1990s >> 1994 >> no-1079-july-1994

Short Story: Earth

The following is a clumsy attempt by an incompetent historian on another planet in the 21st century to explain what Earth was like at the end of the 20th century. It is full of inaccuracies.

Once upon a time there was a planet called Earth, and some of its inhabitants were known as Humans. They lived in prisons which they themselves had built. The prisons varied in size and there were about two hundred of them.
In charge of Earth was a President called Sam. He lived in one of the largest prisons. He was always reorganising his penal empire and changing the shapes, numbers and sizes of prisons.


In each prison were factories and farms in which the prisoners were forced to labour under the control of warders who took most of what was produced and handed it over to higher warders who, in turn, handed most of it to the highest warders. And so it went up to Sam, and he got the lion’s share.


The warders were always pointing guns at the prisoners to make them work harder, so as to produce more and more. The harder they worked, the less they earned, so they were forced to starve. Many died. Sam ordered the warders to infect the prisons with fatal diseases such as tuberculosis, cancer, syphilis and AIDS, with the result that epidemics were common. Most people on Earth lived in unhealthy prisons such as these. Sam called them “developing countries”.


Sam kept the biggest and most powerful guns for himself and sold the smaller, less powerful ones to the junior warders of the unhealthiest prisons. This was to prevent mutinies. Junior warders never had enough money to buy these guns, so they borrowed money from Sam and made their prisoners repay the loans. This was supervised by Sam’s Monetary-Fund (SMF).


The highest warders used to move around Earth freely, meeting their colleagues from other prisons. But prisoners usually spent their whole lives in one and the same prison. They were allowed to have children but many died as soon as they were born rather than face a life of brutish hardship. Those that survived were expected to live and die as prisoners. Sam constantly instructed that warders should increase the height and strength of prison walls. Despite this, quite a few prisoners always somehow managed to escape. Some went to other prisons in the hope that life would be better there. Others escaped with the connivance of warders and became warders themselves or Sam’s close advisers. This worsened the frustration of those who could not escape.


An important difference between warders and prisoners was that, while warders had duties and rights, prisoners had only duties. Duties of a prisoner were to labour, serve and obey. The duties of a warder were to be loyal to Sam, to use guns against prisoners, to raid and plunder most of what prisoners produced, and hand it over to higher authority. The warder in charge of each prison had the right to fly its flag and to be a member of his professional body known as the United Warders Organisation (UWO). At meetings of the UWO they discussed how to more efficiently discipline the prisoners so as to prevent revolutions. They also discussed the building of more prisons to cope with ever-increasing demand. They believed that more prisons enabled better control of Earth. Sam called this “democratic pluralism”.


Walls around prisons were not actually all that strong. A big united push could easily have demolished them. But what prevented most prisoners from escaping was that each prison was occupied by prisoners who mostly spoke the same language or had similar features. This gave prisoners a feeling of togetherness. Sam did everything possible to inculcate into prisoners a belief in their difference and separateness so they would find it hard to unite with other prisoners.


Sam not only owned all the biggest guns but also the biggest loudspeaker. It was so powerful that when he spoke his voice could be heard almost at once by every prisoner on Earth. This huge loudspeaker was called the Voice of Sam and proclaimed the following truths:


1. All warders have the freedom to choose and to independently organise the internal affairs of their own prisons.
2. If anyone has any problems, it’s their own fault — they have themselves to blame.
3. Prisoners are having too many children and this causes their high death rate.
4. It is evil for a prison to withhold its produce from higher authority or to alter its boundaries without Sam’s permission.
5. Humans will always be divided into warders and prisoners. There is no other way to organise Earth. Hell awaits anyone out to destroy this system and create a new one.


And He was believed.


Patrick Heinecke