It was a hot winter’s day. The prime minister, Onan Hash, and his deputy, the minister for economic decline, Nat Eb, were spending the day on strategy. They’d decamped to Hash’s beach-front cottage on the west coast of Scotland.
Onan Hash shoved the rowing boat over the pebbles and waded in, turning it round to face the open sea. As he hopped in, Eb took up the oars and began to row. Hash watched him as he looked to the shore where the security guards in black suits waited; their shaven heads could be seen bobbing up and down above the crest of the rise towards the road. There was an occasional flash of sunlight from their black glasses.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Hash. “And the answer is ‘no’. It’s a not a dictatorship. Just because we have a few guys with guns, everyone has that.”
“But it’s not British,” said Eb. “It’s just not the way we do things. I don’t like it.”
“And we let the deniers get away with it? Nat, we’ve been here a thousand times, and I’m not going to discuss it any more.”
Nat Eb tugged at the oars. A host of sea birds swirled around the cliffs to the north of the bay: all manner of gulls, but he could also make out fulmars and kittiwakes. They had retaken the sea that was rightfully theirs, thought Eb. Since diesel engines had been banned (Noises and Nuisances Act, 2024) and fisherman had returned to sail and oar, the coast was still and the seas heaved with fish. That kept Nat Eb going: the power of nature to recover.
“Anyway, there’s proof that we aren’t a dictatorship,” said Hash.
“Intellectuals,” said Onan Hash. “Intellectuals. Look, in dictatorships intellectuals get shot, imprisoned, sent to work on farms… sent into exile. They end up working as cleaners. In the old market dictatorship, intellectuals ended up being forced to work as bankers and consultants. Terrible waste of human talent, that.” Hash shook his head gravely.
“Not in the Soviet Union,” countered Eb, as he puffed away at the oars. He paused and the boat bobbed in the waves. “They developed nuclear weapons and sent people to the moon.”
“They were scientists, not intellectuals. Big difference,” said Hash. “Dictatorships can’t handle intellectuals. We can. So we aren’t a dictatorship.”
“Sure you don’t want to do some work?” asked Nat Eb, who was tiring at the oars.
“No thank you,” replied Hash. “I’m quite comfortable like this.” Hash expanded on the topic of intellectuals. “The difference is that we got them working instead of worrying about things. They built us the AAK  so that we had hard copies of everything and our knowledge didn’t all disappear when we could no longer keep all the server centres running. And the PSA .”
“Don’t forget CERN,” panted Eb.
The Centre for Electronics Replacement Networks was a multi-billion pound program aimed at developing forms of mass communication without using electricity and electronics. Hash and Eb had realised years ago that instant, global communication networks would start to fragment once electricity supply became unreliable. They also believed that IGCNs were vital for preventing people from slumping into lethargy, depression and loneliness. Good messages needed to be spread globally to keep hope alive.
“Although,” mused Hash, “those were really scientific efforts. I was thinking more of the PIBBR.”
A seagull banked in the wind above their heads and Nat Eb paused to watch it. The Policy Institute for Belief, Behaviour and Restraint was the true haven for intellectuals. It was the first centre for belief economics – where intellectuals were employed in vast numbers to devise government policies for changing peoples’ beliefs in an ethical way, so that people would begin, of their own accord, to practise restraint in their ambition and their consumption. Next to technological development and population management measures, BBR was the third arm of policies to reduce the impact of humans on other living species.
“If we were a dictatorship, there wouldn’t be 40,000 intellectuals employed in the PIBBR, would there? Come on, Nat, it’s the intellectuals who develop our policies for us! How could anyone say that they are suppressed? For goodness sake, they can finally say that they are doing something useful.”
Just then Hash looked up. Fifty yards in front of them was a small rowing boat. In it sat a man, and Hash realised he was shouting at them.
“Hold on, Nat, stop rowing a second. What’s that chap over there saying?”
They strained their ears and listened in the noise of sea and wind and shrieking gulls. The bloke was waving his arms and shouting. They made out “Help, help”, and then as they rowed closer: “I’m taking in water, I’m going down.”
So Nat Eb redoubled his efforts and rowed as hard as he could towards the stricken boat. “We’re coming,” cried Hash heroically, and he saw ahead of him not a stranded fishing boat but a treasure ship laden with political capital – the fishermen were angry and embittered by his policies which put the wellbeing of ocean life before their own interests; here was a chance to show them that he loved them. And as they approached the boat, the fisherman cried with relief and joy that he was about to be saved, and Hash roared encouragement above the sound of the gulls, “Steady, hold her steady, Nat,” and he leant forward to hold the side of the other boat, and then the fisherman made a lunge for Hash’s boat and he didn’t make it. One instant he was mid-air between the boats, the next instant he was flung into the sea by a bullet which ripped off the side of his skull, and then a sharp retort was heard from the shore. When the security of the prime minister is at stake, security men act first and ask questions later.
Hash tried to rationalise things on the way back to the beach. “Look, he’s probably killed thousands of fish in his life; hundreds of thousands… Millions possibly. You could kind of say he had it coming. We’ll sort it out with the security people and the family will be looked after. It was a fishing accident…”
But Nat Eb was shaken and pondered long and hard about dictatorship and violence, fishermen and intellectuals, about justice and about ends and means.
- Hash is referring to the Archive of All Knowledge.
- The Practical Skills Archive was established as a place where people could go and learn practical skills which convenience technology had all but extinguished from society: cooking, mending and repairing, growing food, making clothes and many more. There was even a course in walking for car owners.