Peter Schönau

What lies ahead

 

Researchers are alarmed by the statistics. Every forty seconds a human being commits suicide. During the preceding year, approximately 750,000 suicides have been recorded worldwide. The World Health Organization points in its report to a set of circumstances that seem to indicate that the majority of persons committing suicide do not do so out of financial destitution but in response to a mental vacuum. Of particular concern to the schools and universities is the fact that the suicide rate is highest among people under twenty-eight. Above that age, the suicide rate declines rapidly.

A mandate of WHO stipulates that member countries administer and dispense free daily doses of a so-called “contentment stimulator” at all general education facilities and universities. The contentment stimulator is a small pink pill categorized as a psychopharmaceutical. Proponents of the pill claim that it makes people more adept at life. Those opposed contemptuously refer to it as a merrymaker that chases off the rain, creating a make-believe world in which life is filled with nothing but sunshine, a world that knows no problem or heartache. They claim that the pill blocks personality development and will result in a generation of conformists, devoid of imagination, who will in turn hinder if not render utterly impossible the philosophical, scientific and civilian progress of humankind. As the committee “For the Self-Determination of Your Life” stated in one of its many commentaries, the entire generation will become welcome fodder for indoctrination by right-wing or left-wing fanatics.

Yet, since the politicians prefer a contented populace over a discontented one, the mandate took effect and was in fact expanded to include everyone under fifty. Those over fifty are considered content and assumed to be relatively immune to the virus of discontent.

 

She sometimes wonders whether she should stop seeing him. Lately, she's been thinking he doesn't fit in with her friends. On the weekends they go to a disco where you can meet the coolest guys early in the morning. They talk about the exams coming up, the new tour of a favourite band and the survey results of their favorite teachers in the latest issue of the school paper. In addition, they're planning what to do during fall break. Most of them have already made tentative plans to travel through Europe, either camping and hitch-hiking or using the Rail Pass. Sometimes they talk on the local elections coming up in a few weeks. There are only two parties on the ticket this time, the "Party for the Better Way" and the "Party for Progress through Social Contentment," the latter the ruling party. Honestly nobody really cares who wins.

Their programs are not really very different from each other. Which means that whoever wins will have no opposition worthy of such a name over the course of the next legislative period in Parliament.

The party that loses will talk about constructive opposition but in reality, the two will govern as a grand coalition.

A true opposition party could, for instance, argue for the abolition of the pill as part of their package.

Loudspeakers boom, "All's well. Everyone's happy thanks to the Party for Progress through Social Contentment." Flyers highlighting the success of the governing party are distributed among the voters:

- The number of suicides over the past two years has dropped by 90% compared with the previous period.

- The divorce rate has dropped from 30% to 10%.

- The abolition of the minimum-wage law created new employment opportunities.

  The rate of unemployment subsequently dropped to 2.5%.

- The costs for the healthcare sector dropped by two billions during the

  last year thanks to the tranquilizer prescriptions.

- In the area of education, we succeeded in reinvigorating attendance

  at all institutional levels. The stranglehold on the capacities of colleges   and universities alike has therefore been minimized.

- Raising the standardized work week to 45 hours has increased our competitive edge as a prime economic locale.

- The trade union monopoly in collective bargaining negotiations has  been eliminated, thus giving the companies the opportunity to close  individual contracts through their own representational entities. This facilitates more flexibility for companies to respond to market fluctuations as they occur. This was a vital step for the protection and safety of our  employment opportunities.

- The drop in unemployment over the last two years led to a close to 50% cut in the expenditure for social programs.

- Last year's budget alone included the eradication of all items for social rehabilitation and student psychological services without substitutions.

 

An election campaign volunteer presses a flyer for the Party for Progress through Social Contentment into his hands. He scans it before he crunches it into a ball and tosses it into the waste receptacle. The Party for the Better Way has an information booth set up on the next block. A young man with a stack of flyers in one hand and a megaphone in the other calls in high decibels for the renovation of the system in all parts.

"Let's not stop half-way," he says.

The loudspeakers blare, "Contentment is not the prerogative of a certain segment of the population."

He folds the flyers into gliders and sends them spinning toward the volunteer. One of them hits the young activist on the head. He returns a furious "Agent provocateur" in his direction. He puts the megaphone down and heads straight for his opponent, who decides it might be wise to avoid an outright confrontation and disappears through the automatic glass door into the food department at the mall.

 

A year ago, the age limit for pill-takers was raised to 65 in pursuance with a WHO mandate that promptly became law in most countries.

Egalitarianism has embarked on its unstoppable conquest.

 

The school yard is as quiet as a cemetery. There are no more clashes between the ultras at the soccer stadiums, and the applause gauge has leveled at 60 dBA. Parliamentary sessions no longer know protest calls and interruptions. Conflicts at the workplace are resolved by compromise before they erupt. The last general strike of the metal workers happened ten years ago. The number of new patents filed at the Patent Office has dropped by 50% over the last five years. The number of traffic deaths has decreased by 20% over the last two. Stomach ulcers are rare, and universities looking for patients to operate on for real-life study purposes are forced to advertise nationally. Discussion of some types of cancer has utterly disappeared from the medical journals because there haven't been any known cases anywhere in years now.

 

For the past two legislative periods, the symbiosis of the Party for the Better Way and Party for Progress through Social Contentment has governed successively. The majority of the population is convinced that the two-party system has proven effective.

 

Raising the age limit for the pill to 65 has also resulted in a change of election laws. Higher positions in state and federal governing bodies can only be held by men or women above the age of 65.

 

There are seven of them at the landing waiting for the boat to take them across the lake to Dragons' Fortress. A biting wind blows over the water and the lake surface is dotted with small white crests. The boat pulls up from the right, edging closer to the landing. The seven passengers awaiting its arrival stand in silence. None of them knows each other, though they all know that they are headed for a three-month stay at Dragons' Fortress, the site of the so-called state and civil affairs training. The Ministry of Culture summoned them via registered mail with return receipt and gave no further explanation as to the how and why except to call it a mandatory seminar designed to refresh and update the participants' understanding of the basics values of the state, social and societal order.

The summons was signed by a government official.

They are heading to a sort of brainwashing, some reprogramming camp.

They'll put their brains through the grinder and wring it like wet rags so that they will come out purged and clean.

They see the boat getting bigger. It slows down and is pressed against the landing by the landbound wind. A man dressed in a sort of uniform jumps onto the landing and ties the boat at front and back to the dock.

"Please step on board, ladies and gentlemen," he calls out, gesturing in a wide sweeping movement. He is neither particularly friendly nor rough, he is businesslike.

The boat departs. The whole arrival and departure process only took a couple of minutes. As the boat circumvents a spit of land, Dragons' Fortress comes into view. It is actually the former villa of an industrial baron who lived in China for many years. He died three years ago and had no next-of-kin. His entire estate went to the state and the Cultural Ministry took over the villa. The jade green glazed roof shimmers in the faint sunlight peeking through the cloud cover. Bay windows and turrets mimic Chinese pagoda style buildings. Two large-sized dragon sculptures glazed in green stand guard at the gate to the property. Their presence has given the villa its name. They cast timid glances at each other No one is smiling. No one speaks.

 

Six weeks of their three-month training in state and civil affairs is behind them now. The external setting of the training camp is a small cluster of one-story military barracks painted olive green, once home to soldiers stationed here. The streets connecting the individual barracks are narrow cement strips. Lawns spread between the barracks and the streets, intercepted in places by large chestnut trees that cast areas of shade onto the lawn, inviting restful breaks. A number of windswept birch trees also dot the landscape. Classes are held in a yellow four-story brick building at the center of the complex. The building was opened only a few years before and also houses a large cafeteria. The air from the vents blowing continuously onto the lawns has begun to smell and taste of apple blossom tea and bread. The complex also contains a track field, a gym and a square formerly used by the military for mustering and parades. The property is surrounded by a six-foot high barbed-wire fence. Across the double gate, metal lettering in Gothic script ten inches high reads, "Progress through Social Contentment."

The faculty consists of functionaries from the Party for Progress through Social Contentment who are well trained in rhetoric. Classes begin at 8:30 a.m. and last until 1 p.m. with a ten-minute break each hour. The subject is a celebration of contentment in all phases of life: the family, marriage, work and spare time. One day a week, the faculty teaches two hours of sports designed for a maximum level of contentment. The teachers do not fail to stress that a healthy body promotes contentment. The Faustian yearning for faraway shores has become the relic of a past era, as they never tire of reminding their audience. They smile continuously. Smiling is an expression of contentment. One class covers the transfer of contentment to those working under you as well as to students and family members. They adopt sort of a Buddha like smile and the compulsory greeting at the center, "Contentment be with you."  has become a regular routine. Their conversation is limited to small talk repeated like the text of a daily prayer. Nearly ninety percent of the trainees are men. Apparently women are either more content by nature or they take the pill more regularly than men. When a faculty member walks by, easily recognizable by the party insignia on his lapel, a small blue globe with a golden sun smiling happily upon it, he mandatorily is greeted with "Contentment be with you.

"Contentment be with you," the other must reply, stressing the word "you".

 

The Party for the Better Way and the Party for Progress through Social Contentment have again won the elections by a wide margin just as they have for the three previous legislative periods. All other parties failed to meet the high minimum quota of 10% for parliamentary seat allocation. And thus the Ancien Régime is also the Nouveau Régime.

 

Today's the day of their escape. In order to avoid drawing attention to themselves, each one has left home individually and at different times throughout the day. It's already dark out. The "Esperanza" is ready to go. All supplies have secretly been brought on board. The wind blows out to sea.

The "Esperanza" is already about a thousand feet away from the coast, they all stay on deck and see the shore slowly disappear in the mist.

They are headed for "Novo Horizonte", an island born from a volcanic eruption one hundred years earlier and not registered on many maps.

 

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Peter Schönau.
Published on e-Stories.org on 24.11.2012.

 

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