Larry was lost. His presentation had been flawless. His argument was airtight. The crisis was at hand. They wouldn't listen. They dismissed him out of hand. Dismissed the crisis out of hand. His drawings, his notes were still in there. As the door shut behind him, Larry stood, his body trembling. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do. They'd rejected it, ignored the danger. Larry's mind swam with images of revolution, as the people revolted, he could see the masses swarming the walls, could hear the roar of their anger. Even Duncan had rejected him. Duncan, who had always supported his protégé had sat in silence as the grand councillor had ridiculed Larry, had dismissed him, and had doomed the council and the college to revolution and war.
Larry's feet began drifting toward the commons. Somewhere in his mind an idea was forming. The students would listen. They would recognise the danger. Someone had to listen. Something had to be done. Without knowing it, the creators were, merely by following the philosophy of the school, driving a wedge between themselves and the users they were trying to serve. His feet began to pump the outrage into his head. The commons rushed up, his purpose was clear.
The hand hauling him off the bench wasn't gentle. The flutter of students gathered around the fire of his message disappeared into the afternoon. Self preservation told them the show was over, and that the fallout would catch anyone found patronising the production.
Larry found himself suspended in the face of his master. The huge features were mottled and distorted as the whisper washed over Larry's face. "Are you trying to get us killed?" Larry wasn't daunted. He was right. He began to retort but was cut off with a shake of Duncan's fist in his tunic. "Don't start a revolution when you know nothing of politics." The wash of breath over Larry's face seemed to carry away his protestations. "You don't understand the first thing about this problem. You put your foot in it you stupid kid." Abruptly Larry found himself on his feet, staring at his master's chest. "Come on." His master turned, assuming Larry would follow. When, after a few seconds he realised the protégé wasn't at his heels, he turned back to where Larry was seething.
"You have one chance here. Come with me and I'll explain the game to you. If you don't, you're cut lose. I can find another protégé, you can't find another life, and don't mistake me. They will kill you as readily as you might kill a bug." When Duncan turned this time, Larry followed. Too many years of trust were between them. Larry couldn't ignore Duncan any more than he could the crisis, and here was a chance to figure out the machine. To get it working from the inside. Duncan was a councillor, maybe the council was already aware of the problem, but felt they couldn't tell the students for some reason. Maybe they were just too hidebound to accept an idea from a mid class-man. Maybe there really was some danger. Maybe he could convince Duncan, maybe there was hope.
Duncan's chair creaked as he rocked back and forth. He continued to stare out the window at a secluded section of the commons. They had sat in silence for half an hour, Larry preparing speeches and waiting for Duncan to gain control over his irrational anger, Duncan staring out at the lawns and the walls, gradually returning his breathing to normal. Larry's speeches were masterworks.
The complexity of the work being practised in the college was too much for the users.
The users felt alienated from the artists. The artists had lost touch with them. Most of the art was seen as meaningless, foreign.
The only ones able to appreciate the work were those who had been educated in, and exposed to a large variety of, the complex patterns the artists wove.
That training was only available to a small group.
The people didn't want to undergo that training just to understand art.
The people preferred the entertainment industry to the arts.
The arts no longer served the people. The people would revolt. The people would take back the arts
"Who does the council serve?" Duncan didn't break his gaze from the lawns. Dusk had come, and the gloom had gathered around the office. Only Duncan's face was visible, the blunt, features jaundiced in the lights of the buildings across the lawn.
It wasn't the question Larry had expected, but he'd been through enough crits to know how to think on his feet, how to twist the question to use his answer. "The user. The goal of all creators is to serve their users, to create a better world, to satisfy need, illumine souls, expand minds, and further society. It is precisely for this reason that we must change how we work, how we target our creations, we must return to the user before the user rises up to overthrow us."
In the dark, Larry couldn't read the councillor's face well, but what he could see in the pale yellow light looked bad. The chair swung around with a creak, burying the face in shadows. The voice rising from the leathern blackness, said nothing so eloquently as astonished disappointment. "Where have you been living, boy?" There was a pause during which Larry was at a loss for words. "That's a children's fairy tale. Ideological hogwash and delusional tripe. It's a fiction created for the benefit of those incapable of facing the truth."
Larry's magnificent speeches seemed less of masterworks as the words hung in the air.
"Why do the people feel alienated?" The words managed to catch Larry off balance. Was this a test, did Duncan really understand the crisis? Was he angry because Larry had almost exposed some secret council project to rectify the situation? Larry relaxed a little, he'd made a blunder, but they could hardly blame him for being concerned. He could retract his statements, claim to have seen the light, if the council needed secrecy for their plan to work.
"The biggest part of the problem seems to be the complexity, sir. You see, we've been gradually increasing the complexity of our work over the years. With every new work we create a new shorthand, a new level of abstraction. It's a powerful part of the work, but these patterns we use, they've lost synch with the patterns which the users see in their lives. To understand the work now requires specialised study, and there is only a small group, mostly among the leisure class, of users who can afford the time for, or who have the interest in that specialised study. A number of the other programmes have exacerbated the situation, but the complexity is the biggest challenge. The problem is particularly bad because it works in reverse as well. Somehow we've lost the ability to enjoy their 'entertainment,' we're no longer able to connect, since we normally find it boring."
"Bravo. Now, Sherlock, why is it that you are the first person to recognise this, shall we say, rather significant, trend?"
Larry paused. Of course, he'd asked himself that. He'd wondered how the council could miss such an obvious trend. Apparently they hadn't, but why hadn't they acted. Was it a cover-up? Was there some secret plan that his presentation, entered into the public record now, would foul up?
"Is there a cover-up sir? Have the councillors known about this? Are you afraid I'll expose you?"
The darkness didn't speak for a second, then sighed. "No, Larry. I don't think the council is afraid of anything, let alone an architecture student who doesn't have a clue how politics work." There was a pause during which Larry thought and the darkness brooded. "What does this class-split of yours do for us?"
"It lets us change our policies, plan to make our work approachable. It avoids disaster, it prevents revolt. So the council does know about it. Why are they keeping their plans so secret?" Larry leaned forward in his chair. "Look, if you just say, 'Larry, the council is fixing this situation,' I'm willing to retract everything I said, I'll go on record, claim there never was a problem, that it was a prank."
"You never said anything you fool. There's no record of any presentation being made to the council this afternoon."
"Is, of course, quite willing to eliminate unwanted entries from the record."
"But that's illegal."
"Get over it, this is politics." The arm of darkness shifted slightly in the leaking moonlight. "You never answered me. What does the class-split do for us? Not your making a fool of yourself and reporting to the council on it. The actual phenomena."
Larry didn't even pause. "Nothing. Haven't you heard anything I've said? It's going to destroy us. We're going to die because of it! Your stupid political games have addled your minds. You've known about this. You haven't try to change it. You're going to get us killed, and for what, just so you won't get blamed for letting it happen."
"Would it make things clearer if I spelled it out? The council created the class-split. We actively engineered it. There are specific benefits. Now, use your brain for a second, make that lateral thinking work for once, and tell me, what is the benefit of the class-split to the council and the college?"
"Engineered? But, that's, that's reprehensible. Why would you do something like that?" Larry was too horrified to bother playing along with the game the darkness had proposed.
The darkness swore a mild oath under its leathern breath. "Reprehensible or not, it's reality. What were we supposed to do? Try to make the whole f***ing populace understand the work we wanted to do? Why bother the artists with pandering to the masses? Just set up a fluff industry to churn out the kind of stuff they can handle, the kind of stuff they want to handle."
"They won't stand for it. The arts belong to the people."
"Are you really so dense? Who are our clients? Who buys our stuff? Who controls the world?"
"S*** that makes sense. You're catering to power, you're giving them superiority by teaching them the subtlety. Power supports you because you are part of them, part of their right of power."
"The people won't revolt."
"No. Not against everything. Not with the entertainment, I guess. They're sated, aren't they."
"Yes. You see it as evil, because you think everyone needs to understand, to enjoy, art. Their leaders are all ours. Who's going to start the revolution? Those who are capable are ours, and they think that everyone should be trained, that everyone should become part of us."
"Yeah, like you, kid. You just got sucked into the machine, and somehow you didn't pay attention while you were here, didn't clue into the reality before you'd stuck your neck out."
"What's gonna happen."
"Depends on you. You shut up, and promise to play along, I'll let the council know, the issue disappears. You make any trouble, and I'm not going to do anything about it. You'll disappear." Duncan turned his chair back to the window, the silhouette looked tired.
"Ah... They would?"
"High stakes. I gather you'd like to live."
Larry sat, thinking.
"Yeah, it's hard, but it shouldn't be that hard. You have a future, you're good, and it's only politics."
The two sat looking out the window for most of the night, watching the darkness in silence.