From afar, perhaps looking down on the country – or even the world – from a great height, nothing much changes over the next few days. The world will turn, the shadow of night will be cast over lands, and billions of flickering lights will briefly illuminate the landscape. The dawn will come again, bringing light and warmth, and the cycle will repeat. The world will carry on, as it has done for countless eons, only the recent web of illuminated lands mark where people will be born, live, dream, and die; all in the otherwise empty night.
But for millions, tomorrow marks the last day of one particular political and economic structure, and the strange, hard-to-understand, start of another. Abrupt, yet not abrupt at all. Impactful, yet intangible. Starting on the first day of the second month of the year, yet not truly realised for years to come. To some, it is a victory of independence and the right to self determination. To others, it is the loss of a unified future; the murder of an optimistic dream at the hands of others.
There have been impassioned words spoken in both favour of and against this change. There have been lies told, rules broken, and vast propaganda wars wrought. Hatreds have been stoked and cruel words spoken. Divisions have been torn through the fabric of society. Some would argue the divisions were always there, and they may even be right. But now they are real. Felt. Visceral. As tangible a divide as any other that we find in our society, be it religious leaning, racial origin, political philosophy, sexual orientation, empirical aspiration. All of these have, in the past and present, been cause for division, hatred, war and death. Now we have another to focus on, too: Unification or Separation.
Some argue that only unification, bringing more and more of the world together under an umbrella of cooperation, can lead to the long-term improvement of humanity. Others argue that humanity works better in smaller communities that work to benefit themselves first, but still cooperate with the wider international community. Some espouse the benefits of a global society, and others call foul, seeking to explain the benefits of global competition.
In these enlightened times, we put the complex question to our population. We flexed the muscle of our democratic institution and we put the tools of our binding philosophy of voice to the test. We asked ourselves who we want to be. And then, in answering that question, we tore ourselves apart. It is important to remember that the very nature of the question we asked, and the forum we asked it on, is not one immune to outside influence. Only the most passionate and headstrong among us can be certain that the answer we got was pure and free of corruption or external influences; of manipulation toward ends that went beyond the question asked. Some say that perhaps we asked the wrong question when deciding the future of millions, both inside and outside of our country. Or perhaps we should have asked more than one.
These are all grand things to consider. Whatever comes next is genuinely unknown, though the voices of these past years are clear in their belief that it is not unpredictable. An entire industry of consultants have earned vast sums of credits, making predictions and leading businesses in directions that may or may not be correct. Only the most stalwart, false, optimistic, stubborn or foolhardy can have the confidence to really say what will happen. No one actually knows. The historians of the future, they will know; we just have to try to get there. No one will ever know what else could have been.
In the aftermath of this rending, the ‘winners’ magnanimously talk of healing the societal divide. They carefully skirt the topic of their involvement in the rift, or talk on plurality of opinion. The suggestion seems to be that to heal, those that ‘lost’ must now unilaterally agree with, believe in, and support the ‘victorious’ opinion. It is an authoritarian attitude, one that does not allow for the very nature of society, or of human behaviour.
Our society works because we choose to accept that a plurality of opinions and beliefs, sometimes even contrary ones, can cooperate to the benefit of all. Or at least enough to allow us to coexist. But the particular split we face was, in many ways, founded on the rejection of that tenet. So the ‘winners’ naturally wish to extend the argument further down the chain. Break, they argue. Break and support us.
They fail to understand the mistake they are making. They don’t even agree with themselves. How could anyone agree with all of their differing views of who they even are? Do they chose to ignore that the newly repressed feel exactly the same as they did, before; unrepresented, sidelined, downtrodden and wronged? That they are, in victory, creating another loop of the cycle that drove their own anger?
The enormous forces behind the momentum that has divided us are not stupid. They know what they have awoken, and they know what they have done. They know what it could become. They all now, fervently, hope that the perceived benefits – if not actual benefits – will at least give the illusion of an outcome that is beneficial to all. If it doesn’t, it will be all too easy to blame the ‘other’ side – the ‘other’ faction – for not falling in line. For being human. For having passion of their own. And this will further the divide. How much deeper can we delve, before the darker of human emotions begin to rise? Are we tunneling into Moria?
For me, as I bend under the bright illumination of a flex-lamp, gently brushing acrylic paint onto a small plastic model, these considerations do not change my immediate life. The chair I sit on creaks as I shift on it. A bolt is coming loose and needs to be tightened. My elbows rest on the cheap desk, bracing to allow my wrists superior control, working with model and brush. The desk is made of low-cost materials and bought for a small sum of credits. I had scheduled it for disposal, before redeploying it as a crafting point in my hab.
It is late – I chose to wait for the hab’s evening auto-heating cycle, before I started painting. I didn’t want to waste the energy supply, and my fingers felt too chilled, earlier than that. So I sit, as the world turns onward to that momentous point at midnight tomorrow, and I paint.
My worries, selfishly, focus on the industry in which I work, and the credits that I earn. Will it experience a downturn, or will it be able to focus on its own ongoing issues, sheltered from wider economic impacts? Will the source of my monthly income be able to sustain, or preferably even increase, my credit-flow? Will the impact of this change cause a jump in cost-of-living, whether it be true or opportunistic? Will the same supplies be as readily available as before?
Then there are the grander thoughts, too. How does our society move forwards? Who has the right answer? How will we treat those on each side of the argument, in years to come? Am I an enemy to some, and a friend to others, simply because of the answer I gave to a question that was asked? I don’t want to be.
I barely speak to my own father, anymore. I’m not immune to the impacts of the arguments that have raged, though I tried to remain balanced. But I see the hatred, the bile, the accusation and the vindictive, gloating venom with which arguments have been deployed, and I can’t help but feel ashamed by the behaviour on display. He doesn’t know that, or understand what I see. He would, I feel, be incapable of understanding my view.
My future has changed. The dream I had was taken away from me, and I’m told I must now support the dream I disagreed with. I appreciate that I was at least asked, but I dislike the answer that was accepted, and I dislike that we emboldened some of the groups who gave it. Personally, I hope that I continue to have enough credits to get by, and I worry that I will not. Societally, I worry at who we are becoming, and how we will ever reach up so high and so far towards the vaulting future I once dreamed of. I worry that it may have been lost, for generations to come.
But I also know that there are those out in the world who are delighted, and excited, for what is to come; celebrating the change, and believing that for them, at least, the future will be profitable. They now believe that they have the freedom to make the decisions they want and build the world that they want. They have been as oppressed as I now feel, as lost as I now am, and they now believe it is their time to be ascendant. I don’t agree with them, but I at least can imagine how they must feel.
Speeders zip past outside, and a hyper-transit drifts silently in the night sky, carrying passengers from one part of the world to another. It moves at a speed that simply cannot be perceived, from down here on the ground. How much will each life that passes be affected, and how many of them, too, have these worries?
I do not know. The future, in both intention and uncertainty, shifts in a shrouded and out-of-focus mask. The hints I see of it, I find disturbing. I do not like them. I try to contain my fear, and focus on the small things. I cannot, right now, change anything in my own immediate future, not for the better.
I stretch my back, slipping out of the pool of lamp-light as I work out a crick, then I lean back in. I dip my brush and rest back onto my elbows. I paint.