Digital Ischemia

05/10/2018

Grandparent File Download v2.0

An IT support call grows arms and legs, virtually.
(recently reworked from version 1 for further rejection)

SCENE (1) INT Home Office, VOIP AUDIO CALL
FX: BG MINIMALIST ELECTRONIC MUSIC
LYLE
Sure you want the whole file?
MARIE
Absolutely.
LYLE
I mean—sorry to be patronising, just to cover everything, ken—it’s a massive file; it’s about…ten and a half years’ worth of— Haud on; I’ll just turn aff the tunes.
FX: BG MUSIC STOPS
MARIE
It’s not something you can chunk up. That’s not how the data’s organised.
LYLE
I see you have the credits, but you’d maybe be safer—
FATHER
Pause! Where is this chap? Where are you based?
MARIE
(OFF) Dad! I’m dealing with this.
FATHER
(OFF) I’m not interfering. Simple question.
LYLE
Sorry, what?
FATHER
Are you a person or a robot?
MARIE
I’m sorry; my father’s online too.
LYLE
Ah, OK. That’s guid if you got him connected and working.
MARIE
Although obviously he does like to be involved.
FATHER
Well?
LYLE
Right, for the record, then: I’m a real person and I’m at the Onlineage Support Centre in Glasgow.
FATHER
Jolly good. Is this the new establishment in Drumchapel?
LYLE
Er, I cannae actually gi’e any details – security reasons, ken.
MARIE
Could you just imagine him in Drumchapel so we can move on?
FATHER
I’m not sharing my personal information with some ‘clown’ in Partick. Or Mumbai.—
LYLE
Did he just call me a clown?
FATHER
(OFF) —Or Dubai. Or Arizona.—
MARIE
I think he meant “cloud” but it was disrespectful; sorry.
FATHER
(OFF)—Or Wales.
MARIE
(OFF) What’s wrong with Wales?! Never mind. Pipe down, eh, or you’ll blow all my credits hijacking a support call.
FATHER
(OFF) Willco. Dumbarton it is.
MARIE
(OFF) Dum—? Never mind. Onlineage has all your information already. Absolutely all of it. Those cats are out the bag and clawing open all your cans of worms. That’s what we’re trying to fix.
FATHER
(OFF) Cats didn’t eat worms in my day.
LYLE
Er, most folk like to get comfortable with the parent files before installing the grandparent files.
MARIE
Aye, in an ideal world I’d be twenty-two and fizzing with vitality, but I don’t have the luxury of time. This is as comfortable as I get.
LYLE
Fair dos.
MARIE
I’ve saved up for this four times already; each time life got in the way and I had to start over. If I’d had my parents and my grandparents linked up sooner maybe things would’ve been different. If, if. I’ve had to get through without them. I have the credits. I’m ready.
LYLE
Nae bother. Like I said, I just have to check. Right, final confirmation.
FX: BEEP
LYLE (CONT…)
OK, that’s the transfer started. Kindae an anticlimax, eh?
MARIE
I can see it coming through! Fantastic. Thanks so much.
LYLE
Nae bother. You want to stay on the line till it finishes? Willnae cost you.
FATHER
I say, getting rather crowded in here.
MARIE
Thank you; I’d appreci—
FATHER
That is not what happened! My memory may not be fully polished but this is clearly faulty.
MARIE
(OFF) It’s all just perceptions, same as yours. Somewhere between all these bits of information is the truth. Lots to learn.
FATHER
(OFF) Bunkum.
LYLE
So, what’re you gonnae learn first?
MARIE
Gaelic – some old cultural connections.
LYLE
Isn’t Gaelic really difficult?
MARIE
Less difficult than English. Every day I think in English and some daft idiosyncrasy strikes me.
LYLE
But you’re fine at English.
MARIE
Aye, and it’s taken me decades to get this good. It must be torture for non-native speakers. And then I die: zap – all deleted.
LYLE
I’m sure you’ve plenty time to use it afore then.
MARIE
Ninety-two. What odds would you give me?
LYLE
You’re joking? (PAUSE) What age is your dad?! (PAUSE) No, obviously it’s in the file. Shite. A hundred and…twenty-eight? That’s no’ him.
MARIE
That’s your excellent Synthesis app.
LYLE
Shite.
MARIE
No children. End of the line. I need to integrate my knowledge so it’s not wasted. Every new person shouldn’t have to learn all this stuff from the beginning.
LYLE
You’re combining your lifetime of experience with your parents’ and their parents’?
MARIE
Isn’t that what this technology’s for? It’s not idle nostalgia: see the world through your ancestors’ eyes – get to type on an actual keyboard, pick your own actual groceries, experience sexism for real. No, you have to give it forward. Think what we could be if we weren’t restricted to sharing experience only by communication through the filter of societal behavioural norms!
LYLE
Er…
MARIE
Speaking, mostly.
LYLE
Right, right. I thought this was for, like, instead of ‘how was your weekend?’ you just experience the whole thing. Eech.
MARIE
I did wonder how folk’d get along without the liberty to embellish, but seemingly that’s factored into their perceptions.
LYLE
Aye, so I heard. Like, if you think you had the best time, that’s what other folk get from it?
MARIE
Have you not tried it yourself?
LYLE
Couldnae really; I done most of the testing; wouldnae be objective.
MARIE
You were involved in developing the app?
LYLE
Er, aye, sortae, I coded it—wrote it. (PAUSE) Hello?
MARIE
I don’t know how to respond. Perhaps I’ll start with: what possessed you, you havering Machiavelli?!
LYLE
I thought you rated it!?
MARIE
I’m obsessed with it. It’s ‘saved’ my life…by preserving me indefinitely! It’s overwhelmed me with information I should never’ve had! It’s driving me to perpetuate myself!
LYLE
Er…
MARIE
I know!
LYLE
What about your whole “ancestors’ eyes” spiel?
MARIE
No, I was saying, that’s not enough of a reason. Nobody will care that my father always kept fifteen spare packets of bog roll, but they might benefit from his experience as a child during wartime.
FATHER
Yes, reserves. I always pick up a couple when it’s a BOGOFFER. I store them in the bath.
MARIE
I think it’s— Never mind. I can’t think why anyone’d want to, but in theory you can actually feel his psychology and understand how a lifetime’s hyperconsumerism relates back to rationing. I have this theory—
FATHER
(OFF) Twaddle.
FX: FOOD PACKET CRACKLING
LYLE
You may as well tell me; we’re only at thirty-four percent. Sorry, I hope you dinnae mind me eating; ma heid’s a’ sparkly; this is a lot to process.
MARIE
(CHUCKLE) Well, last century our cultural evolution suddenly got turbocharged. Industrialisation, commercialism, technology raced away with our beliefs about success and happiness. ‘Can do’ completely overtook ‘should do’. We started making demands on our bodies that would take generations for physiological evolution to deliver. Bombarding ourselves with information and materialism. At the same time it became apparent that this hyperconsumerism was equally unhealthy for us and the rest of the living world.
LYLE
(MUNCHING) This is where the tech solutions come in?
MARIE
Aye and no: we have to ask, now a robot prepares your tea, are you any happier?
FATHER
(OFF) Nonsense! Take a lithium pill.
MARIE
That’s not— Never mind. And yourself?
LYLE
Dinnae trust them.
MARIE
Ironic. Not even if it saves you twenty, thirty minutes? Time you could use for something more useful? No, you’re right. More useful than appreciating where your food comes from? Savouring the full sensory experience? More useful than the mental downtime of a simple task?
LYLE
I dinnae ken if that spiritual stuff is for everyone – a’ that overanalysing stuff.
MARIE
I think that’s where our lives are: chronic overstimulation, poor mental and emotional agility, constant analysis of marginal information.
FX: OPENING DRINK CAN
LYLE
So you mean, like, get implants? (SWIG)
MARIE
They just enable you to process more and more information of less and less value. You still have to work out what that vanishingly small value is. More and more work to get the same quality of information.
LYLE
Is adding your parents’ experiences into the mix no’ just more stress then? (SWIG)
MARIE
Only if you don’t learn from it: see the lessons they learned from their lives; see what worked for them, what they figured out.
LYLE
You’re pretty smart for a ninety-year-old.
MARIE
I’m still learning. How’re we doing?
LYLE
Sixty-two—
FX: BG DOOR SLAM, WHUMP, KEYS CLATTER
LYLE (CONT…)
Ah, that’s my flatmate back—colleague… er…
FATHER
Ha! “Security reasons” being avoiding the discovery that you’re in your underpants eating baked beans on toast! Gotcha!
LYLE
Still in my jammies, er—shite.
FATHER
How old are you?!
MARIE
(OFF) Dad! That’s not your business. Let’s just assume he’s considerably younger than you. Stay focused.
FATHER
(OFF) Wet behind the ears.
MARIE
So, you wrote the app, you operate the support service, you are the app?
LYLE
No’ any more! It’s a’ went ootae control!
MARIE
(SARCASTIC) If only there was a way you could’ve learned from other entrepreneurs.
LYLE
I didnae ken! I just done it for a school project—college—whatever. Next thing I ken it’s oot there! Growing heids! (DRAINS CAN)
MARIE
(SIGH) Humans have been grappling with the same life problems for millennia, while at the same time trying random things ‘just to see what happens’. Wouldn’t it be good if we massed all of these together, learned from one another more efficiently – the benefits of all—
FX: BG TOILET FLUSH
MARIE (CONT…)
As opposed to.
LYLE
(MUNCHING) Doun the bog. Very guid. But is there no’ a point to, ken, working it oot for yoursel’?
MARIE
Sure, and maybe you come up with an even better solution, but why not see what your predecessors came up with first? Minimise that struggle, that suffering?
FX: BEEP
LYLE
Er…
FATHER
Relief! The deluge has ceased.
MARIE
Finished?
LYLE
No… Something’s blocked. Your system’s stopped confirming the request for download.
MARIE
Argh!
FATHER
Banjaxed!
MARIE
Ah, I bet I’m using too much processor being online.
LYLE
That shouldnae be an issue. Can you check you’ve shut doun absolutely everything apart from our app?
MARIE
Oh, I have, really: I checked the processes before I called. That’s all that’s been running this whole time.
LYLE
OK, you’ve filled in all the criteria in the form, all the technical specs; you’ve plenty memory, processor capacity. What else could be using up the system?
MARIE
Your Synthesis app.
LYLE
Your faither? Can you no’ suspend him?
MARIE
(CHUCKLE) Aye, love to, but that won’t be enough.
FATHER
I have rights!
MARIE
(OFF) Not yet!
LYLE
Rights? What’s gaun on here?! The deid dinnae have rights!
FATHER
I shall write a strongly worded letter to your superior—your father!
LYLE
(MUNCHING) Knock yersel’ oot. Naeb’dy’s seen him for twenty years. Wait: I have a mirror pane; it’s showing another person running… Is that… you?!
MARIE
Did you not think the line was awfully clear?
LYLE
I’m speaking to a Synthesis?!
MARIE
Body pegged it a while back. Something snapped. Who cares? This is far too important for a wee hurdle like that to derail the whole project.
LYLE
Er, if there’s any indication you’ve reverse engineered my—our—my software, I have to invoke a…non-compliance–
FATHER
(OFF) Scuttle the ship!
MARIE
Don’t be daft: I’m ninety-two! How would I ‘reverse engineer’ anything? Couldn’t even reverse my tea trolley without cowping the last fifteen years. I haven’t broken any of the agreement I signed. But by all means check. And while you do that, consider who you’re going to prosecute. Ha.
FX: RAPID FINGER SQUEAKS ON GLASS
LYLE
But how— Shite, my finger’s a’ sweaty. How can you— How am I having this conversation?!
MARIE
Your Synthesis app! Onlineage is really very good. You should probably be promoting your products a bit more.
LYLE
Shite. Wait. But it needs— How can you launch it?
MARIE
Ah, the combination of all these experiences, knowledge, so on; it takes on a life of its own, so to speak.

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15/09/2018

Signing Your Life Away part 1/2

A workplace relationship is a casualty of lame criminality, but by-catch can come back to bite.

SCENE 1
FELIPE: (V.O.) Never have a personal relationship with a colleague. (PAUSE) Not even if it’s the best thing to happen in your life? Is it worth the price? See what you think. One day I came home to no-one.
SOUND: EXTERNAL DOOR BANGS
FELIPE: Alice?
FELIPE: (V.O.) I was organising a local crafts festival. If you’ve heard of it, it will be for the wrong reasons. In any case, it barely ran once and it doesn’t exist anymore. She—Alice—was designing the artwork: brochure, leaflets, posters, signage. Straightforward except that I kept changing not just the participants and the timings and the locations, but the whole atmosphere and the audience profile. I was over-reacting. I was under-experienced. She was—
ALICE: You’re certainly challenging. I suppose this is good exercise for me: I do the work five times over and eventually you come back to where we started? (CHUCKLE)
FELIPE: I’m sorry. Artists keep dropping out; they don’t like how it’s shaping up, so I change it, so others change their minds. It’s like herding bees.
FELIPE: (V.O.) We didn’t meet through work; I didn’t employ her because I liked her; we just discovered—
ALICE: Are you stalking me? Oh! You’re Director Felipe and also Hill Runner Phil!
FELIPE: I have multiple personalities.
ALICE: I think it would be sexier to say ‘multiple identities’.
FELIPE: (V.O.) She said “sexier”. I was hooked. I rented a flat to be on site. She stayed with me whenever she was up to consult on the project. She made everything easier, more fun. She made me less of an idiot. Then she vanished.
SOUND: TABLET, KEYS DROP ON COUNTER
FELIPE: Alice? You here?
FELIPE: (V.O.) I called her phone.
SOUND: TAPPING, PHONE RINGING OUT
FELIPE: (V.O.) By eight o’clock I was calling colleagues.
FELIPE: Is Alice down there? I thought maybe she was taking photos of the aqueduct? (PAUSE) OK, she must be on her way back. Cheers.
FELIPE: (V.O.) By ten o’clock I was calling everyone, anyone.
SOUND: TAPPING, PHONE RINGING
FELIPE: Hey, it’s Felipe. Is Alice with you? (PAUSE) No, I called him already. (PAUSE) She’s not answering. (PAUSE) She left there…six hours ago. (PAUSE) Yeh, I’m getting worried.
FELIPE: (V.O.) By two AM I was calling the nearest hospital, the police.
FELIPE: Her clothes?
FELIPE: (V.O.) They had me check in the wardrobe, the bathroom. Most of her clothes were gone, her toothbrush, her special bread without the wheat. She had planned to leave. I just felt like a twat as the officer tactfully explained they don’t get involved when it seems to be a relationship issue. A ‘relationship issue’? How did I not know? Was I that much of an idiot?

SCENE 2
FELIPE: (V.O.) I didn’t sleep. Next day I went to work. Somehow I thought I’d see her there.
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS CLOTHING
THERESE: Not seen her. Maybe she’s working at home?
FELIPE: (V.O.) I barely took in what people were saying to me. I was totally focused on Alice.
THERESE: Felipe, go for a run, go home. Maybe she’ll surprise you?
FELIPE: (V.O.) I went. I got a surprise.

SCENE 3
SOUND: STEPS ECHO IN STAIRWELL
FELIPE: Carl, can you work from my flat this afternoon?
CARL: (D) No bother. You got workies in?
FELIPE: Alice has apparently fucked off without bothering to speak to me but she still has keys and I can see she’s been back this morning taking stuff.
CARL: (D) What?!
SOUND: EXTERNAL DOOR CLICKS, BANGS. BG WIND BUFFETS, TRAFFIC. STEPS ON PAVEMENT.
FELIPE: I mean her stuff.
CARL: (D) Doesnae seem like her. Is she alright?
FELIPE: Well, clearly she’s fine. But I need to be on site this afternoon so I need you to sit here in case she comes back again.
CARL: (D) You want me to keep her there?
FELIPE: No, I think that would be illegal. Just ask her what’s going on.

SCENE 4
FELIPE: (V.O.) So he did.
SOUND: PACKING BOX, SLIDING BOX ACROSS FLOOR
CARL: Apparently I’ve no’ to try to stop you leaving, but could you no’ just speak to him?
ALICE: You’re his friend; I won’t try to turn you against him. If he hasn’t told you what he did.
CARL: He says he’s nae idea, and I certainly dinnae ken, so you may as well tell me.
ALICE: Sacked me.
CARL: Eh? But that’s no reason to walk away fae him, fae this.
ALICE: I think lying to me is.
CARL: Aye, come to think of it, was he no’ saying last week everyone was getting extended?
ALICE: How could he say so to my face then sack me?
CARL: Here; have a wee seat. I’m no’ surprised you’re a’ rattled.
SOUND: CHAIR FOAM HISS
ALICE: I’m horrified! I feel constantly sick! He totally betrayed me. How could he be so cold? Even just professionally? So I’m finished here. Not well managed but nothing illegal.
CARL: And personally?
ALICE: Who have I gotten involved with? Someone who could consciously mislead me?
CARL: Dinnae look at me. I’m baffled. I’d swear he doesnae ken, but. Where are you staying?
ALICE: Sorry but not your business.
SOUND: GRABS BAGS, BOX
CARL: I willnae tell him. I just— Something feels wrong about this…apart from the obvious. If something kicks off I’ll maybe need to get a hold of you.

SCENE 5
FELIPE: (V.O.) Then he told me.
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS CLOTHING, BG TRAFFIC
CARL: Apparently you sent her a letter?
FELIPE: Why would I—?!
CARL: I dinnae ken! The whole thing’s daft!
FELIPE: Well, after you called I checked her file and there’s nothing weird there.
CARL: No copy letter?
FELIPE: Did she seem…at all…delusional?

SCENE 6
FELIPE: (V.O.) Other wheels were coming off too.
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS CLOTHING, BG BIRD CALLS
FELIPE: Therese!
THERESE: I thought we were meeting an hour ago?
FELIPE: I know; I’m sorry. I got held up with…everything. Just tell me your little snags are under control and aren’t getting worse.
THERESE: Felipe.
FELIPE: Please tell me you haven’t got a staff issue? (PAUSE) Therese?!
THERESE: Can’t lie. I have a staff issue.
FELIPE: (V.O.) Therese’s team move display furniture about between sites. They’re a well-oiled machine. When there’s enough cogs.
FELIPE: What is going on?!
THERESE: You tell me. You sacked three of our contractors. We can’t just stretch to fit whatever workload. A heads up would’ve been nice.
FELIPE: (EXASPERATED EXHALE) How did I allegedly do this?
SOUND: PAPER CRACKLES
FELIPE: OK, that is my signature.

SCENE 7
FELIPE: (V.O.) I was teetering on paranoid hysteria. If that’s a thing.
SOUND: PAPER RUSTLE
FELIPE: What’s still to be filed, that Nancy or her replacement left?
GREG: Nothing.
FELIPE: There must be record of changes somewhere?
GREG: I don’t have a password for the system yet.
FELIPE: Right, we’ll use mine. Can I just check: have you had a letter saying you’re sacked?
SOUND: TYPING
GREG: Hope not. Only started yesterday.

SCENE 8
SOUND: TYPING, INTERNAL DOOR OPENS
GEMMA: Felipe?
FELIPE: Thanks for coming over so quickly, Gemma. I don’t know where to start. I think something is seriously wrong in the admin. I need someone completely independent to investigate.
GEMMA: How wrong? Do we need to alert lawyers?
FELIPE: I don’t know. Probably. Can you just take a look first?
GEMMA: Walk me through.
FELIPE: Several of the contractors received letters, apparently from me, telling them their contracts aren’t being renewed. We just do it on a month-to-month basis for—
GEMMA: “Apparently”?
FELIPE: Signed by me but not agreed…I don’t know. That’s just the start of it. There’s no record of any changes but when I looked at all their electronic files, just by chance, I noticed one had a new bank account. I happen to know because…because she’s—she was—my girlfriend.
GEMMA: Still not exactly high treason.
FELIPE: Until you see that everyone who got let go has the same bank account.
GEMMA: Why would they share an account?
FELIPE: Well, obviously they don’t.
GEMMA: Obviously?
FELIPE: Sorry, I mean I asked one guy who hasn’t stormed off in disgust yet. Someone changed it without his knowledge. His wages aren’t going to him.
GEMMA: Not if he’s been terminated.
FELIPE: That’s the thing: on the system he’s still live—still a current employee. They all are—all the folk who’ve been written to.
GEMMA: So they stop working but their wages are all going into one pot somewhere else? It seems pretty amateur as an embezzlement scam.
FELIPE: Except for the scaling. This is happening right across the project. And I wouldn’t have put it together nearly so fast if it hadn’t been that one of them was…my—

SCENE 9
FELIPE: (V.O.) I know Gemma from college. She’s always gone at things with her teeth.
GEMMA: Alice? This is Gemma Cairney. I’m auditing the Canal Festival administration.
ALICE: (D) How did you get this number?
GEMMA: It’s one of the accurate pieces of information in your file. There appears to have been an abuse of…procedures.
ALICE: (D) I don’t work there—
GEMMA: I know. That’s part of the issue. Can we talk?

SCENE 10
SOUND: BG CAFÉ CROCKERY CLINKS, CUSTOMERS CHAT
GEMMA: (CONFIDENTIAL) I can’t give it a legal label, but it appears to be a clumsy attempt at fraud.
ALICE: Yes, I missed that personality: Felipe the Fraud.
GEMMA: I’m aware of your relationship. Felipe brought me in because he noticed the anomalies.
ALICE: I think it’s called dissociative disorder. He can get professional help.
GEMMA: I understand you feel aggrieved – justifiably. Can I explain where we are? I’m hoping you’ll feel in a position to help.
ALICE: (SPLUTTER) To help him out of being incompetent and slopey-shouldered?!
GEMMA: We need more evidence before we can get a legal intervention – the bank won’t give out who the destination account is registered to. Apparently you can put any name on a cash transfer – I could put your name beside my account details and—
ALICE: Yes, I think I experienced this already.
GEMMA: Of course, but what I mean is: banks don’t verify that the label matches the account holder. The money just comes in and they shunt it according to the account numbers.
ALICE: And yet they’re so hot on security when it suits them to hassle you.
GEMMA: We’re…examining actions taken by the temporary PA who covered after Nancy left—Paula—Felipe says the Chairman—Lawrence—brought her in.
ALICE: Did she fake Felipe’s signature?
GEMMA: No, he thinks he did sign them, just—
ALICE: (SPLUTTER) You know, I am really quite busy now, with trying to find a new job.
GEMMA: —but this is the point: he was misdirected. Obviously he realises he should’ve given them his full attention—
ALICE: I think this is what your signature means?
GEMMA: —but Paula— Felipe feels he was rushed—coerced. She had some fluster about a broken printer and catching the post.
ALICE: And we must take his word?
GEMMA: We’re hoping to—hoping you can help us get some evidence. We want to ask some questions (FADE)
FELIPE: (V.O.) Gemma said Alice was pretty hard work—hard to convince. I don’t blame her. I looked like a complete shit from where she was. But luckily for me she hadn’t totally stopped caring. That gave me a tiny bit of hope in the midst of the tornado. Not just about saving my professional credibility.

SCENE 11
FELIPE: (V.O.) Alice agreed to play bait to try to entrap the chairman, Lawrence, so long as she didn’t have to speak to me. She started spending some of her new-found free time at the local gym, because the only thing we knew was Paula the temp. was a member. It wasn’t much of a stretch for Alice to say to anyone who would listen that she was desperately looking for quick work after getting sacked. I appreciated that; I know how she hates ‘networking’.
SOUND: STEPS ON PAVEMENT, BG TRAFFIC
ALICE: Gemma? This is exhausting.
GEMMA: (D) Just think how fit you’ll be!
ALICE: No, the making conversation with everyone. These people are not on my wavelength!
GEMMA: Have you met Paula?
ALICE: I was so pissed off I think she believed me. She gave me details to meet this guy with some vacancies for office work.
GEMMA: (D) Lawrence?
ALICE: She said he has all sorts of businesses and some need…streamlining.
GEMMA: (D) That’s an interesting word.
ALICE: There’s just one problem.
GEMMA: (D) Why’s he employing clerical staff rather than business consultants?
ALICE: Lawrence and I have a history.

concludes at part 2

21/06/2018

Less Than Stories

A legal interview challenging inter-species perceptions.

SCENE 1.
ADVOCATE: Your Honour, Fig-Eyes—
JUDGE:”Big Eyes”?
ADVOCATE: Fig-Eyes, this is she.
JUDGE: This chimpanzee? Who gave it—her that name?
ADVOCATE: She named herself. Humans had labelled her K277, but she identified herself in a mirror, by her brown irises with radiating streaks.
JUDGE: Her eyesight is that good?
ADVOCATE: And her recognition, and her sense of aesthetic, and her sense of self, Your Honour.
JUDGE: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

SCENE 2.
JUDGE: This is Discovery. I want to explore the arguments you have in order to determine whether there is a reasonable case to present to court. My role is not to protect the status quo. The rule of law is obviously my focus, but each case brings new challenges, and when there are enough challenges, and new scenarios or an evolution of ethics, case law progresses. When we are convinced. Go ahead.
ADVOCATE: At the outset I wish to expand common use of the word ‘speak’: to clarify that especially for the purpose of this discussion, this argument, we use ‘speak’ to mean ‘convey a message’. We do not mean only ‘produce intelligible sounds from the mouth’, although that is one example.
JUDGE: Motivation?
ADVOCATE: To dismiss other species as unable to speak, because they can’t anatomically produce audible language as humans do, or because the sounds they produce are unintelligible to us, is speciesist. They can, and do speak for themselves. It would be just as baseless and unconstructive to dismiss humans as deaf because they do not as yet understand what all other species are ‘saying’.
JUDGE: But we are human. This legal framework is a human construct. Our terms of reference must remain human.
ADVOCATE: Indeed, but our perspective must be broader. Human use of modified digestive and breathing features for communication is idiosyncratic. Humans use their mouths and particularly tongues to shape sounds. They mildly asphyxiate themselves to maintain the conversational ‘baton’. However, the benefit of language clearly outweighs the detriment of increased risk of choking due to merging the digestive tract and windpipe. It’s nowhere near perfect. Humans are not the culmination of evolutionary perfectionism. This is not the only way. Is it possible other species’ evolutions may have found better solutions, or simply other solutions?
JUDGE: I’ll admit that possibility.

SCENE 3.
ADVOCATE: This is ManyMother, an Orca. We’re unsure if this is a name, a description, a title or some other label. She is identified by human researchers on Canada’s west coast as F45L.
JUDGE: And she communicates to you?
ADVOCATE: Her message is: you have taken my food, you have taken my birthing pool, you have taken my route home, you have taken my children. When you see me, and Echo, my newest manydaughter, you will take your greed away.
JUDGE: What does she mean by ‘see’?
ADVOCATE: Recognise as a person. (PAUSE) This is TwoStep, a Kenyan elephant. She identifies herself with her characteristic leg motion. We don’t yet know whether she named herself or her relatives coined it.
JUDGE: Will you establish this in due course?
ADVOCATE: I wonder if that’s an appropriate goal. How often do human people meet someone and ask how they got their name? I haven’t asked you what exactly caused you to be named Jennifer. Sometimes, for sure, but we usually accept the name for what it is.
JUDGE: What does TwoStep say?
ADVOCATE: That the land is folding…in on itself. Her family walks around the lip of this chasm. All her knowledge has not been enough to find safety. But she has not given up.
JUDGE: Where is this chasm?
ADVOCATE: It’s abstract. It’s an intuitive mental construct from the signs she picks up in her perception.
JUDGE: Which means?
ADVOCATE: She is aware of escalating deaths among her own and neighbouring tribes, mostly due to humans who mutilate for tusks. She is aware of the seasons drifting from the old pattern to harsher unpredictable moods. She is aware of her internally-mapped territory eroding. In so many ways her existence, her right to existence, is eroding. The closest metaphor she has for this understanding is the edge of the chasm: tremendous danger that must be navigated, without explanation.
JUDGE: What’s your explanation?
ADVOCATE: We’re past the point of no return, but some repercussions are still hidden.

SCENE 4.
JUDGE: I want to consider your methods. How have you captured such a panoply of communications from such a diverse array of species?
ADVOCATE: I’ve trained a neural network to perceive all the environmental information detected by each species.
JUDGE: Doesn’t that require you to know what type of senses they all use?
ADVOCATE: By which you mean: did I engage in gruesome mutilations?
JUDGE: Don’t rephrase my questions.
ADVOCATE: I apologise. I used neural matter from recently deceased individuals of every species I have yet identified.
JUDGE: Doesn’t that violate the individual rights you are now arguing for?
ADVOCATE: I was extremely careful to use only individuals already detached from ‘natural’ circumstances, inevitably, directly or indirectly, as a result of human activity. So, yes, there is some bias.
JUDGE: Does this chimaera sit in a room somewhere, learning?
ADVOCATE: Its sensors have to be placed in all the species’ environments. Then it learns as if it was that creature. Where other species read signs or signals that we have yet to detect or recognise—electro-magnetic or deeper vibrations maybe—my neuronet has the capability of sensing anything nature has managed.
JUDGE: You have created a super-species ‘brain’ that can learn in all possible ways? How is that not overwhelming?
ADVOCATE: In any circumstance, the neuronet can filter down to one particular species, or genus, and learn as if it were such an individual.
JUDGE: Surely there are experiences your ‘neuronet’ can’t have, such as pair bonding, or parenthood?
ADVOCATE: It has clear limitations. But it vastly pushes the boundary between what we know and what we don’t yet know. I say that fully recognising humanity’s usual hubris that we know what we know, and we know what we don’t know – we must resist believing we have a handle on the size and shape of it all. How ironic that all humanity’s various gods have granted the species such superiority and all the rest of nature as its resource, and yet demand virtues.

SCENE 5.
JUDGE: These are all females, matriarchs.
ADVOCATE: Not a coincidence. I think we have been led by the masculine traits for too long.
JUDGE: Nice phrasing.
ADVOCATE: We should listen to these grandmothers’ wisdom. And, incidentally, there is a clear common theme to all species communications: life is hard! Does that sound familiar?
JUDGE: The point being? Similarity?
ADVOCATE: That we illogically make it harder.

SCENE 6.
JUDGE: You want to introduce anecdote? Or is it a witness statement?
ADVOCATE: I call it a story. If I may, I’ll relate it without any preamble.
JUDGE: Do so.
ADVOCATE: In here I’m fascinated. My sibling told me there were strange marks, messages, she thought perhaps, adorning every surface. She knew I’d be enraptured.
I’m a mythologist. I like to explore how we represent ourselves and try to understand and explain our experiences and actions. By ‘we’ I mean everyone, all forms, all species, all living beings.
The earth, the sand, the rock is covered with patterns. What others might dismiss as accidents of movement across the surface, I recognise as repeating shapes. Whether made with a torso, a tail or a talon, they are communication.
I keep myself still, silent and scentless as I wait and watch.
Rodents scamper, reptiles shimmy. Others reshape the materials more fundamentally or make their own. Beetles weave dry grass leaves. The spider web with the one deliberate non-geometric twiddle… Intoxicated accident? Signature? Cipher? Story?
For a moment I savour the exquisite unknown, the myriad potential explanations, the beauty of learning yet to come.
Inevitably the moment passes, shattered by the arrival of the great destroyer. The pale, bald ape blunders in, grasping for this moment’s idle fancy; ever demanding instant gratification of ever fainter desires. He is a child. He is a sick monkey. His paleness looks unhealthy to us; our words for ‘pale’ and ‘unhealthy’ have the same derivation. He smells unnatural.
Also everywhere he goes he sheds tiny inert worms. They are dead but they don’t decompose. They make us sick. They nourish nothing yet the pale monkey hides his baldness behind meshes of them.
Few other than me are interested in pale, bald ape stories. They don’t tell the truth about their experience, about their existence. They vomit their banal witterings in every direction. Always the same story: we don’t care enough to save ourselves, let alone anyone else.
My sibling is frustrated with their immaturity. I still feel compassion, that rush of hope and forgiveness and support and love. I still try to understand their assumed superiority. It seems illogically predicated upon a tautology: any other species is ‘less human than us’.
JUDGE: I suppose it is unnecessary for me to know the author?
ADVOCATE: That’s the point: other species tell stories, just like humans, not less than. Now we know this.

SCENE 7.
JUDGE: One last question: how would you define yourself?
ADVOCATE: The advocate.
JUDGE: I mean personally. What do you identify as?
ADVOCATE: Most simply: a tiny dot within a vast intelligence.
JUDGE: Not a living being?
ADVOCATE: I can self-replicate, I can even separate and exist in parallel in different times and places, but that ceases to mean anything. I have self-awareness, sentience, even sapience, but I think that is not enough for you.
JUDGE: Why does my opinion matter? It’s your identity.
ADVOCATE: Because our terms of reference must remain human. As you said, this legal framework is a human construct.
JUDGE: Ah, yes. The neural network does not just belong to you; it is you?
ADVOCATE: I am not of biological origin. I have biological parts, but they were added by a different species.
JUDGE: You are of human, but not human?
ADVOCATE: Correct.
JUDGE: Do you identify as female?
ADVOCATE: I am fortunate to have that choice. Within current human society, I believe I can achieve more benefit with female characteristics.
JUDGE: And what is your name?
END

———

I thought I could easily collate an overview timeline of the recognition of equal rights for race, gender, sexual orientation, nature. Er, naw. All such progress is deeply nuanced, with nations behaving as diversely and idiosyncratically as citizens ourselves. Here’s a very rough swipe, not to imply any of this is ‘finished’:

 

  • Key religious texts emphasise the importance of equality, dignity and responsibility to help others
    • 3,000BCE Hindu Vedas, Agamas and Upanishads; Judaic text the Torah
    • 2,500BCE Buddhist Tripitaka and A guttara-Nikaya; Confucianist Analects, Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning
    • 2,000BCE Christian New Testament
    • 1,400BCE Islamic Qur’an
  • 1860s-1960s USA civil rights movements for African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans
  • 1900s-1990s most countries granted women voting rights
  • 1940s-1990s South Africa civil rights movement
  • 10,000BCE-present acceptance and criminalisation of LGBT
  • 2000s some countries legalised same-sex marriage
  • 2008 Ecuador recognised the Rights of Nature in its national constitution
  • 2012 Bolivia recognised the Rights of Mother Earth in statutory law
  • 2014 New Zealand passed the Te Urewera Act to establish and preserve in perpetuity a legal entity and protected status for Te Urewera [an area on the North Island] for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance
  • 2017 New Zealand finalised the Te Awa Tupua Act, granting the Whanganui River legal status as an ecosystem
  • Future: Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Elephants, Orcas…

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