The Moral Vacuum

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Temporary Dictator

Below is a short story which I wrote regarding what I see as the future of humankind. Hopefully, this story will provoke awareness in those who read it of the dire fate of humanity if we fail to alter the course which the United States has taken.

This story does not limit its condemnation to the greed which currently pervades the United States. It also attacks the paternalism of liberals which have created a society in which the individual feels that he/she must no longer be required to take responsibility for their lives. This loss of responsibility has engendered a moral collapse within our society such that we are ripe for seduction by jingoism, herd mentality and promises of something for nothing.


She locked the door behind her and then walked down the stairs leading into the basement. The emptiness and confusion in her soul forced her to seek that special hiding place within the walls of her family’s home. She flipped the switch that would activate a light bulb if any of the external doors in the upper part of the house were opened. She unscrewed her father’s work bench and then pulled it from the wall. She then took a screwdriver and plied loose one of the blocks in the basement wall. The block only extended partially through the wall. Behind it was a second block which did extend to the end of the wall. But in between those two blocks was an air tight container and in that container was Martha’s soul. It was the words of her great, great grandfather and some of the writings of Aristotle, Cicero and d’Tocqueville.

Last year, when Martha celebrated her sixteenth birthday, her father had showed her the books and where they were hidden. His mother had given him, Paul, the books. Martha’s father had never told Martha’s mother, Sarah, of the existence of these books. He knew Sarah would report him. It was illegal to have such literature. He would have been arrested and either never again heard from or returned home in a zombie state as a reminder to all of the fate that awaited them for the possession of such material.

Paul knew Sarah was a creature of the current world. He had longed for someone like himself, but he never found such a person and rather than live alone without a posterity to pass on his secret, he married Sarah.

He was afraid that his children would all be like Sarah and that he would have to look outside his family for someone to whom he could give these writings. But every generation of Paul’s family always produced at least one child who possessed a hunger for something beyond what this world had to offer them. And as Paul observed Martha, he knew that the chain was still unbroken. Even at an early age, she had almost all of the traits of someone who would greatly value these words. He watched Martha’s anguish with the emptiness of continual excitation which the current government had implemented in the education system. “Keep them amused and excited and they will never question.” He observed her hunger to learn things and he observed her sadness in seeing the joy which her schoolmates felt in the destruction of things both living and inanimate. But there was one thing that deeply concerned Paul. It was Martha’s craving for the companionship of another human being. He was afraid that in her hunger to touch another human being, she would confide in them about the book and then that person would do what was in their best interest - report Martha and the book to the authorities.

When Paul showed Martha the books, he studied her face as the girl sucked in everything she read. Her eyes were riveted to the words and each turn of the page exhibited a ravenous appetite for the next idea.

Martha had read her grandfather’s letter several times and was simultaneously reading all three books. Her progress was slow for she was limited to reading only when her mother was away from the house. It did not disturb Martha that she had secrets from her mother. As much as her father adored her, her mother disliked her. Martha did not have Sarah’s obsession for clothes and possessions and parties and impressing friends. Sarah could not brag about Martha and this disturbed her. Martha made no attempt to please Sarah. For despite Martha’s insatiable need to be loved, she made it evident to Sarah that she did not like her either.
Martha pressed her grandfather’s words to her chest and sobbed, “Help me to not feel so alone.” She was overwhelmed by the disturbing incidents of the day. At school, almost all of the students had delighted in the retailing of a video in which animals and people were tortured and slaughtered. It was a part of government policy to saturate the society with this type of entertainment. It help deadened the people’s feelings and kept them focused upon something besides the government’s control of their lives. Martha could not bear the words or the images which the students’ conversations provoked. She left school telling her teachers she was sick.
The ride home in the public trains always left her highly disturbed, but today was worse than normal. The trains were equipped with television monitors on which frequently flashed the faces of enemies of the state, but today there was an actual hunt being broadcast. They were hunting an elderly man. Many of the hunted were the elderly. Although the police records listed them as subversives, distributing literature to arouse people against the state or hiding weapons to use against the state, everyone knew their real crime was their age and their drain upon society’s resources. The police kicked in the door of his home, grabbed him from his chair and slammed his head into the wall. He collapsed, blood spewed against the camera lens and, except for Martha, all of the people in the train applauded and cheered. Her body was frozen except for the moisture collecting in her eyes. And then three women of pleasure appeared on the screen. This frequently followed a kill. They slowly, erotically stripped one another until naked. They cavorted on screen, bodies entwined and then they beckoned the anonymous watchers to join them in the Hall of Pleasure. Martha sat terrified as several passengers began to grope one another.

Martha sat down in a chair in the basement and began to read the words of another world, another time, another belief system.

“My name is Alfred Mitchell. The year is 2014. I am writing this brief diary in the hopes that this story will give comfort and guidance to those who long for a return to a society which values freedom and responsibility and human affection. The United States was once such a nation but we have now entered an age of darkness, a fate which has befallen every other democratic nation before us. People get tired of the responsibility of thinking for themselves. They get tired of self-restraint and with that, the ever-present tyrants waiting to dominate have, as throughout history, rushed in to take control.

I know that I will soon be arrested for they have already threatened me with this fate if I fail to remain silent and I can not continue to remain so. But I am an old man who is dying of cancer so their imprisonment of me will be short. They will be reluctant to display my dying face to the public so in all probability I will just vanish, a destiny which has befallen many of my friends. I only pray that they will not hurt my family as part of their retribution. Perhaps I will put an end to myself rather than giving them the satisfaction of imprisoning me. I have, however, temporarily restrained my expressions of opposition to government programs in order to give me time to write and secretly distribute this brief history and diagnosis of what brought this greatest of nations to this age of darkness. This diary must be hidden until the time comes when our world again knows freedom, duty and human dignity.

I was born in 1939. My family was neither poor nor affluent. My father was a blue collar laborer but I was given the opportunity to work my way through college. I began and ended my working career as a civil servant of the federal government. I did leave for several years to work in industry, and I was a highly successful chief executive officer of a major corporation. But it was in the service of my government that I felt the most satisfaction and the most disappointment. I will admit that I was greatly guided by a desire for power. I was never above a lust to control, but despite those strong tendencies within myself, I did want to serve my country and I did want to see a society which afforded greater opportunities for all who were willing to work.

When I began my working career in the mid 1960’s, the world of duty and restraint that I knew as a child was being thrown aside for the hedonism that would capture the United States and never release it from its gasp. I was too involved in my own career to realize the long-term, powerful repercussions of this collapse of morality. All that I knew was that the bulk of my employees were becoming less and less motivated. They felt they were entitled to a job, to benefits regardless of whether they worked or not. I lamented with other CEO’s about how disgusted I was with the situation, and in so doing, they felt that I shared all their values. Hence, when they returned to guide the government they invited me to take a position of power which I could not resist - Secretary of State. This began in the year 2000 when Edward Stone assumed the presidency of the United States.

I had started my position with dreams of remaking America, but my initial conversations with President Stone left me unnerved and confused and disappointed. The Vice President of the United States, Leland Champion, was always present whenever I spoke to the President. I had known Leland for many years. He was the man principally responsible for my joining the Stone administration. He had courted me with promises of access to the president, of my being a part of a new world order. He did give me the access which he had promised, but Leland was always present whenever I had a discussion with the President. And whenever I asked the President a question, he always looked to Leland and had Leland respond. I had thought, hoped that it was in deference to Leland being several years older than President Stone. But as my contacts with the President increased, I realized that it was because he was completely incompetent.
As Secretary of State I attended the meetings of the National Security Council. This group was the President’s principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and cabinet officials. In the first meeting, I was astounded to find the focus of the discussion was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the takeover of Iraq. Even more to my amazement, I saw maps of the Iraqi’s oil fields displayed on screen and listened to plans regarding which companies would receive contracts to assume production of this liquid gold. Never before in my government service, and I was a part of the supposedly clandestine Nixon administration of the 1970s, had I heard our leaders planning to go to war for the primary purpose of confiscating another country’s resources. The discussion of how to justify the United States’s first preemptive war became the topic of each succeeding meeting of the Council.

Leland Champion, attended all of the meetings, but rarely said a word. In the many years that I had known Leland, I believed him to be a reasonable man. I could not understand his failure to protest the direction of these meetings. I approached him in private and again expressed the concerns which I had raised in the meetings, that is, that this man, Saddam, was contained and that we have much greater enemies than he and that a preemptive war, particularly one which seemed to be guided by hunger for oil, was unheard of in our country’s history. He always listened and said that he could understand my concerns and would try to find a solution. But the discussion of war went unabated until the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th 2001. Their attention was then temporarily turned towards the invasion of Afghanistan in the pursuit of the terrorist groups which had implemented the bombings.
The enemies of the United States, as almost everyone else, probably did not realize it at the time, but their September 11th bombing of the United States set into the motion the forces which ended our democracy. It took several years for it to crumble our nation but it was the tiny crack in an already weakened dam that grew slowly, imperceptibly until one day the seep of water became a flood.

I remember reading T’ocqueville’s classic 19th century book, Democracy in America. In it, he states that the mores and customs were probably the most important factor in the growth of democracy here in the United States. But also, the isolation of the United States from its enemies was another critical factor. European countries were more likely to succumb to despotic governments because this form of government allowed them to respond more quickly to the attacks of the enemies which surrounded their borders. Well, the mores and customs died decades ago. This attack on our soil made people fear the imminency of the danger and thus made them more willing to surrender power to the government in the belief that this is what the government needed to protect them. Thus, after the successful completion of the war in Afghanistan, it was easy for the administration to use this “surrender to the government” mindset to direct our nation towards war against Iraq. A war which many in the administration had for years wanted and planned could now be brought to fruition.

I participated in the meetings where the evidence to justify to the American people that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was presented. When I argued against the validity of the evidence, I was chastised and then isolated from further meetings. I realized that I could do nothing to stop the process and that I would be a part of sending thousands of Americans to their deaths for no other purpose than to fatten the wallets of the principal contributors to the President’s campaign. My conscience would not allow me to be a participant in this murderous scheme, so I resigned my post.

After leaving the government, I attempted to enlighten the American people as to what was occurring in their government, not only in this push to war, but in the doling of benefits to the rich and in the rape of the environment. I wrote books, attempted to schedule interviews, but the press, that supposed guardian against government abuse was uninterested. They let my comments die rather than endlessly reiterating them in order to arouse the public conscience. The very same journalists who, in the 1970’s, unrelentingly pursued President Richard Nixon by continuing to publish almost on a daily basis stories of government abuse were now singing the praises of President Stone. Why did this happen? Because this administration was able to gather the support of powerful special interests and often antithetical groups and these special interest groups had gained control of the news media: the neocons with their obsession for control of the Middle East, the religious right with their justifiable concern for the collapse of the social structure, the captains of industry with their lust for money and power.

Although I consider the first and third groups to be reprehensible in that their only concern was for their own interests and the fate of the United States was of little significance to them, I have great sympathy for the part which the religious right played in the downfall of our democracy. I shared their concern for the collapse of morality. Initially, I was like them in that I wanted desperately to believe that this administration would implement policies which were meant to return us to the society I know as a child, a society in which the ordinary person did not feel insignificant because he or she wasn’t rich or powerful but experienced a sense of value because they contributed all that they were able to contribute, a society which did not dwell upon the crude or the reduction of all people to objects of gratification or degradation. But the religious right must be held accountable for their refusal to see that this administration was guilty of the far greater immorality of sending people to their deaths for the sake of financial profit. They must be held accountable for refusing to realize that his catering to their requests was a mere ploy to get their votes.

I think that after the war in Iraq had dragged on for three years, killing 3000 Americans with no end in sight and no progress towards democracy, many of these very decent people were beginning to realize that they had danced with the devil. In the 2006 elections, President Stone’s party, the Republicans, lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but instead of focusing upon solving our country’s problems, the Democratic Party focused upon revenge. Despite their failure to solve the horrendous problems facing our country, it was almost certain that the Republicans would also lose the presidency to the Democrats in the 2008 election. But two months before the 2008 presidential election, the event which sealed the collapse of the United States occurred.

The Iranians smuggled and detonated within the United States two nuclear bombs: one in Washington, D.C. and one in San Francisco. There was total chaos in the streets and President Stone declared marshal law. He suspended elections and freedom of the press. The American public and their elected officials acquiesced thinking it would only last for a few months, but once started, it was impossible to stop. He had the military in place and they were as reluctant as he to relinquish their authority. Some of these members of the military just had a lust to be a part of an institution which controlled the actions of other people. But there were many other members of the military who truly believed that what they were doing was necessary for the preservation of democracy. There was such a moral and social vacuum within the United States that many of our young people were aching to be a part of something greater than themselves. Their blind allegiance to the President filled the void created by being a part of a society that had devolved into a culture focused upon pursuit of self-indulgence.

As the months dragged into a year, the opposition became more vocal and then the trials for treason began. The American public was privy only to the prosecutor’s denunciations of these defendants’ crimes which were, according to the prosecutor’s diatribe, threatening the very existence of our society. They were never allowed to hear the defendant’s rebuttals. And the American public reveled in the destruction of another human being’s life. The defendant’s were not executed but imprisoned and never heard from again. After each trial, the government hosted celebrations in the streets. The more influential the defendant, the greater was the celebration. This administration knew how to feed upon the worse emotions of our human nature.

My family and I watched these trials and celebrations with agony in our hearts. I was afraid to express opposition to the government. I wanted to live out my life in peace and frankly I felt that nothing I could say could change the course that we were following. The American people were far too decadent to be moved by the intellectual ramblings of an old man.
Then came the fuel shortages and the horrific weather. Rather than breeding hatred for the government, for although the vast majority of people were now in living conditions far below what they had known before the nuclear bombings, the populace felt an even greater need for the government to add stability to society.

But in 2013 when I was told that I was dying of cancer and had only a year or two to live, I decided then that expression of opposition to government policies was worth the price I would pay. I created a website and printed a news paper in which I tried to explain to American public that the terrorists’ actions were not based upon their hatred for our lifestyles but were principally based upon our presence in the Middle East and that once we withdrew from their countries, they would turn and devour each other. I tried to explain to the people that the fight against terrorism would never be won with our military prowess but by using our minds to determine how we could remove ourselves from that region. I tried to awaken the people to the fact that we were in the Middle East principally because of the oil and that we possessed the ability to use other fuels which would free ourselves from the use of this fuel and thus free us from our involvement in the region, but the broadened use of these other fuels was thwarted by the oil interests which controlled both the United States legislature and the Presidency. I tried to awaken the people to the fact that we were no longer a democracy but an aristocracy. Few were converted but I felt that if I could just reach a few, one day this might be one of the sparks which would again ignite the passions that had many years ago burned in the hearts of people and made then want to embrace democracy embrace governance of and responsibility for their own lives.

But soon the police came. I expected it. I had prepared my family for this eventuality but rather than being carted off to some cell never to be heard from again, I was taken to the office of vice-president, Leland Champion.

He sat behind his immense desk. His face was decrepit but his presence exuded how aware he was of his power. A power he reveled in and had longed for since he was a child. He spoke, “You have so disappointed me, Al. You and I were good friends at one time. You and I, we commiserated together so many times about how people now wanted a free ride. They wanted someone else to do all the work while they reaped the fruits of someone else’s labor. Why can’t you see how what we are doing is the right thing?”

“Tell me, Leland, how can it be the right thing? You are sending people to their deaths so that you and your friends can fill your pockets? You are creating a war that does not need to exist.”
“Sacrificial lambs for a better world. Every society has them. As for the war, it gives us an excuse to maintain marshal law. And until we can gain control of these other sources of energy, we will keep this country on oil.”

“A better world! A world in which you and your friends control everything.”

“That’s right. We have the brain power and the will to use it. People can’t govern themselves anymore. You have to accept that fact. Democracy in America is dead. The people! The people! Look at them, Al. They elected a buffoon because he looked good in a pair of jeans. He could barely complete a sentence without an error. He couldn’t formulate a complex thought if his life depended on it. You know that, Al. You tried giving him memos, but if they were more than a page long he couldn’t focus long enough to read it. But your beloved populace, they’re the same way. They don’t want to think. They want immediate gratification. Why do you think I didn’t run for president. We knew that the voting public cares only for what looks pretty. The people got what they wanted; they got what they deserved.”

“We? What do you mean we?”

“Lord, Al. You are so much more innocent than I imagined. All of us in the oil industry knew the industry was in trouble. We knew we had to get control of the presidency in order to keep the oil flowing. We looked around. All of us old codgers and we saw this young, good-looking guy with a well known name, who would agree with anything we wanted. So we groomed him; we promoted him, and damn there is just something about the man - he is the luckiest SOB I have ever met. If the bombings of September 11th had not occurred, we probably would have been thrown out of office. But they did and they made him a hero.”

“Are you telling me that you and your friends were responsible for those bombings?”

“Oh, of course not. We weren’t that brazen but it gave us an opportunity that we had not dreamed of.”

I was silent as I saw in my mind the thousands of dead bodies being viewed as an opportunity. How did my friend come to this state of mind?

He waited for me to respond but when I did not, he continued, “Al, you are the most intelligent man that I have ever known. You could be such an asset to us, if you could just see things our way. Al, the republic is dead. Are you going to be the Cato of our century. Die for your sense of virtue rather than be a part of this new society? If so, you have a very misplaced sense of virtue. Look around you, there is just laziness and crudity. The bottom layer of society is breeding at a much higher rate than the educated class. That situation can’t maintain a democracy. Our founding fathers realized that why can’t you?”

“Are you really offended by that? If anything, it seems to have enabled you to reach this level of power. I think that this position of power is something you always wanted, regardless of whether or not you thought our society was collapsing.”

He was silent as the two of us stared at one another with the recognition that we were irreconcilable foes. But then he continued, “I take it you will not accept my offer of being a part of this government.”

“No, but you are probably right. The people got what they wanted. They are not capable of enlightenment.”

“I hope you are telling me the truth. Despite our differences, it would not be pleasant for me to have you arrested and tried for treason. My wife is still very fond of your wife.”

“I know my limitations, Leland.”

He pressed a buzzer and the police escorted me home.

I returned home to write this brief history and to record this terrifying conversation with our vice president. I will not attempt to publicly publish this but to only distribute it to trusted relatives and associates. I can not tell you the sadness in my heart after speaking to the vice president. I have now fully realized how much of what has happened in this country was planned decades ago.

I have confidence that eventually humankind will lift itself out of this darkness. I know that I will not see it in my life time and I don’t believe that even my grandchildren will see it. It will probably take centuries, but I believe that it will happen. I have enclosed some writings of the three men that I believe will be the most inspirational when this world again struggles from the darkness. In all probability, these books will be banned in the next few years because they try to teach such things as human dignity and the balance between freedom and responsibility.
With all my love and hope,
Alfred Mitchell

Martha held the laminated papers in her lap. She was no longer looking at them. Her body was rigid. Her eyes fixed straight ahead. The words had both consoled and depressed. Consoled her because they reminded her that there was a time when people did not delight in the destruction and degradation of other people. But they also depressed her because she knew she would never know such a world. She could not find the energy to read any of the three books. She returned the writings to their hiding place and went upstairs to her bedroom.

She locked her door and laid in bed. She could see no purpose for living. She was alone in her needs except for her father. She lifted herself from her bed, limped out of her bedroom down the hallway to the bathroom. She rummaged through the medicine cabinet looking for her antidepressants. They were given to her by the school physician. She found the bottle and brought it to her room. She spread the tablets across her bed and fingered each one of them. She swallowed one and then another and then stopped. She wanted to wait before swallowing the rest. She waited and she waited and then she threw herself on the floor and then began to sob convulsively. She didn’t want to stay in this world but she didn’t want to cease to exist. As she lay there sobbing, the war sirens began to screech throughout the city. It was the signal that there might be an enemy attack and that all citizens should stay in their homes and listen to the television for updates of the attack. But Sarah did not move from the floor, she only pressed her hands to her ears to stop the noise.

But gradually the sobbing stopped and Martha stared blankly out into space. She rose almost mechanically. She sat at her desk and began to write. When she finished writing, she rushed downstairs to the basement and placed the letter in the hiding place with her grandfather’s writings.

She returned to her room and waited for her parents to return home. That evening she ate supper with them and returned to her room and took the remainder of the pills. Her father found her in the morning. The life was gone from her and it was as if someone had ripped his heart from his chest.

She was cremated within a few days of her death. Paul sought refuge for his grief in the writings and books of his grandfather, but when he removed the block which hid the papers, he noticed another letter. It was addressed to Dear Daddy and he began to read the heart wrenching outpourings of his daughter as she struggled to explain to him that she could no longer go on.
“Dear Daddy, I wanted so much to be able to carry on our secret, but I’m not as strong as you Daddy. I can’t take the loneliness. I can’t take the cruelty and the emptiness of this world. I’m not a leader. I can’t remake this world. All that I have to look forward is living a lie. I have no one but you to talk to. I’ve searched for other people my age who are even a little disturbed by what they see and there is no one, Daddy. I want to be able to love someone and that will never happen. Please forgive me. Love, Martha”

Paul sat for several minutes staring at the hungry words of his desperate daughter. For a minute he considered showing the letter to his wife, but he knew that she would only notice how it implied that he was a subversive. And so Paul locked his daughter’s words away with that of his grandfather’s still continuing to hope that some day his daughter’s anguish would also serve to guide future generations back to that higher moral state that existed many generations earlier.