Riot and Insurrection as a Computer Game

This article does not intend to analyze protests, which are an American right, but riot and insurrection as evidenced by the current situation in Seattle, Washington, where an “autonomous zone” of several square blocks has been set up in defiance of law and order.

In reference to this, President Trump has tweeted that the local authorities are being “played at a level our great Country has never seen before,” adding that “This is not a game.”

What if it were?

What if it were a computer game? Insightfully or not, President Trump suggests we are being played. We are undeniably social creatures, subject in one degree or another to law and social mores, therefore, perhaps, we are indeed being played. So let’s imagine this as a computer game.

There would be at least two major sides. One would be that of anarchists, insurrectionists and rioters. On the other, of republican government and ordered liberty.

Let us play back some games recorded earlier. The forces of anarchy seem not to make much headway. The earliest games show a decided response from the forces of ordered liberty, and peace is quickly restored. The program shows the society growing ever richer and just.

But let’s say some evildoer or madman starts messing with the program.

In the beginning, it doesn’t seem like much. A line of code here and there.

In an update dated 1974, the traditional rules for police response are changed. The traditional rules had authorized police to use deadly force to disperse rioters or insurrectionists. The 1974 update deletes that rule.

The computer shows you a bit of video captured from game-play that illustrates the effects of this new rule. At night mobs set fire to numerous automobiles. Police have only one response; they must arrest the perpetrators and only them, not the mobs surrounding them, and this before the perpetrators melt into the night.

You see that in the next several games that were played, the game’s outcome does not change, but  restoration of order becomes more difficult, requiring higher levels of determination (political will), and becomes more costly. It’s just a lot harder to win.

Still, the center holds.

Someone now introduces an insidious and complicated algorithm into the game. The product of evil genius or an out-of-control mutating and devilish computer virus.

The new algorithm introduces the idea of doubt in the worth of ordered liberty. The concept around which the doubt is organized is that of “systemic racism.”

This little change means to the little artificial intelligence minds of the units belonging to the forces of order that despite their best efforts, and even when there is no actual racism, there is doubt and self-delegitimation, because the system they serve is, because of this new bit of code, immoral, and hopelessly so.

The same bit of code strengthens and emboldens the other side, the insurrectionists. Moreover, whenever the program inserts a problem, such as police brutality (not evidently racially motivated) or simple death in police custody, the likelihood of this resulting in riot and mayhem increases. It should not in a moral sense, but it does in the game since the game’s authors insist everything affects everything else.

And there is more.

It is either by an addition of new lines of computer code, or as a spiraling result of the other changes, but in effect there is a new rule. Insurrectionists and rioters arrested by the police are immediately released; indeed, many arrestees are not charged.

This further strengthens the side of chaos and weakens the side of order.

One of the game's “characters” on the side of law and order appears on the screen and says: “Frustrated law enforcement officials across the state say repeat offenders are getting bolder by the day and claim the state's policy gives lawbreakers the green light to commit crimes without consequences.”

Riots increase in frequency, spreading from city to city. Originally lasting a day or so, they now last for a week or more at a time.

The program shows rioting and looting. One can even zoom in. It looks real.

The program also simulates news reporting. A law enforcement official is shown to state that “a suspension must be systematically considered for each proven suspicion of a racist act or speech” made by police. An opposing position is presented; someone weakly claims that this would “mean officers faced a “presumption of guilt” rather than of innocence.”

What happens next? The program shows police officers afraid to make an arrest because they are afraid to appear racist.

The program, which by now you regret turning on, informs you of a new rule. Whereas even just shortly before police officers were allowed to use non-deadly force to disperse an unlawful assemblage, if this actually results in any injury, the police officer is at fault. “Injury is unbearable,” a chyron scrolls across the screen. This opens the door to provocateurs, putting even more stress on the system.

Some concatenation of algorithmic repercussions produces yet another pronouncement, another rule. A CGI’d representation of a police chief says, “I will not put an officer in harm's way to protect the property inside of a building.” Someone else appears and says the police will “intervene only if they witness imminent, serious bodily injury.”

Oddly, you start to understand why the statement might not be so crazy, given the new rules of the game. They, the authorities, can’t really disperse the rioters, the insurrectionists. The police are in big trouble if they use any force, and many police officers (there is a little bar on the screen showing statistics) are getting injured or even killed.

You search for the button to turn the thing off, but it’s a complicated program.

The computer generates unbelievable scenes of police officers being attacked, mounted officers being thrown from their horses, and even, yes, of officers being chased by rioters.

The colors change on the screen. More ominous. A red crisis signal is going off on the side of the screen. Things have entered a tipping point.

It declares an “anarchist commune” has been declared in a several-block area of a major city after the police precinct there has been taken over.

The “governor” appears on the screen to deny knowledge of any autonomous zone. It is chilling as the computer generated images laughs. The “mayor” of the affected city does the same.

You look at the information on the screen. While the situation is dire, you might still win if you make the right moves.

It is troubling, though. You consider invoking “the President,” represented on the screen by an orange icon. The “President,” however, may have been weakened. The program indicates he has been beset and beleaguered by a coup attempt, a fake impeachment, constant propaganda, and even a plague.

This is where you dim the screen and head off to bed.

But sleep evades you. As it should.

Tadas Klimas is a former FBI agent, awarded the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement (NIMA). He is also a former law professor and is the author of Comparative Contract Law.

Image credit: Pixabay public domain