Wednesday 10th September 2130
In response to his own distress call to his bosses, Hamish has been called before a panel of the Assembly's Educational Advisory Committee.
The Educational Advisory Committee (EAC) is possibly the most powerful of the three advisory committees, since it exercises considerable influence on the organization and content of the whole educational process. It is a representative body, modelled on the advisory committees of the old European Union, with the power of initiation, and the right to comment on all relevant legislative proposals that are to pass before the Assembly itself. With a rotating membership of 200 Assembly members it is no small affair.
The actual operations of the EAC more or less faithfully mirror the procedures set up for the European Parliament 150 years before. The full Committee meets monthly in a plenary session, but almost all of its real work is conducted in a series of Panels, with usually no more than a dozen members plus outside expert advisers. The Panels are headed by Rapporteurs who coax the Panel into something resembling unanimity, called an Opinion, which is then eventually presented to the EAC Plenary session for debate and probable approval.
Like so many Assembly committees, the presence of many older, 'unreconstructed' members makes operation of the EAC as an thoroughgoing RCC out of the question, at least at a plenary level, although many panels often operate as RCCs, and this is the case with the panel Hamish is attending, which is comprised of youngish technocrats. Even the chairman, who is no youngster, supports the RCC format. This particular Panel is a standing forum for disciplinary and supervisory issues, reporting on an ad hoc basis to the EAC with 'own' opinions.
Before the session commences, though, the Chairman has a personal statement to make, which by convention is delivered in RCR mode:
"My name is Ferdinand Weber," he begins, using words, also conventional in these circumstances, "and as your Chairman I have to make a declaration of interest. I am the father of Jocelyn Weber, a member of BSG420, the group with which John Adenoyote is due to communicate. I am at your disposal."
The rules are clear. The members of the Panel can discuss the matter, but there must be a transparent, recorded vote on whether a person in such a situation should resile from his post. The Panel votes unanimously to retain Mr Weber as Chairman; he is a universally respected, very fair-minded man, and his knowledge of his daughter may even be helpful in resolving the issue.
"Thank you," expressed Ferdinand, slipping back into qualia, although still in RCR mode since Hamish was to address the Panel and would not be allowed into its RCC space. "As you know, we are to receive a report from the Assembly representative on the Brain Sciences Sub-Committee about an illegitimate cross-group emotional linkage, which goes to the heart of our efforts to enlarge the experience that can be given to pre-mature teenagers in the 15-18 group. Please feel free to question Mr Hamish MacIntyre as much as you want. When we have finished hearing him, we will revert to RCC mode, of course."
Hamish, who had been waiting patiently in his RCR, received the sensory nod. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began inclusively and quite unnecessarily, because they all knew perfectly well who he was, "As you know, I am the Assembly representative on the Brain Sciences Sub-Committee, which has decided to allow this male group BSG301 to continue with a highly improper and concealed initiative to make emotional contact with another, female group. It's not for me to have an opinion about whether we should, or should not, encourage or allow or develop group emotional displays of this kind; happily for me, this is a matter for your Committee and the G3. My responsibility is simply to point out that this is a clear and flagrant breach of Assembly and G3 guidelines, and to recall to you that previous incidents of this kind have had unfortunate consequences which have done nothing but damage to the participants."
"Mr MacIntyre," communicated the President, "we indeed appreciate your position, and the limitations on your role. However, it would be most useful if you could comment on the particular circumstances of this group that cause you to worry about the situation that is developing. Anything you care to say to us will be strictly for our personal information, and entirely off the record as regards your personal situation. Your job has already been well done, and we thank you for it."
Hamish visibly swelled with pride, if such a thing is possible in cyber-space. At all events, he gave off a satisfied sensory glow.
"It's the lack of rules that bothers me," he said. "My job is to observe how teenagers, children they are, after all, observe the rules, and there aren't any rules about group emotional conduct, as far as I know, at that age, except at the most basic level, and these have hardly changed in a hundred years, perhaps two hundred. Gang rape is wrong; bullying by gangs is wrong; cyber character assassination is wrong. There are a few basics like that. But no-one has set out to try to develop a code of group behaviour at any kind of sophisticated level. There is no literature, no poetry, not even any ethical writings which can give guidance. We have been so intent on codifying what we thought was a superior understanding of individual human nature into our cyber-ethos that we have quite overlooked what is coming next. But the children haven't. They are not constrained by some sort of received folk wisdom; they see things as they are, while we don't. If we fail to recognize this, they will break our precious moulds. It's essential that we adapt and give them space, and guidance, before this happens. But, as I said, this is not my job. I can only observe and point out breaches of the rules."
"A very nice speech," motioned Constantia, a 70-year old Turkish parliamentarian, a bit condescendingly. "But how does stopping the group help us to guide them?"
"I am not in favour of stopping them," said Hamish. "I suppose I am in favour of getting ahead of them. But whether a collection of old people who only half believe in groups are capable of doing the job, heaven knows. Maybe it needs some Young Turks."
Constantia laughed, but Hamish thought he might have gone too far.
"Thank you," soothed Ferdinand. "That has been very helpful. We will now continue with our private discussion."
"Do we only half believe in groups?" queried Ferdinand once they were on their own in the RCC. "I'm 85, and my upbringing was still very individualistic. I've only spent a tiny proportion of my life in group environments, if you limit that description to fully-fledged RCCs. To be honest, I struggle to suppress my individuality when I'm working with the group. I mean, to inhabit a more extensive group individuality, it's a strain. I get glimpses of what it's meant to be like. But being communally in emotional contact with a bevy of females. It's a stretch. It's going back to how things were in Africa half a million years ago. You've all read those accounts from the 20th century of how the individual was 'married to the tribe', not to a given person, male or female. Is it progress to abandon individuality?"
"But BSG301 isn't abandoning individuality," said Constantia. "Modern symphony orchestras have fifty different instruments or more, and they blend into a group sound; five thousand years ago, there were just flutes and drums. It's not going backwards to try to blend the benefits of individuality with the benefits of collectivity. Especially if we can get rid of some of the bad aspects of individuality: social isolation and so on. I agree with Hamish that we need to give more leadership, though. Leaving these kids to work it out on their own is really a cop-out on our part."
"Try convincing the G3," interjected Gaston de Millebois, a cynical French landowner, author of critically-acclaimed, forward-looking texts on cyber-society, and prominent in irridentist movements which often successfully challenged official Assembly candidates in committee elections. It was something of a miracle that he had been allowed onto so many powerful committees himself. A case of 'better the devil you know', he thought to himself, and never stepped too far out of line. "They don't believe in groups. They're all over 90."
Unlike the plethora of elected committees that make up the executive apparatus of the G3 and the Assembly, the 384-member bodies themselves are nominated assemblies. This is a hangover from their nation-state origins in the United Nations.
During the second half of the 20th century and in the early years of the new century, ethnically united groups of citizens began to become aware that 'nationality' as such was a largely invented concept, and that they would be going with the grain of history if they assaulted it. Nation states which had been compiled from disparate elements began to break up. An early example was Ireland, and of course the process of decolonization in the mid-20th century saw the emergence of dozens of new countries, corresponding more or less to ethnically-defined cultural areas. This process continued during the first half of the 21st century, and by 2060 the United Nations had its final complement of 384 member states, including Kurdistan, formed in the redistribution of Middle Eastern territory along ethnic lines after the Arab/Israeli war in 2025, and the Basque Republic, dating from 2017. Many of the new nations arose in Africa, as that unhappy continent followed out its bloody fate during the first quarter of the 21st century. By 2025, even Africa had reached a kind of stasis, as aid agencies, charities and rich nations poured advice, drugs, education and assistance into the continent.
Although the modernizers were able to impose a flat structure on the United Nations as it transmogrified into a global standards-setting organization, and they were able to get rid of such hangovers as the Security Council, global or even national elections for national representatives was a step too far, and the old structure had survived, both in the G3 and in the Assembly of the People itself. Naturally, in every case it's the nation's most effulgent, honoured and, let it be whispered, most redundant public figures who are nominated to the G3 and the Assembly, and by 2030 their average age was over 100. Hardly a tithe of them were comfortable in RCCs, although at least in the case of the G3 representatives there was a requirement for a relevant scientific qualification.
"They're not immune to public opinion," pointed out Shlomo Johannikus, one of the younger members of the Panel, and more activist than most. "Lots of our opinions have really pushed them along, especially if we get a good vote at the plenary. I think they're ready to move on this. They're going to have to accept elections for the first ten per cent of countries next year, and if they don't make some gestures towards modernization there are going to be some really far-out members in the next Assembly."
The Panel is no more than an advisory body to the Advisory Committee itself; but under the 'rapporteur' system inherited from the EU original, a cogent opinion from a panel with an experienced rapporteur and chairman can attract almost 100% support from the Committee, and that counts for quite a lot with the Assembly, which can't be seen to be too defiant of its own advisory bodies.
"Well then," asked Ferdinand. "How far should we go?"
They were prepared to go pretty far, although there was also agreement that it could be safer to hold back and present an anodyne opinion to the Committee, allowing time for the Brain Sciences Groups to get further with their experiments before facing G3 with any kind of uncomfortable recommendation. Eventually the opinion they prepared recommended that the G3 should implement urgently a positive programme of research into collective emotional behaviour, to be used as a basis for the introduction of a curricular study of group emotional behaviour for the 15-18 age group. But Ferdinand was given authority to back off the opinion if it seemed too challenging in the lead-up to the Committee meeting.
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