The idea for “The Hibbing Test” began in 2015 with a documentry on how humans perceive risk, how they would bet or cash out when playing with free money, and what that exposed about how they saw the world. This story sees a world that becomes dominated by that difference, with one group given power, and the other religated due to their view of the world - and how risk perception plays into it. While this story is built around political party lines, this is not a story about politics, but about the differences in perception and how it results in groups that are fundementally unable to understand one another.
This short story is the first that I’ve made available to the public.
The Hibbing Test, a Short Story
“Tomorrow is the big day son, do you have your Selective Service paperwork ready? You know you have to get it turned in within a week of your 18th birthday now.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s ready; I’ll do it in the morning.”
“How about voting? Are you going to register?”
“I don’t know, I’m not happy about taking the test. I think I’d rather just not vote — I’d rather not take the risk of being labeled an RI for the rest of my life.”
“Jake, I was labeled as Risk Insensitive when I was 18, and I’ve had a fine life. Yes, I’m not allowed to vote or hold office, or be an officer in the military — but I’ve still done well, I think. Even if you are RI, you’ll be fine.”
It started on a day that could have been mistaken for any other day on a conflict-torn border — planes flying, bombs being dropped, gunshots in the distance. It wasn’t a war, or at least there was no declaration of war, but the conflict was real and deadly. Six countries were involved in different ways, some providing weapons and supplies, others providing warplanes that had left the country pockmarked and covered in rubble. Refugees had fled, by the thousands, for cities all over the Middle East and Europe. While this day was so like those that came before, something different happened, something that changed the world.
A plane was shot down while on an anti-terror mission after crossing the border into a neighboring country for only a few seconds. Maybe it was a misunderstanding, maybe a technology failure; the details have been lost to history. For the weeks that followed everything went on as it had, but looking back, it is clear that it was this day, this event, that did it. It was this plane that started the third world war.
The United States was pulled into the war within months, despite strong protests — especially from the liberals that were already tired of war after war being justified by terrorist attacks. The US plunged in with all its might, though this wasn’t a quick war against a weak state, but a true world war that was drawing in every significant power. The UK had entered the fight early on, within weeks of the first battle in the Middle East, and was already stretched thin by the time the US officially entered the war. They were soon dependent on supplies from the US, as trade within Europe had largely broken down.
The conservative-majority government that was elected shortly before the beginning of the war quickly extended new powers to the President. The liberals that had fought the war were soon labeled as traitors — possibly even terror-supporters. The next election cycle was even more conservative — promises of a quick victory and new jobs led to a landslide victory.
With a conservative President and both houses of Congress being dominated by a radical group of ultra-conservatives, a new war was started: the war on anyone that fought to prevent the war.
It started with a Senate Select Committee to investigate those that spoke out against the war; thousands were called to testify, and tens of thousands more were investigated by the FBI. Few were ever prosecuted for actual crimes, but many saw their careers destroyed and their most intimate secrets displayed for the world to see. Those that had publicly spoken out against joining the war were under constant surveillance, just waiting for them to slip up and do the wrong thing. Not since the McCarthy era had Congress been so aggressive against individual Americans.
The Supreme Court had been expanded and packed with pro-war party members, and thus allowed controversial policies from World War I and World War II to be reinstated, placing restrictions on the press — which was now expanded to social media. People posting news of enemy victories were often arrested on charges of Providing Material Support to the enemy. Public speech against the war was all but banned; the First Amendment lived on, but greatly weakened by war-time restrictions and only a shadow of what it was meant to be. Internment camps were set up to house those that the government saw as enemies, a list that grew constantly.
In her first-term and looking to make a name, one of the senators started digging through pre-war interviews and dragging military officers before the committee to answer for their statements. Within the first month, over 100 officers had been called to testify, half of them soon relieved of duty for “Un-American Activity” — this was just the beginning.
Month after month, her purge of officers that hadn’t supported or had since stopped supporting the war went on. She was as vicious as she was thorough — Ensign to Admiral, Lieutenant to General, anyone that dared to offer anything less than complete dedication to the war would face her, often with their careers, marriages, and lives razed in the process.
During her time at university, she had been a psychology minor and decided there must be a difference with these people. During her first class, she received a warning, a warning oft-repeated in courses across the country: a little knowledge of psychology could do far more harm than good. Unfortunately, she didn’t heed the warning.
Nine months into her crusade, she brought together a group of psychologists to interview those that had spoken out against the war. Her instructions to the group were simple: figure out what they have in common and develop a test for it. They had to be identified, so the country could be protected from them.
Based on existing research, they quickly had an answer: risk perception. Those that were against the war were generally liberal politically, and in tests, were found to be less sensitive to threatening stimuli.
The test was refined, new terms were coined, and people were trained on administering the test. When applied to those that had been relieved of duty, 97% tested as less sensitive to risk — when applied to those that had been called to testify, 82% tested as less sensitive.
As soon as the results were published, she introduced the Military Officers Psychological Stability Requirement Act, which used that research as a basis to put into law that persons that were less sensitive to risk, or Risk Insensitives as they would be called in the future, were carriers of a genetic defect that made them unfit for service.
The theory was simple: during the Pleistocene heightened sensitivity to threats was useful for keeping you alive. Some people lost this trait, which, as determined by a government of people dominated by that trait, was a genetic defect that made people mentally unstable.
The science was partly right; people perceive risk differently — some people see it as a direct threat, where others see opportunity. Those that see a threat aren’t capable of understanding how those that see it otherwise function. Those that perceive opportunity are unable to understand the perspective of those that don’t. It’s a genetic difference that leads to the two sides of the political spectrum seeing the world in a fundamentally different way.
The way it was presented, though, was far overstating the impact of the difference, and the bill submitted wholly mischaracterized the research. Despite the flaws, it passed, and the Hibbing Test was born.
“Son… Jake, listen, I took the Hibbing test when I was thinking about going into the military — that was back before they required the test to register to vote, of course — it’s really not that bad. The only real impact has been that I can’t vote. As the worst-case scenario, it’s not that bad.”
“I know, but I don’t want the label. You used to be able to vote, and they took it away. If I take the test, and I’m RI, what will they take away from me? It’s not worth the risk. I’d rather just not know.”
“Jake, yes, things have changed since I was your age. Used to, I could vote, I could go into law enforcement, I could have even held a passport. Times have changed, and they keep changing — but if you aren’t RI, I don’t want you to miss out on all those things.”
“I don’t know dad.”
“The test is easy. They connect some pads to your head to measure electrical activity, then play some card games — to see when you’d bet money versus cash out, they show you pictures of different things to see how you react, then ask you what you would do in different hypothetical situations. After about an hour, you’ll have the answer, and you’ll be able to go on with your life.”
The Hibbing Test was born from legitimate research into why people view the world in such drastically different ways. Why does one person embrace what the other sees in abject terror? As the study continued, the findings showed a genuine genetic difference behind the perceptions that form the basis of political ideology and worldview.
Much of why people align to one political group or another can be traced to specific genes — while environment plays a significant role, the basis are these genes.
It often seems that different political groups see the world in fundamentally different ways — this research shows that it is quite literally true.
“Jake, just think about it. I’ll see you in the morning. It’s important.”
Jake sat in his room, well-appointed, in a two-story house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. His father had done well; he had a Ph.D. at 25, a comfortable job working as a researcher at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Jake’s life was far from perfect though, his mother passed away on the morning of his 5th birthday — tomorrow, his 18th birthday would be the first he celebrated since her death.
On that fateful morning, she was driving to his party with his cake; the driver in front of her slammed their brakes, she hit hers, and immediately reached down to keep the cake from sliding off the seat next to her. In the instant her eyes were away from the road, she missed what was going on in front of her: the car in front of her had swerved off the road, and a car was driving the wrong way — straight at her. Birthdays were just a reminder of his mother and what led to her death.
While his father tried to convince him that going through with the test wasn’t a big deal — the reality was apparent; it was a label that would follow him for the rest of his life.
Unlike the prior world wars, where the world largely coalesced into two major factions, this war is complicated — alliances come and go; from week to week, it isn’t clear who is a friend and an enemy. There are three stable alliances that don’t change, and a variety of smaller groups that align with whoever will offer them the most at the time. Some play multiple angles; the US and Russia supply arms to allies, but also those that are likely to harm other enemies.
Old fighter jets are sold to neighboring enemies through third-parties, and then raids are conducted using the same plane model with false markings & transponder codes to trigger more conflict between them. Weakening factions, even those that are generally allied by false flag attacks is common practice.
Early in the war, the US used the Defense Production Act’s authority to make legitimate goods for the war effort, but also arms to be sold on the black market. Eastern Europe was flooded with AK47s with Chinese markings. The Middle East was flooded with models with Russian & Turkish markings. Africa & South America received a mix of both to create the appearance of false alliances. The buyers of these weapons had no idea where they were coming from; the fact that there were from a US factory was a secret to all.
The goal of the war has never been clear; with so many factions, each with different goals and motivations, it had moved beyond stopping terrorism almost from the start. Reshaping the international order will be the outcome, no matter what the original purpose was. Countries sign peace treaties, are then seized, and the government replaced, then used as a proxy against their old allies — only to be abandoned when they lose and the old government regains power. Old friends are attacked without warning to seize lands or assets, non-aggression pacts signed and abandoned within weeks or even days.
Chaos reigns throughout the world; in more than three decades of war, it’s become the only constant.
Passing the Hibbing Test, most often administered on a person’s 18th birthday, is required for many things; it started with being a requirement to be a military officer, but over the years has become the gatekeeper for many positions, activities, and opportunities. While it’s possible to skip the test and avoid those things that require passing, it does provide some benefit; for example, passports aren’t available to those who fail the test, but it is possible to get one if there’s no result available.
The test is given only once to a person, under the belief that the result would never change — there are no second chances. Driver’s licenses include the test status. A publicly available database is operated by the government to make it easy to check everyone’s status, and those who pass receive a special identification card that confirms they have passed and are cleared for restricted positions.
For the wealthy, there are private testers available to allow children to be tested unofficially, so they could receive years of “conditioning” to enable them to pass. While technically illegal, it’s rarely prosecuted. This conditioning is complex, extremely unpleasant, and often leads to a lifetime of therapy — changing the way a person perceives the world usually involves trauma. An entire industry created for the sole purpose of traumatizing children in a controlled manner has sprung up. With a success rate of more than 80%, some parents believe it’s worth it, despite the consequences.
In fact, Jake already knew the outcome if he took the test; months earlier, he had paid $100 to a “no names” tester to find out if he could pass. He couldn’t. It wasn’t an official test, it was all under the table and paid in cash, so it didn’t affect his record. But it gave him the answer he needed.
He also knew something else that his father didn’t, he wanted to be a doctor from an early age - and medical schools were going to start requiring a Hibbing test as part of the admissions process. Only those that pass would be allowed to join the program - anyone that failed would be rejected, a career-ending decision.
There was another option for those that wanted to pass the test but hadn’t been through the long and expensive conditioning process: conversion camps. These camps would last anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on how well a person reacted to the experience. The childhood process involved creating trauma over a period of years, in very controlled ways, to alter the child’s perception of the world. These camps aimed to achieve a similar impact in weeks. The “patient” had to be 18 to sign the waiver, pay in cash upfront, and agree to let the camp do anything they saw fit - anything. The only guarantee is that they wouldn’t be killed.
Once signed, there was no going back, no quitting, no walking away. In the weeks after signing, the patient would be effectively kidnapped, picked up with force and no warning, and moved to the camp site. This could be another city, state, or even country. They would have no idea where they were being held, no contact with the outside world, isolated from others at the camp, except for the “counselors” that often were deeply sadistic. The camps were generally run by experienced psychologists; though mental welfare wasn’t their focus, it was mental warfare. Physical abuse was the daily norm, broken bones not uncommon, and many required various forms of corrective surgery once the treatment was over. Patients would be forced to torture other patients, to destroy trust and develop a shared guilt - the only time a patient would receive praise is when hurting others. After weeks of being demeaned constantly, small praise becomes a powerful motivator. In the final stages of the process, patients are allowed to socialize and encouraged to form friendships, just so they can be turned on each other.
While the only guarantee is that they won’t kill, some camps actively encourage their patients to believe this is a lie, with rumors, fake burials & cremations, and the occasional cadaver to drive the point home. By creating the fear that death is a real option, the only source of hope and safety is crushed.
The goal was to create such profound and long-lasting trauma that it would forever alter the view of every person the patient would meet. To see everyone as a threat to their safety. To trust no one. To destroy any belief that people are good, deserving of respect, trustworthy. Only once that’s accomplished is the treatment ended.
Signing up for these camps is an act of desperation. It is willingly submitting oneself to unimaginable pain and suffering, with no way out, no way to stop. When sold, the nature of the treatment is cloaked in innuendo and deception to prevent patients from knowing what they are signing up for.
Pursue medical school and take an act of true desperation, or give up the dream. Jake couldn’t tell his father the truth - that he had to pass the test, or that he had the waiver for a conversion camp on his desk. His father would never agree, never support the decision to do it - it was an insane thing to do. Though insane, it was the only option. The only opportunity to find the life he had planned since his 5th birthday.
The Hibbing test was created to protect the country from those that questioned war and the value of sacrificing so much for a war on terrorists. It was created by people who truly believed in what they were doing, the patriots and defenders of what made the country great. It meant that some people would have to give up a few rights, but it would be worth it in the end.
Some called them dangerous and extremists, but they knew it was the other side that was dangerous and extremists. The ends would justify the means. In the end, it would be worth it.
Sure, some people had their secrets displayed for the world, ended up without a career, lost their marriages and families. But it’s their own fault, they shouldn’t be different, they shouldn’t disagree, they should see that in the end, it would be worth it.
They were fighting for the very soul of the nation; it was up to them to find those that would give up anything to defend it. The country has to come first, even if protecting it means changing it. Only those that are loyal, those that don’t question, those that will follow should be trusted. In the end, it would be worth it.
The Bill of Rights is outdated; unlimited free speech is dangerous, anyone that’s loyal should see that. So what if we have to put more people in jail because they want to talk about the enemy and their causes. They shouldn’t offer them any support - why would anyone talk about what they want unless they wanted them to win. It’s war; it’s ugly & dangerous. We have to be willing to make any sacrifice to ensure we win. In the end, it would be worth it.
They were so certain of themselves, so sure that it was all worth it, so positive that they were doing what’s right. So confident that it would be worth it in the end.
In that faith in themselves, they proceeded, no matter the cost.
“Dad, I’ve decided to sign up for a 90-day triage tour before pre-med starts. It’ll be a lot of work, but it’ll be a good experience, and might help me get into the fast-track degree program. I’ll be leaving in a couple weeks.”
On his desk was the form for the volunteer program that would take him to a Red Cross civilian aid station, treating those injured in the war. With the dire need for more medical professionals, this was often used as a way to speed up training. Hopefuls would volunteer, get as much field experience as possible, and test out of various classes so that they could get their degree sooner. These field qualifications could save a couple years over the normal education routine.
There was also the waiver for the conversation camp on his desk. The volunteer program could be a cover to explain his sudden disappearance, allowing him an excuse for why he was gone and out of contact. It was a perfect cover story.
Which he would actually sign, he didn’t know.
His medical career was almost certainly dead before it started; without being able to pass the Hibbing test, he had little hope of making it into medical school. He could try taking the test, hoping for a different result, hoping to game the test and beat it. Or he could sign the waiver and take a more certain but far worse path.
Thirteen days later, in front of a rundown motel, three men grab Jake, pull him into a filthy van, and his trip into hell begins.