Come in. Have a seat. So, I understand that you are a volunteer. Good. Let us jump right in, shall we? Here’s my proposition:
Were I to offer you the best life imaginable, but as payment, you would immediately find yourself at the end of it, old and content with having lived a magnificent life. Would you accept?
No? Well, perhaps I was a little too eager. You see, I usually deal with prisoners and homeless people. I thought that given you’re a volunteer, but no… never mind. We won’t start over. I think we can still build on this foundation.
You’ll have to forgive my curiosity, but what is it exactly that you hang onto? Is it perhaps the idea of time? Oh, it’s perfectly normal to hesitate. What I mean is, do you perhaps prefer to live every second of it, yourself, however imperfect, however trying? Rather than to possess only the memory of having lived every blissful second of a better life?
I assure you, this is a very common delusion. No? Or is it perhaps a romantic notion along the lines of free will? You know, that you might make mistakes, but at least they would be your mistakes..?
But I’m prying. Allow me to add a criteria to my proposition. What if I told you that it is scientifically proven to be impossible for you to live this ‘best imaginable life’ without my proposition? That in fact, our company algorithms which, I assure you, are the most sophisticated ever devised, calculate the odds of living even a good life on this overpopulated, over-polluted, war-filled, unpredictable planet; at zero-to-none. Then, would you accept my proposition? Is the mere act of experiencing time that important to you? I must admit, I’m a little confused. If you are so reticent, why volunteer at all? I can assure you that this is as utopic a scenario as my company can offer.
Never you mind. I am here to help you in any way I can. Here’s something that I believe would settle the matter once and for all. What if I tell you that, while you were waiting, I had our computer run through a near-infinite amount of scenarios specific to your life, past and present. A simple enough and routine extrapolation, to determine what the future has in store for you.
Now, I can tell you with 99.86% certitude that, if you deny my offer, you are guaranteed to live a wretched life, as rich in humiliation, suffering and sorrow, as the perfect life I offer you is in profoundly meaningful happiness.
Hurrah! Good. I’m glad you’re finally beginning to see sense. Even if just an inkling of it. Now, I hope you won’t think it presumptuous of me to assume that, now that you dipped your toes in, you might wonder if there is perhaps some fine print you might want to negotiate. Of course. Of course, it is only natural and what’s more: fair, that you should be allowed to ask: Well, ok, but just how long will I live to enjoy these memories?
Quite! Quite. But let me ask you this: Is there indeed a difference? Let us say, for the sake of argument that I grant you a day. Let us say that I grant you a year. Ten years. What length of time would be significant? Very well, here’s what I am able to offer you today: I will grant you an entire year to delve into the memories of this most glorious life, tailored to your specific needs and desires. However! Oh, don’t be vexed, even heaven has its caveats, I’m sure of it. If God knows everything, then surely he knows that the spice is in the devil’s details. No one, and trust me, I would know in this line of work, wants utopia to be bland and unidimensional.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. I will grant you an entire year to delve into the memories of this most glorious life, tailored to your specific needs… blah blah. However! You will live the rest of your life, after that year, with no memory at all. A worn tape looping onto itself endlessly. How long? Well, aren’t you becoming the shrewd haggler! From conscientious objector to self-interested negotiator. How interesting… Don’t worry, you’ll get an average scenario: Old age with the end in sight, but without any specific knowledge of when it will strike and from what angle.
Well? Think on it. This is our arrangement, as it now stands: I will grant you the best and fullest life imaginable, and in exchange, you will immediately find yourself at the end of it, old and content with having lived a magnificent life. And, to delve into the rich landscape of memories, concordant to such an accomplished life, I will grant you an entire year of life, after which you will live out the rest of your old age without the slightest memory. I will even add, as a little token of our friendship and in the spirit of trust, that you will live out your days peacefully and painlessly.
How’s that? Do we have a deal? Remember now, for I see that you’re hesitating, the cinch is that if you refuse, you are guaranteed to live the absolute worst life imaginable, specifically tailored to your worst fears and anxieties, etc.
Fantastic! I knew you’d come around. Good. Now, let me just punch it in. Oh dear, oh dear… What’s this? I’m afraid that package is not available to you. You seemed to have neglected to mention a minor misdemeanour on your entrance exam. Come now, come now. I know you were excited, but there are other options available to you.
Here’s one! Hmm… Essentially, it is the same deal. The only hitch is, well, there is no plan that includes the year of delving into the sweet memories of your best life. But the good news is that you’re still eligible for everything else. Come now, is there truly a difference? What kind of magic happens in that year of remembering? You’ll forget it all anyway. Here, to sweeten the deal, I will remove the clause about losing your memory. You’ll simply die. Alright? See, I knew we could come to… Oh, now you want to keep the memory loss? Why? What’s the point?
Well, I see we don’t see eye to eye on this. So, tell me, there really can’t be a deal without some sort of remembering? Perhaps I misjudged you. Perhaps I’m going about this the wrong way. Here, let me attempt the flip side of my offer. There is an option for living the worst imaginable life. Let’s see, and in exchange, you would be immediately at the end of it feeling all the ecstasy and relief of being done with such a wretched life. Like that feeling at the end of a long day’s work. Ooh, that’s a good one.
However… if that’s not exactly what you’re after, there is the option of living the end of your old age without a single memory in your head. How sweet is that? To blissfully forget a most hellish life? No? You know, since I’m getting the feeling your patience with me is wearing short, I’ll add a nice little bonus at the end here.
An asterisk, see? Yes, there, that’s better. An add-on that allows you to live a year in old age with a head full of memories of having lived the best imaginable life. Now that’s a sweet deal! How can you not see it? No, no. No bother.
Ok, let’s take another avenue. I didn’t pin you for a ‘play it safe’ kind of person. Let’s see here. Well, there’s this one here. It’s like the other ones but it’s not so… fast. Instead of arriving directly at the end of your life, into old age, you fast-forward through it. What kind of life? Oh, it’s an ok life, I guess. It’s boring, so there’s that going for it, I guess? Kind of levelled out, yes. No ups no downs. Neither long nor short.
How fast is the fast-forward? Ha ha! Does it really matter? What if I say every year is a minute? An hour? This is becoming quite embarrassing. I really can’t read you! Which way would please you most? What on earth could be the difference? If you go see a boring film, would you want it to last a day or an hour? Right, so you’d think the same applies, no? In fact, I’m being deceitful here… Perhaps I’m the one losing patience after all! Or interest… I can’t tell. Oh, it’s not your fault. You know when I first saw you I thought: Now this one, this one is a real live one! But never mind. My expectations were too high, that’s all.
There is an equation that guides the speed of the fast-forward: The slower the pace the shorter the life, the faster the pace the longer the life. So it evens out. Happy?
What would I choose? Must we truly go there? Surprised? Quite the opposite… Everyone ends up asking that most banal question. Well, it’s not exactly a bad question… I do possess a unique fluency in such matters given my years of service. Well, if you truly want my opinion, as long as we’re in the bland intermediate plans, I’d just close my eyes and point at random. Can I be frank? I feel like I can be authentic with you, for some reason. The true pickle, in my experience, is not which plan to choose, but rather the fact of choice itself.
Do you remember what kept you from choosing my first plan? This cowboy attitude that whichever life is better if it’s yours to succeed in, or mess up? This rather quite cliché belief in free will? Well, as it turns out, in my expression, most clients come to resent that very same sentiment by the end of these sessions. The so-called ‘choice’ between all these various plans… in the end, it’s this illusion of free will that throws a wrench in the whole affair. You’d scarcely credit how many ask me to make the choice for them! Of course, in that case, I just feed it through the computer’s algorithm. And then, and this is really quite comical; every single one of them will invariably end up resenting this machine! I know! And the irony of it all is this: the algorithm doesn’t even reside in this specific computer!
But, as a whole, that’s just part of average human behaviour. Easier to reluctantly accept the inevitable. Easier to throw away free will and blame those who make the choices. A petty thing truly. I ask you… Why whine if you’re going to do it anyway?
Perhaps I’ve spoken too freely. You’re right, of course, it’s a monumental decision to make. I’ve just become desensitised over the years. Yes, of course, you’re right. I understand your disillusion completely. Is there a point in being granted a life at all, right? Between you and me, I couldn’t agree more. But, the fact remains that our company has a very crucial role to play in the survival of mankind. That is the point of this company after all. We are meant to deal with overpopulation by creative and humane means. We believe that life is the quintessential human experience. That’s why all our programs include a life. We’re not exterminators, thank you very much. This is not a morgue. But between you and me, it’s a pretty thin veil. In fact, I don’t believe I can make the distinction anymore…
So far, only those who’ve messed up in life show up here. Prisoners went first. Then, drug addicts. Then, homeless people… It’s only humane. Not a scrap more or less than humane. Not death row. Not a lifetime of imprisonment. No, no. Oh sure, they don’t get the same array of options a volunteer, such as you, gets. But humane nonetheless. And I believe that. Society is better off without those people. But after all those years of service, I don’t see the point anymore.
What’s the difference between not remembering and death? Is there one? If you don’t remember your life, what was the point of living it? And what is the value of time in the equation? Is there one? Does it really matter what speed life goes at? If so, what’s the difference between slow and fast or instantaneous? When you look back at your life, does it matter at all what happened? Does it matter what happened if you can’t remember? And if you forget it, what was the point of living it? And if there is, in fact, no difference between not remembering and death, then is there a reason why having existed matters at all? And what then is the value of free will? Is there one? Is there any free will in past or future life? And if free will only exists in the present, can it be anything else but an illusion created by the speed at which life goes? If life is instantaneous, rendering the present inexistent, what free will can we lay claim to? And if there is no such thing as personal agency, then would it not be preferable to merely skip out on life altogether?
What’s this? I’m afraid I can’t accept any… My termination? So all this was some kind of evaluation? That’s sick you know? You knew all along… Oh, spare your breath, I know the options. Just shove it in the damn machine and be done with it. What! Well, of course that’s what this ungodly machine thinks is best. Aren’t I lucky… The worst life and I only get to savour it like a hard day’s work? This machine is twisted… evil… Fine, if it must be this way. But, for the record, I reject this most barbaric sugar-coated execution. This whole process… it’s sick! Sick I tell you!
Copyright © 2021 by Etienne Robert