Dagens ord

Ansvar väger tyngre än frihet - Responsibility trumps liberty

21 juni 2019

Windup Girl: En skarp betraktelse

Ur romanen The Windup Girl av Paulo Bacigalupi:

Chaiyanuchit understood what was at stake, and what had to be done. When the borders needed closing, when ministries needed isolating, when Phuket and Chiang Mai needed razing, he did not hesitate. When jungle blooms exploded in the north, he burned and burned and burned, and when he took to the sky in His Majesty the Kings dirigible, Jaidee was blessed to ride with him.

By then, they were only mopping up. AgriGen and PurCal and the rest were shipping their plague-resistant seeds and demanding exorbitant profit, and patriotic gene rippers were already working to crack the code of the calorie companies' products, fighting to keep the Kingdom fed as Burma and the Vietnamese and the Khmer all fell. AgriGen and its ilk were threatening embargo over intellectual property infringement, but the Thai Kingdom was still alive. As others were crushed under the calorie companies' heels, the Kingdom stood strong.

Embargo! Chaiyanuchit had laughed. Embargo is precisely what we want! We do not wish to interact with the outside world at all.

And so the walls had gone up -- those that the oil collapse had not already created, those that had not been raised against civil war and starving refugees -- a final set of barriers to protect the Kingdom from the onslaughts of the outside world.

As a young inductee Jaidee had been astounded at the hive of activity that was the Environment Ministry. White shirts rushing from office to street as they tried to maintain tabs on thousands of hazards. In no other ministry was the sense of urgency so acute. Plagues waited for no one. A single gxnehack weevil found in an outlying district meant a response time counted in hours, white shirts on a kink-spring train rushing across the countryside to the epicenter.

And at every turn the Ministry's purview was expanding. The plagues were but the latest insult to the Kingdom's survival. First came the rising sea levels, the need to construct the dikes and levees. And then came the oversight of power contracts and trading in pollution credits and climate infractions. The white shirts took over the licensing of methane capture and production. Then there was the monitoring of fishery health and toxin accumulation in the Kingdom's final bastion of calorie support (a blessing that the farang calorie companies thought as land-locked people and had only desultorily attacked fishing stocks). And there was the tracking of human health and viruses and bacteria: H7V9; cibiscosis111b, c, d; fa' gan fringe; bitter water mussels, and their viral mutations that jumped so easily from saltwater to dry land; blister rust. . . There was no end to the duties of the Ministry.

Jaides passes a woman selling bananas. He can't resist hopping off his bike to buy one. It's a new varietal from the Ministry's rapid prototyping unit. Fast growing, resistant to makmak mites with their tiny black eggs that sicken banana flowers before they can hope to grow. He peels the banana and eats it greedily as he pushes his bike along, wishing he could take the time to have a real snack. He discards the peel beside the bulk of a rain tree.

All life produces waste. The act of living produces costs, hazards and disposal questions, and so the Ministry has found itself in the center of all life, mitigating, guiding and policing the detritus of the average person along with investigating the infractions of the greedy and short-sighted, the ones who wish to make quick profits and trade on other's lives for it.

The symbol for the Environment Ministry is the eye of a tortoise, for the long view -- the understanding that nothing comes cheap or quickly without a hidden cost. And if others call them the Turtle Ministry, and if the Chaouzhou Chinese now curse white shirts as turtle's eggs because they are not allowed to manufacture as many kink-spring scooters as they would like, so be it. If the farang make fun of the tortoise for its slow pace, so be it. The Environment Ministry has ensured that the Kingdom endures, and Jaidee can only stand in awe of its past glories.

And yet, when Jaidee climbs off his bicycle outside the Ministry gate, a man glares at him and a woman turns away. Even just outside their own compound -- or perhaps particularly there -- the people he protects turn away from him.

Jaidee grimaces and wheel his cycle past the guards.

The compound is still a hive of activity, and yet it is so different from when he first joined. There is mold on the walls and chunks of the edifice are cracking under the pressure of vines. An old bo tree leans against a wall, rotting, underlining their failures. It has lain so for ten years, rotting. Unremarked amongst the other things that have also died. There is an air of wreckage to the place, of jungle attempting to reclaim what was carved from it. If the vines were not cleared from the paths, the Ministry would disappear entirely. In a different time, when the Ministry was a hero of the people, it was different. Then, the people genuflected before Ministry officers, three times khrabbed to the ground as though they were monks themselves, their white uniforms inspiring respect and adoration. Now Jaidee watches civilians flinch as he walks past. Flinch and run.

He is a bully, he thinks sourly. Nothing but a bully walking amongst water buffalo, and though he tries to herd them with kindness, again and again, he finds himself using the whip of fear. The whole Ministry is the same -- at least, those who still understand the dangers that they face, who still believe in the bright white line of protection that must be maintained.

I am a bully.

He sighs and parks the cycle in front of the administrative offices, which are desperately in need of a whitewashing that the shrinking budget cannot finance. Jaidee eyes the building, wondering if the Ministry has come to crisis thanks to overreaching, or because of its phenomenal success. People have lost their fear of the outside world. Environment's budget shrinks yearly wjule that of Trade increases.

(s. 172-175)

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