Welcome to 2030!
The Story of "Operation Microstage," Part One, in which Arthur's Therapist Enrolls Him in an Experimental Therapy...
[“Welcome to 2030” is the first installment of “Operation Microstage,” a story about Arthur Aislado, a 21st-century human with archaic psychological needs, and the ambitiously high-tech medical treatment his doctors give him to help his brain adjust to the demands of modern society.]
“Happy New Year!” boomed Dr. Donnola. “Welcome to 2030, Arthur!” He thrust out his pudgy hand and smiled.
“Thanks, and happy New Year to you also, Doc,” mumbled Arthur, grabbing the doctor’s outstretched hand and shaking it halfheartedly. The doctor beckoned towards the leather couch, and Arthur sat down. The doctor remained standing.
“And before we get started, can you confirm your full name and date of birth?”
Arthur nodded. “Arthur Jeremiah Aislado. December 31, 1989.”
“Right! And happy belated birthday! How does it feel to be 41?”
“Thanks, Doc,” said Arthur. “I guess one more year, and maybe I’ll figure out the meaning of Life.”
“What?” Dr. Donnola cocked his head slightly to the left and scrunched up his face.
“It’s a joke,” said Arthur.
“I don’t get it.” The doctor looked sideways at him and frowned.
“Remember when we talked about the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy last time?”
“Not really,” replied the doctor. “Is that your favorite book or something?”
Arthur shook his head. “No, it’s just, last visit, we talked about how in Hitchhiker’s Guide, they calculated the meaning of Life on a computer and it came out to be 42, and you know, wouldn’t it be nice if it was that easy to get the answers in Life.”
The doctor stared blankly at Arthur without responding.
After a moment of awkward silence, Arthur continued: “Anyway, you asked me how it is being 41, and so I was, you know, referencing our conversation last time and making a joke about it. You know, ‘42.’ Like, next year, when I turn 42, maybe I’ll figure out what Life is all about. Since ‘42’ was the answer to the question about Life’s meaning in that book.”
“Interesting,” said the doctor. “So your plan is to wait till you’re 42 to determine your life’s purpose?”
Arthur shook his head and forced a nervous laugh. “No, I was just, you know, trying to crack a joke. I guess it wasn’t very funny.”
The doctor squeezed his round body into the chair next to his desk and leaned back. He looked thoughtfully at Arthur and nodded a couple of times before responding tersely, “Very interesting.”
Arthur half-smiled and inhaled deeply through pursed lip. He raised his eyebrows expectantly and returned the doctor’s gaze.
The two men silently looked at each other for several seconds. Arthur began fidgeting nervously, shifting his weight on the sofa. He started lightly drumming his thumbs on his leg. The doctor studied Arthur’s movements, picked up a tablet, and began tapping out some notes.
The doctor finally spoke: “So how have you been since our last session?”
Arthur shrugged and looked down at his feet. “I think I need another adjustment.”
“I see,” muttered the doctor, continuing to enter notes on the tablet. “So you feel like your brain chemistry has been giving you problems?”
“I guess,” said Arthur. “I’ve been feeling this, hard to describe, but feeling like I’m hungry for something, but I’m not wanting to eat. Like I want to find something, but I have no idea what it is. I keep feeling like something is about to happen, but I have no idea what.”
“Yes, sounds like a case of bad brain chemistry,” agreed the doctor. “Are you still having any dreams that you remember after you wake up?”
“I see.” The doctor looked down at the tablet and continued tapping the screen. He looked back up at Arthur and squinted. “Is it the same dream? Or is it different dreams each night?”
“It’s the same dream,” replied Arthur. “The same one I told you about last time.”
“And is that the one where you and some other men are hunting a large animal with spears?”
“Yes,” said Arthur. “But there’s been more to it, the last few nights. We’re tracking this animal — it looks like a wooly mammoth — but then all of a sudden, the other guys disappear, and it’s just me, and then the mammoth turns around and starts coming towards me.”
“Interesting,” murmured the doctor. “And this wooly mammoth, does it try to attack you? Does it run towards you?”
Arthur shook his head. “No, it just walks towards me, slow and steady. I can see its eyes, like it’s staring at me. And it’s like it’s eyes have this hypnotic quality to them, like they hypnotize me, and I can’t move or do anything, except watch it get closer and closer, and then I wake up.”
The doctor leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “And then you wake up. Very interesting.”
“Does it mean anything?” asked Arthur.
“Dreams don’t mean anything,” replied the doctor, “in and of themselves, although people often attribute meaning to them, due to Man’s superstitious nature. The Science is pretty clear: dreams are just random misfirings of neurons in the brain during sleep. But what interests me is that your neurons keep misfiring in precisely this way, and that you have assigned a meaning to what are basically random images. And it is that framing, or cognitive filter, that I believe is behind your unbalanced brain chemistry.”
Arthur squirmed in his seat for a moment before replying, “But didn’t Carl Jung say that dreams —”
The doctor cut him off with a thunderous guffaw. “Sorry, Arthur, but The Science is crystal clear: Jung is wrong. His theories are pseudoscience. That’s why his books are all out of print and no reputable website will even mention his name.”
“Oh, okay,” mumbled Arthur. “But it seems like it means something.”
“Seems!” exclaimed the doctor. “That’s the key word. It seems like it means something. It means nothing! There is no meaning to anything, except what mentally unstable humans, due to the psychological disorder called ‘patternicity,’ also known as the religious-framing delusion, want to project onto things that have no meaning in and of themselves. There is no meaning to your dreams, except what you project onto them.”
Arthur inhaled sharply. “But doesn’t my brain produce my dreams? So if, as you say, I am the one fabricating a sense of meaning and projecting it onto things, couldn’t my subconscious mind be using the things in my dreams as symbols or some sort of code to communicate some kind of meaning to my conscious mind?”
The doctor laughed and laughed and doubled over. His gargantuan stomach flattened against his thighs and squeezed out the sides, pushing his flabby arms outwards. His whole body shook with laughter.
When at last the doctor caught his breath, he replied, “I’m sorry, but you just made my day. See, that’s what happens when you read misinformation on these websites that want to recycle all these bad ideas from Jung and people like him. It’s probably run by some Russians who want to poison our information ecosystem.”
Arthur languished in his seat and stammered, “I don’t know.”
“That’s right,” said the doctor. “You don’t know. But I spent ten years on a joint PhD/MD program at the University of Transylvania. I am an expert. This is my area of expertise. That’s why the Healthcare Authority has authorized you to be my patient.”
“But why do I keep having the same dream?” asked Arthur, frantically. “It’s like someone, or something, is trying to tell me something.”
The doctor chuckled, placed his tablet in his lap, and rubbed his fat hands together. “That is a classic example of what we doctors call ‘agenticity,’ which is a very common psychological disorder, especially among people under 70. It sounds like we need to adjust your medication to bring your brain chemistry into proper alignment.”
Arthur started blankly at the doctor.
“Yes, I think we probably need to increase your estrogen levels,” continued Dr. Donnola. “This dream appears to be a manifestation of a primitive masculine impulse. The desire to hunt and kill animals is a clear indicator of toxic levels of masculinity.”
“But I don’t want to hunt or kill anything,” said Arthur. “It’s just, in my dream, I am part of a group hunting this wooly mammoth. It’s like it’s me, but it’s not me. And I’m more scared of it than I am feeling like I want to hunt it.”
“You are confused,” replied the doctor. “And your own brain is confusing you. Your brain is trying to tell you that you should be more primitively masculine, which is a very dangerous impulse. It has been linked to random acts of violence, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, and all sorts of other evils. If left unchecked, this tendency could even get you placed on a domestic terror watchlist.”
Arthur stared at his hands, as he clasped them together and then unclasped them, repeatedly.
The doctor smiled. “But that is why I do the work that I do. The Healthcare Authority is concerned about you, which is why they sent you to me. And fortunately, The Science has given us several incredible tools to work with here. And there is a new tool, a very exciting tool, that I think you would be a great candidate for.”
The doctor nodded. “The Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health has authorized the expansion of an exciting new program incorporating the latest technological breakthroughs in pharmacology and virtual reality.”
“Virtual Reality, like The Matrix?” asked Arthur.
“Not exactly,” replied the doctor. “It’s more like, it’s basically using quantum computing to map your brain and guide your subconscious mind into producing a structured dream state that will allow you to resolve your inner conflicts. Your brain is giving you these dreams that reek of toxic masculinity and white supremacy because it feels threatened. You see, some people have brains — and unfortunately, you are one of them — that have failed to keep pace in their evolutionary development with the rate of advancement in our technology and the development of our cultural institutions and norms. For those people, they view the modern world as threatening. They cling to their weapons and their holy books, and they want to take humanity backwards, into the dark mists of pseudoscience and misinformation and the patriarchy.”
“I didn’t kill the wooly mammoth,” said Arthur.
“Exactly,” said the doctor. “You didn’t, because you are conflicted. The reptilian part of your brain that feels threatened is wanting you to kill the mammoth, which is why it keeps presenting you with that image in your dreams; but the more advanced part, more empathic part of your brain is uncomfortable with that, and rightly so. That is the source of your inner tension. That is why The Healthcare Authority has determined that you need therapy.”
“I’m confused now,” said Arthur. “Aren’t you saying the same thing that I was saying earlier? That my brain is embedding some kind of meaning into my dreams, on a subconscious level? That my dreams have some kind of symbolic message from my subconscious mind?”
The doctor chuckled and sneered. “I can see why you would think that, but we are actually saying very different things. But I can see why you would fail to appreciate the difference between your theories and mine, given that you are experiencing this tension between the primitive masculine impulse and your higher emotional faculties; and that tension is mis-framing your view of, well, pretty much everything.”
“Oh,” muttered Arthur, looking down at his feet.
A cunning smile flashed across Dr. Donnola’s round face. “But that is why I think you will benefit from this exciting new therapy. It is called Operation Microstage.”
Arthur sighed. “Operation Microstage? This is going to involve surgery?”
“Not really,” replied the doctor. “Just a little intervention to prepare your brain for The Experience Machine.”
“The Experience Machine?” Arthur folded his arms tightly and hunched over. He cast a nervous glance at the doctor before returning his gaze to the floor.
“Yes, The Experience Machine,” said the doctor. “It’s basically the latest breakthrough in VR technology, coupled with electrochemical stimulation of the brain and targeted pharmacological interventions, adjusted by the machine, in real time, according to the most advanced algorithms. Imagine a perfect dream state, lovingly created in accordance with The Science. We will deconstruct your dreams, analyze them, and retrain your brain to find new patterns and create a new story to make sense of your life, all in accordance with The Science.”
“I don’t know if I like the sound of that,” replied Arthur.
“Do you like the sound of being added to a domestic terror watchlist?” retorted the doctor. “At the rate you’re going, I can tell you that unless you bring your brain into alignment with The Science, you will continue to have problems adjusting to society. And those problems will get worse, until you do or say something that causes you to be added to the watchlist.”
“And then what happens?” asked Arthur.
“You do not want to find out,” replied the doctor. “That, I can tell you. Once your name goes on the list, it never, ever comes off of it. Ever. And society has to take appropriate steps to protect itself from you.”
Arthur forced an uneasy smile and mumbled, “Oh, got it.”
The doctor grinned. “So that’s a ‘yes?’ You consent to being enrolled in the Operation Microstage treatment?” The doctor paused and scowled briefly, before adding, “And thereby avoid being added to the domestic terror watchlist?”
“Sure,” replied Arthur, putting his head in his hands and rubbing his temples.
“Great! I think this new therapy will be a totally new beginning for you. I’m going to go ahead and schedule your first session for tomorrow. Each session is a week long, so I will log an exception to your employment commitments, authorizing you to be absent from your work pod for the duration of your session.”
“Thanks,” muttered Arthur.
“Yeah, you don’t want to be arrested while you’re receiving therapy, do you!” The doctor laughed. Arthur looked confused. “It’s a joke,” explained the doctor. “If you had an unexcused absence from your work pod and got arrested by the FBI, you would have a hard time completing your therapy, wouldn’t you!”
Arthur shrugged and looked at the poster on the wall. The poster showed a cartoon man, brandishing an impish grin and wearing an old-fashioned burglar mask, typing on a computer. Above the cartoon was a caption, in blood-red font, that read, “Misinformation Kills!”
The doctor smiled and nodded. “Do you have any next-of-kin to be notified, just in case of any emergency?”
Arthur continued looking at the poster and shook his head. “Not anymore.”
“Excellent,” replied the doctor. “That saves me the trouble of having to enter more information on your file.”
The doctor groaned as he shifted his weight and, placing his flabby arms on the sides of his chair, pushed himself to his feet. He grinned and added, “I sent a message to the receptionist. Stop by her desk on the way out, and she will finalize everything for your first session.”
“Okay, will do.”
The doctor inhaled deeply, placed his swollen hands on Arthur’s shoulders, and said, “This is going to be the start of a new life for you, Arthur. Your brain will finally catch up with modern culture, instead of resisting it and trying to flee into these paleolithic, toxically masculine fantasies. You will become a modern human. I think you’re going to love the new you. And I cannot wait to meet him!”
[Stay tuned for Part Two of Operation Microstage, coming soon!]
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