bore much reward. He played all angles and all rhythms. He listened to his still, small voice, which had never been wrong.

A day with Hank, gaining insights from commonplace situations--that was what his voice had told him. Insights were useful; they could be applied to many different things. Perhaps, he could find the key to ZAC's problem somewhere in a depressed area of the city. Under which stone was a clue hidden? One never knew.

He had not been South of Market for a year, and yet it looked sadly the same as he had last seen it. The vibes there were negative; its reality leaked out through a large hole in its fabric. Yet, what little life remained clung desperately to the shelter that was left. The people living there, at the bottom of the social ladder, could drop no farther. Forces were pressing them into a smaller, less viable living space; yet squeezed as they were the people survived.

The authorities wished that those people would disappear--be gone so that business could chug along profitably; but life did not wait upon the command of the authorities. It followed its own rhythm; and, like Hank, it might seem to be unpredictable from a narrow, rigid point of view.

John's thoughts turned to Mary and tonight's game. Two nights ago Mary had again challenged the authority of the world chess champion. With devastating logic she had ripped apart Sam Runner's ideas, demonstrating that they leaked. With that game, the thirteenth in the match, she had evened the series at four apiece. Even the author of Zen and Chess was not omnipotent.

The game had been one of position with both Mary and Sam forcing each other to make particular choices. Mary was able to transform the forced choices into a win. On move 19 she made a startling gesture: she offered Sam her rook! Sam did not have an answer, and of course he refused the offer. The winning position that Mary developed snuck up on him, for it seemed like everything that he did only helped her. Actually, by move 19 there was not much that he could do to prevent defeat, so he resigned two moves later. A quality of necessity existed throughout the whole game, and Mary used that necessity to shape a win.

Could she again force Sam into a losing position and win the game tonight? She would be playing black this time and so would not have the advantage of initiative in the early part of the game. And seizing the initiative required luck, daring, and precise playing.

So far, neither of the players had lost two games in a row. The wins had alternated back and forth. Was that a pattern which would hold sway throughout the tournament? If the alternation continued for the next few games, then the match would go into extra innings. If both players tied at five wins apiece, then the champion would be the player who won two more games that the other. In other words, the alternating pattern would have to break; one player would have to show superiority by winning two games in a row, not counting draws.

John recalled his visit with ZAC when the computer had endlessly alternated the Fibonacci series and the prime numbers. He had broken the pattern by leaving; he had expressed his free will. That was a clear example, he thought, of people's situation in the universe; it was a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm, the large world. The universe had many layers of endlessly repeating cycles, and all living creatures were caught within the world's deterministic fabric.

Yet, he mused, modern science has given the human mind an intellectual weapon that can defend free choice. Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle had placed in the basic structure of the universe the concept of subjectivity and choice. Although Heisenberg had originally applied his principle to the study of atomic physics, many people realized that the concept could be used in other areas. Most people now recognized the subjective role of the poll-taker, for the way that questions were phrased and asked influenced the results of the poll. And John knew from his experience as reality inspector that his attitude, approach, and manner affected his client's recovery.

ZAC's recovery--the elimination of the alien program--was now his utmost concern. The constantly reappearing act of the alien program had caught ZAC and the Federal Reserve in a rigid trap. He knew that any solution must be based upon the proper point of view. He must think of the situation as a struggle between himself and the person who had designed the reappearing program. They were playing a chess game, and he must force his opponent into a losing position. With luck and daring he would transform the necessity inherent in the situation so that ZAC would gain its freedom. He would apply his own variant of the uncertainty principle to ZAC's reality problem.

Hank touched John's arm, bringing him out of his reverie. They were standing on the northwest corner of Fourth and Mission, in front of City College's Downtown Center, at the edge of the Redevelopment Agency's waste land. The old man, with his box resting beside him, was dressed in Goodwill clothes; shaggy white hair appeared from beneath his Greek fisherman's cap; he blended in easily with the residents of the South of Market environs. And so did John, for he had selected some old clothes to wear on today's journey.

The old man had been speaking of the choice that the city had forced upon the residents of the South of Market environs. It was not a good choice. In fact, no one had asked them for their view on the matter. The rulers of San Francisco had made a decision that was based solely upon their desire for bigger profits.

He went on to say that the South of Market area could be seen as a microcosm of the whole country, that what was happening here in San Francisco was being repeated throughout the U.S. Like so many street people Hank had a cynical and rather acid view of the social fabric. Living at the bottom of the economic ladder, he had no fear of losing the comfort of middle class security and thus had no desire to blindly chant the magic formula that the popular media insisted was necessary for retaining that security. His insights cut through the pretty surface that the establishment tried to erect around itself. The old man was a realist, and he refused to be caught in the establishment's repeating cliche that everything was all right, that paradise was only around the next corner. He knew it wasn't, for he had been around that corner many times.

He now began to comment on human nature. The old man believed that people tended to lock themselves in a fortress and pretend that they were rulers of the world, expecting others to bow at their feet. It was the childhood game of king of the hill. Yet many people often forgot to put aside their childhood baggage when they entered adulthood. Usually, though, their childhood habits were espoused as the rational and practical way of living. A popular song of the late 1960's yelled, "We want the world and we want it now!" And so even now the country's leaders, still fixated in their childish fantasies, whipped up people's greed and fear. The leaders, caring only for their own power, hoped to entrench their position against the decaying world economic order even though the country would be destroyed. For they now saw themselves as internationals, and they could as easily live in the country of a friendly dictator, such as Philippines or Chile or Brazil.

The leak in the rulers' thinking centered on their belief that money was power. True, money wielded power in many areas of human affairs; yet, compared to the creative power of nature, it was a mere mote. Even now, the rulers prayed to their idol, asking for imagination, invention, and wisdom. So far, they had not received an answer. Billions of dollars spent on research had not solved the problem of radioactive waste; only wisdom could solve it. Money could never replace a human mind that was tuned to spiritual forces.

Everyone had his own weakness, Hank said; it was the way that he could be used, for everyone was potentially a pawn. An historical study of human affairs would show that some people had tried, often successfully, to manipulate their fellow brothers and sisters. But modern technology had brought the human power trip out into the open. For now with contemporary advances, many people were raising a question about the morality of science and its child technology. With the use of both chemicals and electronics, scientists were investigating human behavior so that they could control and manipulate it. In some experiments electrodes were placed into the patient's brain. The electrodes were responsive to a radio transmitter that the scientist used to trigger off certain behavior. Chemicals were also being used to study the connection between the bio-chemistry of the human brain and personality. In fact, the government had conducted chemical tests on the public without its knowledge and consent.

All those experiments were symptoms of the times, Hank believed; they were signs of a pervasive and infectious disease that was threatening to destroy humanity. Modern experiments that centered on human beings were based upon the belief that Home sapiens was actually Homo robotus: they all assumed that a human being was his body--nothing more and nothing less. Herein lay the trap for that line of reasoning--that all things were reducible to the material fabric of the universe. Hank then pinpointed the location of a reality leak. All modern scientific theories assumed a constant and stable amount of error, of inaccuracy in their predictions. This hole in the web of probability upset some scientists who, at least subconsciously, realized that a theory which was only 90% probable was not the same as absolute truth which was 100% certain!

The old man was very adamant about the need for public debate and scrutiny. In fact, he reminded John of Socrates, especially when he tugged on his Greek fisherman's cap. A few people, Hank argued, should not be allowed to foist upon the public their latest schemes as absolute truth. Those so-called experts were obviously opinionated, yet their opinions were often grounded on inadequate and superficial understanding. And usually, their opinions lacked wisdom, a major prerequisite for any human endeavor. Wisdom was acquired through experience, Hank pointed out; and a person who had an academic degree and wore a white gown did not necessarily have wisdom. True, the popular media incessantly imposed that image of the expert upon the public. And those two truths, Hank asserted, were symptoms of the insanity of our times.

Another example was the scientific study of the structure of life. The new researches into recombinant DNA were raising a burning dilemma. Did human beings really have the wisdom to investigate the make-up of life? Already, serious weaknesses in both laboratory procedures and in human motivation had occurred. Several recombinant DNA experiments had unexpectedly produced deadly organisms. If those organisms got out of the laboratory, the human population would be decimated. Only the public's blind belief in the infallibility of their experts allowed those experiments to continue. Yet, the defect in human motivation was even more alarming. One of the future goals for recombinant DNA research was the engineering of predesigned human beings. Could scientists ever find a better design than the natural one?

Human engineering was obviously an act of hubris, Hank asserted as he tugged on his fisherman's cap. John noticed that Hank's aura had expanded outward, covering a circle of several feet. In fact, some people, probably students at the Downtown Center, were gathered around listening. The informal, street corner oratory was, no doubt, more stimulating than their classroom lectures.

The old man shook his forefinger in the air and continued. People had been dabbling in the engineering of plant life for less than a hundred years, and already they were nearing the point of no return. With the development of high-yield hybrids of both grains and vegetables, which had been called the Green Revolution because of its promised paradise, the genetic foundation for food crops had been considerably narrowed. Many varieties of plants were becoming extinct, quite similar to what was happening to the earth's animals. The bounty of life on the spaceship was being destroyed by human design. People had forgotten that husbanding and nurturing the biological diversity of plant genes, or germ plasm, was necessary for survival.

Nature had always been a rainbow of diversity, for many species of life existed on the spaceship. And life was always adjusting to ever-changing conditions. With less variety of germ plasm available could people survive drastic climatic changes? Already, scientists were noticing signs that a new ice age was beginning, that too soon glaciers would start to build. Other climatic changes would occur along with the ice age: colder weather and drought. When the temperature dropped, less moisture would evaporate from the oceans; and so rainfall would decrease. Already, desert conditions were moving southward in Africa; and in the U.S. drought was occurring in the middle West, between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

John noticed that Hank was now addressing the growing crowd of spectators. He had no academic degree, nor was he wearing a white gown, but he did have wisdom, and he was delighted to share it with whoever would listen. His weathered face beaming, Hank expanded his aura and pulled the audience's attention to him. He presented the next point in his argument.

The leak in the Green Revolution was, of course, that the new high-yield hybrids had less genetic diversity and so would have great difficulty adapting to climatic changes. The hybrids had been bred for special circumstances; unlike their wild and open-pollinated cousins, hybrids were more susceptible to disease and insect infestation; they were like hot house plants that required constant and extensive care. Now with the inflated cost of petroleum, fertilizer and pesticides were becoming more and more expensive. And the number of large crop failures was growing throughout the country.

Hank paused and looked around at those who were seeking wisdom. His next idea sent a stir of intellectual excitement through the audience: the modern scientific revolution shared a common belief with the industrial revolution of the last two hundred years. That belief had become ingrained in the public's subconscious; it was the idea that sameness was not only good but necessary. It was the belief that a world of grey was somehow better than a world of color. Sameness was not good and not necessary; it was madness. If all individuals of a given species were the same, that species would soon become extinct. Nature's way, with its immense diversity, was better; it was survival oriented.

Even though the Green Revolution with its promise of sameness had blinded many, a few people had seen the trap. But would those few be able to change the direction in which society was moving? Some farmers and seed associations, for example, were trying to store germ plasm from the hardy ancestors of modern hybrids. Multi-national corporations, however, were gaining control over seed companies and breeding farms; since the multi-nationals found more profit in hybrids, they were doing little to help preserve the diversity of nature. In fact, they had mounted pressure on Third World countries to use their hybrid seed. Until recently, nature's diversity had been preserved in those countries. As human society was moving closer to the brink of disaster, many people were wondering whether wisdom was still present? Did contemporary society now have a leakage problem; was it losing its survival consciousness; was it attempting a global Jonestown incident? How long would people continue to drink the kool-ade of environmental pollution and tranquilized thinking? However painful, life must adapt to the limits of its changing environment or it would die!

As the crowd broke into applause and cheers, Hank waved both hands in the air, delighted that young people were still interested in survival. Picking up his box, he moved through the encircling crowd and walked up Fourth Street toward Market with John following in his footsteps. They turned left onto Jessie Street, one of several streets that ran through the blocks between Market and Mission. They stepped around a couple of derelicts passed out on the pavement and walked until they came to stairs leading to a basement level. They climbed down the garbage-covered stairs to a battered door, which had paint smeared on it.

They entered a dark, smelly bar. Smoke hung in the air; they pushed their way through it to a table in a corner where they could watch unobtrusively. The few lights in the bar gave off a sleazy, reddish glow. After several minutes their eyes adjusted to the reddish lighting. All the customers appeared to be residents of the area, for they were dressed as Hank and John were--in the costume of street people. The noise level was not jarring; yet it had a tinge of uneasiness about it, as if something boiled beneath the surface. The waiter came for their order and a little later returned with two draft beers.

Hank touched John's shoulder and said, "See those four men over at the table to our left? They're about ready to make a deal."

"Who are they?"

"The man who is facing the other three is a member of the vice squad. The other three are buyers of protection. One owns several whore houses in town; another runs a profitable drug ring, and the third controls a number of gambling joints. For a high fee the business of those three are protected while their competitors are arrested."

"That is vice! Why isn't that crooked cop reported to the authorities?"

"Oh, a few have been caught. They've gotten six months in the county jail, and then they've returned to their jobs on the police force."

John was shocked. "That's no punishment. That only tells them to be more careful next time."

"Right. The authorities are only worried about their image."

"It's the worst wrong!"

The four men completed their deal, shook hands, and left together. John was further shocked that they were so open about their association. These were certainly evil times.

"Oh, there are honest cops," Hank said, "but usually they are threatened and harassed until they learn to keep their mouths shut. I remember one honest cop who retired because of all the threats and innuendoes. He upset the authorities by bringing his case before the public. Their high-priced shrinks told the Retirement Board that this honest cop was too strict and moral and should not be granted a work-caused retirement. The majority of the Board, however, had heart and voted for the well-deserved retirement."

Finishing his beer, Hank stood up and motioned for John to follow. He walked through a door marked "Restrooms" but went past them down a dirty hall. The odor of stench coming from the restrooms pinched John's nose. Debris covered the floor of the hall, and the walls had large holes where the plaster had been broken. They came to a door marked "Maintenance." Opening the door, Hank stepped in and switched on the dim, overhead light. John followed him, closing the door.

The old man took a small flashlight from his box, which he set on the floor. He switched on the flashlight and shone it on a wall. The tiny beam made a small, dim circle on the wall. He turned a dial on the flashlight, and the beam enlarged and brightened. Images appeared on the wall--images of people.

"We are looking into the room beyond the wall," Hank said. "What do you see?"

John was amazed. "Those are all well-dressed men--the type you would call the successful businessman. But what are they doing here?"

"They're having lunch. This is the weekly luncheon of the Punk Club." When John stared in wonderment, Hank continued, "The Punk Club is only for those with a lot of wealth and power. The members are from the top level of the establishment. There are several rooms beyond this wall that are used by the Punk Club. Actually, the Club owns most of the buildings on this block. This is their downtown hideaway. They also have a secret wilderness retreat up in Sonoma County."

Recovering from his shock, John noticed that the men were engrossed in a heated discussion while lunching. As he peered at them, their faces changed. One had a face of an alligator, another of a weasel, one of a pig, another of a hyena, and the fifth of a monster.

Their voices came through the wall clearly. Alligator-face was saying, "Fear is still our best weapon."

Pig-face grunted. He was too busy counting the coins in the large purse which hung from his neck.

Weasel-face smirked. "We'll twist it tighter."

Hyena-face laughed while monster-face, cleaning his fangs with a long plastic toothpick, still managed to exclaim, "The people will have nothing left when we get done."

Pig-face looked up from his counting. "We have 90% of the money now. Next week we'll have all of it!"

"And we give 'em plasticmen as political rulers," chortled alligator-face.

"Create poverty. They'll go after each other's throat," sneered weasel-face.

"And lick our feet!" monster-face declaimed.

"Don't be so euphemistic," laughed hyena-face.

"Now we'll have slaves like all our tyrant friends," said alligator-face.

"Tyrants. Tyrants," sang hyena-face. "We are tyrants. Ty-yrants."

"Poverty. Misery. Tyranny," sang weasel-face in a falsetto.

"Today the earth; tomorrow the solar system," exclaimed monster-face.

"People are worthless," said alligator-face.

"But, oh, as a sex slave they're worth something," grunted pig-face.

The other four faces frowned at pig-face whose face turned red. Pig-face grunted, "Of course, our new sex machines are much better than those diseased humans. We'll erase them from the earth."

"Unless they worship our machines," declaimed monster-face. "Then they're worth something."

"If they do, we'll put a little mark on 'em. That'll show they're machine worshipers," snarled weasel-face.

"Put it on their forehead or hand where it can be easily seen," said alligator-face.

"Destroy the earth; then people will have to depend upon us for their survival," exclaimed monster-face.

His eyes sparkling, Hank whispered, "The child is father of the man." John gave him a knowing glance and then returned his attention to the dancing images on the wall.

Suddenly, the door of the maintenance room flew open. In walked a man dressed as an animal trainer. In his right hand was a whip and in the left, a small stool. He marched by Hank and John, apparently without noticing them. Cracking his whip, he strode majestically into the room with the five faces. All faces shone horror for a moment; then they dissolved into their normal shape.

The animal trainer quickly herded the five faces into a corner. Then he opened the room's door and forced the five faces through the door into an awaiting cage. As the cage was hauled away, the trainer shouted, "Get out of the city! And stay out!" From the cage came howling and groaning, moaning and bawling.

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