Fosters Night By Paul deParrie

Chapter 6

           Sears had been introduced around. Already he was familiar with the layout of the main hill. The other hills, being almost exclusively housing, were unfamiliar territory. He ambled through the corridors almost unimpeded except where he got close to the work areas. Now, he headed toward a conference room where he had arranged to meet the Old Man.

           In the month since his "freedom," Sears had carefully checked out the marvels he had seen. His anklet was still a mystery. The halls were very adequately lit by what appeared to be a flexible neon tube about three-eighths of an inch in diameter. One of the children had shown him the beginnings of working a computer in one of the recreation areas. It was beyond anything he had even read.

           The "memory" for music, books -- whole libraries, in fact -- and nearly anything else, fit in small cubes of crystalline material.

           This can't be the commies, he thought. Aliens, perhaps?

           But nothing indicated that these were anything but human beings. He had finally completely given up on the communist conspiracy explanation -- and, eventually, the alien beings explanation.

           Remembering the old saw from Sherlock Holmes that after eliminating all the other possibilities, the only remaining possibility, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

           The time machine had worked! It was the only conclusion.

           But, how? He had only been sent to dismantle a portion that the others had said was unworkable. What had he done to make it work? Could he make it work again -- and could he reverse it to take him back?

           Oddly, Sears had always had his doubts about the Time Project, as it was not-so-cleverly called. His field had been electronics, not physics. And especially not what Dr. Halderbind had called chronophysics -- the physical properties of time -- a mix of what seemed to Sears to be philosophy, science, and magic.

           The Time Project was low-paying work, but he had no wife or children to support, so he decided to indulge his love for science-fiction and mingle it with his work. But time travel stories always required more of a suspension of disbelief than other science-fiction. He had regarded it as technically impossible.

           "If it is possible, it has already happened," he told his colleagues using the oldest anti-time travel argument in the books. "If it has happened, it would be known by now or someone has changed the past in such a way that it will not be invented."

           The others laughed.

           "You're presuming a lot of things -- that travel backward is possible, for one," Halderbind had told him. But this was as deep into theory as Sears could make it. Halderbind and two others ran the project, understood it, and Sears was merely a technician. "Another thing," Halderbind added, "is that we do not know if time travels linearly or if it branches into multiple possible futures with each decision. There could be a maze of futures out there."

           That day, they had sent him down to remove the component the scientists had designed to calibrate the amount of time they hoped to traverse. When Dr. Steele, the younger and more adventuresome of the trio, had made an attempt it had failed and they suspected that part.

           He had gone to the workspace below the glassed in control area toward the machine. He could see the vacuum tubes still glowing in the machine -- as it was still powered up. It was the last thing he remembered.

           With many victims of auto accidents, everything from a moment before the crash seemed to have been erased. This was similar. All he knew is that he remembered what he could only describe as a "brilliant black explosion," without being able to place it in the timeline of events, and that he awoke on the deck of the machine under an outcropping in the Arizona desert. His only hope was that time -- funny how the connotations of the use of that word had changed in Sears' mind -- would revive the memory of the events leading up to the operation of the machine.

           Isn't that ironic, Sears ruminated. They were the brains, but I'm the one who has traveled in time. I wonder where they think I've gone?

As to how he had moved from the California high desert to Arizona, Sears was developing a theory based upon his scant understanding of time travel.

           For one, the timing mechanism that instructed the rest of the machine how many hours to travel -- for it traveled only in increments of one hour -- was probably miscalibrated for the exact length of an hour. The tests were always set for 24-hour segments so as to calculate the machine arriving in the same place on the globe. Setting it for 23 hours, according to Halderbind, would land the machine one hour east. There was apparently a time-dimension to gravitation and the earth's magnetic field, because the time-shift did not leave one floating in outer space. Latitude changes were possible with proper calculation, but longitudinal changes were only possible with the actual moving of the machine.Dr. Steele's test had set for 490,996 hours -- 56 years, including leap days -- though he could not be sure that he had not been carried a shorter or longer "distance" in time.

           Even a slight miscalibration could have set off the arrival spot enough to land him in Arizona. Now, he was here. He would have to make the best of it.

           But since the revelation that the time machine had worked, Sears had kept mum. He wasn't sure if he wanted to -- or should -- reveal that secret. There was no telling what kind of effect that might have on these strange, semi-monastic people. He began looking for the escape -- the way to get back to the machine and see if he could make it work again -- in reverse.

           He contemplated how that might happen. Carefully, he tried to reconstruct what he had done that June day when he had been overtaken by the "brilliant black explosion" and found himself waking later with the machine under a sandstone outcropping.

           If he could remember, maybe he could figure something to try to reverse the action. Until then, he could wait. Keep quiet and wait. No man made system was perfect. Nature always eventually defeated man's innovations like a delicate flower poking its way up through the concrete.

           It was a philosophy. Even human nature would eventually break down the best system. People become accustomed to things -- and that's a weakness. Once he had thought through some idea of how to operate the machine, he would take advantage of that weakness and get out.

*      *      *

The pen in Foster's hand scrawled over the piece of paper. Text seemed to flow from his mind unabated as he carried sentence after sentence nearly without a pause. It was one of those days where he could put out page after page for hours on end. Foster felt a great satisfaction at these times, but still, when he thought about it, there seemed to be little sense to his endeavor.

           Who, for instance, he would wonder, will ever read this?

           But he did not wonder such things when the words rolled out of his mind and on to the page as they did this day.

           Foster had just finished writing when the Old Man came tapping at his door.

           "Come in," Foster called.

           The Old Man entered and carefully shut the door behind. "How are you feeling these days?" he asked.

           "A bit better, I suppose," he answered tentatively. "I've been thinking a lot lately, though."

           "About?" the Old Man ventured.

           "Well, about some -- for lack of a better term -- ultimate questions. I'm a little reluctant to put them to you, though, because I'm pretty sure of what you might answer -- given your religious beliefs and all."

           "Suppose you just tell me what you are thinking and risk getting a religious answer. After all, if a religious answer is the only one that fits, it might be worth investigating, huh?"

           Foster looked unsure for a moment, then shrugged and proceeded. "Well, suppose we assume -- as I do -- that either there is no God or He has no particular interest in human affairs. This belief leaves us on our own for everything, doesn't it? This may seem rather basic to you but I am beginning to see problems for analyzing our culture in some chapters I have yet to write unless I consider the ramifications of these beliefs. What is difficult for me is to see how my belief truly affects my world. I have some ideas but I'm not sure of their accuracy or completeness -- and, even at that, I'm not sure I like the conclusions I'm seeing. I mean, I have a sense of morality and I feel that man has some purpose or goal to strive for, but my basic beliefs give me no foundation for either morality or purpose. If, for instance, I am the accidental product of a Big Bang, a primal soup, and a series of chance mutations, the only purpose would be to survive by whatever means. That undermines any concepts of morality or higher purpose. Do you see my dilemma?"

           The Old Man's expression did not change. "I think so. Are you saying that your foundational assumptions do not support your concept of morality?"

           "That's the way it looks right now. I haven't thought it completely through but at the moment I haven't discovered a way to maintain even standard 'givens' like equality of rights and freedom from oppression. I've never really thought about this until recently when I heard someone else argue the point -- there must be something I'm missing. There's got to be."

           The Old Man shrugged. "Maybe there isn't. I always find it interesting to ask where man would 'evolve' a sense of morality in the first place. I can see that he might, out of necessity, evolve a legal system, but not an innate sense of right and wrong -- especially one that has so many similarities throughout the world. It is only in various 'civilized' times -- especially today -- that we find people who have no concept of right and wrong. We call them sociopaths, but maybe they are simply the next stage of evolution, huh?"

           "You have a point. A scary point," Foster answered leaning back in his chair until it touched the wall. "What does the next stage of evolution look like? I'm sure that we won't like the look of it any more than Neanderthal man liked Cro-Magnon. And I see your point about evolving a legal system. It would be like any other adaptation, a tool for survival like agricultural knowledge. But a moral sense? What kind of adaptation would that be?

           "I also see what else you are driving at. If a moral sense would be hard to explain as an evolutionary adaptation, where would the instinctive belief in the supernatural come in? Good questions. And ones I will have to study before I get on with some parts of this book. It wouldn't be complete without a look at the cultural mores."

           Foster picked up his pipe and began to load it with a plug of tobacco. The Old Man watched him work at lighting the moist, brown weed.

           "You know," said Foster, "maybe you could recommend some reading for me on this. I can put those chapters on hold for now and work on other parts that I am more settled about."

           The Old Man asked, "Have you ever read Abandon All Hope?"

           "Abandon All Hope? No," he said puffing at his pipe to keep it going. "I remember hearing about it. Wasn't it that a jeremiad by some would-be modern-day prophet?"

           "Right," the Old Man nodded.

           "I heard it was a lengthy tome pointing out many ills of American culture and predicting disasters for the U.S. as a result. The guy -- I can't remember his name -- who wrote it had a bad time getting it published but finally got 10,000 copies out from some small press in Oklahoma or someplace like that. I seem to recall that there was a call for a second -- and much larger -- printing but someone got an injunction against its distribution because it was a violation of some state hate crime laws. It was supposed to be anti-Jewish, anti-woman, and anti-gay. The author disappeared. Some of his supporters said it was a kidnap by the government. Others said that God had taken him to heaven. Some say he changed his identity and finally died as a street-person in New York."

           "You are correct about it being quashed," the Old Man said. "But the original books were passed around and copied by a select group of people despite the U.S. Marshal's court orders to round them up. I wouldn't want to color your thinking about the content, but I have a copy if you would be interested in reading it. I think you might be intrigued in his analysis of America and the outcome of his predictions."

           "I would like to read it," Foster answered. "I remember how upset I was hearing about the injunction and the Marshal's orders but there was not much I could do about it. A few of the newspaper's editors published opinions against it -- primarily because they thought that such a ruling would eventually affect their First Amendment rights. It was bald-faced censorship but the message of Abandon All Hope was unpopular enough that the civil libertarians would not defend it."

Raw Judicial Power
Increasingly, the courts took it upon themselves to fulfill the social agenda. Using psychological gulags helped them to maintain the appearance of "compassion." It worked for those whom the court thought they could "re-educate."
           But during social upheavals such as the one in the late-20th century, there are always those who are intractable. The court would find inventive ways of dealing with them. The worst possible danger is if the dissident is able to accurately tell his story to great numbers of people. Thus, in what should have been the bastion of the First Amendment -- the courts -- censorship was liberally practiced. In the beginning, these gag orders were most heavily used against anti-abortion activists -- a relatively unpopular group -- in the late 1980s and early 1990s. No one suspected that their group might be next.
           In 1989, attorney Cyrus Zal racked up over 290 days in jail for contempt of court for violating a judge's order to refrain from saying "God, Jesus, baby, or any reference to Deity" in court during the trials of participants of Operation Rescue.20
           Such rulings became the standard -- along with the denial of the use of viable defenses for these people. It was not long before the court's authority began to be exercised outside the courtroom as well. Injunctions were issued prohibiting anti-abortion "speech" on public sidewalks outside abortion clinics.
           In September 1990, U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara in Buffalo, New York issued a restraining order that prohibited persons from encouraging others to demonstrate at local abortion clinics.21
Among those listed in the order were local pastors who, when they asked for specific clarification, they were told that reading the text of Proverbs 24:11 which commands believers to "rescue those being dragged to slaughter" would violate the order -- even if it were read from the pulpit. Also in the order was a provision that these pastors "make a good faith effort to instruct all" to refrain from the anti-abortion demonstrations prohibited by the order.
           Just days later, Judge Louis Oberdorfer, ordered Operation Rescue and its director, Randall Terry, to pay $47,000 in fines and legal fees. The order stated that "any person or organization which assumes the bills, wages, or any other monetary obligation" of Operation Rescue or Randall Terry -- including Terry's personal bills -- would be subject to paying the entire $47,000, as would anyone encouraging others to help Terry or his group.
           Taken together, the courts now dictated what was not to be said and what was to be said by those holding anti-abortion beliefs and militated against any person or group desiring to help them or spread the message of their plight. Such tactics were never used against radical, violent, or destructive groups such as White Aryan Resistance, Earth First!, ACT-UP, or Epiphany Plowshares.
           What was completely amazing was that churches did not rise to meet this challenge of freedom of religion. After all, they were being told what to preach, what not to preach, and where they could or could not give charitably. But there was a deafening silence at this final turn. Once the courts had escaped censure over this abuse of power, all the stops came out. Contempt of court charges against idealistic activists who refused to pay fines became "life sentences on the installment plan."22            Everyone seemed surprised when the same arbitrary "justice" was later applied to them.

20 Against the Odds: Cyrus Zal, Paul deParrie, The Advocate, April 1990, p. 2, and The Accused Can Now Have His Say, Paul deParrie, The Advocate, October 1990, p. 18-19

21 Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, et. al., vs. Project Rescue Western New York, et. al., (CIV 90-1004A)

22 Anti-abortion activist, ChristieAnne Collins refused for conscience sake to pay a court-ordered $1,000 fine.

           "I'll send someone by this morning with a copy for you, Foster," the Old Man said. "When you finish, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about it."

           "Sounds good to me," Foster replied while trying to re-light the endlessly dying bowlful of tobacco. "Can't afford to waste this stuff," he added.

           The Old Man smiled, nodded, and left the room.

*      *      *

           "We must have more than the minimum of security we have had up to this point," the Old Man said steadily looking into the eyes of Martin Jackson, Major, U.S. Army, retired.

           The old soldier had helped set up a basic perimeter watch and selected a small handful of men to handle "security" needs within the community. Now the Old Man was virtually asking him to set up an army.

           "It's not like we don't have the weapons. And it's not like we don't have real enemies," the Old Man emphasized.

           "Yes," answered the Major. He was most often called Major Marty, or just Marty to others. He was near the end of his fifth decade when he had left the military -- and civilization -- in disgust. He had tried to just hide out in the mountains living out the rest of his days, but it was not possible. The cancer was even out there.

           Illegally, through some survivalist contacts, he had obtained a cache of weapons. The Second Amendment had long been relegated to a vestigial appendage.

           "I don't know how you acquired the guns. Many are really out of date but entirely serviceable. I think I can set up a Swiss system -- you know, a percentage of the men are always armed with military gear even while working and they become our rapid response while others go arm up. Does that sound okay to you?"

           "In fact, it does, Major," The Old Man replied. "The council has discussed that model and seems to favor it. Once you come up with a plan, let me know and I'll call a meeting. Of course, it will have to be approved again once we have our elected representatives in a couple of months."

           "Right," the soldier said. He stood, stretching his 6 foot frame, brushed back his cropped haircut as if he had long locks. "I'll get right on it. Do you have an inventory of the weapons and other gear available?"

           The Old Man was now turned back to his desk sorting through some papers. "Yes, I'll have it sent over to you today," he answered as he continued to burrow through the paper pile.The Major briskly left the office.

*      *      *

           "Mr. Foster?" the small voice of Lizard came from behind. Foster turned to see the small strawberry-blonde head poked through his door.

           "Come in, Lizard. What can I do for you?"

           "I was reading about different kinds of jobs people have in my reader -- and, well -- I was wondering about writing. My mom said I could do a report on whatever kind of job I wanted -- and I decided on writing."

           "Well, sit down and tell me what you need to know."

           Lizard was a bright young man. His academic level was several years beyond his chronology.

           "Mom says you used to write for a newspaper," he started. Foster nodded and Lizard continued, "What did you do? I mean, who decides what to write about? How do you find so many stories to fill all those pages?"

           "Hold it. Let's take one at a time," Foster answered.

           Is this what it's like to have a son? he asked himself.

           "First, the assignment editor decides what stories are covered. He picks them from several sources. Press releases -- which are announcements from people and groups who plan events that they think are news, from the wire -- stories sent from other cities and countries, or even police radio. He decides which reporters will be assigned to which stories. After the written stories come in, some editors decide which stories to print and which to toss out. After that, they are edited for length and laid out in pages to fit with the advertising that has been sold for that day's paper."

           "Dad used to say that the newspapers weren't fair, though. How come?"

           Foster felt the wound. "Newspaper writers are people -- people with their own ideas. They were supposed to not let their own ideas interfere with their writing, but it often did anyway. And editors could make different issues seem important or unimportant by the stories they printed or threw out."

           "How do you become a writer?" Lizard interjected as though he were finished with that particular end of the topic.

           "You have to do well on your English, for one," Foster said noting the frowning reaction of Lizard. "It helps to do a lot of reading -- and sometimes on subjects that are not your particular interest."

           "I already read a lot for my school," Lizard replied.

           He was schooled by his mother in their quarters. Lizard was one of the few children living in this mountain. Most of the families lived under the other two hills. Most were schooled in groups by resident teachers.

           "I would rather climb rocks."

           Foster smiled and nodded. "I'm sure you would, but we need smart young fellahs like you to be well taught."

           "But, why? Everybody says we'll be stuck out here for a long time. What good is an education out here?"

           "More than you think, Lizard. Besides, nobody knows how long -- or short -- we'll be out here. And education does more than prepare you for a job, it can help you just be a better person," Foster said.

*      *      *

The entrance to the caverns was in a shaded crook in the hillside and there was often a cool flow of air emitting from it during hot days like today. Foster pulled up a stool and sat leaning back against the rock wall. He held the book carefully. The binding was hard unlike the instant disposal, biodegradable books that the power of the environmental lobby had forced on the world.

           The new books, Foster thought, were symbolic of the transience of ideas within.

           As the book decayed, so did its ideology. Perhaps one of the motivations behind the hatred against Abandon All Hope was that its sturdy, cloth-covered, hard cover declared its contents to be more lasting than the temporal works of popular fashion. The world today bore an unquenchable hatred towards the idea of absolutes, permanence, or even objective beauty.

           Foster fingered the narrow book's fine pages. The publisher had made an extraordinary effort to release Abandon All Hope with a binding suitable to the importance of the message. There was a tactile sense of weight to the surprisingly thin volume -- a weight of thought, not of bulk. From the first words on the flyleaf, Foster was hooked. Before he had quite realized it, the first chapter was finished. Foster sat back hard at its end as if released from a taut string.

           "Pretty heavy stuff, huh?" the voice of Jones came from behind.

           "Well, its engrossing alright," Foster admitted.

           Jones walked over and sat on his haunches beside Foster's stool. He pulled a pencil out from behind his ear where his sandy hair had grown to cover almost to the earlobe. "That book seems to have the whole scenario laid out in advance," he said pointing the pencil toward the horizon and sweeping an arc. The outlined hills baked orange and brown in the direct, pressing sunlight. Lizards clung to the bellies of rocks in fear of the unforgiving sun. The pale blue sky held two ragged, skimpy clouds in search of water and shade.

           "The book is too accurate." Jones added. "Must be a prophet."

           "Or an extraordinarily insightful person," Foster added.

           "There's a difference?" Jones asked.

           "Well, I guess I see what you mean. I tend to think of a prophet as some wild-eyed lunatic holding a sign saying, 'The end is near,' but I suppose he would -- if he were worth anything -- have to be a clear thinker."

           "Right. If anyone was remembered as a prophet, he was not likely to have been truly loony," Jones said. "History would be against recording stories of nuts unless they had something going for them."

           "You're probably right about that much but this book has a lot of religious presumptions. I mean, when this guy says 'God is gonna get ya,' he is not using it in some Deist, Thomas Jeffersonian way. He actually means that a real God is going to take vengeance. That's a pretty arrogant position -- claiming to speak for God."

           "It would be, if it were not so, Foster," Jones retorted. "But suppose it were true. After all, his predictions are accurate."

           "As far as I've read," Foster admitted. "I have only gotten through one chapter so far. I'll have to read the rest."

           "You will," Jones stated flatly. "The best is yet to come."

           Foster opened the book again and his eyes fell on the title of the second chapter, Man as a God: The Failure of Existentialism. "When man masquerades as God, destruction will surely follow," the text began. "Existential man is adrift in a non-existent universe, or at least a universe where nothing real exists."

Foster stopped. It reminded him of the conversation with the Old Man about moral absolutes.

Arbitrary Truth
If there is anything that is the earmark of our time it is syncretism. All beliefs are simply rolled into a homogeneous mass and assigned equal value. The only acceptable absolute is that there are no absolutes. All truths have equal acceptance, so long as they do not contest the primacy of the official truths. Believe what you want, but burn the incense to Caesar.
           This tolerance for all ideas sounds wonderfully liberating until one puts it into practice. There is a remarkable difference between syncretism and freedom of speech. One postulates the equality of the ideas themselves the other grants only equal rights in expressing the ideas but recognizes implicitly that ideas will be accepted or rejected upon their merits. This process of selection requires an educated ability to discriminate between the precious and the vile -- an ability almost entirely lacking in our times.

           The subversive effect of this syncretism is to throw confusion even on the concepts of right and wrong. It assumes that no standard of behavior is inviolable, but that said standards are transitory. Societies can plod along fairly well if there is a consensus on good and evil -- even when there is no supernatural restraint. But such cultures must invest in propagandizing their citizens with those values.
           In our time, the process of propagandizing itself was called into question. Previously, the consensus was based on a Biblical concept of right and wrong to which even unbelievers agreed. But that anchor had been cut loose for decades when the new doctrine of "pluralism" (effectively the same as syncretism) was being established. No one, it was said, could decide right and wrong for another. The idea of authority was not recognized. The popular bumper sticker read, "Question Authority."
           The advice was widely taken and each person became their own authority to arbitrarily -- without reference points -- determine good and evil. Man became his own God and, instead of bringing creation out of chaos, he brought chaos to all of creation.

*      *      *

           Foster sat leaning his head over his desk kneading his forehead with stubby fingers. He held his face cradled and closed his eyes. In his mind, he was casting about for the next words he would use for his story. But discussions he had had with community people on spiritual subjects intruded, shouldering aside his desire to work on the project. Over and over, the arguments would flow past that mental screen despite his attempts to focus on his work. He was just about to surrender progress on his project and go for a walk when there was a shuffling outside his door -- then a knock.

           "Yeah," he called. "Be right there."

           When he opened the door, the large frame of Jones filled the rectangle. He was not carrying any scrolls or tools of his trade which suggested that he was not merely on his way to one of his work-sites.

           "The Old Man says you've never actually seen the vaults," Jones invited. "I thought you might want to come along and let him give you a tour. They are only opened every six months, you know."

           "So I've heard," Foster replied reaching for a light wrap to ward off the coolness of the tunnel.

           Together they walked toward the preparation room. Foster had been here on several occasions. Electrical conduits crawled the walls of this room and lead back to the generators located in a cavern nearer the surface. Heat differential generators chugged out the vital juice for the prep room's microfilm equipment and computers.

           "The goal is to get every book in two print copies, two disk copies, and one copy in microfilm for the vault. We don't know how long this darkness will last or if anyone will still remember how to use a microfilm reader or a computer, but these things do not rot like paper," Jones said. "Over through that arch is where books are treated. Even old, pre-biodegradable books had a lot of acid in their paper making them more subject to decay. We have a solution that will neutralize most of that reaction."

           Foster saw men and women busily engaged in photographing books or typing them on to computer screens. None looked up from their tasks. As they entered the next area, there was a pungent odor that Foster had smelled occasionally on the clothing of some in the community.

           "The smell is the neutralizing solution," Jones said anticipating Foster's question. "It evaporates very quickly and recirculating the air for this room is nearly impossible. There have been no harmful effects linked to this stuff but many of the workers prefer to wear gloves and masks anyway.

           "Dollies with large tires stood at the far end of the room at the mouth of a large tunnel. Crates of books and boxes of microfiche and computer disks were loaded on the carriers. The Old Man stood out, even among the large men who were preparing to push the loads toward the tunnel. Another smell caught Foster's nose. It was the sharp smell of Plexiglas as it is cut in a band-saw. Immediately his memory was transported back to high school shop classes where the material was all the rage to work with. Foster could see that they were making sealed containers in which to store books. Each worker had a list of dimensions for specific books and he would make a case for it, place a book and a label inside, and seal the lid with silicone glue.Foster and Jones crossed the room unnoticed until they had nearly reached the group.

           "Ah, Foster! Jones! So glad you could make it. We're just about to go."

           And the Old Man signaled the others who began to push the carts into the passageway. Foster had wondered why all these beefy men were selected for this job but that soon became apparent. There was no difficulty in moving the loads forward. The trick came in not allowing them to get moving too quickly on the mild downward grade. A handle on the carts contained a brake but this alone was not sufficient for the long corridor that they planned to traverse.

           The Old Man walked behind the ungainly caravan. "We only open the vaults every six months because we want as little disruption down here as possible. The more that we are down there, the better the possibilities of a tragic accident that could destroy computer disks or microfilm or books. We wait until we have a load like this to go in and store before we open the vault."

           "Who decides what goes in?" Foster asked."The final decision is mine, I suppose," the Old Man admitted, "but I get a lot of suggestions from the community. I'm no absolute authority on what is great writing. Of course when one goes back four or five centuries, it becomes easier. Most books that saw print at all were of some value. With the advent of movable type, and finally speed presses, the process itself was less discriminating. Printing was cheap enough that the publishers could afford to print more and more so-called pulp material -- though even some of that was quite good. An example is the whole field of science fiction was considered pulp, but some of the pieces were well worth preserving -- Martian Chronicles, The Foundation Trilogy, and others. All told, though, the art of writing was in decline."

Awash in Books
           The unstoppable roll of a declining society had been unmistakable for decades. Few put it (or much of anything else) as cogently as Malcolm Muggeridge.
           "It has long seemed abundantly clear to me that I was born into a dying, if not already dead, civilisation, whose literature was part of the general decomposition; a heap of rubble scavenged by scrawny Eng. Lit. vultures, and echoing with hyena cries of Freudians looking for their Marx and Marxists looking for their Freud. This, despite adam's apples quivering over winged collars to extol it, and money, money, money, printed off and stuffed into briefcases to finance it. At the beginning of a civilisation, the role of the artist is priestly; at the end, harliquinade. From St Augustine to St Ezra Pound, from Plainsong to the Rolling Stones, from El Greco to Picasso, from Chartres to the Empire State Building, from Benvenuto Cellini to Henry Miller, from Pascal's Pensees to Robinson's Honest to God . A Gadarene descent down which we all must slide, finishing up in the same slough."24
           In my own view, the decline was sped along the fast-track by the dual curses of declining reading ability and the constant output of greedy publishing houses providing literary swill aimed at the lowered reading level.
           Much of the worst in books was now defended loudly as appropriate for schools by free press advocates.But it was not so much that some wanted the books banned or censored, but that they felt that students should be reading books that would stretch their abilities rather than pander to their stagnant desires. Vapid titillation became the mark of the modern "classics" -- the notables of the Times Best Sellers List (and it is notable that, to the public, great writing was signified in sales rather than standards of literature).
           Fawning "critics" filled the daily newspapers with hyperbole puffing every new fashionable novel. Superlative followed superlative as each new release was touted as "the most important book of the year" followed the very next week by "the most important book of the decade."
           Bryan F. Griffin noted, "And therein lay the tragedy of the awful spectacle: the few serious books of the grimly flippant century were being buried by the avalanche of mass-produced 'importance.'"25
Meanwhile, the public went on blindly presuming that they were reading "important" books when , in fact, they were imbibing entertaining propaganda.

24 Chronicles of Wasted Time: I. The Green Stick, William Morrow & Co., New York, 1973, p. 151

25 Panic Among the Philistines, Regnery Gateway, Chicago, 1983, p. 49

            The thick door drew back at the Old Man's urging. There was an antechamber which measured 20 by 25 feet and contained pictograph instructions on elementary phonics and reading. the second door, at the far end, held a sign that gave plain English instructions on opening the vault.

            "We hope that whoever discovers this chamber will learn to read a little before entering the actual vault -- if they don't remember," the Old Man explained.

           He then opened the second door. Inside were rows of dimly lit shelves where the Plexiglas containers stood in file. In the far left were a computer and a microfilm reader within an acrylic casing. Instructions for its removal were given in both English and pictographs as were the instructions to operate the machinery.

           "We can't depend on our discoverers to patiently master the lessons of the antechamber before entering the vault, so we have used both forms of instructions."

           "What about power," Foster asked.

           The Old Man pointed to the pictographs again. Foster could see that the plaque labeled "I" showed a man pouring a liquid into a box. "This shows how to activate the battery with solution -- it will keep longer without the stuff inside -- and then how to crank the generator until the telltale showed a charge," The Old man explained.            "Seems like you've thought of everything," Foster said.

           "We've probably thought of most things," Jones injected. "But we haven't even come close to covering for everything that could happen."

           Foster looked about the dimly lit cavern and shivered as he recalled what he had read of the first Dark Age.

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