The Lisbon Laws

200px-VulcansHammer(1stEd) Around a year ago I was reading Vulcan’s Hammer when I came upon something that rattled me. At the time the (first) Lisbon Treaty was about to be voted on so everyone was talking about Lisbon this, Lisbon that, and what it all meant, and how nobody knew what it all meant, etc etc.

Well, in Vulcan’s Hammer, written by Philip K. Dick in 1960, the world has become a totalitarian society ruled by mysterious computers given absolute power in 1993 by legislation called “The Lisbon Laws”. It didn’t affect how I voted of course but the naming coincidence was starling!

Here’s an extract from the book. Anti Lisbon Treaty folk better get your tinfoil hats on!

Mrs. Parker made a note on her chart. “Correct.” She felt pride at the children’s alert response. “And now per­haps someone can tell me about the Lisbon Laws of 1993.”
The classroom was silent. A few pupils shuffled in their seats. Outside, warm June air beat against the windows. A fat robin hopped down from a branch and stood listening for worms. The trees rustled lazily.
“That’s when Vulcan 3 was made,” Hans Stein said.
Mrs. Parker smiled. “Vulcan 3 was made long before that; Vulcan 3 was made during the war. Vulcan 1 in 1970. Vulcan 2 in 1975. They had computers even before the war, in the middle of the century. The Vulcan series was developed by Otto Jordan, who worked with Nathan­iel Greenstreet for Westinghouse, during the early days of the war…”
For a moment there was no response. The rows of face were blank. Then, abruptly, incredibly: “The Lisbon Laws dethroned God,” a piping child’s voice, came from the back of the classroom. A girl’s voice, severe and pene­trating.
Mrs. Parker paced rapidly down the aisle, past the chil­dren’s desks. “The Lisbon Laws of 1993,” she said sharply, were the most important legislation of the past five hundred years.” She spoke nervously, in a high-pitched shrill voice; gradually the class turned toward her. Habit made them them pay attention to her-the training of years. “All seventy nations of the world sent representa­tives to Lisbon. The world-wide Unity organization for­mally agreed that the great computer machines developed by Britain and the Soviet Union and the United States, and hitherto used in a purely advisory capacity, would now be given absolute power over the national govern­ments in the determination of top-level policy-”
“Mr. Dill,” a girl’s voice came. “Can I ask you some­thing?”
“Certainly,” Dill said, halting briefly at the door. “What do you want to ask?” He glanced at his wrist watch, smil­ing rather fixedly.
“Director Dill is in a hurry,” Mrs. Parker managed to say. “He has so much to do, so many tasks. I think we had better let him go, don’t you?”
But the firm little child’s voice continued, as inflexible as steel. “Director Dill, don’t you feel ashamed of yourself when you let a machine tell you what to do?
“The Lisbon Laws, which you’re learning about. The year the combined nations of the world decided to throw in their lot together. To subordinate themselves in a realistic manner-not in the idealistic fashion of the UN days-to a common supranational authority, for the good of all man­kind.”
“There was one answer. For years we had been using computers, giant constructs put together by the labor and talent of hundreds of trained experts, built to exact stand­ards. Machines were free of the poisoning bias of self-interest and feeling that gnawed at man; they were capable of performing the objective calculations that for man would remain only an ideal, never a reality. If nations would be willing to give up their sovereignty, to subordi­nate their power to the objective, impartial directives of the-”

It’s a great story and well worth a read. It was part of a 3 story book called “Philip K Dick Three Early Novels” containing The man who japed, Dr. Futurity, and Vulcan’s Hammer. The first story almost put me off reading the other two as it had dated badly. Some of the character’s names and the technology are really old fashioned! Persevere, it’s worth it.

Author: Donncha

Donncha Ó Caoimh is a software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer. He posts photos at In Photos and can also be found on Google+ and Twitter.

1 thought on “The Lisbon Laws”

  1. Cheers for that.

    That’s really interesting. Good ol Philip K.

    And you’re right – I know a few anti-Lisbon guys whose tin foil hats are going to combust at that!!

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