A Scientific Romance of the Year 2024
In the sixteenth year of Obama, Marc and Julie obtained a carbon pass and set off on a light rail journey in a comfortable semi-transparent carriage traveling at a top speed of 30 kilometers per hour whose motive power came entirely from sunshine. As it was a cloudy day, the train moved slowly, often stopping for hours at a time, before sluggishly stirring into motion again, but the young couple did not mind. Obtaining a carbon pass was difficult enough that the very experience of traveling was new to them, as it was to most citizens of the USNAE or the United States of North America and Europe as the grand unified republic was known.
"Just think," Marc said. "Twenty years ago we might have made this trip in an hour, while releasing countless carbons into the aether, at a dangerous and unhealthy speed. But today as we roll slowly across the wetlands that reclaimed the polluting wheat farms that once soiled this landscape, we are a living part of the solution to the human disease that once marred the earth."
At that moment the train rattled onto the bridge connecting the mainland to the Isle of Endless Education and the young couple gasped as they saw the shining white towers of its many educational institutions shimmering in the distance.
Like most educated people, they had spent the better part of their lives at various schools, colleges and universities. Marc had only completed his basic education last year at the age of forty-two, while Julie was due to complete hers this year. Armed with these diplomas they would finally qualify for certain entry level jobs, but would need a more advanced degree for a serious career. And it was at the Isle of Endless Education that the next stage of their education would begin. Marc was not yet ready to enroll, but he had wished to begin their honeymoon by showing Julie the intellectual feast awaiting them on the isle that held the premier education facilities in the entire USNAE.
Before long the train pulled to a halt and they, along with three or four other passengers disembarked at the foot of a massive alabaster statue of a giant umbrella, three figs, a pencil and a drowsing cat.
"That's interesting," Julie said, frowning at the strange display.
Marc knew that this signified she did not understand what it meant. As a mere forty-two year old undergraduate, whose specialty was not in the field of aesthetics, he did not comprehend the rational scientific principles behind the sculpture, though he knew that they were there. "It's symbolic."
Now it was Marc's turn to frown. "Of wisdom?"
"Nonsense," came the sharp retort. The young couple turned to find Professor-General Harumph Brown standing behind them. Marc had known the old man in his first decade of higher education and had still retained a fondness for him, even though he had not likewise retained a single thing that the professor had taught him.
"So very good to see you," Marc said delightedly.
"Wisdom is for the ancients," the Professor-General continued, "but we in our enlightened modern age know that there is no such thing as wisdom, just as we know that there are no ghosts or fairies. There are only attitudes. Take this sculpture. What does it mean? It's an umbrella, three figs and a kitten. That's all it is and nothing else."
"So why is it here?" Julie ventured to ask.
"To test attitudes," the Professor-General said. "That is the entire purpose of education. We are constantly testing attitudes to separate healthy and unhealthy attitudes. Education is curative. Knowledge does no good if it is not integrated into a healthy operating social model. Take you, my boy, a fine student. One of the finest I ever had."
"Thank you, sir," Marc said.
"Now tell me one thing that you learned in all your thirty-six years of schooling?" the Professor-General insisted.
Marc scrambled to think of something. "Basic addition?"
"Then tell me what six times eight is? No, I thought so," the Professor-General said."Not that I know it either. But try again."
"That wisdom is nonsense," Marc said.
"Very good, and you'll forget that in a minute or two," the Professor-General said. "But that is the true answer. In thirty-six years, you have learned absolutely nothing. Not a single thing. All that you have learned is nothing."
Marc beamed, proud of his achievement.
"The State educational institutions have spent over a quarter of a century filling your head with absolutely nothing and then rigorously testing to see that you had learned absolutely nothing, all to cultivate the exact attitude you display. The State has convinced you that you know everything, while ensuring that you know absolutely nothing," the Professor-General said, raising one arm to encompass the sweep of the giant umbrella, figs and sleeping cat. "This is the attitude that we have cultivated at great expense. This is the true meaning of the statue before you. A graduate, such as Marc, will be convinced that he understands it, although he does not. The statue is the meaning of meaninglessness, emptiness in form, a void with substance."
"But couldn't the State have saved money by not teaching him anything at all?" Julie inquired.
"That would entirely miss the point," the Professor-General said. "Anyone can learn nothing, but not everyone can learn a nothingness so thoroughly that it prevents any other knowledge from being absorbed Our education is like a vaccine. It prevents actual knowledge from being absorbed. We could just as easily have put nothing here, but then students might envision what should be here. By putting a completely senseless thing here, we block them from constructively using their minds. Similarly through our prolonged education, we prevent students from learning anything on their own."
While Marc and Julie struggled to take this in, the Professor-General snapped his fingers. "But that is only half the reason."
"What's the other half?" Marc asked.
"Debt," the Professor-General said cheerfully. "There was a time when men said that money makes the world go round, they were wrong. It's debt that makes the world go round. Now how much debt do the two of you carry on your shoulders?"
Neither of the two knew, though they knew they ought to have the answer. Every week they received a new notification from the government credit bureau announcing their total, but it was a staggeringly large sum, and had been since they were born. Each time they signed another student loan application, they paid little attention to the tremendous amount, which for all its size, was only a small increase in the already sizable amount that every USNAE citizen owed from birth.
"There was a time when the government owed the majority of its debt to its own citizens, but that meant any man or woman could be considered a creditor for the State," the Professor-General said. "It became necessary for the roles to shift, for the State to become the creditor of every citizen. And this was done with education."
"But education is free for everyone," Julie exclaimed.
"Indeed it is," the Professor-General said. "Everyone is entitled to an eternal education for life. That is in the USNAE Constitution. But even free things must be paid for. Those who receive an education go into debt for it. Those who do not, go into debt for those who do. That way everyone is in debt and most of the populace is educated to know nothing. Not even how much they owe."
"But won't the debt have to be paid for?" Julie asked.
The Professor-General clucked his tongue at her foolishness. "Whom could it possibly be paid to? If everyone is in debt, then debt is the new currency. The more debt you run up, the wealthier you are. This is the New Economic Plan of our Beloved Leader which rewards consumption of government services as the ultimate form of productivity. Since everyone is in debt and everyone's debt is owned by everyone else, every man and woman will compete to maximize their utilization of government services, so that they will benefit from the services that they are indebted for."
"That's why no one earns money anymore," Marc said loudly. "When we get jobs for the first time, we'll get paid in debt. Each time we're paid, the money is directly collected by the government and our debt is reduced by a little."
"The debt economy is an extension of a phenomenon that began in the previous century where men and women no longer labored to earn money, but to pay down their debts," the Professor-General said. "The more the government gives you, the more debt you have, but you would be a fool not to take it, for your neighbors are running up government debt on your credit. Take the government house, car, education, tofu growing grant and anything else you can get."
While Marc and Julie thought this over, the Professor-General gestured for them to follow, and he led them past many gleaming white towers, senseless pieces of art, public performances, student protests, faculty protests, protests against the protests and celebrations of education, until they reached a movie theater.
"You remember your first graduation, don't you?" the Professor-General asked them.
The young couple nodded, each of them recalling the ticker tape parade through town, which encourage graduates to continue their education, rather than drop out in their twenties as many did.
"I mentioned attitudes before," the Professor-General said. "Here we are testing an entirely new approach that will revolutionize education. And you two are privileged to see it for the first time."
The couple followed him up the stairs to the projection booth while below them the newest class of graduates filed in and took their seats waiting for the movie to start. The Professor-General carefully examined a bank of screens in front of him. Each screen had a number on it and as they glowed to life, a name appeared in each dark space.
The red curtains lifted and image and sound filled the theater. There were speeches by the Beloved Leader, some from his early days in politics and some from his sixteenth year in office. There were images of violent protests, scenes from history, homosexual pornography, wars, irrational statements, and a hundred other things.
As the images flashed by, lines appeared in the dark spaces under each name. The Professor-General studied the lines carefully, approving of some, while frowning at others. When it was over, some of the students were led out the front, while others were directed to the back into a sterile white room.
The old man led Marc and Julie downstairs and allowed them to observe behind a glass partition as a student was seated in a chair and a metal prod was directed at the back of his head.
"What is that?" Julie asked.
"That is a Ray of Enlightenment," the Professor-General said. "It uses electro-chemical principles to destroy the frontal lobe of the brain. What the ancients used to crudely describe as a lobotomy, but far more sophisticated."
"Isn't that a bit excessive?" Julie asked.
"Not at all," the elderly gentleman said. "His responses, like those of all the students here, were measured by the metrics. His attitude toward the film was unhealthy. He reacted negatively toward the positive scenes and positively toward the negative scenes. The Ray of Enlightenment will educate him in a way that not even our finest educational systems could."
"I suppose it's for the best," Julie agreed.
"What will happen to him?" Marc asked.
"The same thing that will happen to all of them," the Professor-General said briskly. "They will be sent to participate in cultural exchange programs in China or the Caliphate, those governments will weigh their service in the coal mines and oil fields against a fraction of the debt that we owe them."
Outside the air was refreshing and they could not help but think how twenty years ago it would have been reeking with carbon, hydrogen and even worse pollutants, but now in the best of all worlds, it was clean.
Marc and Julie bid the Professor-General goodbye, promising to return to enroll for an advanced degree, and then sat waiting for another train. When it finally came, they got on board and slowly began the rattling journey toward the next stage of their destination. The Isle of Freedom.
(Author's Note: This is meant to be a parody of Socialist futuristic tracts from the late 19th century such as Looking Backward. It's a change of pace from some of the usual articles. If anyone would like to see more of it, let me know in the comments.)