Intelligence Or Artifice? A Novel’s Warning of Experts & Science
An enigma wrapped around a conundrum, and doesn’t that just describe the situation the world finds itself in?
When a highly regarded journalist takes to fiction in order to tell the high-stakes story of China’s role in the COVID pandemic, I wonder if the oft-referenced “unnamed sources” and “industry experts”—the mainstay of today’s uncensored mainstream media narratives—have provided the factual foundation for this controversial account.
John Moody, previous executive vice president/executive editor of Fox News and Rome Bureau chief for Time magazine, has just released the cryptically titled political thriller Of Course They Knew, Of Course They….
Hmmm. An enigma wrapped around a conundrum, and doesn’t that just describe the situation the world finds itself in?
Moody weaves potential facts and motivations behind the virus’ spread, and the complicity of politicians, media, and technology advocates first to place blame, then gain power and control. The author’s decades of experience contributes to his great gut instinct of what makes a compelling story, even if not footnoted, and his very relatable common-man characters carry the plot forward.
But don’t assume you can tell who the “They” are in the title…or even what “They Knew.” Moody’s fine crafting of the backdrop in China, Italy, and the United States ultimately leads the reader to question any knowledge, expertise, or even intelligence.
In fact, more than simply chronicling what might have been the initial infection by a hapless lab technician and subsequent cover-up, Moody emphasizes China’s fixation on the role of Artificial Intelligence, and how it has been— and could be—used to influence not just words and phrasing of pandemic messaging, but choices we make, freedoms we perceive we have, and a frightening future when less-than-perfect algorithms recommend life-or-death decisions.
The main character, Henry, a disenchanted American twenty-something involved in an unfulfilling “sex-ship” with a feminist, becomes fascinated with Artificial Intelligence, and thus recruited to Wuhan to aid the Chinese Communist Party in their understanding of the American psyche to improve their military’s effectiveness. Manipulating feelings, and then facts, becomes the focus of AI’s “secret beauty.”
Moody blends his journalistic editorial style with colorful wordsmithing and sardonic commentary as an omniscient narrator providing edu-tainment about the past, present, and future battles for supremacy between US and China, Democracy and Communism. Moody certainly has his finger on the pulse of what the world was thinking, feeling, and living throughout 2020, including cries of racism and resistance to government policies. For example, an Italian craftswoman becomes a populist heroine for decrying the influx of Chinese workers into their northern region’s garment industry.
Parallel protests arise among the working class in Pennsylvania. Moody’s descriptions of his hometown of Pittsburgh ring truest, with shuttered steel mills from its old glory before China ramped up its manufacturing. Reeling from job losses, incomprehensible mask edicts and illogical lockdowns, another relatable character complains “It’s the tyranny of the experts, man.”
And it is indeed how experts are created from thin air by the CCP, and the truth similarly created, which is the most fascinating sub-plot:
“It doesn’t matter what that person saw with his own eyes, or heard with his own ears. It is what the Party tells him he saw or heard that is the truth. Anything else is worthless. This is actually the secret of China’s recent successes.”
In this novel, Moody predicts China’s and America’s love affair with Artificial Intelligence is morphing into areas that most citizens wouldn’t dream of, not simply tweaking a few words but recommending medical treatments. He describes a type of intelligence and expertise built on lies, ignorance, guesswork, and scale, inexorably dragging humanity behind and losing the interpersonal relationships, friendships, families, and trusting societies along with it.
My only quibble is his de-facto sanctioning of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s descriptive of China’s political/economic system as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” Moody repeats the phrase often as an ironic bookend to truly horrendous situations, rather than boldly and truthfully call it out as Communism. As he well knows, the quantity of exposure to a message is what wins the narrative war, and he simply contributes to the misunderstanding that the China Communist Party is anything but what its name proudly proclaims.
For someone of Moody’s stature to take to fiction in order to speak out about the truths of the last two years is quite significant. Novels aren’t generally censored, and these theories and background information on China’s behind-the-scenes work by their military, technologists, and politicians to influence America through its media experts and platforms is credible. Similarly, Moody was at the forefront writing numerous op-eds calling out China’s lock on key minerals so critical to America’s technology-reliant lifestyle, and was proven to be correct in his assessment of the danger of over-reliance on Chinese suppliers.
Of Course They Knew, Of Course They…, with all its provocative messages, of course will be banned in China. Hopefully it will be distributed and read throughout the rest of the world, providing needed context to our shared global miseries.
It may be the only message to stand the test of time.
[First published at Ann Bridges.]