The Opiate of the Masses
Summary: A visionary entrepreneur and religious preacher join forces to distribute a device that ends human suffering. Their success is not quite how they envision it to be.
Reverend Peter Larson grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, on the buckle of the Bible Belt. Charles Chung grew up to immigrant parents in Silicon Valley, California. Both met by chance on a flight to Washington, DC, and they struck up an unlikely friendship that changed the world.
Reverend Larson was younger than many thought he'd be. He'd been among the first preachers to embrace online streaming of services, a successful venture in both converts and cash. While more showman than fundamentalist Christian, he nevertheless followed technology with a more open mind than his hardline peers did. As such, he listened to Chung's project.
Chung was always moved by the problem of human suffering. He and Larson engaged in frequent debates on the problem of evil, free will, and God's place in it. While they ended up at very different conclusions, both always found themselves discussing ways to reduce human suffering. Chung's graduate school project, as both came to believe, offered that exact potential.
Chung's device was a non-invasive neuromodulation headset, a combination of electroencephalographic sensors and ultrasound transducers. The device could detect discomfort and unpleasant sensations through analysis of electrical signals from the brain, and then stimulate deeply and precisely with focused ultrasound. Originally used to treat chronic pain, depression, and neurodegenerative disease, the device could effectively stimulate anywhere in the brain without need for surgery.
Chung offered the device, and knowledge on how to produce it, to the general public. While not technically a medical device, it was tested and approved to the same standards. Larson brought up the device in his homilies as an example of how human science could solve human suffering, but true salvation was only achievable through God. With Chung's technical skills and Larson's media savvy, the devices flew off the shelves worldwide.
A key function in the headset was the ability for an individual to modify stimulation parameters. As other companies legally fought to prevent patients from accessing their own physiological, Chung wanted to grant that information to directly to the customer. User generated content, including programs, soon proliferated. Among the most popular was a self-stimulation program that directly activated the user's reward and pleasure centers.
Self-stimulation became the addiction of an entire generation. In the economic stagnation and political dysfunction that gripped North America, Europe, Oceania, and much of Asia, many turned to alcohol and drugs. Instead, they now turned to direct stimulation. Unlike alcohol and drugs, no costly substances were necessary. Those so addicted merely wasted away on their own, content to let their hygiene and habits fall to the wayside. The entire criminal economy resultant from such substances collapsed overnight. The desperation that once drove violent crime gave way to passive, blissful technological excitement.
Politicians and corporate leaders around the world feigned alarm at the invention, and a few countries even banned it. However, enforcement was far more difficult than drugs, due to the easy availability of the necessary components and software. Unofficially, law enforcement were grateful for the dramatic decrease in violent crime, and the ability to remove violence from prisons by providing headsets to all the inmates. Even the most repressive states found that tactic a far more efficient way of dealing with dissidents.
Those who'd never gotten into the self-stimulation system nevertheless advanced technology. Automation became reliable enough to compensate for the addicted generation. Human intervention became increasingly less required in economic practices and intellectual pursuits. Nevertheless, there was less upheaval, for humanity had designed a way to end suffering, by turning every second of life into a non-stop sensation of pleasure. The vision once sold by Larson and Chung became a true opiate of the masses.