“The culture of Western nations in which humanitarian thinking is dominant is a rentier living off the moral capital accumulated by its predecessors and giving no attention to replenishing it. When it runs out, the horrors begin in earnest.”
~ Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, pages 81-82
The blankness of bluish-white artificial light greeted me as I stepped through the sliding doors from the grey downpour outside.
“Welcome to LIFE, Mr. Orwell, we’ve been expecting you.”
“Yes...uh...thank you,” I mumbled, trying to remember all I had been told.
“My name is Josephine Fletcher. Shall we begin?”
“Certainly,” I replied as we walked across the courtyard. Rising before me on all four sides, facing into the courtyard, were thousands of doors. White-coated personnel went in and out, pacing along the open halls. “Perhaps you might begin by reminding me again of your name. The Laboratory for….”
“…Intersocial Functionary Experiments. We’ve now been in existence for fifty years. But you probably know that, as well as the fact that LIFE was the result of the Committee for Social Restructuring, a group of some of our nation’s finest minds in science, education, criminology, sociology, and psychology.
“Yes. It was commissioned by the government I believe?”
“Precisely. Both public officials and private groups saw the need to bring together the various streams of though and experimentation regarding social development into a cohesive organism that could coordinate these developments with each other. It was simply taking the increasingly necessary centralization of our government and having the foresight to begin transferring it into the public sphere. They saw that their efforts in the late twentieth century had been too often thwarted by such scattered and petty efforts.”
“It would seem that their vision has been rewarded.”
“Indeed it has. As you are no doubt aware of, one of our first successes was the implementation of mandatory psychiatric examination for every child in the United States, a measure that was thwarted in the early years of this century. That was merely the first step in our plan to reorganize our education system. The next step is in this room, as you will see.
We stopped before a plain white door. “Josephine Fletcher” my guide recited into a wall microphone, and the door slid open. The room had the same bare artificial whiteness of the rest of the facility. Except that there were small desks, and at each desk was a child, about fifteen in all. Each child had some sort of strange device that covered their head and went over their eyes. At a larger desk at the front of the room sat a woman, watching several computer screens, and occasionally entering data through a keyboard.
“How are the students progressing Dewey One?”
“Very well, ma’am” replied the woman.
“What you see here, Mr. Orwell, represents the final stages of our project for reorganizing mass education: Supra-Cognitive Interactive Learning (SCIL). We’ve come a long way since Ritalin and other such primitive behavior-controlling drugs. You, see, our scientists have come to realize that there are just too many things in the human mind that distract if from successfully receiving and processing information. Emotions that cloud the receptive capacity, that distract the process. These are somewhat undesirable side-results of evolution and social-shaping. Based on our studies, we have developed a new type of drug, Sedatia. How it works is somewhat complicated, but essentially what it does is bypass and subdue those distracting brain functions and automatically process information into the child’s brain. This makes the learning process much more efficient. We may even be able to shorten the amount of years necessary for mandatory education.”
“Are you telling me that these children will merely ‘absorb’ whatever information is given to them?”
“Well, I hesitate to use such a casual term as that. That’s not exactly how it works….but I suppose that would be the best nonscientific way of understanding it.”
“And what are these devices on their heads.”
“Well, we here at LIFE like to call it V.P.C., Virtual Personal Classroom. It again helps to reduce distraction and increase efficiency in… ‘absorption’, as you put it. Each of those V.P.C. transmitters is connected to the computers at the front of the classroom, from which the information is projected into the virtual world the student experiences.”
“And other than “efficiency” as you put it, what would be the advantage to this system?”
“Everything?” I asked incredulously.
“Certainly. Surely you understand the vital importance of education in fitting the child for its role in society. Where do crime, hatred, political agitation, racial strife, and all other social disturbances come from? Improper education. B.F. Skinner had it right. Environment is everything. We’re just trying to make his vision happen, thus, a more efficient education process that affords greater environmental control. Now, let us continue.”
As we left, I glanced over my shoulder at the children, still all silently encased in their virtual worlds.
Fletcher led me through a maze of monotonous white halls filled with white doors and white-coated personnel passing by. Finally, as I was about to develop a permanent aversion for the color, we stopped in front of a new door. As we stepped inside, I was greeted by the sight of number of elderly men and women. It seemed that several of the white-coated personnel were examining them. In one corner, one of the personnel was pointing things on a wall-chart to an elderly gentleman sitting in a chair. In another, a woman had several wires attached to her body, and another white-coat was evaluating some corresponding monitors.
“What are all these people here for?”
“They’re being screened for euthanasia.”
I choked on an exclamation that rose in my throat, and instead make a weak reply, “Eu...euthanasia?”
“Yes. The plight of the elderly has always been an issue of great concern in the last 150 years or so. But for too long the debate over the issue has been hampered by Christian mores. The sanctity of life, the image of God. Let’s be realistic Mr. Orwell. Science knows better. We’re all animals. Highly developed animals yes, but animals nonetheless. The elderly are animals who have seen their time. Have you ever observed a pack of zebra on the African plains Mr. Orwell, when it is attacked by a lion? Which are the first to go? The young and the elderly. It’s simply natural selection. Unfortunately, the lion is not so kind as we are. We have worked to ensure that deaths of all our patients are peaceful.”
“So all these people have just willingly submitted to having you end their lives?”
“Fortunately, public dialogue on the issue has taken a change for the better. The education program of LIFE has had no small part to play in that. People have simply come to realize that we each have a period of usefulness within the life of society, and there comes a time when that usefulness ends and we become hindrances to progress. The elderly have come to realize how much in the past that their age group has placed a great financial and time burden upon their children and upon society as a whole. They understand now that there is a place for enjoying some years of leisure after their labor is over, but that once serious physical deterioration sets in, it is time.”
“And how are you supposed to determine when it is ‘time’” I asked, barely concealing the contempt rising in my voice.
“That is exactly what you see some of our scientists determining here. We are working on refining the screening process.”
“I see. But what of the mentally retarded, the deficient, those with incapacitating diseases? What of them?”
“Already in most cases their families handle decisions as to the future of those individuals. We hope that our education process will help them in making an informed choice.”
“And what if they are resistant?” I said, with a steely challenge in my own eye.
“We will do what is necessary.”
“And what is that?” I shot back.
Fletcher gazed at me in a strange empty way that sent chills down my spine. They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul. From what I could now see, I seriously questioned whether this woman had one. “Time will tell.”
“I am afraid I must leave now.”
“I am sorry to hear that. I have yet to show you our mental rehabilitation for those deemed potentially criminal.”
“You are rehabilitating people who you believe to be potential criminals?”
“Yes. It’s all based on the mandatory psychiatric examination I mentioned before.”
“What does this rehabilitation involve?” I asked.
“Perhaps you can see at another time. Then I can also show you our genetics laboratory, where our scientist are working on the first biotic womb.”
“Yes. Its success will prove revolutionary to the pursuit of human engineering.”
“Of course. We will be able to create genetically superior human beings.”
“I see. Well...yes, of course...some other time, perhaps. Thank you for your time.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Orwell. I will have an assistant show you back to the main entrance.”
As the doors slid behind me, my stomach twisted in what seemed a thousand knots. My head began to reel, and I stumbled across the wet parking lot towards my vehicle. As I did so, my foot kicked something lying in a puddle. Startled, I looked, bent down, and picked up a book. It was The Brothers Karamazov. Opening it up, my eyes fell on a line, “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” There, in the pouring rain, I bent my head and wept.