The Risks of Empathy. A Novella.
Richard Selling, president, CEO and founder of the mega-giant marketing conglomerate, Selling Inc. was not used to being summoned. Nevertheless, when the President called personally and asked him to stop by for a chat, Selling didn’t give the thought of saying “no thanks” much consideration. He had a good idea what the meeting was all about.
Selling sat at a conference table with President John Adams, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General. The Attorney General had a single thin manila folder in front of him. Everyone else was provided with a glass of water. A crystal pitcher of water had been provided for each of the participants.
The Secretary of State, Rebecca McGuire, a woman of stature and brilliance, was leading the discussion.
“Mr. Selling, we invited you here as a courtesy based on your prior service to your country. We thought it best to have a face-to-face and frank discussion regarding the criminal charges we are going to file against Selling Inc. today.”
“Just hold on Rebecca,” began the President. We haven’t actually decided to go ahead with the criminal charges have we? Sam?”
Samuel B. Wilkins, Attorney General of the United States of America, reputed to be the best trial lawyer and legal mind of the decade, and rumored to have higher aspirations, did not even glance at the President. His eyes remained steadfast on his prey.
“What’s going on here?” began Selling. “You people are outside the law. Why wasn’t I told to bring legal counsel? This is outrageous!”
Wilkins withdrew a single sheet of White House stationary from the manila folder. “Mr. Selling, this document grants you complete immunity concerning the government’s case against Selling Inc. At this point in time, you need no counsel.”
The Secretary of State picked up the conversation. “Mr. Selling, we recognize that you could not have known the far-reaching effects that the recent release of the animal TEs were going to have on the nation’s, the global, economy. But the past two weeks, as you are aware, have been unprecedented in human history. The loss to the U.S. economy is likely to be in the trillions of dollars and we are hearing rumors of outbreaks of violence across the country and from around the world.”
“Violence?” said Selling. “I haven’t heard anything about much violence.”
“We have been successful in our attempt to keep it contained. I’m sure a man of your experience can recognize the dangers to our society should certain unscrupulous types hear that unrest and armed conflict are occurring.”
“Just what is happening?”
McGuire looked over at Wilkins and the President.
Adams stood up and said, “Damn it to hell Wilkins! If we don’t bring him in who the hell else do we have?”
“Alright John, but you know my concern.”
The President walked over to an antique sideboard that had been a gift to the White House from the French people back when there was a France, and the White House was still in need of furniture. He pressed a discretely placed button under the table’s edge. “Jenny,” he said. “Give us the virtview, please.”
The room darkened instantly and a virtual holographic map of the U.S. appeared at the end of the conference room. Secretary McGuire again led the discussion.
“The red pinpoints on the map,” there were maybe ten of them, “represent the areas of greatest concern at the moment. Here in Chicago,” and the image jumped to a street level view, “the fighting around the stockyards has been disturbingly intense.”
As she spoke, Selling watched U.S. soldiers firing from the protection offered by tanks parked in front of a seemingly endless vista of cattle pens and cows. That they were being fired upon was clear as well because the soldiers kept reacting to rounds ricocheting off the armored vehicles.
“The numbers of persons firing on our forces is quite large here and we are essentially in a siege situation as we attempt to protect the cattle from those who seem intent on releasing them.”
The scene shifted back to the large map and McGuire’s pointer went to somewhere on Iowa, and the scene jumped again.
“This is, or I should say was, Reynolds Pork and Lard. RPL was the largest supplier of pork products in the world. Last year they grossed over $17 billion. They were a major contributor to this administration’s Presidential campaign.”
Selling saw burnt rubble. A few dead pigs and a few dead humans lay scattered around in the smoking ruins. A number of people were picking their way through the debris and occasionally kneeling down at one of the bodies. A man put a pistol to the head of a pig and fired. Smoke rose from everything and created a hazy and eerie scene.
“We understand that a group of nearly a hundred people dressed in black descended on the facility three nights ago and shot all the workers they could find. Over a two-day period nearly ten thousand pigs were stolen. One of the workers who had been able to hide in a grain bin finally escaped and called the authorities. The bodies and fire are a result of the ensuing clash.
“Jenny,” said the President, and the lights in the room came back on and the hologram vanished. “I think you can see Richard,” the President was famous for calling people by their first names and always encouraged others to call him John, “that your, excuse me, Selling’s, new animal TE’s have caused a real problem. Reports are rolling in from all over about much smaller situations than the two I just showed you. Our people tell us the situation seems to be worsening and that, if we don’t do something soon, that things might just spin out of control, and I don’t think we want that, no sir, now do we?” The President looked at Selling.
Richard Selling was not used to having others tell him what to think. His willingness to brook the rules of the road had catapulted Selling Inc. into the world’s largest mass marketer of consumer electronics and home furnishings in the world. As populations continued to rise, in spite of expert opinions that they were due to level off soon, ever more consumers demanded the newest this and that. Selling Inc. stood out as the company offering the newest and latest of everything.
Two nights ago, through a blind-brokered deal, Selling had quietly sold every share of every stock in his private portfolio remotely connected to the animal agriculture industry. Selling had sat and experienced every one of the ten animal TEs one after the other. He had variously been a dog, a cat, a cow, a pig on the way to slaughter, a parrot living in a cage, a chimpanzee in a zoo, a city rat – this was an especially interesting experience as the rat was recorded in an underground lair, an elephant in a wildlife park – no really wild areas remained on land any longer, a dolphin in the Pacific, and a chicken.
Following the nearly twenty-hour emersion in the minds of other species, Spelling knew that the world had become a different place, that he had become a different person, that everything was going to be much different in the very near future.
“So, in order to try and reel in the problems you see being associated with the animal TEs you are going to publicly punish me.”
“No, no, not you Richard,” the President smiled compassionately, “but we have to set an example; we have to let people know that the government is reacting, that we are in control, that everything is OK. More than anything we have to let the food producers see that we will protect their interests and that they don’t have to worry about that this new fad.”
Selling sat quietly for a moment. “Mr. President. John. Have you experienced the animal TEs yourself yet?”
President Adams looked at Selling, cleared his throat, and glanced almost imperceptibly toward the Secretary of State.
McGuire answered without pause, “We don’t believe that it is in the nation’s best interests for the President’s health to be placed at risk for the sake of entertainment. It’s a sacrifice he’s had to make for the people of the United States.”
Selling had kept his attention on Adams as McGuire had spoken for him. The politician’s smile had not wavered.
“I’ve had a full report from my advisors, Richard. I know all about these recordings. I can’t see what more is to be gained by seeing them myself.”
Selling finally looked over at McGuire. Their eyes locked. “What do you mean by risk, Ms. McGuire?”
“We are aware of associated mental illness from the use of Selling TEs. Our experts have prepared a report that shows that there is a real and significant risk from exposure to these recordings…”
“All the TEs or just the animal TEs?”
McGuire looked toward the Attorney General.
Attorney General Wilkins stepped in with careful noncommittal, “Our analysis is incomplete at this time, but we are certain that there is risk. We are working to determine the best way to proceed. The public’s interest is our paramount concern.”
Selling understood now. They wanted to keep the public engaged with the TEs to relieve their mass boredom with life, but wanted at the same time, to stop them from experiencing the world through the mind of an animal. And to do this, they were going to claim that the animal TEs caused mental illness. He wondered how they planned to keep people from experiencing them.
“Have any of you experienced the animal TEs?” Selling asked them.
Wilkins and McGuire looked toward each other, seemingly unsure of who should answer. Finally, the Secretary said, “I experienced the cow TE. It was clear to me immediately that it posed a national security risk. I think it unconscionable that such products would be placed on the market. I recommended to the President that immediate steps be taken to stop the production of all the animal TEs and further recommended that you be placed under arrest for attempting to undermine the political stability of the United States. My grandparents were ranchers in Montana, you’ve made a mockery of everything good about their life.”
The room was quite. The President seemed to have lost some of his smile. Finally, he said, “Yes, well, John. I’m sure you can sense Rebecca’s concern and passion for her family and the American way of life. As you can see we are well informed and are trying to do what’s best for the country.”