Ups and Downs
Recently by Christopher Manion: The Ten Percent Solution
Amabo was from another planet. He arrived on earth in the year 2020 to see if was worth staying. His name meant "I will love" in Latin, but he didn't know that, because he didn't know Latin. Spelled backwards, his name meant something else, but he didn't know that, either. But he was here to learn.
Amabo happened to land in the United States. Everywhere he saw signs. They read, "They Keep Us Safe!" The sign had a picture of a grim androgynous face above a uniform. That made Amabo curious. He started poking around. Since he came from a smart planet — a brilliant one, in fact — Amabo caught on fast. It didn't take him long to discover that there were two kinds of people in America. The Uniformed People (UP) — and everybody else.
Amabo recognized that this was artificial and unnatural. It turned the laws of nature upside down. Amabo did not find this reassuring. He regarded the laws of nature with reverence: without them, his ship would have disintegrated long before reaching Earth.
Amabo noticed that the Uniformed People lorded it over everyone else. They acted as though putting on their uniform had doubled their IQ. Amabo called them the "Ups." The Ups looked down their noses at normal people, and considered them backward, ignorant, even subhuman. So Amabo came to call normal people the "Downs."
What a queer sort of gravity, he thought. Why do so many people acquiesce to it?
Like normal people throughout the universe, Amabo believed in law. For him, it was as natural as the music of the spheres. But he was perplexed to find that, in America, anyone in a Uniform could break the law. This aggravated his senses. But the fact was inescapable: the Uniformed People were different from everybody else. While the vast majority of people he met had a basic sense of right and wrong, the Uniformed People were above all that. Of course, Amabo knew that was silly, because the least among the people on his planet was far above any of the Ups. He shrugged. The Ups were just dangerous and delusional, he decided.
Amabo marveled. If a man without a Uniform walked onto a playground and physically assaulted a young girl playing there, he spent 20 years in prison. But in any airport, an Up wearing a TSA Uniform could assault the same young girl without fear of reprisal. And he could do it all day. "I love my job!" Amabo heard an Up shout, as he assaulted another one.
Amabo had heard about that kind of love. It made him angry, which was rare on his planet. He found an old book by a saint (a category that Amabo found mystifying, but also exhilarating). The saint's name was Augustine. He wrote that the "earthly city" was "ruled by the lust of rule." Members of the "earthly city" loved power above all else, especially power over their equals.
To Amabo, that described the Uniformed People. He marveled at their contemptuous ignorance, but he also acknowledged their earthly success. He noticed that, in airports, the crowds were not outraged when confronted by constant abuse by the Ups. In fact, the Downs cowered — surprisingly, even the parents of children assaulted by the smug Ups looked on helplessly. Why, an Up could even make an entire crowd undress and nothing would happen to him!
It wasn't just the airports. As he roamed the country, Amabo learned that murder was severely punished in America — often by execution. He winced, but recognized that murder is an awful, barbaric act. When Downs committed murder in America, they paid a heavy price.
But not the Ups. Amabo marveled: if a policeman kills you, he gets a promotion. For the same crime a Down would pay with his life — or at least with life without parole. An IRS Up can rob you under threat of deadly force; without the Uniform, a Down would receive twenty years in jail for that — or, if his victim had Concealed Carry, he could get a bullet between the eyes. An Up called a "Mayor" can bulldoze your house and give your land to his pals. A Down trying this would briefly experience a loud shotgun blast; later, a used bulldozer would be for sale.
And there's more. Amabo trembled. He realized that an Up with a sophisticated airplane ("Sophisticated! What a laugh," chuckled Amabo, whose children had toys that could fly rings around it) can secretly blow innocent civilians to smithereens and get a medal, while a Down who makes the incident public is regarded as a terrorist.
Amabo was pensive. He had read Lenin. "The purpose of terror is to terrorize," Lenin said. But who was terrorized among the people he saw? The Ups? Or the Downs?
Amabo learned that "ethics" comes from the Greek ethike, "habits." The ancient Greeks had discovered a timeless truth that was true on Amabo's planet too: to preserve liberty, good habits were not only important, they were indispensable — not only in the young, but in the society at large. And virtues — like fortitude, courage, and justice.
Amabo knew that, in a surprisingly similar way, from his home planet. It cheered him up.
But the Ups that Amabo observed had twisted it all around. They tried to inculcate bad habits. They acted like the tyrants Amabo read about. Some Ups began the process by pretending to advocate "diversity," instead of virtue, but they soon came to know better. Take "diversity" to its logical conclusion, and pretty soon everybody would be acting like an Up. That's no good.
Other Ups knew better: in order to preserve their Uppityness, they realized that good people must be corrupted. That meant destroying good habits that had developed over the centuries — simple civic virtues as hard work, modesty, and respect for others' persons and property. For the Ups to stay Up, these virtues must first be coarsened, then redefined, and finally transformed until, in their perverted form, they become the domain of the Ups alone. The Downs must be made to believe that all virtue flows from the benevolent Ups. Only then can they be made to feel glad to be Down — to accept their abject condition, even be grateful for it. Amabo had read about that in a book by Aldous Huxley: "I'm so glad I'm not an Alpha," said a girl named Lenina. Thank Ford she was only a Beta!
Yes, after a while the Downs had come to believe that, without the Ups, they would soon be living fearful lives that were Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish, and Short. Oh, how the Grateful Downs actually loved the Ups! "They keep us safe," the downtrodden Downs told Amabo again and again.
Amabo was especially pleased when he found a little chapter in an old book by a foreigner (like Amabo). His name was Hayek. "Why the worst always rise to the top," it read. Amabo realized that Hayek was right. The Ups had convinced people that bad is good — that Down is Up. It had worked.
Amabo traveled throughout America. In one airport after another, he observed the salacious jabs, the brazen grips, and the ubiquitous "Get Undressed Now" Code (GUNC). He realized that Hayek was right: the Ups are the Worst, and they had risen to the top. When they got there, they had to reach down — way down — and hire the scum of the earth to do their dirty work.
Amabo realized that it was just a matter of time before they emptied the prisons in their next hiring binge.
"We've got an Opt-Out," yelled the TSA Up.
"Step over there to the Waterboard, lady!" ordered an Up officer. He wore a bright and shiny badge.
Amabo sighed. He watched the grandmother limp slowly over to the side of the room where the hoses were. She groaned as they strapped her tightly to the board. The other passengers looked away and tried to ignore her gurgled screams. After all, the Ups protected us from the Terrorists! Obviously, anyone who resists must be a Terrorist! After all, they keep us safe!
Amabo could no longer stand the pain — especially the pain deep inside his conscience. Amabo went home.
November 10, 2010
Christopher Manion [send him mail] is a columnist for The Wanderer, America's oldest independent Catholic newspaper, founded in 1868. He is president of Manion Music, LLC, which produces copyrighted, royalty-free music collections for telecommunications media and commercial and hospitality sites that use background music or music-on-hold. He writes from the Shenandoah Valley, where he is a volunteer Spanish translator for local law enforcement.
Copyright © Christopher Manion 2010. All Rights reserved.