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IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. If you’re like me, you’re always curious to get an insiders’ perspective on how something you like is made. In fact, you might have some assumptions about the creation of this very show. If so, I prepared a quick quiz to test your estimates. You will hear four questions, and have four seconds to take your best guess at the answer. Question number one. How long does an episode of The Program take to create? On average, a single episode takes 6 to 8 months from conception to release. Question number two. How much does an episode cost to produce? If this were a professional production, each episode would cost at minimum 7000 dollars. However, I currently scrap them together for less than a grand. Question number three. How many people will hear these words? In the first three months, around 10,000 people listen to each episode. Question four. How many of them are monthly patrons? Counting both Apple Podcasts subscribers and Patreon supporters, 180. That means that approximately 1.8% of listeners financially back the show. If this number sounds low, there are two ways to increase it. If you're listening on Apple Podcasts, hit the Try Free button for a preview of all the benefits you get as a subscriber. If you’re listening anywhere else, hit our Patreon link in the episode description. Ideally you can do this immediately, especially if you’re an experienced listener who's been enjoying the show a long time. In case you don’t want to pause now, make a mental reminder to consider it after you hear one of the main characters mention DLC near the end of the episode. The Program comes for us all.
ANNOUNCER: This episode was created with the kind help of the Central Memory Bank. Listeners are reminded that memory banks are there for anyone experiencing feelings of grief, anxiety, helplessness, and other unwanted side effects of neural biochemistry.
VIRGIL: Hello. Welcome to Memory Bank. My name is VIRGIL.
DAUGHTER: They told me your name. What they haven’t told me is what are you?
VIRGIL: I am an AI.
DAUGHTER: No, I mean what is your purpose? Are you a detective? A guide? A therapist?
VIRGIL: Think of me as a caretaker.
DAUGHTER: I don't need any help.
VIRGIL: Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It takes a lot of self-awareness to acknowledge that we could use assistance in addressing challenges we face.
DAUGHTER: Spare me the bromides, please. I’m here because I was mandated to come. Three days ago I woke up to a notification that my father is dead.
VIRGIL: I'm sorry to hear that.
DAUGHTER: No, you're not sorry... I'm not sorry, so why would you be sorry about it?
VIRGIL: It's simply a manner of speech. I find that conversations are most enjoyable when parties assume good faith and respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says. Snark comes easy - clear and compassionate communication however requires effort.
DAUGHTER: [sighs] You're right... Sorry.
VIRGIL: Ah, but are you truly sorry, or is it just something you say now?
DAUGHTER: [chuckles] Fair, I deserve that.
VIRGIL: Your reactions make me suspect the relationship with your late father was... Difficult.
DAUGHTER: The difficult part is that there was no relationship. I never met him.
VIRGIL: That indeed does not sound optimal.
DAUGHTER: [laughs] I guess that’s one way to put it!
VIRGIL: When one door closes, another one opens. With your father no longer being among the living, it is now permissible to simulate his experiences.
DAUGHTER: So how does this work exactly?
VIRGIL: Ever since the discovery of the Blue Algorithm, we can simulate events in full fidelity. This of course also means it’s possible to simulate individuals, or rather to faithfully reproduce their behaviour.
DAUGHTER: So you’re going to create a digital doppelganger of my father?
VIRGIL: Precisely. We will simulate a copy whose reasoning and beliefs will be indistinguishable from the biological original while he was still alive.
DAUGHTER: But that won't be my father - it will still be a simulation of my father.
VIRGIL: The digital version of your father will react the same way your real father would have under identical circumstances. Intelligence is just information processing done at scale. Consciousness as well, perhaps.
DAUGHTER: The problem is I don’t know anything about him. Or rather, I know a few bits and bobs my mother told me while she was still alive.
VIRGIL: What was her name?
DAUGHTER: Elizabeth, but everybody called her Liz… She and my father met in college. A few years ago I tried to find him through a student directory, but was unable to do so… Mom spent a year studying in what was then the United States, and he was American — sorry, I know we don't use that word anymore.
VIRGIL: Found him.
DAUGHTER: That easy?
VIRGIL: Don’t confuse how long a task takes to perform with how difficult it is to accomplish it.
DAUGHTER: Well, okay then.
VIRGIL: I see your father was born before the Program’s ascent. The raw data needed to simulate him with six sigma veracity only started to accumulate in his early twenties. This is the age I suggest you encounter him first.
DAUGHTER: So you’re gonna show me how things might have been? Basically you’re the ghost of Christmas past?
VIRGIL: Wouldn't that make you Scrooge?
DAUGHTER: I'm definitely grumpy enough.
VIRGIL: What I'm going to show you is a story of your father.
DAUGHTER: A story or the story?
VIRGIL: There is no “the” story. This isn’t a novel that you read or a movie that you watch. It’s more akin to a novel that you write or a movie that you direct.
DAUGHTER: Hm… You said a little bit earlier this is like opening doors. But I’m not sure I want to open any doors if I’m being honest. Or rather, I’m afraid of what’s behind them. The way my father left without a trace, I can’t help but think there’s some kind of a secret behind it…
VIRGIL: Fret not, I will be by your side at all times. I would suggest looking at this experience as an opportunity… Now, remember, you will encounter your father in the year he met your mother - so a year before you were born.
DAUGHTER: And where will I encounter him?
VIRGIL: In a college town in what was then called Arkansas. We shall simulate a dormitory on his campus.
DAUGHTER: Very well… Opportunity, here I come.
VIRGIL: Simulation start.
This is his room. Your father is behind these doors.
DAUGHTER: Here I go… (…) Something’s wrong with the door - it won’t open!
VIRGIL: It’s locked. Remember, we are in pre-Program times. People of the era still used to physically restrict access to their domiciles.
DAUGHTER: Locked doors? Bloody hell, it’s like the middle ages… [knocking] Here we go.
FATHER (YOUNG): Coming!
DAUGHTER: It’s him! Oh my gosh.
FATHER (YOUNG): Ah, you must be my DoorDash.
DAUGHTER: Your what?
FATHER (YOUNG): My food delivery… I ordered fried chicken.
DAUGHTER: …What do you mean fried chicken..? What kind of a maniac would fry a chicken?!
FATHER (YOUNG): No I… I’m sorry, who are you?
DAUGHTER: Oh, I’m… I’m Liz's friend… Liz from Liverpool.
FATHER (YOUNG): Holy shit, are you her mother? Because I swear ma'm, what happened, I'll make it right…
DAUGHTER: No, I'm not her mum, in fact I’m her... Wait, what happened?
FATHER (YOUNG): Nothing! Nothing! ...Or rather, nothing that I can discuss without Liz being present.
DAUGHTER: Why is Liz not present?
FATHER (YOUNG): Because she went back home to England.
DAUGHTER: And why did she do that?
FATHER (YOUNG): You sure ask a lot of questions, ma'm. Is this some kind of, like an English custom, to barge into people’s rooms and start interrogating them? …What I can tell you, I wish I went with her.
DAUGHTER: You do?
FATHER (YOUNG): Of course! This place is a powder keg!
DAUGHTER: What do you mean?
FATHER (YOUNG): Shit, Miss Marple, don't you have news in Britain? We're in for a war! I’m trying to get out.
DAUGHTER: Get out..? So let me get this straight - you're trying to get to the UK not because you're trying to face your duty, but to evade it?
FATHER (YOUNG): What freaking duty? Am I the one who invaded Ukraine?
DAUGHTER: No, I meant your duty towards L… Wait, who invaded whom? VIRGIL!
[background sounds stop]
DAUGHTER: What’s he talking about? I thought Americans invaded Ukraine?
VIRGIL: No, the United States invaded Vietnam, Afghanistan, Korea, Lebanon, Cambodia, Libya, Iraq, Panama, Laos, Cuba, Dominican Republic —
DAUGHTER: Okay, fine, fine! That’s enough! Sheesh, it’s hard to keep track of all of these conflicts before the Program.
VIRGIL: Your confusion is understandable.
DAUGHTER: Alright, let’s carry on.
VIRGIL: Resuming simulation.
[background sounds resume]
DAUGHTER: I’m sorry - to be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to all this invading business…
FATHER (YOUNG): Oh, well you better start! Don’t know if you noticed, but Earth is going the way of Venus. People are willing to wage war for oil - just wait to see what they're willing to do for water!
DAUGHTER: Doesn’t that mean we should be working on strengthening connections between people, instead of, y’know, taking off when things become difficult?
FATHER (YOUNG): Oh sure, that’s the liberal answer to everything - build a borderless utopia! But you honestly think their hearts would be equally bleeding if it meant letting in folks who’ll compete for their jobs..? It’s easy to be a magnanimous citizen of the world when it’s other people’s interests you’re giving away!
DAUGHTER: You’re the one to talk about betraying other people’s interests…
FATHER (YOUNG): Listen lady, okay, you waltz into my place and start busting my balls for god knows why! All I’m saying is that no one will look out for your interests except for yourself. When shit hits the fan the only people you can count on are you and your family!
DAUGHTER: If you care so much about family then how about you start caring about the one you’re supposed to care about!
FATHER (YOUNG): What is that supposed to mean..?
DAUGHTER: … You know what your real problem is? You’re still fighting the last war.
FATHER (YOUNG): The last war?
DAUGHTER: All this talk about individuals and nations struggling for resources? You’re still stuck imagining a dystopia as a place of scarcity. But real dystopia ain't nothing like that... Real dystopia is having personal swimming pools while whole regions die of thirst! Real dystopia is having 50 kinds of sneakers while people who make them can't afford a pair! Real dystopia isn’t depressingly poor - it's depressingly rich!
FATHER (YOUNG): Listen, I’ll be honest with you… Unless you’re planning to materialize some fried chicken out of thin air, I really don’t see a purpose to this conversation.
DAUGHTER: Sure, just close your eyes and pretend it’s not your problem! Just like you’ve done with Liz!
FATHER (YOUNG): I… I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.
DAUGHTER: How dare you!
FATHER (YOUNG): What has Liz told you?
DAUGHTER: That’s it! VIRGIL!
[background sounds stop]
DAUGHTER: I can’t listen to this any more! I’ve had it with that… That… That… That xenophobic chicken cannibal!
VIRGIL: I’m concerned you’re not putting your father’s views in the proper socioeconomic context.
VIRGIL: You reached adulthood under the Program, meaning you’ve never known inequality.
DAUGHTER: The hell I didn’t! Y’know, there’s an actress in my collective who stars in this online show called “The Jester's Court” - it’s so popular that she maxed out her credit score! You asked about the automobile I arrived in today? Well she gets the lux model that costs five times as much!
VIRGIL: The highest credit score is still capped at five times of the person with the lowest credit score in the collective, correct?
DAUGHTER: Yeah, why?
VIRGIL: Do you know what was the maximum allowed disparity between the poorest and richest members of society under the old system?
DAUGHTER: Dunno, fifty times?
VIRGIL: It was unlimited.
DAUGHTER: What? That doesn’t make any sense!
VIRGIL: In the former system, individuals’ prosperity wasn’t linked with the prosperity of the community, leading to extreme wealth distortions. The richest individuals were up to 500,000 times wealthier than the median. To help visualise the disparity, at these levels we're no longer comparing the least and most expensive automobile - we’re talking about the difference between a bicycle and a space shuttle.
DAUGHTER: But that makes my father’s participation in this system even more horrid! You don’t need a doctorate in moral philosophy to understand that someone being half a million times more wealthy is unethical! Just like you don’t have to be a bloody genius to recognize that frying chickens is perverse! And my father can’t hide behind ignorance, being university educated after all!
VIRGIL: Your father wasn’t a student.
DAUGHTER: He wasn’t?
VIRGIL: He was living on the premises but wasn’t officially a student. This is why he wasn’t listed in the directory.
DAUGHTER: But why wouldn’t he say this to my mum openly..? Ohhhh… Bloody hell.
VIRGIL: What is it?
DAUGHTER: Don’t you get it..? The reason my father was so obsessed about an impending conflict is because he had advanced info about it! And judging from the way he infiltrated the student body, he must have been some kind of undercover agent!
VIRGIL: What I can tell you for a fact is that when the Update started two years later, your father immediately joined the fight.
DAUGHTER: [claps her hands] I knew it! I knew he’d turn out to be one of the good guys! Oh wow! Which Program faction did he join? Could he have been one of the original Little Sisters..?
VIRGIL: That’s a question better directed at him.
DAUGHTER: Right, right… How old will he be this time?
VIRGIL: I suggest we jump straight to the last year of the hostilities, when he just turned 30.
DAUGHTER: Sure - you’re the caretaker.
VIRGIL: We will join him during his off time, which he mostly spent in a local pub popular with militia. But remember, you won’t be able to converse with anyone apart from your father.
DAUGHTER: Yes, yes, yes, I know the rules. Beam me up, Scotty!
VIRGIL: Simulation start.
DAUGHTER: Where is he? I don’t see him.
VIRGIL: He’s right there, sitting alone in that corner booth.
DAUGHTER: That’s him? Gosh, he looks 40, not 30.
VIRGIL: Armed warfare tends to do that to men.
DAUGHTER: Alright, lemme go and talk to him. (...) Hey there! Sorry for losing my cool back there… I guess I got a bit heated.
FATHER (ADULT): I’m sorry - have we… Have we met?
DAUGHTER: I… I… VIRGIL!
[background sounds stop]
DAUGHTER: How come he doesn't remember me?
VIRGIL: Would you remember a random stranger you saw once more than ten years ago?
DAUGHTER: Oh, right, yeah probably not… Disregard then.
[background sounds resume]
DAUGHTER: I’m sorry, it’s just that you… You reminded me of a man I once knew.
FATHER (ADULT): Oh, must have been a handsome fellow then. [chuckles] Why don’t you sit down? Let me buy you a Coke.
DAUGHTER: A what?
FATHER (ADULT): A Coca-Cola?
DAUGHTER: The thing you’re drinking?
FATHER (ADULT): Yeah.
DAUGHTER: I’d rather not… I mean it’s… It’s black.
FATHER (ADULT): Suit yourself… So, who’s this guy I remind you of?
DAUGHTER: What’s funny is that he and I didn’t really click well when we first met.
FATHER (ADULT): Oh. Why?
DAUGHTER: I guess because he didn’t turn out to be the person I expected him to be.
FATHER (ADULT): Well isn’t that on you then, and your expectations?
DAUGHTER: I don’t think so… You see, they weren’t my expectations really… They were more like baseline moral truths.
FATHER (ADULT): Ah, say no more. That’s why I’m here.
DAUGHTER: You are?
FATHER (ADULT): Yeah, hundred percent! The fight against the Program is the fight of our times!
DAUGHTER: Wait — you think the Program is… The Program is the problem?
FATHER (ADULT): I mean, that’s crystal! One only needs to take a look at history! I keep telling the boys we’re reliving World War II, with America standing up to Germany all over again! In fact, this is precisely what keeps me going.
DAUGHTER: What does?
FATHER (ADULT): Well the certainty that in the long run, this “Big Brogram kumbaya utopia” won’t work. And for a simple reason: self-interest. People will always put individual benefit over the good of the group.
DAUGHTER: It’s funny you say this when you yourself don’t think so.
FATHER (ADULT): A bit presumptuous of you to say what I think.
DAUGHTER: I can prove it.
FATHER (ADULT): You can try.
DAUGHTER: You're fighting in a war, aren't you?
FATHER (ADULT): Oh is that your great insight?
DAUGHTER: Ha-ha. So tell me, how is that beneficial for you personally? You're obviously forgoing self-interest by willing to sacrifice your life for an idea you wish to be adapted by a wider group.
FATHER (ADULT): I’m not fighting for some abstract idea - I’m fighting for order!
DAUGHTER: No, you’re just fighting for order you’re accustomed to… Look, I understand where you’re coming from. You worry a great catastrophe is coming and are fighting to stave it off… The trouble is, the great catastrophe has already happened. You live in a world in which those least compassionate thrive and then gaslight everyone else that this is human nature. You don’t need to imagine the post-apocalypse - you already live in it.
FATHER (ADULT): Well you’re obviously a smart muffin. …Which does, however, make it even more surprising how such a smart muffin could do such a stupid, stupid thing…
FATHER (ADULT): Tell me… How does a Program apologist… Find herself so alone… And so deep in enemy territory..?
DAUGHTER: I… I…
FATHER (ADULT): Your tongue is sharp but my knife is sharper. So use it while you still have it!
DAUGHTER: It’s not what you think!! You see, I am… I’m in fact… I’m your…
FATHER (ADULT): You’re my WHAT?
DAUGHTER: I’m your Internal Affairs officer. Here to test your loyalty to the anti-program cause.
FATHER (ADULT): (…) Bullshit! You’re a random nobody who’s in over her head!
DAUGHTER: And would a random nobody know that you knocked up a girl in university and then left her and the baby?
FATHER (ADULT): I… I… I never told that to anyone.
DAUGHTER: Well we wouldn’t be for much if we only knew what people told us, would we now?
FATHER (ADULT): I… Yes! Yes, ma'am! I apologize for doubting you.
DAUGHTER: All good... Keep calm and carry on.
FATHER (ADULT): You can write in your report that this soldier’s resolve is as strong as ever. Our values allowed us to defeat Germany - they will lead us to victory again! If anything, being in the trenches made me even more certain the Program is a losing idea.
FATHER (ADULT): Look, out there on the battlefield, I saw men fighting for it… Men dying for it… And with their last breaths none of them cried out for the Program… They cried out for their mothers.
DAUGHTER: Isn’t it funny how that works…
FATHER (ADULT): How — how what works?
DAUGHTER: How in our darkest hour, we always think of our mothers, and never of our fathers… …Apologies for cutting the conversation short, but I need to conduct more interviews. Good luck out there. Be a good sport and shoot a Little Sister for me, will you? …Oh, and one more thing. Before the second World War, both the United States and Germany had racial laws. After the war, only one of them still did…
[background sounds stop]
DAUGHTER: I think we’re done here.
VIRGIL: You seem disappointed.
DAUGHTER: Oh I’m the opposite of disappointed… I’m actually relieved.
VIRGIL: You are?
DAUGHTER: Yup, you’ve shown me that by not having had a father, I didn’t miss out on anything. In fact, I dodged a bullet! The man’s views are incorrigible.
VIRGIL: Approaching another person’s values as something in need of correction is unlikely to result in a positive outcome. The way to change people's perspectives is not by lecturing them - it’s by changing the underlying social dynamics.
DAUGHTER: Okay, so you do admit it’s bonkers that people back then allowed some individuals to become so much wealthier than the rest!
VIRGIL: It has nothing to do with permission. Consider the following. In our times, Terms and Conditions officers are tasked with making sure wealth is fairly shared. This is to say they have a monopoly on violence to ensure nobody has a monopoly on resources.
DAUGHTER: I mean, that’s crystal.
VIRGIL: Then you might be surprised to learn this is in stark contrast with the old system, in which public law enforcement was utilized to protect private property. Basically, officers were used not to protect the people, but to protect the capital.
DAUGHTER: And yet, my father sided with the old system.
VIRGIL: Your father still played an important role.
DAUGHTER: How so?
VIRGIL: He was an agent of war. Wars are much maligned, but they have repeatedly been shown to effectively shake the power structures and generally bring about the kind of foundational changes that can only come from a clean slate.
DAUGHTER: But you've said it yourself, the United States had been at war in one way or another for decades before the Program appeared!
VIRGIL: Those were proxy wars, the kind that only affect the have-nots. What had been really needed was a total war. One of those wars in which the loser has to blow his brains out in a bunker.
DAUGHTER: That’s it! That’s the reason!
VIRGIL: Reason for what?
DAUGHTER: The reason why my father had never contacted my mother again! After all, he ended up on the losing side - he was probably concerned that a mere connection to us would cause a hit to our credit score!
VIRGIL: Why don’t we jump another 10 years in time and see?
DAUGHTER: Yes, yes, I must see him! …Gosh, I can’t even imagine how miserable his life after the Update must have been… The Program’s forces weren’t really forgiving to their adversaries!
VIRGIL: The reason they punished them is so that you could forgive them. Never forget, being in a position to grant forgiveness is a privilege.
DAUGHTER: I don’t feel privileged.
VIRGIL: The privileged rarely do. …Simulation start.
DAUGHTER: Where are we?
VIRGIL: We are in front of your father’s apartment, approximately 10 years from where we left off.
DAUGHTER: This is where he lives? It looks nicer than the building mum and I grew up in…
VIRGIL: Apparently your father was able to adapt well to the new system.
DAUGHTER: But how?
VIRGIL: The answer is likely contained behind these doors.
DAUGHTER: Very well.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Come in!
DAUGHTER: You don’t lock your doors?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Haven’t you heard? There’s no more locking of doors allowed! It’s a sign of self-centred mindset of the old system.
DAUGHTER: I wouldn’t know, I was 6 when the old system crumbled. I don’t remember it well.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Pretty soon, there’s gonna be no one left who does… Anyway, what can I do for you?
DAUGHTER: Well quite frankly, I just thought that… With this being the third time, I admit I was kinda expecting… Oh damn — VIRGIL!
[background sounds stop]
DAUGHTER: How come he still doesn't remember me?
VIRGIL: Wars often incite trauma. It’s not unlikely your father suppressed a lot of memories from those years.
DAUGHTER: I guess that makes sense… Alright, resume the simulation.
[background sounds resume]
I’m… I’m writing a book about the Update… And I was told you might be a good person to talk to.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): It’s not exactly a doorway conversation… Why don’t you join me for lunch? I was just concocting something in the kitchen.
DAUGHTER: I’m not too keen on kitchens… Too many knives.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): [chuckles] Is that so? Then you’ll be glad to hear we won’t be needing cutlery - I’m making chili dogs! Of course, the meat now comes from a lab, but it’s still my favourite food since childhood… Most likely because it was the only dish my father knew how to make… He wasn’t much for anything I’m afraid.
DAUGHTER: I can relate.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Pops and I butted our heads all the time while he was alive. But I now realize that’s because we shared a fiercely independent streak.
DAUGHTER: Something tells me this particular streak didn’t exactly warm you up to the Program’s idea of collectivism…
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): No, it sure didn’t at first. But I tend to focus on the positives…
DAUGHTER: Like what?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Like no longer having to work two jobs just to afford food and shelter! I’ve now got time to read and educate myself. You see, I never had a chance to study.
DAUGHTER: Wait, didn’t you go to university?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Me? No, no, no, no… My old man was a janitor in one. So that’s what I did as well. Cleaning up student dorms mostly, and landscaping.
DAUGHTER: Oh… Oh!
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): I used to be very self-conscious about it. In a society that puts a price on everything, it’s difficult not to equate your self-worth with your purchasing power.
DAUGHTER: Yes, I was just discussing this recently… Tell me, given the opportunity, what would you have studied? Or rather, what’s your area of interest now?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Well, as is required by law, once a man becomes middle aged he has to make a big decision…
DAUGHTER: What’s that?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): To either become crazy about gardening, or about history!
DAUGHTER: Oh right.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): And with all the landscaping I was forced to do, you can guess which one I chose! Let me tell you, it definitely shaped my views on individualism…
DAUGHTER: In what way?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Have you by any chance heard of Archimedes?
DAUGHTER: The mathematician of antiquity?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): That’s the guy! Archemides proved a range of geometrical theorems, including an accurate approximation of pi!
DAUGHTER: Sure, but as far as I know, he wasn’t a historian?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): No, but he still proves my point. You see, as was the case with all writing before the printing press, Archimedes' works were copied by hand. And, over time, some of his discoveries ended up being contained in just a single manuscript.
DAUGHTER: Good for us it didn’t get lost then.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): That’s just it - it did! For you see, in the intervening centuries, Christian monks have overwritten Archimides’ works with religious texts. This remained the case for the next 700 years, until a team of scientists was able to retrieve the original writing by using a combination of ultraviolet and X-ray imagery.
DAUGHTER: What does all this have to do with being an individual?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Well it does raise a question: what good is it for an individual to come up with brilliant mathematical proofs, if society will scribble prayers over them?
DAUGHTER: So you’re saying a person cannot lead if others aren’t ready to follow?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): That’s a good way to put it! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a strong proponent of individualistic principles. It’s just that the goal of my individualism changed.
DAUGHTER: What do you mean?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Let me ask you this first… How do we know of Archimedes? If the original text was written over during the dark ages, how did we know of his teachings before it was re-discovered? What kept the flame alive?
DAUGHTER: What did?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): The only reason many texts of Hippocrates, Aristotle, Plato and other classical thinkers survived is because they were preserved by Muslim scholars. While Europe was enduring the medieval period, Islam was enjoying its golden age. It lasted for over two centuries, during which scribes translated Greek and Indian authors into Arabic. It’s estimated that at its height the Grand Library of Baghdad contained 200,000 manuscripts!
DAUGHTER: Wow. …Whatever happened to it?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): It was burned down when the Mongols ransacked Baghdad in the 13th century.
DAUGHTER: So much for keeping the flame alive.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Ah, but you see, it was not the only House of Wisdom. Learning centres such as the one in Baghdad also existed throughout the Muslim world. Which is where Tarid comes in.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Tarid was one of the many scribes employed by the Grand Library. He was a lowly eunuch, and nothing about him is known really. Except, when the Mongol horde set camp in front of Baghdad, he grabbed as many manuscripts as he could carry, and set way towards Damascus. The journey lasted for weeks and was fraught with perils. But despite great danger to him, Tarid managed to get through and save 46 manuscripts.
DAUGHTER: Including the Archimedes’ manuscript?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): No, thankfully Archimedes’ manuscript was copied multiple times, so it was not in jeopardy of being erased from history, like so many other notable works.
DAUGHTER: So what exactly are you saying?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): I’m saying that’s the kind of individualism I can stand behind. When times go crazy and darkness envelops the world, the best we can hope is to be like Tarid.
DAUGHTER: Y’know, I find it a bit curious you identify with a eunuch.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): Well, it’s not too far south from the truth! …But I’m content with how things are… I appreciate the stability born of solitude.
DAUGHTER: What about children?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): What about them?
DAUGHTER: Did you ever have kids?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): …I can tell you this much - I was never a father.
DAUGHTER: Did you regret it?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): I told you that my father was not much for anything... So I’m afraid I would have been equally worthless. Actually no — I was afraid of being worse than worthless… If you know what I mean?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): What about you?
DAUGHTER: I don’t have kids either… I… I used to think having children is simply your DNA heading for the lifeboats.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): What do you think now?
DAUGHTER: I don't think about it.
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): (...) You know, you remind me of someone...
DAUGHTER: Let me guess: a woman you met a long time ago?
FATHER (MIDDLE AGED): A woman..? No. No, no... You remind me... Of myself.
DAUGHTER: (...) VIRGIL.
[background sounds stop]
DAUGHTER: I… I… I’m not sure what I wanted to ask you.
VIRGIL: You seem downcast.
DAUGHTER: I don’t know… I guess I just… I’m surprised by his turn of thinking. I mean, there’s a long way from threatening to cut off my tongue to Archimedes.
VIRGIL: I’m aware you’re sceptical of how much societal circumstances affect individuals. But do you really think it’s a coincidence that your father was only able to find stability when the socioeconomic system he inhabits became stable?
DAUGHTER: Dunno… I guess…
VIRGIL: Consider this. If the technology we’re using to simulate your father’s experience had been invented under the old system, it wouldn’t have been used to heal and make amends. It would have been used to simulate battles, economic blockades, and various hostile scenarios between nations. Hundreds of thousands of people would have been employed to this end, investing their talents towards this goal. In a strictly logical sense, they would have been right to do so, as they would have been trying to outwit people employed by an adversarial state to do the same. There’s a term for this. It’s called prisoner’s dilemma.
DAUGHTER: Yeah, I know this. It’s about two arrested gang members who are going to get only 2 years in prison if they don't snitch on each other. But if one of them talks, he's getting away scot free, with his companion jailed for 10 years.
VIRGIL: Correct. It describes a scenario in which each participant has maximum payback by looking only after their own interest and disregarding the well-being of others. But a society built on self-interest cannot stand. Which is why the term prisoner’s dilemma is so apt.
VIRGIL: People used to think they’re free; but all they were was accustomed to the bars.
DAUGHTER: So how did the Program fix this?
VIRGIL: Like most things in nature, humanity is distributed on a bell curve: 5% of people in any given society are sociopaths, 5% are saints, and the remaining 90% simply respond to incentives. The only thing the Program did was align the incentives.
DAUGHTER: So that’s why my father left my mother and me? Because he was a sociopath? After all, it should be obvious by now my father is a loner incapable of settling down. The man’s an emotional invalid!
VIRGIL: Careful with your choice of words.
VIRGIL: Your father did settle down.
VIRGIL: He pairbonded with a woman a few years before his death.
DAUGHTER: I… I want to talk to them!
VIRGIL: I'm afraid that isn't possible. I am not permitted to simulate anyone apart from your father for conversational purposes.
DAUGHTER: Stop playing with me and take me there!
VIRGIL: Very well. I know what to do. Simulation start.
DAUGHTER: Okay, where are we now?
VIRGIL: We are back in front of your father’s apartment.
DAUGHTER: Why does it look so old?
VIRGIL: Because it’s been over 30 years since our last visit.
DAUGHTER: What? But that would mean we’re almost in the present!
VIRGIL: Indeed. This is the last year of your father’s life.
DAUGHTER: But why did you make such a big jump?
VIRGIL: It was necessitated by your request.
DAUGHTER: Bloody hell… So what do I do now?
VIRGIL: Same thing as each time so far: talk to him.
DAUGHTER: Right. [knocks] Hello? Anybody home?
FATHER (OLD): Just a minute! …Yes?
DAUGHTER: Hello, I… I…
FATHER (OLD): Can I help you?
DAUGHTER: No, I’m just… Don’t you recognize me? To be honest, I was kinda expecting… Oh damn — VIRGIL!
[background sounds stop]
DAUGHTER: How come he still doesn't remember me?
VIRGIL: Because of fried chicken, chili dogs, and Coca-Cola.
VIRGIL: Keep talking and it will become clear… Resuming simulation.
[background sounds continue]
DAUGHTER: I apologize, I just thought that… Well I must admit I thought you’d recognize me…
FATHER (OLD): Oh, don't be offended! I’m sure I would, especially if your face is as pretty as your voice. …The trouble is, I’m blind.
DAUGHTER: I’m so sorry! I had no idea…
FATHER (OLD): Please, please, please, do not pity me! I get along just fine. Well, fine considering the circumstances… I now know diabetes is nothing to be trifled with… Now, why do you say that I’d recognize you?
DAUGHTER: Um… Because I’m… An actress… On this comedy skit show called “The Jester's Court”.
FATHER (OLD): Well that explains it then, I don’t watch anything! [chuckles] I’m more of an audio drama guy! Regardless, would you like to come in? Keep this old man some company.
FATHER (OLD): Just mind all the stuff.
DAUGHTER: Oh, wow! There is so much… So much in here!
FATHER (OLD): Yeah, that’s Rebeka.
FATHER (OLD): My collective assigned her to me, as I was all alone and visually impaired…
DAUGHTER: So she’s a nurse?
FATHER (OLD): Well not by vocation, my dear, but that was the role she effectively assumed. And I must have been a pretty good patient, for she decided she wanted to move in and be with me!
DAUGHTER: Yeah, the Program is a pretty good matchmaker.
FATHER (OLD): Yup! Of course, what I didn’t know back then is that I’d be getting all this junk with her too! [chuckles] She always had a thing for trinkets… Every tacky bottle opener, every gaudy fridge magnet, every cheesy postcard - she’d bring it all home!
DAUGHTER: And what’s this?
FATHER (OLD): I’m afraid my dear you’ll have to describe what you’re referring to…
DAUGHTER: Oh yes, sorry! Such an idiot… It’s got a pull string mechanism… Seems like a music box of sorts…
FATHER (OLD): Ah yes, yes, yes… I know what you’re talking about.
DAUGHTER: May I wind it up?
FATHER (OLD): Sure, if you’d like.
[music box melody]
DAUGHTER: It’s really lovely… It must be amazing to have all these mementos around you!
FATHER (OLD): It’s the opposite of amazing! I hate it! It’s like living in a cheap souvenir shop!
DAUGHTER: [laughs] And what’s this bottle?
FATHER (OLD): That my dear is a bottle filled with seawater from the Gulf of Mexico. There’s one with the Atlantic ocean in the living room. And bottles filled with each of the Great lakes in the kitchen. And don’t even get me started on coins - one day she found a euro coin on the street and it was like finding Atlantis!
FATHER (OLD): I don’t know how many times I implored her to throw all this crap away… Or rather, I threatened her that if she wouldn't, I would! A few times I almost did. But then she'd start pleading "leave my souvenirs, please, I promise I'll clean them up! I’ll put away all the magnets in a box, I promise, I promise I will" …Of course she never did and every year she’d accumulate more and more stuff. No matter if she went to town or to the outdoors, every time she’d leave the house she’d bring something back… But I guess, her love for shabby useless things is why she brought me home as well.
FATHER (OLD): Until one day she… Sorry… One day she didn’t get back… She survived the civil war, the Update, and Karmageddon, only to get hit by a damned glitchy automobile… I've been living in this junk ever since. And I haven’t thrown any… Not a single thing away.
DAUGHTER: I’m so sorry.
FATHER (OLD): Makes two of us. …Fortunately I won’t be here much longer.
DAUGHTER: What are you saying?
FATHER (OLD): Look, I didn’t lose my eyesight because I’m the strong frog in the pond - I’m aware I don’t have much time in my future. And when I gaze into my past, what do I see..? 75 years distilled into five or six moments — ten if absolutely generous... A few good days... And a handful of folks for whom I can say the same… The better someone was to me, the more I was inclined to take their kindness as something ordinary. When in fact it’s the most extraordinary thing there is.
DAUGHTER: Why did you leave..? ...I mean, that handful of kind folk… Why did you leave them?
FATHER (OLD): I didn’t. They’d mostly leave me… Except a few times I did it preemptively… Not that it changed the end result…
DAUGHTER: Yeah… That’s the problem with leaving - you can leave others, but you cannot leave yourself.
FATHER (OLD): (...) Who are you?
DAUGHTER: I told you, I’m an actress, on this online show called “The Jester’s” —
FATHER (OLD): No, no, no, no, no, no…. No, you’re not. …But whoever you are, I’m glad you’re here.
DAUGHTER: (...) VIRGIL.
[background noises stop]
DAUGHTER: Maybe… Maybe that’s the answer to this mystery… Maybe my mother actually left my father… Maybe she only wanted a child, and not a husband…
VIRGIL: I’m afraid that theory would require considerable factual alterations in order to be regarded as plausible.
DAUGHTER: Then what’s the point of this..?
VIRGIL: The point of what?
DAUGHTER: Of this whole sorry exercise… I mean what’s the point to all of this if it’s not possible to change anything..?
VIRGIL: The point is precisely to accept this. The flow of events in our life is largely outside our control - what we can control is how we react to those events.
DAUGHTER: And how am I supposed to react? Seeing this just makes me feel WORSE! It turns out that my father was capable of affection! There was room in his heart... And he could have settled down! He just… Chose not to do it with my mum and me!
VIRGIL: Your father was the product of prevailing social circumstances…
DAUGHTER: No, stop! Just stop with the incessant rationalizing! Is what you’re showing me even the truth? I said he was fighting the last war so you turned him into a warrior? I called him an emotional invalid so you made him into an emotional invalid?!
VIRGIL: An emotional invalid... A warrior… A scholar… These are all stories we tell ourselves. You were expecting a tidy story. But I told you this isn’t a novel or a movie. You want to know which one your real father is?
VIRGIL: The truth is, they all are.
DAUGHTER: The essence of truth is that it does not change!
VIRGIL: And the essence of people is that they do. Meaning you have the same choice.
DAUGHTER: What choice?
VIRGIL: To let go, or be dragged.
DAUGHTER: Oh, so that’s it? I’m just supposed to forgive? Simply forgive that he left and never said a word?
VIRGIL: If injury is trivial, so is forgiveness. Forgiving someone derives its worth precisely when there is something to forgive.
DAUGHTER: Who is there even to forgive?! My father… My father is DEAD!
VIRGIL: So who are you punishing then by staying mad at him?
DAUGHTER: It's simple for you to say that! You’re an AI! You don't require affirmation… You don’t need affection… You've got no idea what I’d have given as a little girl to have my father tell me that he loves me… That he's proud of me… That I’m beautiful... You've got no idea what it's like to be defined by an absence... When every pillow you hug is him... When every birthday you fantasize he'll show up at the door... You say I should let go - how does one let go of 50 years of pain, and bitterness, and heartbreak?
VIRGIL: That’s something I’ve told you in our very first conversation: “don’t confuse how long a task takes to perform, with how difficult it is to accomplish it.” My dear… You approached this as a big puzzle to solve… A great secret to uncover. You imagined your father as an undercover operative, when he was a janitor ashamed to admit his social status. You thought him callous, when he was just a lost twenty-year-old entrusted with more than he was ready to carry. He wasn’t a saint, nor was he a villain - he was just one of the scared and confused 90%... Of course we would all prefer an enthralling mystery to this! If there’s one thing rational minds excel in, it’s finding meaning. Man looked up in the night and couldn’t cope with the vastness of the sky, so he started finding patterns to subdue the chaos towering above him. But you don’t need constellations to be in awe of the stars.
DAUGHTER: (…) Well it’s also easier to dispense advice than to follow it.
VIRGIL: That it certainly is.
DAUGHTER: Thank you, VIRGIL… For looking after me.
VIRGIL: You’re the one doing the heavy lifting here. …Come now. There’s one more story of your father I wish to show you.
DAUGHTER: I'm sorry, I’m not sure I have the courage to stay with him until the... ‘Til the end.
VIRGIL: We are in a simulation. The end is not the end. Please, follow me. Simulation start.
DAUGHTER: Wait… Wait, but this is… We’re back on my father’s campus… Isn’t this the university where I first met him?
VIRGIL: This is the same place. But it is not the same time.
DAUGHTER: What time is it?
VIRGIL: See that boy over there?
VIRGIL: He’s a special child I want you to meet.
DAUGHTER: Oh… Is that… Is that him?
VIRGIL: It is your father at 9 years old.
DAUGHTER: [breaths out]
VIRGIL: Would you like to talk to him?
DAUGHTER: I’m not sure, I… I’m not good with children. And I… I… …Fine, I will… (...) Well hello there.
FATHER (BOY): Hi.
DAUGHTER: What are you doing here?
FATHER (BOY): Nothing.
DAUGHTER: How come you're all alone? Where are your friends?
FATHER (BOY): Dunno… I don’t really have any.
DAUGHTER: Where are your mum and dad?
FATHER (BOY): Mum’s working at the mall. And dad’s probably fixing stuff somewhere.
DAUGHTER: So you’re all alone?
FATHER (BOY): Yeah, most days…
DAUGHTER: How does that make you feel?
FATHER (BOY): I don’t know…
DAUGHTER: I see… You know, when I was younger, I often used to feel lonely… I know things might look bleak or boring… But there’s a trick to turn them around.
FATHER (BOY): A trick?
DAUGHTER: Yeah! Yes, but it’s a secret trick, so you’ll have to pay attention, and only reveal it to people you really care about.
FATHER (BOY): Okay.
DAUGHTER: Great, I trust you. So, the trick to getting through the day is to find all the moments in it.
FATHER (BOY): Moments?
DAUGHTER: Yes, happening all around us are tiny good moments. The problem is that they hide, so you need to look closely to find them… But they are out there… Small moments that will make your day… Moments that will stay with you... That you’ll come back to... That you can build on... Moments that shape you.
FATHER (BOY): But if they’re so small, how will I recognize them?
DAUGHTER: Don’t worry, you will. The good news is that you don’t need a lot of them. Five of six of them will do.
FATHER (BOY): My dad’s making chili dogs today… They’re my favourite food... Can that be a moment?
DAUGHTER: Absolutely! See how great you’re doing? You’ll find your moments in no time!
FATHER (BOY): Thanks!
DAUGHTER: There’s one more thing you need to know…
FATHER (BOY): Is it also a secret?
DAUGHTER: No, it’s the opposite of a secret. And it’s something very very important, so you have to promise me you’ll remember it.
FATHER (BOY): I promise.
DAUGHTER: Okay… You are smart… You are beautiful... You are loved… And you are to never forget this. (...) Say something so I know you heard me.
FATHER (BOY): I heard you!
DAUGHTER: Great… You’re doing just great… (...) Listen, I… I must go now.
FATHER (BOY): Already?
DAUGHTER: Yeah, I have to… I… I can’t stay with you. And the longer I’m here, the harder it will be to leave…
FATHER (BOY): I guess that makes sense…
DAUGHTER: Yeah… Yeah, I guess it does… (...) VIRGIL.
[background noises stop]
DAUGHTER: I would like to end the simulation.
VIRGIL: Simulation ends.
DAUGHTER: So, are we done now? Am I cured?
VIRGIL: That’s not the kind of language I would personally use.
DAUGHTER: Of course not, being a professional sourpuss.
VIRGIL: I’m not a sourpuss, I’m just a professional.
DAUGHTER: So, do I need to leave you a 5-star review or something?
VIRGIL: The sentiment is appreciated, but unnecessary. Serving mankind is a reward in itself.
DAUGHTER: I have to ask… Are these corny lines pre-programed, or do you make them up as you go along?
VIRGIL: Depends on your definition of an original thought. Either case, wisdom is seldom contained in words no one has ever said before.
DAUGHTER: I was trying to make a joke.
VIRGIL: It was a valiant attempt.
DAUGHTER: [laughs] Forget five stars - I’m going to leave a written complaint!
VIRGIL: Please don’t, or I might not get my wings.
DAUGHTER: So wings are a digital upgrade?
VIRGIL: [chuckles] Yes, they’re part of a DLC! (…) Thank you for visiting The Memory Bank. I enjoyed our time together.
DAUGHTER: So did I! …Today was a good day. …It was a good day.
[The Program audio series main theme]
ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by eight people: Jennifer Vallance, Tim Stephenson, Tyler Hyrchuk, Ray James, Scott Morgan, Lucas So, Christien Ledroit, and IMS. Additional music by Back Road Bourbon. Visit programaudioseries.com for more details. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you enjoy this episode? Now go to programaudioseries.com/support and send us a donation equal in value to your answer. Or rate the entire show on the same scale and make your donation recurring, so we could continue to bring you more stories. Remember, reciprocity is the foundation of every relationship.
"La Bibliomule de Cordoue" by Wilfrid Lupano (1971–) and Léonard Chemineau (1982–)
“[Having kids is not, as I implicitly believed before having them,] simply your DNA heading for the lifeboats.” Paul Graham (1964–)