Foreman at a Racism Factory
A dream I had
By Kalin Ringkvist
Saturday November 28, 2009
Last night I had a dream that I was the foreman at a racism factory. Every day we would receive a shipment of people in large plastic shrink-wrapped 4-packs. It would take several workers to cut them open with giant swiss-army knives and pull the unconscious people out of the packaging. We placed them on conveyor belts where they would be taken through a fully automated machine that would inject a custom-programmed chip into their head that instilled them with pride in their country and/or race.
We didn’t call it racism in the marketing and PR department, of course. “The Racism Factory” was just a nickname given by the machine operators and chip programmers. Officially they claimed that it was just a joke to make fun of the hippie movement that opposed the chips.
The chips helped people to be proud of who they were and where they came from. In many cases the chips could alleviate depression, anxiety and increase a feeling of self-worth. But these benefits were based on an artificial pride focused on either race or country of origin, and many people believed the chips amplified racist attitudes. While marketing insisted these claims were false, the workers on the floor somehow had a constant stream of jokes about orchestrating the next race war.
The chips could also be programmed to bring people pride in things like personal accomplishments, ethical behavior or family. However, the programmers found that creating emotions based on race or country was far more straightforward. Everyone has a race or country and the emotions associated with those things are relatively standardized, as opposed to other things that people might be proud of which vary so widely from person to person that it makes it impractical to create a central codebase that can be reused from person to person in the coding of the chips. By focusing on race and country we found we could use the same core classes for 90% of our customers. In many cases we only needed to adjust two variables for an individual: color and location. For more complex individuals we could simply extend our base classes to add or subtract functionality.
These coding practices, while still being sold to the public as “custom design,” allowed us to dramatically cut costs in the programming department, allowing the price of the chips to drop. In the past few years these racial pride chips had become increasingly popular, and recently many nations throughout the world had started giving tax breaks to individuals who had their nation’s chip installed.
The Racism Factory, as with similar institutions throughout the world, was making money hand over fist, and despite being a company with highly questionable ethics, was surprisingly liberal about handing down benefits to its employees.
So as the cost of the chips dropped and the wages increased, more and more employees had them installed.
The employees often had special code worked into their chips. There were no strict rules about coders writing functionality on special request from co-workers, even though we did not allow such things from regular customers. In some cases programmers were known to have adapted the code for their chips entirely on their own, without a quality assurance process or managerial oversight of any kind. In a couple cases, programmers inserted practical jokes into the chips of co-workers.
After just a few months, nearly everyone on the floor had a chip implanted.
But The Racism Factory was an equal opportunity employer, which we made very clear in our PR campaigns. The company had intentionally hired people from every race and walk of life, a few who did not even speak english.
Arguments started breaking out on the floor over random issues. It never had anything to do with race, but did often have to do with bugs or differences in their chips. As the months passed, the atmosphere at the plant dwindled dramatically as bickering became more and more prominent.
But most of us saw why this was happening. We knew it was the chips that were making us hate each other, but we loved the way they made us feel, so we refused to have them removed. Instead, they set me to reprogramming a new base class specifically for Racism Factory employees.
I set to work trying to build something that would give users that sense of pride, that sense that they’re a special and important person without expecting them to provide their own accomplishments, and without causing any random instances of hatred and without requiring total re-architecturing for every user.
But each time I thought I had the answer, there was some use-case I had overlooked. Some stray emotion or point-of-view would get through unexpectedly and cause the whole process to fall into chaos and shut down, or get trapped in an infinite loop. It was almost like the human brain had a random idea generator that was programmed to throw a wrench in anything you did… and do it on its own schedule.
And the more I tested with new users the more I realized it just wasn’t possible. The code was based on a human faith in certain basic ideals, and we were attempting to use the same code for vastly different ideals, making an assumption that different perspectives were compatible within society as long as they were not hard coded into the same individual… we thought we could code whatever beliefs people wanted to make them feel better, without conflicting with the beliefs of others. We, like so many others, had faith in the fundamental order of human thoughts and feelings… this idea that the human brain and human society had been designed in a logical manner, and was therefore fully compatible with a logic-based micro-chip.
But we were wrong.
The systems we had developed and had been distributing to the masses simply would not function on a massive scale and as people would continue to use them they would do increasingly illogical things under an ever-increasing confidence that their train of thought is the only logical one.
And as I coded, I became more and more frustrated with the fact that there was no clean solution to this, more and more angry at the QA department for not testing on a larger scale, more and more furious at the programmers for ignoring these problems, and more and more aware, that, as the foreman of the plant, I would be the one to blame.
But then I remembered that my bosses know little or nothing about code. My programmers and I could throw out any kind of explanation we wanted, speckled with a few fancy coding terms to remind them that they don’t have the mental energy to actually figure this stuff out.
I would tell my bosses that something had changed in the human brain. A new portion of the brain had developed that was causing all of these problems. It wasn’t a problem we had overlooked, it was a newly created problem… built out of, as far as my bosses would know, magic.
I would then show the problem and explain it, exactly as I had discovered it. Then I would insist the only solution is to start from the ground up and write truly custom code for every user. Other programmers would know the truth, but they would go along with my interpretation when speaking with their bosses. They would realize that personalized coding structures are the only true solution, and wouldn’t want to be blamed for the oversight… and wouldn’t want to allow the current systems deteriorate into an all-out race/nation/religion war.
But accounting… accounting would never allow it. They would opt for the war instead.