Willis Smith awoke to the sound of his radio alarm and rose from his bed. So began another day living under the System. There was no time to have breakfast, given the demanding hours required by his employer. Given the traffic patterns of his city, the only guaranteed way to be on time was to get up an hour earlier, which often meant that he arrived much earlier than necessary. In short, Willis’ commute added over two hours, there and back, to his working day, all unpaid naturally.
Willis hated driving. In reality he hated his car. It was a black hole sucking money out of his paycheck every six months or so when something would inevitably go wrong or need to be replaced. The only reason he had it was out of necessity; his city had poor public transport which could not serve his need to get to work. He could consider himself lucky, seeing as how some people were obliged to pick up their whole lives and relocate to another city or region just to find a livable wage. The System’s propaganda machine routinely attacked anyone unwilling to make any and every possible sacrifice to find employment. The System’s term for this was “personal responsibility.” Ordinary workers were not allowed to blame anyone but themselves for their plight, and thus Willis had only himself to blame as well. Rather than wake up two and a half hours earlier to catch a bus, transfer to another bus, and then walk for another fifteen minutes, he chose to have a car, and so he deserved all the headaches it caused him.
Listening to the radio helped to pass the time. Of course to hear the news and traffic he had to turn to the AM band, which was dominated by the Right party. Right party radio consisted of telling the listeners what they were supposed to fear the most at that particular time. The greatest fear was reserved for a shadowy, nebulous group known as the Terrorists, who came into the spotlight after a devastating attack they managed to pull off over a decade earlier. Several decades earlier, the people who would come to be known as the Terrorists used to be allies of the System against the Evil Empire. The task of the System’s propaganda organs was to convince the populace that the System and the Terrorists had always been enemies. Of course the Terrorists weren’t the only thing to fear. Right now the Center party was in power, and thus the Right party had to stoke the fears of their voting base. Thus they blamed immigrants, minorities, and the intelligentsia for destroying the “traditional nation.”
To be sure, the Center party used fear as a tactic as well. Typically this meant fear of the other party. No matter how similar, if not identical the positions of the Center party were to those of the Right party, the Center party’s representatives in the System’s propaganda organs insisted that any policy undertaken by one of their candidates could not possibly be worse than what a Right candidate might implement. Willis had been taught all his life that he lived in a democracy where he had the freedom to choose his representatives and that the government served at his consent, which he expressed when he voted in periodic elections. But deep down Willis and many others suspected that the two parties were merely different sides of the same coin. In every significant matter the parties were in total agreement. Part of the role of the propaganda organs was to distract the people from this crucial detail. The Right and Center were to be seen as mortal enemies. Hence every Right candidate was portrayed as the most conservative, and every Center candidate the most liberal. In fact, here in 2013, the Center’s president was said to be a follower of the Evil Empire’s ideology. Whatever the case, the System’s propaganda organs worked tirelessly to uphold the idea that the people had a choice.
Willis arrived at work, early as usual. Willis hated work. It’s not that he was lazy; in fact he had dreams of doing all kinds of work as a hobby. He wanted to build things with his hands in his spare time, but thanks to his job he had neither the spare time nor the money to engage in what he really wanted to do. He had no qualm with working for an employer, but he was more than overqualified for this job and he did not choose it freely. After months of searching, handing in applications, and having interviews all over the city, this was the only one which agreed to hire him at slightly above minimum wage. Moreover, it was the one place that would offer him full time employment and thus health insurance.
Once Willis clocked in, he was completely at the mercy of his employer. Since his earliest school years he was told how he had various freedoms, yet here he had none beyond those the employer decided to grant him. If he lived in a democracy outside of work, the workplace itself was in fact a dictatorship. He remembered during his education that they had a term for a system which reaches into every facet of people’s lives; they called it “totalitarianism.” Naturally Willis did not perceive that he lived in a totalitarian society. After all, he had been taught that totalitarianism means that the state intervenes in every sphere of life. Private business couldn’t repress people; only a state could do that. He had also been taught that he was free to choose any job he wanted, even if he inevitably chose the only job which was available. That his state-guaranteed constitutional freedoms were suspended once he entered the workplace went unnoticed.
Willis’ employer told him what to wear, how to act, when he could take a break, and generally dictated his behavior for eight hours. Despite all this, Willis counted himself lucky simply to have a job during these hard times. Willis did what he was told because the System’s schools and propaganda organs had told him and his parents that hard work is the path to success in life. The elite got to the top of society by hard work and above average intelligence. Willis never considered himself to be super-intelligent, but he had a good work ethic and he had put himself into debt just to get the college degree that the market was demanding at the time, that is to say it was in demand at the time he graduated High School. Now the market was looking for other skills, and Willis had nobody but himself to blame for not predicting what degrees would be in demand four years ahead of time.
After a hard day at work, Willis turned on the TV to catch the news as he ate his dinner. The President was explaining how the world needed to act with military force to protect the human rights of one particular faction in a civil war in a far off land. The people who apparently needed military intervention seemed suspiciously similar to the Terrorists, but the System’s media assured him that these were freedom fighters struggling to establish democracy. The media faithfully passed on all the government’s pronouncements. “Dictators” had to be overthrown, even when they were former allies of the System. Some dissidents accused the government of aggression and murder during similar military interventions in the past. However, the establishment insisted that any civilian deaths which might have been incurred were known as “collateral damage,” and of course the ends, whatever they were, justified the means. Even if, in retrospect, a particular military intervention turned out to be a failure, the government and its propaganda organs would insist that the failure was a fluke, and that the System intervened with the best of intentions but merely failed to live up to its past standards of morality. To question this was to invite all manner of hatred from the propaganda organs. Such people were accused of treason; their organizations were frequently monitored, infiltrated, and sabotaged by agents of the police and the propaganda organs refused to give them a platform to air their views. While the System claimed to grant them freedom of speech, they did not have the freedom to be heard. Forcing the System’s propaganda organs to give them any airtime would be a violation of the sacred principle of Private Property. Incidentally, Willis had once had strong feelings of dissent against one of the System’s wars, but he could never find the time to attend demonstrations. Even if he had found the time, there was always the risk that one of his managers, who he suspected disagreed with his views, might find out about it and fire him. It was, after all, at his discretion.
Next came business news. Various pundits talked about what the market was doing, what it demanded, and what needed to be done about it. One corporation managed to raise its profits by laying off a few thousand employees. In other global economic stories, people were protesting in some far off country against austerity measures. Despite previously electing a government that promised to stick up for them, it continued to implement the same measures it had pretended to oppose during the campaign. This seemed oddly familiar to Willis for some reason.
Just before going to bed, Willis turned on his computer to browse through his messages. On the social network (which was known to be accessible by the System’s intelligence agencies) he saw various people expressing different political opinions. The debates were heated but one thing was for sure, both sides agreed that the basis of the System, capitalism, must be preserved at all costs. If the free market had failed, the only possible alternative was to look to…the free market. Anyone suggesting otherwise must surely be an apologist for the old totalitarian Evil Empire. Willis knew the Evil Empire was evil because it had killed so many people. He didn’t know how many people the System had killed, because nobody ever bothered to count. Textbooks had told him which lives matter and which do not, just as it told him which countries were totalitarian and which were not. Comparing totalitarian societies to that of the System was taboo. After all, the Evil Empire had one party, but the System had twice as many! If there was a problem with the System, the System could fix itself, so long as people like Willis were willing to make any sacrifice to preserve the natural elite which led the country. If the elite failed to profit, Willis would not have his job that paid just over minimum wage.
Tired from a long day, Willis crawled into bed. It would be another long day tomorrow. Willis was glad he didn’t live in a totalitarian society. He was, after all, free.