Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Christmas is going fine here at the Scooter household. I'll do a run down after the inlaw version of festivities is over. In the meantime, here's a story, because I promised way back in some previous post that I'd put one out here before the end of the year. It's not new - it's from my master's thesis (it feels like something I wrote four years ago) - but that means I can't really sell it or give it to a 'zine for publication because it's first north american serial rights should already be moot (i.e. it's published, you can find it in the thesis searching system at any college), so it's a good candidate for blogging . I include the introduction from my thesis for some context:


It is always possible that one author’s utopia can be another author’s dystopia. There is a fine line between doing what serves the common good and creating a society where perspective on the common good is lost. This dystopia, "Republic", is a literary exercise and a reversal of Plato’s famous utopia, outlined in his The Republic. In addition to showing how a society based on The Republic could easily become a dystopia, the story serves to show how many notions of what constitutes a dystopia and what constitutes a utopia are based upon the time and circumstances in which an author lives. It is highly unlikely that an individual living in 21st century United States of America would ever consider Plato’s ideal social model a realistic alternative to modern society. "Republic" strives to highlight the nature of the dystopia by contrasting it with the formation of what might be a utopia, a truly global government.

In the context of the preceding essay, barriers of physical location, societal rigidity, class differentiation, internal propaganda, and external threat–specifically, constant war–are obvious. None of them necessarily serves as physical barriers to escape, but all of them certainly serve as mental barriers.


Even if I was deaf, I could still hear the bombs. Continual vibrations shake my body, shake the world. Piercing whines petrify me, taxing my anticipation with their unremitting barrage. It is a bombardment undreamt of in anyone's imagination, a bombardment so extensive that it stops the imagination—stops it dead. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! BOOM!


The stillness of the dead.

Isn't that what we are, the dead? Our fate is so certain, that it has already been written down in the history books of our conquerors, like Dresden or Hiroshima. Why then have they stopped their attack? Is this a funeral gift from our vanquishers? They know we are a country of philosophers, and though they fear us greatly, they also seem to respect what we idealize. This brief cessation is a boon, allowing us to die as we have lived, in thoughtful consideration of the divine truth. Our conquerors are a generous lot—they show us more courtesy than I believe we would have ever shown them.

"The ground still rumbles, even though the bombs have stopped," Sparta says to me, her burnished hair littered with plaster and specks of dirt. Indeed, she literally seems to vibrate, so great was the shelling. "Perhaps they've run out of ammunition," she jokes, a wry smile on her face despite her sureness of our impending death.

"Father?" asks little Santorini, her bright, freckled face looking up at mine, hope in her eyes, "have the bombs stopped for good?"

"I'm afraid not, little one. I think the guns are merely resting—and giving us a chance to rest."

"They must be very tired. They have been shooting for days.” She pauses, lost in contemplation as children are wont. “Why are they shooting at us, father?"

Such a question, a very heavy question. How do I answer it? How do I explain two thousand five hundred years of philosophical history, two hundred years of national history, and a lifetime of personal history, all in the brief moments left to me in this life? Rather, I should be hugging my family—kissing Sparta and telling her how much I love her, telling her how our marriage has made my life worth living. I should be gathering my daughter in my arms and comforting her in this hour of fear. I should be doing all these things, but I will not. Nothing to excess. Even in the face of danger, in the face of death, one must observe proper social restraint. I hate myself for my restraint, for punishing my family because society tells me I must. In Sparta's weary eyes I can see how she hates herself for the very same trait.

"Tell us, Thrace," Sparta bids me, "Tell us why they are shooting at us." In her eyes I can see the real need, the real statement—if you can't hold me, than at least talk to me; use your voice to comfort me as you should be using your arms.

I could not, would not, refuse her if she begged me to hold her. But that will not happen. Neither can I refuse her in this simple, unspoken request. If it is my voice she must hear, then I will give her this wish. Santorini is too young to understand what I will tell her, but my voice will calm her as well as Sparta—and perhaps my words will calm me as well.

"In school, the Guardians have told you how our country was founded, did they not?"

"Yes father," Santi takes on the stiff-backed and attentive look of a child in front of a teacher. "Unlike other nations, Our Republic was brought forth whole from the earth, a gift from the gods to the world, to show the barbarians how they should govern their lives in the name of truth. Our history is the eternal history of the land that created us—we are the people of metal, the children of the philosopher kings, the society of enlightened truth."

"If we are the enlightened, then who are the unenlightened?" I asked, offering her the dialectic method with which she was familiar.

"The barbarians. Those who live outside Our Republic. Where we are the gold, the silver and the bronze, they are baser metals. They are corrupt in their purpose; the mixture of metals in them makes them weaker, less pure than the citizens of Our Republic."

"And why are they weaker?"

"They are unsure of their purpose. Even when they have purpose, it is the wrong purpose, as there is no greater goal in life than to achieve the foundation of the most perfect and most just state possible—a purpose and end already claimed by Our Republic. The barbarians' governments all show how they are confused, unjust and unsure about the common good. Their confused governments are reflections of their confused selves. Society reflects the individual."

These were the same things I had learned a quarter of a century earlier, during my childhood. But unlike Santorini, a bronze by birth, for a brief while I had been cast of a brighter metal. Both Sparta and I had been silver in our hearts—destined to be auxiliaries. Few who are silver are ever found to be misplaced bronze, but occasionally it happens—usually in pairs it seems. Perhaps that is why we developed a love for one another. After nineteen years of auxiliary training: fifteen years studying literature, two years of advanced physical training, and two years of arithmetic, plane geometry, solid geometry, astronomy and harmonics, I now work as a clerk for the silvers to whose company I once belonged, as though to chastise me for what I have forsaken. Sparta works as a trainer in the gymnasium, also surrounded by silvers every day. Truth be told, I find my life more pleasant as a bronze—my own land and animals, my own family, freedom from the duties of war. It is...was...idyllic before the war. But then again, this only proves that I am made of baser metal than originally thought. Yet, my nineteen years as an auxiliary taught me many things, many things that others made of bronze have never been told.

"There is a different truth about the barbarians, Santi. Though if I tell it to you, you must never tell another." If you get the chance, I added to myself.

"Why, father?"

"Because only those who will one day be Guardians or auxiliaries are allowed to know what I am going to tell you."

"Then you should not tell me! We each have our place. If my place is not to know, I do not wish to know, father!"

I listened for the bombs. They were conspicuous in their silence. "I don't believe it will hurt anyone to tell you now. Everything does have its place. And now is the place and time to reveal the truth."

"The barbarians are not a bad people, Santi. They are not a great and uncontrollable rabble, subject to every whim of their leaders, as the Guardians would have us believe. Neither are they entirely unenlightened."

"They have not grasped the truth! I cannot believe it is so!"

"That is true, they have not grasped the truth we reach for—they are the cave dwellers. But they have reached a certain truth even while observing only the shadows of our reality. In school you are taught the names of the many nations of the world and about their many constitutions, are you not?"

"Yes!" Santi exclaimed. "The United States of America is a democracy, an 'agreeable anarchy.' Japan is an empire, with an emperor, and thus is the most unjust form of government, a tyranny. Some other countries are communistic, sharing all their property, much as our Guardians and auxiliaries share their wealth, but sharing for unenlightened reasons. And many of these countries professing communism are in reality oligarchies, where either wealth or power is hoarded by a select few. The United Kingdom is also a democracy, but has a monarch as well, proof of their confusion in searching for the ultimate state, for true justice. This confusion is why they are always fighting amongst one another."

"Yes, Santi. All that was once true, and those are the facts that they teach you in school. But all of that was true a very long time ago, when Our Republic was originally brought forth. Since then, the world has grown much closer. At first, there were many wars among the cave dwellers. The new democracies at the end of the last century fought within themselves and amongst each other, just as our leaders told us they would. New democracies were always too eager to embrace the slightest bit of propaganda, and those who had once held power before democracy still held a certain amount of authority in many cases, creating democracies ruled by oligarchies of men, and democracies split by violent factions. In the United States similar events occurred, but there it was because wealth was accumulated in the hands of a limited few. The rich became richer, the poor became poorer, and only those with money ruled. All over the world it was such, and for a while Earth was a very violent and very dangerous place.

"In such an environment our country was born of the earth, founded on the mining of metals and precious substances from the earth, much like our legends say. And in such a world, a world of war and a world of power, our training and our belief in the truth made us supreme. Then I was a silver, an auxiliary, and I believed in everything for which Our Republic stood. So did your mother. I was sure that our truth was the only truth and that our way of life would be the model which the world would follow. When we studied our history and our destiny, I embraced my studies and my exercises for the good of Our Republic. I wrote paeans to the gods, odes to the state and strived to fulfill the ideal of just living defined by the Guardians. By the dog! I even volunteered for our 'character-building' wars! As though any war could ever build character!"

"But war does build good character, father! It removes the weak from among us and promotes the strong. War and the Festivals provide us with the best possible Guardians—individuals of gold and silver who lead us in our quest for the truth! Guardian Thrasymachus says that war is like the smithy's bellows—it forges and tempers our souls, building the strongest citizens."

"War never builds, Santi. You need only look about you to learn that truth. War only destroys." When I saw how quiet Santi became, I despaired of stripping her of the armor her teachers had provided. But war strips people of many things, even the innocent. It had long ago stripped me of my convictions.

"I'm not even sure how many battles I fought in the name of Our Republic while I was an auxiliary. I know there were at least ten before I first met your mother. I actually met her on the battlefield, Santi. Although we ate together every day in the halls, such were our numbers that I had never seen her before. Until I met Sparta, I had taken my winning kisses from a young man named Alcamides; but when I saw your mother I wanted kisses from no other.

“Where did you first see her, father?” Santi looked from me to Sparta and back again.

“She caught my eye at Moscow, “ I replied, looking into Sparta’s eyes. “That was the battle they said could not be won. It was the battle upon which the world expected us to break. Yet we were not broken. We were a silver hammer shattering their sickle. The history of others on the steppes of Russia was of no concern to us, for we were not there to take or conquer as those before us had been. We were there to sharpen our skills and to prove our mettle, to show the world what it meant to be the brightest tool of the gods. Yet in that very act, perhaps we were also the hammer tempering the greater weapon lying in the forge. I’ve often thought back on that battle and wondered if it was then that the world saw past the shadows of the cave, if only for a moment.

“Your mother was one of the brightest at Moscow, so bright I’ve never doubted she was a silver, even now. The enemy melted before her prowess. When her wing swept the southern end of the city and rolled into the square where my group had been dropped, a solitary figure standing atop a silver tank, its finish gleaming, even in the Russian gloom, I felt my heart leap from my chest and into her hands.

After Moscow, I pushed myself in future battles to obtain rights to her at the Festival. At the battle of Addaba, I destroyed more than a score of enemy armor, my own plowing through theirs as though they did not exist. The dead littered my trail like a carpet of flesh. At Kabul, when my tank ran out of ammunition, I abandoned it and destroyed as many with my hands as I had with my vehicle. Our enemies were so disunited then that none could stand before us, and we reveled in destroying them, proving our superiority through battle, as if it proved we had fully grasped the forms nature has provided. There were so many dead; so many lives wasted merely to build our character.

"Yet, the death I had caused was of no concern to me at the time. When Festival came, our glorious Philosopher King praised my deeds and gave me my pick of mates at Festival. There were many I chose to mate with that year, but the only one I cared about, and the only one I remember now was your mother. It was at that Festival that we first made love; and it was at that Festival that I realized that I wanted more than to mate, I wanted a mate."

"And when you first touched me, Thrace, I knew that I would never again want another," added Sparta. "All the Festivals of the past, all the battles of the past, became at once dim memories and distant dreams."

"So we fell in love, Santorini. And so we were cast out of the Auxiliaries.”

"Guardian Thrasymachus says you failed to fully apprehend the truth. That like heroes in the banned plays, you showed undue feeling, rather than believing in the true nature of yourselves."

I smiled and sighed. "Perhaps Thrasymachus is correct. But I would not have had it any different even if I could have changed it, Santorini. Your mother and I gave up killing for love, and more importantly, for you.”

“I should have been silver,” Santi moped.

“Silver and alone,” Sparta shook her head, saddened at what little we had taught our daughter, and what little time we lacked to ever teach her more. I too realized that time was running short and that our respite, this silence, would only last so long before the final crescendo. Before that moment came, I wanted Santi to apprehend at least one truth, to pierce at least one shadow our philosopher kings had passed as fact and form.

"If we were truly silvers, Santi, then by birth, you would be one of the only silvers left. There are few left to argue your claim and it matters little now.”

“Where have all the auxiliaries gone, father?”

“To dust,” Sparta whispered. “To dust.” And I knew I must continue before we were afraid to speak.

“At first the world was divided, and our wars succeeded. There were always nations to fight, and in the face of our training and our devotion to ourselves, they were weak. But over the years, the world grew closer and their timidity I coming to the aid of their neighbors became stern resolve. While there are still many individual nations, most are now only a part of larger unions. Several states band together and agree to share everything and deny each other no restrictions. Their areas still reflect their old cultural characteristics, but their borders become soft, to the point that no one still knows they are even there, except on old scraps of paper that only we are likely to keep. In this world there are now several such unions: Pacifica, the EEU, EurAsia, and PanAfrica. Even amongst these great unions, some borders are becoming soft, and soon we may see only three great states, America, Eurasia and PanAfrica; and then perhaps one, a return to the Pangea from which this world emerged.

“We failed to apprehend the ways in which the world was changing. We assumed that our way was the perfect form, heaven-ordained, and that no other society, even one brought into creation as a reaction to Our Republic, could even stand against us. Yet stand against us they did. Our attacks met more and more resistance as our little wars no longer involved single, isolated nations, but dozens of friends allied together in defense. Where we had auxiliaries of silver on the field and in our mess halls, they had auxiliaries of silver in the great political halls of the world. Where we were a tempered state made of individuals, they were a tempered world of nations. In our misapprehension, we allowed ourselves to become wedged between these great nations. Rather than contributing to the peace and unification they were experiencing, to their apprehension of justice for their citizens, we became a violent and troublesome break in their fluid borders. We are a break that has refused to learn that Our Republic, cast in metal, should be malleable like gold and silver we claim to be, not rigid and brittle like iron or stone. The world has changed, yet we still wage our wars and we still build our character, though now we wage defeats, not victories.”

"Is that why they hate us, father?"

"No, Santi. I don't believe they actually hate us. Rather, they have tolerated us and our wars as long as possible. They have tolerated us longer than they should have because they recognize the debt they owe us and they recognize the beauty of Our Republic.

“Santi,” I suddenly asked, “have your ever had a pebble in your shoe?"

"Yes! And I hated it! I couldn't walk, and when we stood to recite our paeans, I was reprimanded for fidgeting!"

"To the great unions, Our Republic is like that pebble, Santi. And soon, we will be like the shadows in the cave, fleeting memories of what once was real. We sought to create a perfect form, an immortal nation based on truth, knowledge and strength. But metal takes many forms, Santi, and in some, a great weakness lies beneath a glittering exterior.”

A thumping began from far away, seeming to come from all directions, converging on our home. “It begins,” murmured Sparta.

“It begins,” I agreed, slipping my arm tightly around her shoulders and tugging a startled Santi into my lap.

1 comment:

She says said...

Merry Christmas, Scooter and family!