8/23/2020 07:39

Virtual Employment

Recently I've woken up dreaming about being employed. This doesn't happen every day, but considering that I've been unemployed for a decade these dreams arrive far more frequently than I would have expected. (Perhaps the partial lockdown we are enduring to battle the current pandemic, or reading various commentaries in the public press by people who themselves are employed, has turned my thoughts more toward places of employment.) This morning in imagination I found myself recently arrived in a Class A office suite with plentiful windows and a Top Secret portfolio.

The office was populated with a variety of white male employees and a handful of other races and genders. This strikes me as an odd bit of realism given that the actual reality of my past was typically less biased than this morning's imaginings. Even in the dream this narrowness had a negative impact on the breadth of perspective of the office staff and led, indirectly, to some doubts about the wisdom of being employed in that setting.

The reference to secrecy is a deeper puzzle. Government secrecy and formal classification of information are inconsistent with my outlook and personal practice. Even within the dream I commented to my boss that I believed I would have more scope to benefit the public at large if we were free from the constraints of a regime of secrets. (The best known encryption in actual reality is also the most public and transparent algorithm, an opinion supported by the evidence of its wide success and by the government's history of attempting to weaken it and of complaining about its use by both the innocent and the guilty.) Why then had I accepted a job at an office suffused by classification, codes, and encryption?

Looking back into the dream I think my virtual self may have had hopes for eventual reform, for structural openness to replace the structurally closed system within which we were then operating. Sometimes in my dreams I am remarkably naive.

In the meantime, I told my boss (who incidentally seems not to be based on any person or character I have otherwise known), we have to have to find ways to contribute with the tools available to us. In other words, the only way to play the actual reality game is in the context of actual reality. The secrecy and the narrowness of the workforce were realistic limitations of my imaginary job. My best play would be one which mitigates the limitations and leverages the power of the office.

Such a nice, tidy moral lesson! The dream should have ended with that uplifting thought and I should have awakened with a renewed commitment to struggle toward justice and equity.

Instead we found a dog.

The dog was a Saint Bernard who, it seemed, was already trained as a courier of government dispatches. The office community jointly decided to keep him. (I'm not sure gender prejudice extended to canines in this unreal office but it is an interesting question.) We set the dog to work carrying unclassified communications between our primary office and a couple of satellite locations in downtown Green Bay. We had to train the dog to know where each office was and to understand instructions on which location to go to but he already knew the courier's responsibility and was very proud to perform his small service.

We relied on the computer network to carry information critical to our mission but we felt the dog to be essential in some other way. And I wonder, now that I'm awake, whether I would have been more tempted to intercept a critical message from the bits and bytes of the computer system or from the backpack of a full-sized Saint Bernard on a mission. There is probably a second lesson in this second part of my dream but it may not be as tidy as the earlier lesson.

Alternatively it may have been that Alek, the dog of my current actual reality, had intruded himself onto the bed and turned my dream narrative from virtuality to living beings. And perhaps that is the lesson.