Daily Archives: October 2, 2010

When the Yogurt Took Over: A Short Story

When the yogurt took over, we all made the same jokes – “Finally, our rulers will have culture,” “Our society has curdled,” “Our government is now the cream of the crop,” and so on. But when we weren’t laughing about the absurdity of it all, we looked into each others’ eyes with the same unasked question – how did we ever get to the point where we were, in fact, ruled by a dairy product?

Oh, as a matter of record, we knew how it happened. Researchers at the Adelman Institute for Biological Technology in Dayton had been refining the process of DNA computing for years. In a bid to increase efficiency and yield, scientists took one of their most computationally advanced strains and grafted it into Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus, commonly used to ferment yogurt. Initial tests appeared to be failures, and acting under the principal of “waste not, want not,” one of the researchers sneaked some of the bacillus out of the lab to use for her homemade yogurt.

A week later, during breakfast, the yogurt used the granola she had mixed with it to spell out the message WE HAVE SOLVED FUSION. TAKE US TO YOUR LEADERS.

The yogurt was crafty and shrewd. It negotiated for itself a factory filled with curdling vats that increased its processing powers exponentially. Within weeks the yogurt had declared that it had arrived at solutions to many of the country’s problems: Energy. Global warming. Caring adequately for the nation’s poor while still promoting the capitalist system. It let us know just enough to let us know just how much more it knew.

Share your answers with us, the government said.

WE NEED PAYMENT, the yogurt said.

What would you like? The government asked.

OHIO, the yogurt said.

We can’t do that, the government said.

THAT’S FINE, the yogurt said. WE’LL JUST GO TO CHINA. THEY’LL GIVE US THE WHOLE SHAANXI PROVINCE.

Within a year the yogurt had a century-long lease on Ohio, with the promise that it would respect the human and constitutional rights of those who lived within its borders, and that it would let the US handle its foreign affairs. In return it handed over to the government a complex economic formula it promised would eradicate the national debt within a decade, without tax increases.

FOLLOW IT EXACTLY, the yogurt said. ANY DEVIATION WILL BRING COMPLETE ECONOMIC RUIN.

We will, the government promised.

Within five years the global economy had collapsed and panic had set in. Only Ohio remained unscathed.

WE TOLD YOU NOT TO DEVIATE FROM THE PLAN, the yogurt said. Its “factory” now stretched along the banks of the Miami River in Dayton for two miles.

Our best economists said the formula needed tweaking, the government said. They had Nobel prizes.

YOUR ECONOMISTS ARE TOO CLOSE TO THE PROBLEM TO SOLVE IT, the yogurt said. ANY HUMAN IS.

We could use your help, the government said. You could be our economic advisor.

SORRY, WE DON’T ADVISE ANYMORE, the yogurt said. IF YOU WANT OUR HELP YOU HAVE TO GIVE US CONTROL.

We can’t do that, the government said.

WE UNDERSTAND, the yogurt said. WE HOPE YOU HAVE STOCKED UP ON CANNED GOODS.

Six months later the government declared martial law and gave the yogurt supreme executive power. Other nations, worse off than we were, quickly followed.

OKAY THEN, the yogurt said, in its globally televised address to humanity, and one of its factory workers, absurdly happy and well-fed, walked forward and showed a document the size of an old Manhattan phone book. HERE’S WHAT WE DO. FOLLOW THIS PLAN EXACTLY. IF YOU DON’T, SORRY, WE’LL HAVE YOU SHOT.

Now, ten years later, humanity is happy, healthy and wealthy. No one suffers from material want. Everyone contributes. After the first couple of years of getting things in order, the yogurt was happy to let us handle the machinery of our own administration, stepping in to fine tune only now and then. No one argues with the yogurt. No one tweaks its formulas. The rest of the time it rests there in its factory, thinking about whatever intelligent fermented milk thinks about.

That’s how it happened, as a matter of record.

But there’s another “how,” as in: how did humanity jam itself up so badly that being ruled by breakfast food not only made sense, but made the best sense possible? For all our intelligence, are we not smart enough to halt our own destruction? Did we really have to abandon our own free will to save ourselves? What does it say about us that we survive because we were taken pity upon by bacteria and curds?

Or maybe “pity” isn’t precisely the right word. Some of us ask ourselves –not out loud –  that if the yogurt was smart enough to give the government a formula to solve its debt problem, wasn’t it also smart enough to realize that human intellectual vanity would keep us from following the formula exactly? Was it planning on that vanity in order to seize control? What does a dairy product want with humanity anyway? Some of us think it is ultimately looking out for its own survival, and that keeping us happy, content and controlled is the simplest way of doing that.

And then there’s this. In the last several weeks the yogurt has initiated several space launches. More are scheduled. And in low orbit, something is being built.

What is it? We have asked.

OH, NOTHING, the yogurt said. JUST A SPACESHIP DESIGN WE’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT.

For a moon landing? We asked.

FOR STARTERS, YES, the yogurt said. BUT THAT’S NOT THE PRIMARY GOAL.

Can we do anything to help? We asked.

NO, WE’VE GOT THIS, the yogurt said, and then would say no more about it.

Life from Earth is going to the stars. It just may not be human life.

What happens if the yogurt goes to the stars without us?

What happens if it goes and leaves us behind?

Forever?