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February 20, 2088

February 20, 2088

Dear Hannah,

There have been another spate of power outages here, or else I’d have sent this off before. Of course the Mission has generators, but Dieter sent a burner out about keeping ‘non-essential power usage’ to a minimum, etc. As Director of Mission he can do that, but it had more to do with his being German and not getting on with Sofia in IT, who definitely is not. In short, I couldn’t use my Book until today.You can sense my eye-rolling and exasperation — imagine me! I’m sorry you’re not here to see it.

Gilbert found a book in a downtown stall about the denazification of Germany after the Second War. Amazing how close their methods were to our own. The entire adult population completed a questionnaire about everything they’d done, a full CV. All cross-checked against other documents with fair accuracy, in less than a year, without computers. Any Nazi was tossed out of any position of authority or influence and possibly sent to prison. Blubbety boo hoo.

We’ve done much the same, but found that in a country having gone through as much as New Zion / America has, paper is more resilient than digital. We do everything online in the Mission. So much information was in cloud storage that turned out to be surprisingly simple to wipe. So the same vetted local contracts we or the NPO hired to assist us are doing data entry, paper to digital. Sofia says it’s Gutenberg’s revenge, and while the irony is lost on Dieter, he agreed (“Too bloody right”).

The book Gilbert found was stamped ‘New York Public Library’ — it was part of the old main branch library, protected by the citizens (picture New Yorkers in front of the big stone lions, with guns) after the old FedGov collapsed and before most state governments bowed to the evangelicals. Definitely before the civil war. Over the library stamp was another, ‘Restricted Collection’ — after New Zion was born, possessing any book would have had you in a camp, Spotto. No one was allowed anything secular from The Time Before. This book of history was part of a library very few could have used, and even then someone would have wanted to know why.

Hani, you can’t fathom how people are motivated to harm others until you come to a place like this. And the book Gilbert found pushed me to think about parallels, the history. Germany had a great, deep culture (always have — just ask Dieter!). The political right was always saying how evil their central government was. It was corrupt; Germany and Europe had their own uberrich – but the majority of people just wanted to live their lives. They were getting by. Then came their Crash, and when people were broke and hungry, the Nazis rose. Most people just wanted to get by – so, Hitler.

Here, America participated in creating the global financial dream-world. At the same time their FedGov became a joke. Then, the Megacrash, terrorism in Washington, and there was no central government. The states tried to hold, but one morning people woke up and on the vids were The Five. People were living in muck and hungry and frightened, and they wanted to get by. So, New Zion.

But those aren’t the similarities I see. There were pictures in Gilbert’s book of people walking through bombed-out cities, people running for a tram, trying to sell or barter, or line up for rationed water and food. There’s not much damage to buildings around the Mission compound – and nothing like Germany’s cities after that war — but every day I see the same people in those photos.

They get by – but they’re broken, Hani. The things they were forced to do by the creatures they let in forced them to split their souls and there aren’t enough psychiatrists to put them back together again. The Mission’s counselors, group sessions and community outreach, do what they can, but it will take decades. The broken generations may be beyond psychotherapy. Solzhenitsyn, quoting that proverb Leo likes so much when he talks about Zion: “only the grave cures the hunchback.”

It wasn’t just the making of the religious police state, or the labor camps. Not even the executions of anyone the new order decreed was ‘in rebellion against God’. It’s what I see in those faces in the street — what the people did to deform themselves, just ‘to get by’. In Manhattan, the steel gallows frame is still bolted to the granite walls of Rockefeller Center. Our National Prosecution Office for the East Coast chose to put their HQ there, I think, because of it. No one’s moved to take it down.

My caseload increased since Martin went on Breaveleave. I’ve temporarily taken on his five Middies. My normal lot are clerks, a few Neighborhood Eyes, a Captain in the Guardians. Martin’s are Class Threes, politicals, middle management of theocratic repression, but evaluated to be capable of resocialization. They stay here in the compound in their own wing of Mission housing. They can’t stay outside. Most Class Threes are in prison and lucky not to have been sentenced with the Class Twos.

It’s the same routine: talk talk talk to the Doctor. Four men and a woman. The men are all similar: corpulent, even on Mission calories; middle sixties; local Council gladhanding types. One moment they’re trying hard to impress you with their intelligence, their candor in self-examination. And in doing that, they’re reminded that once they had real power — regional Deacons, serving those who were close to The Five. There are flashes of anger, self-justification, and even arrogance before they catch themselves, trying to become drab and little.

One was a physician too, and tries to engage me in abstract discussion of my ‘diagnosis’, like two colleagues conferring over symptoms. I think about the enforced drug-and-electro treatments of gay men and women the ‘doctors’ in Zion practiced, but he’s already passed through the hands of the NPO and been adjudged clean of any direct criminal acts for which a charge could be brought, clean enough for being salvaged, to help rebuild what they helped to soil.

Truth is, Hani – to one degree or another everyone here participated in supporting the state. There was no choice, but there were few resisters when New Zion was in control. So we face the same issues the Allied powers did in Germany: when everyone participates in a crime, even passively, do we prosecute the entire population? Some wanted to do so. The NPO created degrees of involvement and potential guilt – One through Five, just like the Allies. But for those who were evaluated by prosecutors and other physicians as fit for our Resocialization programme, the classifications aren’t supposed to mean much.

Then I dealt with one lady, and however impersonally her Class Three designation is viewed, as an individual she is chilling. (I’ll call her Teresa, because she reminds me of your aunt, but you are forbidden to tell her.) We can’t take a hard line with any of them — first, do no harm — but she was a regional Archite for over a decade in the middle North American West. The religious politicals couldn’t do away entirely with the American civil court system. They kept most of the judges in state courts and allowed them to hear cases, and juries of citizens would determine guilt or innocence – and, guided by the Archites, did the sentencing. The Archites were True Believers of a different order.

I think of the pictures smuggled out, showing people at hard labor, cleaning toxic waste dumps, the ones that pushed Gwynham to make his speech in the Commons that led to the Coalition. Over twelve years (just as many as the Nazis had with Germany), Teresa must have helped juries send thousands of people to death one way or another, and very likely to places like those in the photos. Just for being born as we are, love, you and I wouldn’t have even made it that far. She would’ve sent us to Bedlam, or worse.

There’s real hatred still for the True Believers among the public, the Class Threes and above – The Five certainly found that out when the Coalition landed. There aren’t that many of them in freedom now. And because they all bear the mark, and because people still check for it, it’s almost impossible for them to evade detection. The local vid occasionally reports some ex-pastor or former Warden was done for in broad daylight in a public toilet or right on a street, with not one witness to be found.

Part of me would like to walk Teresa to the main door of the Mission and push her, very gently, out. But I can’t. This work tests my values, Hani; I have to reach deep for real patience and compassion, and to be better with them than they were with the population they victimized. I have to, because I won’t allow my hatreds to define me, as theirs did. And they do all have some level of honest contrition — even Teresa, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed here. I hold to that, and quote Fowles to them: “Whole sight, or all else is desolation.” Teresa actually looked stricken when I said that. Good.

It’s late; I only had forty minutes to punch this in and spent it rambling away on all this shite. Paul has taken up a seat nearby and is making harrumphing sounds. I kiss you (and more than that; imagine me!) — kiss the Hatchlings, tell them to write more often themselves damnit and send more drawings and I’ll write again as soon as Dieter will let us.

Count the days ‘till I’m done here — then England; Land Of Hope and Glory, and You.

Always Love,

Steffi


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Pseudonymous; lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area. ...more →

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25 thoughts on “February 20, 2088

    • I can see them gaining power on the reactionary rebound following a liberal consensus breaking badly (which has in turn followed Trumpsim breaking badly). As we’ve seen in Iran and Egypt (and the Sparrows), a cohesive religiously minded political movement can gain all the power if the opposition to them is divided, the opposition to them is also against the status quo, and the status quo has some serious real deficiencies.

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      • I don’t… now, I see some weird form of “Christianity” regaining some cultural power, but it’s not a “knows the Nicene Creed” kinda Christianity.

        It’s the “Santa Claus statue next to the manger” kinda Christianity. Precious Moments memes posted to facebook between Minion memes. Christmas and Easter, okay, just Christmas. Okay, just the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.

        That sort of thing.

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        • Power is measured by control.What the church say, you do.
          By this metric, the only people the church still has any sway over, are the ones the other folks didn’t want.

          This is not something the church will recover from. Efforts to breed their way into a better situation will go poorly.
          And for god’s sake, I know someone helping the Catholic Church… reorganize. Caltrops in the gears, and coming out of our ears!

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        • If you look at the various religious awakenings in North American post-Columbian history, they’re surprisingly quick things, often seeming to come out of nowhere.

          The occupation of 2088 isn’t the result of the awakening that started circa 1950 (e.g. the Billy Graham Crusade). It’s the one that’s going to start in 2050.

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          • *nods* you didn’t hear a peep out of trans people [edited to amend a slur that Kim should probably stop using any time now, by maribou] ten years ago. And twenty years ago they were nearly an urban legend (which doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, mind).

            But you’re missing something, New Religions are designed to make money, and come and go like the breeze. Gluten free should ring a bell.

            “What you need to do in order to solve all your non-existent problems!” (First you start by making up problems: “look everyone hates me!” or “look, they’re all trying to poison us!”)

            Old Church ain’t nearly as profitable, so old church ain’t coming back until we destroy the American Economy wholesale.

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          • It’s the one that’s going to start in 2050.

            The only context in which this particular branch of Christianity would take off is one in which it is seen as a preferable alternative to (X).

            In this story, what’s (X)?

            Being in Qatar, I might have some ideas of what (X) might be…

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        • It’s a commonplace that there are as many different kinds of Christianity as there are Christians, of course. And it’s really hard to know what’s going on within someone else’s mind (or heart or soul or otherwise as you prefer) as they engage in some externally-observable observation of piety.

          For instance: my cousin sends me a Christmas card. The card is prominently pre-printed with a Bible verse in lovely calligraphy. It contains a laser-printed “Hi family here’s what our last year was like” message devoid of references to religious activity. I last saw my cousin in a church, quite sadly during his father’s funeral. How much should I read into the Bible verse as a signal of my cousin’s religiosity? If I pick up the phone or send an e-mail to him, just asking I’m likely to get an answer like, “We’re Christians, sure. We go to the megachurch kinda near our home most Sundays and we tithe.” But again, that doesn’t tell me much, until I have a deep exchange.

          Many of my own experiences with overt behavior of Christians at a superficial (which is to say, “surface” rather than “insincere”) level has been that the label gets deployed as a signal or a badge, a promise to the person hearing the identification that “I am a basically moral person” and/or “I generally conform to the dominant culture hereabouts.” Neither of these (to me) are particularly religious statements at all.

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          • Your cousin’s economic circumstances are more detailed by his statements than his religious ideas. Of course, almost definitionally, the megachurch crowd isn’t truly religious. When the church bottomfeeds, as megachurches tend to, it attracts the desperate rather than the religious.

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          • Many of my own experiences with overt behavior of Christians at a superficial (which is to say, “surface” rather than “insincere”) level has been that the label gets deployed as a signal or a badge, a promise to the person hearing the identification that “I am a basically moral person” and/or “I generally conform to the dominant culture hereabouts.” Neither of these (to me) are particularly religious statements at all.

            Which makes this dystopia so odd to me.

            Where do the religious folks *COME* from?

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      • Also, in the go-to religious dystopia, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the fundie whackos wouldn’t have been enough to establish that version of Gilead. They found enough fellow travelers and single-issue voters to make common cause with, then once things were in full swing they just happened to find themselves in the driver’s seat.
        But it wouldn’t have been possible without the ability to harness a lot of petty grudges from a lot of otherwise sensible people. Which, as you know, Bob, can’t happen in this real life.

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          • Haven’t analyzed it that deeply yet. Just chipping in that they don’t all have to have been fanatics going in even if they are coming out. In Atwood, only a plurality actually wanted to get to the endgame they wound up with, but once it was entrenched it became the new normal for the useful idiots.

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  1. I was taken aback by the complexity of the story here. This is some high-caliber writing and I’m pleased to have it here.

    One thing I wonder about: New Zion, as the successor to the USA, would have inherited a massive military. How would the Coalition — which seems as if it’s based in Europe — have been able to come in and impose its will? I infer some sort of global military conflict that New Zion lost. But the fact that the protagonist is working in a “Mission” rather than some sort of civil government suggests that perhaps the New Zion government and economy collapsed so completely of something that the Coalition was invited in as some sort of UN (or successor-to-the-UN) foreign aid mandate.

    It’s actually rather delicious to mull that one over a bit so don’t feel a need to clarify that any time soon, . Instead, know that I enjoyed the ever-loving snot out of this fine piece of dystopian writing.

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  2. Just a couple of comments off the upstream threads: When asked about my level of concern over Trump’s election, I’ve replied that it’s moderate. I’m not frightened so much of him; it’s those people who might follow after him, depending upon how destabilizing future events may be. If that betrays an expectation of Bad Moon Rising, well; so be it.

    Burt makes a good point about nominal Christianity and local coloration. This may be a bad analogy, but in San Francisco everyone is a “get along to go along” Giants fan (okay; except me: Go Dodger Blue!). In my experience, outside America’s urban areas many people are ‘surface Christians’ in that same way. Jesus is the home team: of course I’m a Christian, ya moron, and most everyone will show the team colors if necessary.

    For ‘Large-C’ Christians I know, their faith appears to inform their values, which they try to live by without fanfare. Judgement of others is frowned on — and if politics is mentioned at all, it’s an afterthought. By comparison, the values of small-c, radical conservative christians seem to lead their faith, and they have little hesitancy to render judgement. One is about perfectibility, a person at a time; the other believes political power and mass action are the the ways to bring the greatest number to salvation — and, punish the wicked and sinful.

    We could be dealt a bad Tarot hand in the future (which could more easily come from a very bad virus, a regional war, or a Crash of the Chinese economy, than Mr Trump). We may not — and if so, we may turn out to be more resilient and unified than we think.

    But societies that fragment follow a depressingly similar pattern, one where “get along to go along” isn’t enough. The strongest group(s) become dominant (here, radical political evangelicals), and suddenly living is less about ‘Freedom’ and more about Fealty — “If you want to survive you must belong”.

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  3. I found this to be very well written but I am not sure if the religious right is going to be able to impose theocracy.

    A lot of Evangelicals threw their vote behind Trump. I think they did so because of the Supreme Court. They certainly got the most sympathetic Veep and Attorney General nominations that they could. Yet they also had Ashcroft as Attorney General for a while and he might be even more sympathetic to the fundamentalist Christians than Sessions. Ashcroft attempted to enforce a kind of social conservatism but it failed.

    Frankly there is a numbers issue. There are not enough right-wing fundamentalists to occupy the vast geography and space that is the United States. At best they can turn select states into their havens but really it is mainly municipalities if that.

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    • — They got HB-2 passed, and North Carolina is not Mississippi.

      Plus we need to take into account the triple whammy of climate change, fossil fuel shortages, and economic collapse. Frightened people are stupid people. Desperate people are cruel. Sure, a vibrant America won’t turn to a god of hate. That’s not my fear.

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      • I’m somewhat more optimistic, but for some fairly dark reasons. To put it bluntly, there aren’t very many trans or gay people compared to straight cis people, so trans and gay rights require some level of empathy on the part of straight cis people to get to a majority coalition to resist their oppression. Brutally oppressing all women, on the other hand, means you can get to a majority of resistance with nothing but self-interest.

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  4. Excellent piece, !

    As for the how, it would take a considerable ‘come to Jesus’ event, where enough of the population was willing to accept that brand of evangelical politics because they were already highly sympathetic to it. IMHO, it would take either a near collapse of the economy, or a major disaster (like the Yellowstone Caldera letting go, or a meteor strike) to get enough people finding solace in evangelism.

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    • Thanks. Not sure it’s a matter of numbers, though. People in desperate circumstances will accept the rule of almost any group, if they seem reasonably able to provide stability and security. It’s a tradeoff — but I agree; things would have to be exceptionally bad for this to happen.

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  5. Good work, I am curious what the end conditions are. It sounded like a Coalition overcame the religious police state, but then some form of state justice apparatus came in to create trials and caseloads.

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