"Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman" is a dystopian tale set in a future America where a corporate libertarian philosophy has led to a government that has ceased to function. This "Great Change" in American politics results when people become so turned off by political gridlock and inefficiency that they throw aside the existing political parties and embrace an unknown future that has been sold to them by powerful, multinational corporate forces with a hidden agenda. The novel explores that world through the experiences of the Newman family as they struggle with personal tragedies fed by corporate greed that is no longer restrained by public institutions able to restrict their excesses.
It's a story about much more than government dysfunction. The Great Change in America is a backdrop to an exploration of what it is to be fully human. If we live in a virtual world made up of virtual experiences, are we fully alive? If our friends, employers, colleagues and customers are mostly people we've never met, how can they be so central to how we define ourselves, to who we are? If something is technologically efficient and economically productive, does that necessarily make it better? Who owns us?
The current political divide in the US is not a battle between those who want an effective government and those who want no government. Yet it is true that there is a fringe of extremist ideologues who welcome the current crisis as a way to weaken government, who see federal income taxes as unconstitutional, and ultimately want to remove public protections so the country can serve as their personal ATM machine. That's not the majority of those who are fearful of excessive government spending and want to reign in what they see as an out of control bureaucracy. However, anti-excess concerns can be exploited and inflamed into anti-government passions and the results, as my novel suggests, could be disastrous.
A strong democracy requires an efficient government that is fully answerable to the people. If we weaken the central government in a massive, complex, and diverse country like the US, we create a power vacuum that will be filled by those with the resources to manipulate our future for their own ends, not the common good. That is nothing new. Most of recorded history is a panorama of powerful individuals abusing their power for perceived short-term gain. Wars have been fought for decades over which family will control what territory. Whole industries have been manipulated and lives wrecked to enrich tiny elites who embrace the "greed is good" mantra, or feel entitled by birth or circumstance to a massive share of the nation's bounty. We don't have to look very far back in our history for evidence of this, though it is not a new phenomenon.
"Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman" looks at all that and more, but that's not what the book is about. It's about a family, their commitment to each other, the challenges they face, their tragedies, victories, missteps and determination. I love the Newman family, and I fear the world in which they live. That's why I wrote this book.