January 07, 2020

Project X


As I mentioned earlier, I have been working on a collection of short stories. I have 14 of them now, for a total of about 135 pages. Probably, when I have 50 pages more, I can start approaching publishers. But I work very slowly, so it may take several months before that day arrives. There is much to think about, and edit. The following story is not the best of the 14, but I enjoyed writing it, as in the case of "The Wire Cage Experiment." Hopefully it might give you guys a few laughs.

At age forty-four, with an IQ of 182, Sonia Butterworth was director of the most prestigious neurological institute in America, the Cerebral Investigations Unit (CIU), which was physically housed in the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT). Sonia was of medium height, fairly attractive, with dark hair and gray-green eyes. She was married to a US senator, Felix J. Butterworth, who was also chair of the Committee on Domestic Intelligence (CDI). At the moment of this writing, she is sitting in her office and staring at the blinking cursor on her computer. The cursor is located next to a top secret research file that Sonia had originally labeled "Project X," but which she now wished to rename and hide in her computer, so that only she had access to it. She finally decided on "Horvath Index," which sounded both boring and innocuous, locked it, and created a password for it: KAKA2020. But in her mind, it would always be Project X.

It must also be stated that the funds available to the CIU were enormous, on the order of a billion dollars. The reason for this was extremely well-hidden: Felix held the purse strings of the CDI and could allocate funding at his discretion. Hence, Project X was awash in money. It was conceived at some point in the late nineties. Data began coming in regarding the intelligence level of the American public that were hard to believe. Something like 20 percent of the population thought the sun revolved around the earth; another 9 percent said they had no idea which revolved around which. 45 percent believed the earth had been visited by extra-terrestrials during the past year; 72 percent rejected the theory of evolution. 86 percent were not able to locate Iraq on a world map, although they were perfectly happy to have the government send troops there to take over and destroy the country. And so on.

There was also anecdotal evidence, such as collected by Jay Leno and other comedians. A man in his early twenties claimed that a tree, located twenty feet away, was a mile away. Female students emerging from classes at the Women's Studies Center at UC Santa Barbara, asked by a man with a clipboard if they would sign a petition opposed to "women's suffrage," were only too happy to oblige. People of all ages had no idea as to the significance of they year 1776; some said we had gained our independence from China. Others identified the Civil War as having occurred in the 1960s. Watching all this, Sonia couldn't figure out if she was looking at stupidity or ignorance; but when Donald Trump, a horse's ass of the first order, was elected president in 2016, she decided to launch Project X. With a billion dollars at her disposal, she figured she could do whatever she wanted.

The project was so extreme, so radical, that it required lots of hush money to keep it under wraps. Between December of 2016 and Trump's reelection in November of 2020, Sonia hired dozens of thugs to kidnap people--just scoop them up off the street at random--and bring them to her lab. These guinea pigs covered the entire spectrum of age, color, race, religion, socioeconomic group, etc. Once in her lab, the victim would be subjected to an fMRI plus a brain biopsy; and during the period in question, Sonia performed these operations on exactly 10,000 Americans. The results were absolutely astounding, though they went a long way toward explaining how a young woman might sit through a class at UCSB on the suffragettes and then sign a petition protesting "women's suffrage," thinking that suffrage meant suffering. Or how a young man might think that twenty feet was equal to a mile.

It turned out that to varying degrees, the 10,000 subjects had excrement in their heads--actual excrement. There was gray matter as well, of course, but in terms of fecal content, the lowest amount was 15 percent, and the highest 65 percent. And if this were true of all 10,000 subjects, what would be the point of going on to victim #10,001? If the sun rises in the East 10,000 days in a row, what do you think it's going to do on day #10,001?

If the US government had no idea what it was doing in Viet Nam, or Afghanistan, or in any of its misguided, self-destructive wars, how could such a population have the resources to evaluate this, let alone protest it? If the water supply of Flint, Michigan, was poisoned, who was going to care? How else could Kim Kardashian, or Donald Trump, be loved and respected by millions, unless the American population had shit for brains? The Horvath Index was a volcano, and Sonia Butterworth was sitting on top of it. And she was, at this point, the only person in the world who knew the contents of this file.

What should she do with it? Should she tell her husband? As Americans go, the shit content of his brain was probably lower than most. But what about the other senators, who voted to acquit Trump? Or the NSA, the FBI, the CIA? The crap content of these people, given their historical and political records, was undoubtedly high. The media? The New York Times was little more than a joke (just read the columns of David Brooks or Thomas Friedman, she thought to herself). How do you take a database showing that the country consisted of buffoons and present it to those very buffoons?

Maybe, she thought, she should leak the file to the Guardian, or Le Monde. But then it would be dismissed as a foreign plot to smear the US. No, the only way was to start with Felix: present the evidence to him, and get his opinion on how she should proceed. That evening, after dinner, she took out the file, which she had printed off of her computer, and handed it to him.

"Felix," she said, "I'm sitting on a land mine, and I don't know what to do about it. Take a look at this file, and tell me what you think." The senator took the file, put on his reading glasses, and slowly read through the data. When he finished, he looked up at his wife. "Jesus," he exclaimed, "this certainly explains a lot. How do you think all that shit got there?"

"I have no idea," Sonia replied, "but I'm not sure that's the most important issue we need to address right now. The crucial issue is, What do I do with this information? With all that shit in their heads, I doubt most Americans would even be able to understand it. What's the point of your taking this info to your colleagues on the CDI if they are basically a bunch of shitheads?"

"Sonia, this is the most explosive bit of data to hit the United States in its entire history. I doubt a Martian invasion, à la H.G. Wells, would be more earth-shaking than this. Maybe we should just bury it."

"Let's take twenty-four hours to think about it," she decided. "By then, we might have some idea as to how to proceed."

* * * * *
The next evening, Sonia announced what she had come up with. "Let 'er rip!" she declared. "Let's e-mail the file to the editor-in-chief of the New York Times, and see what happens. I'd also like to append a note, that if anyone wants a brain biopsy to determine the shit content of his or her cerebrum, they should just show up at my clinic and I'll do the operation free of charge." Felix agreed, so she sent the file the next morning, and waited for the reaction. Would this be included in "All the news that's fit to print?"

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. "Dr. Butterworth? This is Hotair J. Blowhard of the New York Times. Is this file you sent me your idea of a joke?"

"Not at all," she assured him. "What you have in your hand is the result of four years of careful scientific research. In fact, if you want to fly down to Texas and visit my lab, I can show you precisely how these results were obtained."

"I just might do that," said Blowhard. "The more important issue at hand--assuming these data are really real--is what the impact would be on the American public if this material were released."

"You're the media expert," Sonia replied; "you certainly know more about that topic than I do. But I will say this: the most outstanding characteristic of the American people is apathy. We can wage a useless war in Afghanistan for twenty years, have the Washington Post expose it as a complete farce, and the American people don't give a damn. And the excrement content of their brains explains why. So it's an even bet that if this file were made public, there would be no reaction at all."

"Hmm," said Blowhard; "you make a good point. In which case, there really is no risk in releasing the file. For the American public, the news is little more than entertainment--something your data also explain. And I can't imagine too many people showing up at your clinic asking for a free biopsy. But there's another thing that's been on my mind--I suppose I should say, 'shit-filled mind'."

"Yes," interrupted Sonia; "that would be accurate."

"Here it is: have you given any thought as to how to remove excrement from a brain? That could solve a lot of our problems."

"I did, Mr. Blowhard. The problem is that the do-do is not confined to a single place. If it were, we could just remove it with a straw; though I'd hate to be the one sucking on it. But since the poop is randomly dispersed, the straw method would result in extracting gray matter as well; in which case the individual would be just as stupid after the operation as before it."

"So America is doomed, then, is what you're basically saying," said Blowhard.

"Oh, Mr. Blowhard," she responded; "you can't imagine how off-base the 'progressive' New York Times is. To put it bluntly, your entire staff is full of shit. Brooks? Friedman? Give me a break! There is only a tiny handful of writers and political analysts who have been saying, for years now, that the American experiment is over. Why, Andrew Hacker said it in 1970; C. Vann Woodward suggested it in 1953. But they and these other writers have been completely ignored, and my data explain why that is the case. And if the Times began citing their work, or publishing articles as to how and why the game is up, the paper's circulation would drop to zero."

"Well, what the heck," Blowhard exclaimed. "If we're totally screwed, I might as well publish the file. Thank you for your time, Dr. Butterworth. You are probably one of the few courageous scientists left in this country."

"Thank you," replied Sonia, "and have a nice day."

* * * * *
Blowhard put the file, and its depressing conclusions, on the front page of the paper the very next day. Much to his surprise, and Sonia's, the article did not pass unnoticed, as they thought it would. In fact, for the first time in decades, the American people began to show faint signs if intelligence. They flooded the streets, and the most common cry was, "Of course I'm a dummy! I have shit in my head!" Thousands lined up outside Sonia's clinic for biopsies, and she had her staff working around the clock. When the dust finally settled, the Times ran a banner headline:

The article explained why the excrement could not be removed from people's heads, and that there was, as a result, no way of reversing the downward spiral the US had been on since the greatest shithead in American history, Ronald Reagan, had been elected president. People subsequently went into mourning, but instead of wearing sackcloth and ashes, they hung signs around their necks saying I AM A SHITHEAD. Hard to believe, but the people were finally facing up to the fact that the nation was finished. Progress, of a sort.

The foreign media were delighted. A NATION IN THE TOILET, blared the London Telegraph. MERDE, MERDE, ET MERDE declared Le Monde. TOTAL SCHEISS AUF AMERIKA! exclaimed Die Zeit. And newspapers in China, India, the Arab nations, and actually most of the world, came out with variants of GOOD RIDDANCE! It seems that America hadn't made a whole lot of friends in its relatively short history--the price of exploiting everybody else for your own ends.

The president, of course, denounced the report as "fake news," and ordered a full investigation into its sources of funding; which ended its sources of funding. Much to his surprise, however, the American people rose up as a whole and demanded that Sonia be allowed to continue her work. As one Iowa farmer put it, "For many years I knew I was an idiot, but I never knew why. Now I have a rational explanation for it. The New York Times expose also led to my looking into why the United States is going down the drain, and I've been reading Morris Berman's trilogy on the American empire with great interest. I can't believe how I was running around wearing a MAGA hat, declaring that we must make America great again. The country is finished, and just as well. I'm thinking of moving my entire family to Bulgaria."

One unexpected visitor who showed up at the CIU for a brain biopsy was Sarah Palin. It was no surprise, of course, that the shit content of her brain was over 90 percent. This woke her up. As a result, she and Sonia toured the country together, explaining the results of Sonia's research and telling the crowds that America was at an end. Mass emigration followed in their wake, as millions of Americans left for Canada, Mexico, and the Canary Islands. Hotair J. Blowhard fired David Brooks and Thomas Friedman, instructed Paul Krugman to stop trying to save capitalism, and then left for Antarctica, where, dressed in a tuxedo, he joined a colony of penguins.

Basically, the US imploded. Native Americans, who (it turned out) had almost no excrement in their heads, took over the administration of the country, declaring that there would have to be a complete change of values, from hustling and ignorance to cooperation and intelligence. Eventually, as the country emptied out, it was restored to its pre-Plymouth Rock days. The deposed president was guillotined, and his remains buried at Wounded Knee; although there was a rumor that his head was kept behind, for use as a bowling ball. Sitting Bull's great-great-grandson was elected president; his inaugural address was very short: "If instead of the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock had landed on them, America would have turned out much better." He ordered a complete reconstitution of the country along Native American lines.

Felix J. Butterworth, along with all of the other senators and congressmen, was rounded up and shipped out to Sri Lanka, where they were incarcerated and forced to break rocks all day long. (These were life sentences without possibility of parole.) As for Sonia, she took a vow of silence and entered a monastery in Tibet. Shanti was the last word she ever spoke.

* * * * *
(c)Morris Berman, 2020