A Brief History Of The Honesty Machine (Dystopian Short Story)

During the first half of the twenty-first century, corruption was such a global problem, and its effects were so devastating, that it was necessary to study -and find- an effective measure to limit its spread and the resulting damages.

Every kind of model and analysis were worked out, and doctors of all branches of human knowledge got involved in the challenge of out how to fix the problem: sociologists, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, but also engineers, physicists, military and strategy experts, and so on; numerous talented individuals and research groups participated, all educated in both the so-called, “humanistic” and “scientific” fields.

Large groups of study were created, composed of experts of mixed disciplines, which said –and promised- to find a theoretical answer, and then an effective solution to this titanic problem, in the incredibly short span of a few years.

At the beginning, it seemed that the social sciences applied to law could be the more successful. They began trying to define the problem without taboo and, at last, calling things by their correct names.

It can be considered “strange”, if we remember the strong hypocrisy prevalent in the minds of that bizarre historical era. So they tried to figure out why corruption was such a shamelessly spread deviance among humans, though it was formally blamed by each member of society, as if it were an entity entirely separate from themselves.

In a few words! They came to the conclusion that corruption was experienced by an agent (a person) as a completely legitimate option in life, and that each subject blamed corruption only when he was not the one benefiting from it.

This distortion between “action” and “theory”, or, to put it another way, between “real choice” and “adherence to a theoretical model of fairness”, created a large number of behavioral deviance that caused excessive harm to the community and the maximization of its resources. In addition were found a number of negative impacts that had never been seriously considered, and that surprised everyone when they were quantified with accuracy.

The cost was enormous! They realized that, in the vast majority of the cases, in the mental process of choosing and selecting the concrete behavior to be taken, each individual considered only a short-term impact on the lives of the community and, paradoxically, even of their own.

An evolutionary heritage of “animal stupidity”, it was called in the everyday accessible language.

It was also clarified with accuracy that the gratitude showed by the participants of human society before choices considered “honest”, according to parameters established with rigor (and that cannot be reproduced here), was only formal, but not also substantive.

That is, all, or most citizens blamed the dishonesty only in word, but not out of true personal conviction, appreciating, however, the rewards and the benefits, and at the same time gleaning a sort of “collective approval”.

To make a long story short: a strange mechanism of behavioral interpretation, typical of intelligent animals (similar to the dog which “recognizes the fear” of the subject with who it is interacting, aside from his exterior appearance and demeanor) meant that people, often with no great intellectual gifts, but with a great self-indulgence, perceived that “void of reproach”, and managed to excel in society, taking a personal advantage of it by mere instinct.

The complex analysis that scientists developed was extraordinarily accurate and correct, and it is impossible to reproduce it here. It could not, however, lead to any real improvement, but only suggest yielding to the evidence that, under the circumstances, it was inevitable to admit the fact that Homo Sapiens were not yet endowed with the intellectual capacity to adopt a conduct that was rationally impeccable and beneficial both for the individual and for the community.

Everything changed when a brilliant German engineer, on the basis of accurate analysis of how and what should be considered “beneficial” and “honest” for the community and the individual, and what was correct to require from each individual as “proper behavior”, was able to invent the “honesty machine”. This silly name was given in order to push for its global adoption and diffusion.

It was a mechanism which carried out behavioral tests using precise rational parameters, evaluating, without possible margin of error, the degree of understanding of each of the most advantageous choices for the individual and the community.

In this way, it was possible to establish a ranking of people that, without a doubt, showed who was the best choice for society to be given important assignments or be in charge of delicate tasks, approaching in this way, as much as possible, an optimal balancing in the fulfillment of personal needs and widespread benefits.

The machine could not, once established in its strict parameters, be wrong. Its functioning, very complicated from a technical standpoint, obtained an astonishing effect from the practical point of view, and realized its mission, in a certain sense, in quite simple and understandable way.

It was, in short, a kind of simulator in which the person was asked to make concrete choices, assumed to be real ones. It was a test that everyone was required to pass in their lives, several times. The frequency mostly depended on the social role of each individual. A computer would prepare the extracted data, and draft the responses according to a precise mathematical model, an algorithm to determine the ability of people and to be given an assignment or a specific role in society.

The tester was not wasting time during the day, since it was used during the sleeping hours. In that period, a fictitious situation was generated for the person being examined, and it was perceived as absolutely real and immediate by the subject. In it, he would make very significant choices to determine his degree of honesty and generosity, ability to remain between the parameters that human rationality established as excellent for cooperation.

The behavior assumed -the choices made- defined, in practice, “the honesty of each individual”. Depending on the coefficient obtained in the test, specific social roles and tasks will be assigned to each one, up to the managing of the most delicate and important situations where general interest is directly involved.

The testing machine had many beneficial effects. Democracy became, in short, an obsolete and useless system. It was not necessary to vote anymore. The management of common interests was automatically delegated to people with the best attitudes toward society, with specific preparation and a rare honesty. These persons, of course, underwent the test with more frequency to ensure that their psyche did not undergo negative changes as a result of the stress generated by the managing of duties where colossal interests, power and trust, are involved.

The machine also significantly reduced crime and any deviant behavior, since the tester worked, as it was said, in a dream environment, and “enclosed” in the brain of each tested subject, and so it had no actual repercussion on “reality”, but the person did not perceive it once asleep. Even if he understood while he was awake that he was going to use it, he was completely unaware of it once he was asleep.

In the mind of the user, however, it remained clear the fact that honesty was a fundamental value in order to obtain the best role in the social hierarchy. So many opportunists and selfish subjects, not knowing whether their actions were taking place in a test-simulator dream, or in reality, that is as to say, not knowing if they would have been “seen” and then taken into account in order to determine their future job and social role, felt compelled to show a greater honesty than they would have normally shown, acting “correctly” in a way they would had never adopted before. Although lacking in genuine spiritual adherence to honesty, even in real life they were impeccable!

After the use on all subjects of the globe for an extended time, the now indispensable “machine” provoked a very significant reduction in corruption, which then ultimately disappeared.

Behaviors that once would have been described as “heroic” multiplied: instantaneous telephone calls to alert the proper authorities at the proposal of any bribe or corruption took place, and law enforcement intervened with a never seen before integrity and diligence; all citizens were acting with the higher grade of honesty almost without exceptions. In one case, the prime minister himself had a speeding ticket, all the lost wallets were returned to their owners with the money still inside, accounts were reimbursed after cashiers’ errors, no more marital deceptions, no more complicity, even with their own offspring, if they committed a crime. 

In most authoritarian regimes, many citizens categorically refused to perform this or that violence or abuse. It must be said that at the beginning, which means, until those totalitarian political regimes fell by irresistible popular demand, the decisions of the most intransigent subjects, acting in the most dissonant way toward the established political order, were often taken “by mistake” in real life, while probably they believed they were being tested. So many of those unwitting or involuntary “heroes” were executed for treason.

These excesses were precisely what prompted the massive and compulsory adoption of the machine in all countries of the globe, and sparked a series of inevitable revolutions.

Indeed, it was soon evident that the countries which “were armed” with the “honesty machine”, having a perfect set of parameters to maximize the national benefit, had an immediate material advantage when it came to quality of life, which was immeasurably greater than in the other countries.

When the machine was adopted across the globe, also the need to set it for the maximization of each individual nation’s benefit disappeared, as it ended perfectly matching those of the entire planet. Only when that “national stage” was surpassed did we come to today’s civilization, given that, within a few generations, it was understood that the method of testing the behavior was no longer necessary, and that it had also functioned as an educational system.

Currently, everyone responds spontaneously with a satisfactory degree of approximation to the ideal behavior, and realizes the best choices, even when not compelled by the suspicion of being under observation.

It was for this reason that humanity had that tremendous leap forward in the management and distribution of resources that we know: crime and punishment disappeared almost completely, the latest inevitable deviations were accepted and treated without aggression and hatred; the concept of punishment disappeared, as well. Nowadays, it is considered totally unnecessary to spend resources for politics, the best and most generous people have an advantage, and also a recognition for their talents and sacrifices.

Of course, if we want to grant a hint of romantic languor, what we renounced is the differentiation, now relegated to the “mystery” of elective affinity regarding coupling and reproduction, between a generosity, that we might call “authentic” and a well-calculated and applied utilitarianism.

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