The Final Hearing

  • 31 Jul - 06 Aug, 2021
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"It was a suicide. I find it incredible that this is even in question," said the spokesperson for Consensus, Ltd.

"I find it incredible likewise, but from quite the opposite position," replied the Minister of Justice, "that being why itÊisÊin question, Ms Sharpe. Please elaborate on why you believe the Prime Minister's death was not an assassination."

"Everyone should have a copy of the – good. As you can all see, the usage patterns show a substantial fraction of the Consensus participants advising Prime Minister Pham to kill herself. We don't deny this. But it's within the parameters of ordinary operation of the product, to which Dr Pham voluntarily subscribed. Participants can advise subscribers to do anything they like."

"Thank you, Ms Sharpe," said the Third Undersecretary of State, "but that is not quite the sticking point.

Move along."

Sharpe recovered momentum and proceeded. "Apart from a large number of peopleÊsuggestingÊit, there was no harmful interaction between our product and the late Dr Pham. The delivery of suggestions from the participant base of Consensus isÊpreciselyÊwhat she signed up for. She was not assaulted or battered. She was not even in the conventional senseÊdrivenÊto suicide."

"You understand, I hope," said the Minister of Justice, "that neither you nor the corporation you represent are being accused ofÊcommittingÊthis murder. That responsibility would lie with the instigators of the massed voting."

"Honoured minister, I and Consensus resent the implication that our product providedÊevenÊa murder weapon. Dr Pham's cause of death was suicide by overdose."

"And yet somehow I wouldn't expect the pharmaceutical manufacturer to send such a vigorous defender," said the Minister of Justice.

"I'm sure you can appreciate the magnitude of the difference between Consensus and a company that makes painkillers, honoured minister. Our product depends heavily on subscriber understanding of the intended uses."

"Your marketing problems are beside the point, Ms Sharpe," said the First Secretary of State. "Honoured ministers, distinguished secretaries, I move that we dismiss Ms Sharpe. Allowing Consensus a platform was a mistake to begin with. I want to hear from the so–called community leaders."

There were murmurs; the council took a vote; Ms Sharpe, disgruntled, was ushered aside and others took her place.

"The council acknowledges Mr Clark and Mx Renault," said the Second Undersecretary of State.

"And," said the Minister of Justice, "invites them to explain themselves."

Clark and Renault looked at each other. It was unclear whether they both wanted to speak first or both wanted the other to take over; regardless, eventually Renault spoke. "In the event," they said, "that the council determines that the Prime Minister wasÊkilled, the question of whether she was murdered per se is separate. At worstÊthe charge would be manslaughter, and we are prepared to contest even that."

"Gentlemen," said the Minister of Justice. The Second Undersecretary of State coughed. "...Gentlepersons," amended the Minister of Justice unsmoothly, "were you unaware of Prime Minister Pham's habits with regard to her

Consensus feed?"

"We hadn't examined statistics," said Clark. "We didn't know how rigidly she – anyway, she had never tried to kill herself before, so we couldn't have known that she'd doÊthat."

"The suggestion that she commit suicide had not previously attracted fifty percent of participants, let alone eighty–eight," said the Third Undersecretary of State.

"But we were not theÊfirstÊto suggest it," said Clark. "Only the best coordinated."

"Perhaps you would like to tell usÊwhyÊyou coordinated to tell Prime Minister Pham to kill herself," suggested the Minister of Justice.

"It was a protest against the pardons she issued for the usury case last New Year's," said Renault. "We felt they were inappropriate and unresponsive to the magnitude of the harm caused by the perpetrators' predatory behavior against struggling families."

"It was symbolic," added Clark. "The victims of the usurers were harassed by the lenders night and day and led to believe that if they could not pay they were valueless. Pham spent a short period of time being told that she was not valued if she could not produce justice for those victims."

"Suggesting," called Sharpe from the side of the chamber. "Not demanding."

"That will be all, Ms Sharpe," said the Third Undersecretary of State.

Sharpe quieted.

"Are there," said the Minister of Justice, "further questions for Clark and Renault?"

There were, but only a few verifications about when and how they'd rallied their supporters to converge on the Prime Minister's Consensus feed all at once. They were shooed to the side as well.

The next person brought forward to speak was Pham's psychologist.ÊSheÊwas in favor of calling it murder or at least manslaughter and seemed to have been coached, or at least rehearsed. "There is no way to overstate the mental burden of believing that most of one's society would prefer that one was dead," she said.

"So you think that Free Thriving Tomorrow was, in effect, armed and dangerous," said the Second Secretary of State.

"Thank you," said the Minister of Justice. "Do you have anything else to add?"

The psychologist was out of index cards. "Er, no."

"The council will deliberate in private now," said the First Secretary of State. "Peripheral attendees, please wait outside."

Sharpe put her phone away.

An hour later, the deliberations were over. Sharpe (and Clark and Renault and other peripherals) were allowed in to hear the Minister of Justice render the verdict, which obviously didn't please him

one bit.

Clark and Renault: formally reprimanded, but not charged; but their organisation was going to be investigated for possible obligatory dissolution on a moderately obscure hate speech charge.

Sharpe: not even reprimanded. Consensus, Ltd: not even a murder weapon.

Sharpe and the Minister of Justice turned out to be parked next to each other outside.

"I want you to know that I still think yourÊproductÊis vicious," the Minister told her.

"Our product puts constituent opinion in the hands of people who want and need it," says Sharpe. "You might as well say a career in politics is inherently vicious."

"I might," said the Minister of Justice.

"I think you'd like Consensus if you tried it. And you'd see that you can ignore it whenever you like," said Sharpe. "You don't even need to tell the application all of the options you have under consideration. Have you ever looked at – not even the feed, the preferences settings?"


"You're trying to say Pham used it wrong?"

"I never advised her on how to set hers up, honored minister, but she certainly wasn't taking advantage of some built–in precautions that would have – kept some of the hostility at bay. Look, can I get you a free one–year trial? No hard feelings."

Sharpe eventually got him to download the app. She helped him set it up. She made careful note of his ID number. She made very sure that he knew how to open up his settings if he wanted; she sent him to some instructions on how to make one's feed popular enough to get statistical meaning out of it. She navigated to his profile, brand–new, unused for now, and bookmarked it.

Just in case. - Anonymous