Monday, August 25, 2014

The Unholy Roamin' Empire - Part 13


Getting Jax and the others to understand what I felt was Matt’s ultimate – and unrealistic – goal I had to first explain to them what the idea of a utopian society really meant. 

Many people throughout history have romanticized the idea of a utopian society.  The word utopia is Greek in origin but wasn’t really used for its current meaning until this English guy named Sir Thomas More borrowed it for the title of his book about a fictional island nation with the perfect socio-political-legal system.  Notice the economics part of it was left out.  My best guess is the issue of finance and currency are left out of most utopian concepts because they are the hardest to deal with in any realistic way without revealing that even in a utopian society you wind up with an elite class and a “non-citizen” or “slave” class.  Utopian societies that do cover the issue of economics often use the concepts of wealth redistribution and political membership; socialism is a good example of a so-called economic utopia. 

Everyone has their idea of what utopia would be.  What most people don’t realize is that such a society is artificial rather than natural and comes with less free will and individuality, not more.  Plato, while not actually using the term utopia, called it The Republic.  His utopia was the city-state where the individual and self-identity was always subservient to society and the body politic.  But even for the great idealist Plato, there was always a ruling elite and a part of the population that were slaves. 

Any time that utopias have been attempted they wound up being more of a cult that required a charismatic leader and policing authority to make sure everyone maintained the dictated status quo.  Matt and his father were bedazzled by the idea of a utopian society because in their minds they would always be part of the ruling elite.  Actually they saw themselves as one of the few worthy of such authority.  In other words they were fine with strict rules of conduct so long as they were the ones making the rules and vetting their fellow elitists.  I can say it now that it was their egotistical intellect, their ivory tower academics, that supported their prideful assumptions.  Back then, even after Matt had humiliated me, I was still a bit in awe of his intelligence.  Matt’s fall from the lofty pedestal I had placed him on would come, but not yet. 

The opposite of utopia is anarchy … absolutely no ruling authority.  It is a “if it feels good do it” society with the only rules of conduct being those chosen by the individual for himself with no regard to how it affects others.  Strangely enough an anarchic society is often just as idealized, romanticized, and ultimately unsustainable as a utopian society.  Why?  Because people are human. 

The idea that we are all endowed with individual rights by our Creator must be balanced with the understanding that rights come with responsibilities imposed by the moral authority of that Creator and that one person’s rights do not eclipse or supersede the rights of others. 

A classic example to explain what I mean is that we are endowed with the freedom of speech but that freedom doesn’t mean that we have the right to walk into a crowded theater and yell FIRE thereby creating a hazard.  Some people use that idea as a way to place well-meaning limitations on rights.  I prefer to look at it as we’re exercising the moral responsibilities that come with our endowed rights and that if we fail to exercise responsibility we will suffer consequences.  Being human we tend to want to codify our rights and consequences so that they get applied equally to all – or at least that is the intent – and so that the consequences are known prior to the exercise of irresponsibility.  Finding that balance has historically always been a challenge. 

People have for thousands of years struggled to find the balance between complete and unattainable utopia and complete and unsustainable anarchy.  The Greek and Roman era idealized their ideas and wound up with something that looked like Plato’s Republic.  There are also religious utopias in history like the Community of Qumran.  Sir More’s book about a fictional utopia that I mentioned earlier had a rule of religious tolerance; but, if you broke the rule the consequence was slavery or exile and the only despised person within that utopian concept was the atheist as they didn’t believe in ultimate reward for good behavior.  Religious utopian concepts are as catch as catch can as any other concept of utopia. 

During the Middle Ages people seemed to dump the whole idea of utopia as they were too busy just surviving, both the times and the elites who ruled over them.  Some people think of monasteries and nunneries as the utopias of the Middle Ages but that wouldn’t be factual as they knew that perfection could not be obtained on earth and were focused instead on service to reach Heaven.  When the Renaissance came along anyone inclined to think about it went back to thinking of utopia as the idealized view held by Plato and other such ancient philosophers. 

Post Renaissance to modern times people continue to try unsuccessfully time after time to create a utopian society.  In America four of the best known were Brook Farm (brought down by the concept of Fourierism which dictated that young people out of a “sense of honor” had to do all of the dirty work), Fruitlands (political anarchy, free love, and veganism didn’t go over well in the Victorian era), Pullman’s Capitalist Utopia (which might have worked except it’s founder had set up rigid class barriers which harkened back to the elitist/slave problem of the earliest utopian examples), and the Shakers (who died out due primarily to strict gender segregation and the “no sex allowed” clause of their membership). 

Reggie leaned forward and said, “I can’t believe anyone considered Matt smarter than you.” 

I felt my face grow hot with embarrassment and I had the desire to throw a sofa pillow at Reggie and knock that supercilious smirk right off his face.  “Enough.  Matt had the better grades and everyone knows it.  I’m not talking to make myself into some kind of … some kind of …” 

Ginger saved me.  “Enough Reg.  You want to throw her off her stride and leave us hanging wondering what the heck she’s talking about?”  Well, she sort of saved me. 

It was actually Aston that said quietly, “Knock it off you two.  School is out.  All the teachers are dead.  The rest of it is ancient history.”  Turning to me he asked, “OK, so the lecture was interesting, but what does it mean for us?” 

Jax, who’d I been sitting next to on the sofa put his hand at the back of my neck.  It was warm and comforting and helped me center myself so that I could continue.  “Matt’s dad, despite the way he dressed, was at heart a New Ager.  He didn’t know whether to be a hippy or a nerd and he had to stuff all of that in a business suit.  The church they attended had this real charismatic pastor that couched all things religious in touchy feeling psychology.  Matt’s mom’s main complaint about me – when she bothered noticing me at all – was that I wouldn’t attend their church, that our church was way too old fashioned, uncompromising and therefore judgmental.” 

Jax snorted.  “Yeah.  You were either a member of the club or you weren’t.  If you weren’t there must be something inherently wrong with you that only help from that preacher guy could help fix.  I only went with them to keep the peace but I kept Kelly with me the whole time rather than leave her in the nursery; I was too worried about what she might be learning.” 

I patted his knee and looked over at Kelly who had crashed while playing with some of my old dolls.  Looking back at the others I told them, “Matt’s folks – at least his dad – weren’t bad people.  No one can make me say they were.  They were … different though from my folks and … and it was kind of a never the ‘twain should meet kind of situation.  Matt’s dad just could not understand my dad’s antipathy towards the utility company and some people that were involved in local politics.  He considered my family … well … backward.” 

Ashley asked, “Backward?  What about all of this?  I mean we still have lights and running water and stuff.  Different story in town.  I’ll take backward any day if it comes with a hot shower.” 

I smiled.  “Like I’ve said, most people never knew Dad was a tinkerer … that he liked technology better than just fine; he just believed that responsible application of technology was more important than the technology itself.  Matt’s dad wasn’t … wasn’t …”  I stopped at a loss for words. 

Jax said, “Don’t worry about making personal judgments Lydie, just try and explain the concepts.” 

That I was more comfortable with.  “OK.”  Pulling my thoughts together I explained, “Matt’s dad … and Matt for that matter … believed in something called technological utopianism.  In a nutshell all that means is that they believed that technology and science would eventually bring about a worldwide utopia.” 

Reggie scrunched up his face and said, “From what I’ve see it’s more likely to bring about nerds with delusions of grandeur and weapons of mass destruction.” 

There were a few snickers just because Reggie’s zingers tended to bring it out of people.  I shrugged fighting a smile myself.  “You aren’t far off the mark.  As a hypothesis techno-utopias have absolutely no supporting proof for their conclusions.”  Thinking a little bit I asked, “Any of you of heard of transhumanism?” 

Aston mumbled, “Sounds like one of those techno bands from the clubs in Nashville.” 

Reggie guffawed at his comment but the rest of us just rolled our eyes.  “Transhumanism is a form of techno-utopianism.  They believe in fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making available technologies that do things like eliminate aging and greatly enhance human intelligence, and physical and psychological capacities.  Transhumanists study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethical matters involved in using such technologies. They predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings so far beyond current man that they’d merit the evolutionary label posthuman.” 

Ginger said, “They sound like loonies.” 

I shrugged.  “Depends on how you look at it.  Before things went to heck in a hand basket how many folks were into plastic surgery and anti-aging lotions and potions?  What about steroid use?  You know, the how to make a better athlete crowd? And if not a better athlete, a better tool for an athlete?  What about all the science studies being done with stem cells and such trying to give paraplegic’s the ability to walk again?” 

“But that’s good stuff.” 

I grinned.  “Sure.  So long as you keep it in perspective and under control.  Remember the Tanorexic Momma?  Cat Woman that got addicted to plastic surgery and let it get out of hand?  Lizard Man who intentionally transformed his features to look like … well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder I suppose but that guy was just plain freaky and I wonder how well he is surviving in the world we live in now.” 

Jax stopped our conversational straying and got us back on topic.  “And what has all that got to do with what you think Matt’s plans are?” 

I shrugged sadly, “Utopia might be his stated, long term goal but he isn’t above using people’s immediate needs to keep him one of the elite and above having to do the dirty work.  At one time I admired him for that … but … but after my family was killed I started … maturing I guess you would say.  I looked at things differently.  I realized work wasn’t just something to be gotten through or avoided, but had a … a purpose.  There is something inherently good and right in work; it … it fulfills something, some need, that people have even when they don’t realize it.  It’s … satisfying.  And you shouldn’t have to have some overreaching overseer to make you do it.  It should be a choice, not an arbitrary mandate based on someone else’s choice of your station in life.” 

Looking at them, unsure whether they understood what I was trying to say.  “Work comes in all shapes and flavors.  I’m not knocking people or saying that one type of job is better than another type.  But Matt’s attitude … his dad’s attitude … was like Plato’s and all of the other utopians; you have the ruling class and then you have the slaves.  Oh they never called people slaves, they were very PC about it, but they used terms like non-citizens, non-conformists, criminal class, intellectually insufficient or genetically damaged.  It all amounts to the same thing.  And they always saw themselves as being the ones to determine the thresholds of those terms.” 

Someone asked, “And the technology angle?” 

“Technology was what would give them the advantage and they would dole it out to those that … that conformed to the society they wanted to create.”  Cynically I added, “With good intentions of course.” 

I thought for a second then caught myself chewing on my thumb’s cuticle, a bad habit I fought hard to break but that still crept back up on me during times of stress.  “Matt wants to get the power back on in town.  He’ll act like it is a gift to others but just as soon as people let their guard down and get used to things he’ll start using it as a bribe or a weapon.  I can see how he could pull it off and if I can, I’m sure he has plans in that direction too.”  Shaking my head I said, “I don’t care what you guys say Matt is flaming brilliant.  He probably already has it all worked out how to get the power back up and running.  Where he will expect me to help is how to make it all palatable and … and … sellable.” 

Ashley asked, “Sellable?” 

Reggie nodded.  “Yeah.  My dad was good at that.  He could sell yellow snow to Eskimos.  Matt is a narcissist but he’s … well … he’s just not a salesman for his ideas.  Of course getting the power back on would sell itself.” 

Aston said, “Up to a point.  I mean, who wants to do the crappy work in crappy weather like he is probably going to ask people to do.” 

Jax nodded.  “Sure, I get it now.  And not everyone can possibly get power back at the same time so some people are going to have to wait their turn.” 

I added, “Or pick up and move to where Matt tells them to move.  And of course he’ll pick where, and some people will get better places than others … based on how close to Matt they are.” 

While Ginger nodded Ashley said, “Which will create a bunch of suck ups.” 

“Exactly.  And that is where the infighting would start.  Matt is good with the math and science … the schematics of a project but he is terrible at seeing that people won’t ultimately bend to his will and do what he wants them to do.  At least he won’t admit it openly.  I think that is where his … his manipulation comes in.  See I’m the flow chart girl.  If this then that.  I know how to dress things up and make them prettier, make other people want whatever it is that Matt is offering to the point that they’ll be willing to take turns or wait in line; stay calm longer.  Because I’ll be able to explain it and make them feel … fell part of it.”  Shaking my head I said, “Geez, I sound like a freak, worse than Matt does.” 

Reggie grinned evilly and I waited for a zinger but what I got surprised me.  “Which is probably what he is going for.  He wants your brain … and a fall guy for other people to blame.” 

My first instinct was to deny it but thinking about it I couldn’t; it was as good a hypothesis as anything else we had come up with.  “You know guys, all of this could be nothing but hot air.  I could be completely wrong.” 

Aston nodded.  “Sure.  Maybe.  We don’t have to be married to it for it to give us a place to start.” 

And that pretty much summed it up right there.  It was a place to start.  What we needed from this point forward would be more information.  And there was really only one way to get it. 

Jax and Aston went the next day to talk to Mr. Houchins.  Turns out that his son and nephew-in-law wanted in.  Our guys came back and brought us up to date. 

“Vernon Houchins, Mr. Houchins’ son, is older than Lon Cummins which is Mr. Houchins’ nephew in law but he knows the town better so he’s going with us while Lon watches the farm’s security.  Tomorrow night we are going with Vernon and head to town and do what he calls recon.  We’ll figure out what their current lay out is – Vernons says they already have some idea but want better maps – and try and get a general head count.  It is going to take me, Aston, and Reggie to see who is left over from the original group of kids that got left behind and whether they are in charge or the gang members … or someone totally new to the scene.  I … I don’t like it but it is either that or take Ashley or Ginger.” 

I asked, “Why not me?” 

He just looked at me before answering, “First off, we would be able to pick people we know out better even if they are still playing dress up.  Second …” 

He looked hesitant to say it so I crossed my arms and said, “You think if someone sees me it will mess things up.” 

He nodded.  “Yeah, pretty much.  As it is Vernon may have to play least in sight and let the rest of us move around.  We don’t know what the age range is that is left in town.  He’s not old, old but no way could he play at being a teenager.” 

Aston added, “And we can’t let Matt know that we’re onto him … or whoever might be pulling his strings … because then we’d lose the element of surprise and they might change tactics.  You can get inside Matt’s head.  We can’t lose that advantage.” 

Not happy but resigned I told them, “OK.  I get it.  Just stop making me out to be a sick secret weapon.  Get in, get out, and come home.  Matt can go to Hades for all I care.” 

Later that night after Jax and I had spent some personal time together he said, “You aren’t OK with this are you.” 

I shrugged.  “Doesn’t look like I have much choice in the matter.” 

Quietly he said, “We need to know what is going on.  If we can’t trust what is being put out on the radio then we need to see for ourselves.” 

“I get that part,” I replied. 

“Then what?” 

Sitting up in bed I wrapped my arms around my knees.  Jax made to sit up as well but I told him, “Don’t.  I’m just a little wound up.  You’re tired and need some rest.” 

“At least tell me what you’re thinking.” 

Sighing I told him, “I don’t like telling people to do what I can’t or won’t.” 

“You aren’t.” 

I shook my head.  “Might as well from my stand point.”  Sighing and then leaning my head back and looking at the ceiling though I couldn’t see it I said, “For whatever reason Matt has singled me out.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like what it is costing me.  I don’t like what it is creating for other people to deal with.  I don’t like … like feeling like I have no control over what is going on.  If Matt does have a … a thing … or whatever … for me, I want to face it head on and deal with it personally, alone so no one else gets hurt.” 

Tugging at me enough that I gave in and laid back down beside him he said, “I guess I can see that.  A little.  But you aren’t alone.  I’m here and I’m going to try and deal with Matt in a way that lessens the chance of anyone getting hurt.  It’s not that I don’t think you can handle my cousin.  It’s that I don’t want to see anyone take a fall here if it isn’t necessary.  I’ve got to know for myself if he has PTSD or some other problem that … that can … I don’t know … be dealt with some other way than through violence.  This isn’t the movies or a game; if someone gets shot dead they aren’t getting back up again … ever.” 

I turned to him in the dark.  “Don’t underestimate what Matt is capable of.  I got off lucky I guess.  All I got was a big ol’ helping of humiliation.  But if … if that gang is involved and you’ve already been shot …” 

“I know Hon.”  He hugged me to him.  “I’m not underestimating him.  I just need to know the facts before I start making any assumptions.  Matt has hacked me off enough that I could go in guns blazing but I’m trying to be the better man.  If Matt has turned into a … into a … a rabid animal … I’ll put him down.  He’s family and it’s my responsibility.  But if there’s a chance that none of us have to go there … “ 

I sighed and laid my head on his chest.  “OK.  Fine.  I get it.  You … you have things you need to know about Matt before we go any further.  Just be careful.  And if you have to start shooting …” 

“Yeah?” 

I told him, “Just get it done and don’t look back.” 

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