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Pearls of wisdom from Sweden's prime minister.
THE WELFARE STATE (Rixstep) — Isaac Asimov meets Ed Wood. Sarah Palin meets Tom Cruise. From an infertile imagination, some of the worst writing ever. A juvenile social recluse who never knocked on Reality's door.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister of Sweden who has sworn to dismantle the entire social infrastructure that's propelled the Scandinavian country to the top of 'standard of living' surveys, and made it famous throughout the world as the model on which all societies are today built.
This is chapter 1 of Fredrik Reinfeldt's only publication. It's not really a book, and he didn't get support from an established publisher in Sweden either. It's a self-financed pamphlet that's gone out of print, was not revived for Reinfeldt's ascendancy, and has mysteriously disappeared from the nation's libraries.
Soup kitchens right out of the Great Depression in Stockholm, the nation's capital. The school system outsourced to private interests who funnel all the profits out of the country and reduce the quality of education from one of the best in the world to one of the worst. Care for the elderly handled the same way, with pensioners collapsing on corridor floors and ignored for days, sometimes left to die.
This is the vision of Fredrik Reinfeldt, who at 28 wrote a book even a tweenie of ten would be ashamed of.
Sweden's had some fantastic prime ministers. Per Albin Hansson. Tage Erlander. Olof Palme. Great men on a par with Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the US. Great leaders who helped the country through tough times and made it into what it's been famous for. And rightly so.
Fredrik Reinfeldt will never be in that exclusive club. Cultivated and groomed by the US Republican Party and Karl Rove for the past thirty years, it turns out that he's but an inarticulate tool for their interests. It's impossible to take Reinfeldt seriously after learning how his mind works.
Only 28 years old and he's dead. It didn't happen suddenly but instead was the final blow in a long drawn-out process. He'd be found already the following day. The historical examples of people who'd been laying dead a long time and started to rot and turn into hygienic issues, as it's called, were subverted.
When he wasn't registered in the computer networks as logged in, the computer followed the emergency routines as it was programmed. The computer wrote to him on the screen without receiving a response, then the computer placed a telephone call but no one answered. Because the computer could detect his presence in the room, but couldn't communicate with him, the computer sent an ambulance.
He died precisely like a long list of other young people started doing that summer in what would soon be called the most dangerous and deadly epidemic of the 21st century, on a par with the plague, smallpox, and AIDS. He died the Welfare Death.
He was an early member of the Sleepbrains. There was nothing wrong with these people's brains, they just used less and less of their brain capacity. They'd gone to school and often been interested, in the beginning. Then nothing more happened.
The Sleepbrains lost interest in school, and in everything else as well. They knew they'd never have to work with anything, only the Idiots did that. The Idiots were the ones who made the rules, they didn't tire of school but instead continued to work harder, even though they didn't need to. That's why the Sleepbrains called them the Idiots. No one cared what the Idiots said, no one could be bothered to be interested. The Idiots served the Welfare State. The Sleepbrains saw them almost exclusively on TV and would quickly switch to another of the over 100 channels.
His death that day caused no great activity. His fate was something for the statisticians. They registered everything and then presented their results to the Idiots. His death would have not been noticed any further had it not been that already a few hours after the death was reported in the customary way, there had been an announcement published in the Welfare State's information organ. There it was mentioned that he had died, identified by his social security number. Use of names had dropped drastically as people socialised less. Many mothers, after insemination had given birth to their children, didn't bother christening their children. Some of them continued christening their children, mostly for nostalgic reasons. For most people, these social security numbers meant nothing. For those responsible for benefits issues in the Welfare State, these numbers were important. He had a fantastic mathematical brain and possessed a unique ability to remember numbers. He was startled when the social security number came up on screen. He brain searched frenetically for the connection to this social security number. He knew that he should know what the connection was but he couldn't place it immediately.
This cerebral process would have been impossible for a Sleepbrain, but he was the ruler of the Welfare State, a man who knew how to exploit his brain's capacity. He soon found the connection. It took a while, it was after all 29 years ago. Then, 29 years ago, he had, like so many other promising men in the Welfare State, been asked to be a sperm donor. The most gifted had back then been asked to donate sperm to counteract the lethargy and stupidity seen all the more in the citizenry.
The women who'd decided to bear children of course wanted a talented sperm donor. He'd been very active and in that way come to be the biological father of over one hundred children. He never saw these children, but he was paid and got a little card with the social security number of the little child when it was born.
Twenty nine years ago he'd donated sperm which after insemination lit the flame of life for the human being who was born nine months later and allotted the social security number he now saw on his screen. With mixed emotions he understood the connection. His son was dead.
He now made a decision which would change his entire life. He decided to go to the hospital to see his son for the first and last time. He met no resistance, he was one of the most powerful people in the Welfare State. Inside the storage room where his son waited to be cremated, he'd almost regretted his decision. His presence would surely lead to questions. He couldn't help it, but he didn't feel really good about standing in that room.
He criticised himself for this attitude. The Idiots were effective people with a lot to do, old fashioned expressions of feelings had no place in their world. Feelings were a sign of weakness, many people also said that expressions of feelings were even worse. Feelings were a threat to the ideology of the Welfare State. Caring for people should be managed rationally by the state. It was claimed that there were many examples of how feelings had intervened in history and threatened the foundations of the Welfare State. If people tried to take care of each other, the Welfare State was pushed to the side. That would yield a society where some people had people they loved and cared for, whilst others wouldn't have anyone at all, and that wasn't fair.
It was therefore necessary to combat all voluntary contributions. Then there was equality for all and no one was unfairly treated.
He was schooled very strictly in those tenets but still and all he couldn't help that in the small dark room where he now stood in total silence, the system didn't seem as well designed. He could see that his son, whom he now saw for the first time, was very much like him, he was almost a copy of him at the same age.
He could see all the small scars left by the cosmetic operations. This was a type of operation everyone underwent. Passivity in the Welfare State would otherwise have led to people being enormously obese, if medical science hadn't developed very effective and very simple procedures for removing waste products and fat. They left small scars but meant that human beings, despite a heavy overconsumption, could remain slim. The operations were complemented by built-in exercise programs in the bed-chairs where the citizens of the Welfare State spent most of their lives. The advantage was that the major issues with sitting and lying sores had been eliminated. The exercises also built up muscle tissue, something that otherwise would have created problems. Lack of activity had earlier led to muscle atrophy.
His skin had that very special matte light brown colour so typical of the citizens of the Welfare State. This was the result of the mixture of never being out of doors and getting fresh air and at the same time spending a lot of time in the solarium. The lighting elements were either built into the canopy of the bed, or else the entire house was built with these sunning opportunities. This latter option had grown very popular.
The thing that bothered him the most was that the people who brought him to the hospital still hadn't removed the remote control fastened to the right hand. They'd probably, as so many others, begun to see it as a natural extension of the human body. The technical machine that complemented the more and more disconnected five human senses.
The remote was mankind's best friend. It still wasn't run by thought control, but scientists believed they could develop such a remote in a few years. People used to have a different remote for each task, in the end it became untenable.
That's when they developed the Universal Remote Control. It could control everything in the human environment and had consequently been developed in such a way that it could be attached to the human arm. It had become such a natural part of the human body that the paramedics in the ambulance forgot to remove it on the way into the storage room.
Naturally the remote controlled the TV. Built into the TV, in addition to the hundred or more channels, was the enormous information system of the Welfare State. All newspapers and information from the Welfare State that used to be distributed on their own were now built into the TV. You ordered food, shopped, exchanged messages, had books read to you, communicated with your GP, voted, and educated yourself through the TV.
The size of the TV could be set through the remote. It could cover the entire TV wall, which all people had, but it could also be adapted to a smaller size. The entire wall was used foremost for 'when one went to the cinema' and one wanted a more comprehensive picture experience. Then the sound was also amplified with special speakers built into the wall.
The TV also had extensive computer games of different types. Everything from simple games, where one used the joystick built into the remote, to the most modern where you, with a feeling that you were partaking for real, but sitting in your bed-chair, could be projected in as a player in, for example, a football match.
Without moving, you had the feeling you were running and fighting to win. You could influence the game so your team were always better and so you were the big star. The game was an enormous success.
Another popular variant was the one where you were projected into an historical battlefield, and where you as the hero of the game, as a successful soldier, could change the outcome of the battle. The game could go on for days. That participants sometimes fell asleep in the middle of a game meant nothing.
There was a detector that knew if the player was awake and if he fell asleep, paused the game until the player woke up again. The only problem these games created was that players often forgot to eat and completely lost track of space and time. Many players were taken to hospital, exhausted from not eating, staying awake for several days, and in addition were powerfully confused from, in the general excitement, having had a feeling of actually living in another time.
Sometimes it'd take weeks to get them back to the present, to realise they'd only been part of a game.
The remote also controlled the Food Production Centre. People actually didn't need to eat as much as earlier in history. Now there were pills that fulfilled all the daily requirements. But most people chose to eat the old fashioned way anyway. The Food Production Centre took care of all this. All the ingredients and base products were ordered through the TV. These were put in the Centre which also doubled as a fridge and freezer. You could choose your dishes with the remote, along with a drink, and it was prepared for you in a short time.
The remote also took care of climate control. Temperature, humidity, air pressure, oxygen content were all regulated. The light in the house and the colour combinations of the lighting were also controlled with the remote.
He leaned over to unhasp the remote, but drew back quickly. This business of touching wasn't completely uncomplicated. Civilisation could have collapsed because of diseases such as AIDS if people hadn't been able to adapt to a new lifestyle.
AIDS hadn't spread by touch, but rumours were spread that this couldn't be proved. It was best to be careful, above all with people one didn't know. In addition, touch led to feelings, sometimes very strong feelings, and feelings were the same thing as weakness. Then you started caring about some people but not all people, feelings weren't fair, it led to a society with different feelings. For him this disparity was the greatest threat to the Welfare State.
But he touched his son lightly. The skin felt soft yet hard. Soft from all the creams and the massage built into the bed-chair. Hard from all the sunbathing that almost left a crust on his skin. He decided to not bother with the remote.
Minutes passed by. He really wanted to say something but nothing felt natural to say. He realised he was sad. Not just for his son who had died. It was difficult to summon up paternal feelings for a person he never saw.
His son's great superficial similarities with him woke up something else. There was a time before he was appointed Chief of Benefits for the Welfare State. It felt like long ago, but the sight of his son brought the memories back to life.
He'd been politically active at an early age. Back then the party was still split, he thought. He discovered what was funny in that thought of his. The party hadn't been split, he reminded himself, it had been two parties. He shook his head that he couldn't remember this at once.
Everyone in the Welfare State was bad at history. Knowledge of history led only to a determination to keep things as they had been. That meant that things that weren't relevant for decision making were included in the calculations, and dryly repeated for himself the official view of the Welfare State on the necessity to discourage study of history. Why burden people with their terrible history. People wanted to live now and the politicians took care of the future, that was the distribution of labour in the Welfare State.
The citizenry had long ago accepted this view. History was uneven. That meant that people had earlier believed that they were different because they had different origins. It was important that everyone began with the same premises. That was fair. So history wasn't allowed to damage confidence of the citizenry in the Welfare State.
After remembering that the party was split, already that a dangerous memory, his brain went into turbo mode. This wasn't good, he knew it, but this day was different in all possible ways. The party had been split, he thought again. It wasn't called the Welfare State Party back then. The two parties were called the Comfort Party and the Caring Party. That's the way it was. He was happy he could remember this.
The Caring Party had been the big party. Their main motto was that the state and only the state could create and guarantee evenly distributed welfare in the form of fair benefits and sufficient care. The greatest threat against a rational welfare system was voluntary efforts. They made it more difficult to statistically determine if people actually had a good life.
In addition, this voluntary care had a tendency to sometimes focus too much on the closest relatives and friends. This phenomenon was described by the ideologists as very burdensome. 'You shall not burden those you like with demands to be cared for and loved. You will get this from educated competent staff who offer you fair care', he practiced in his first course in welfare state basics. All new members of the party took the course. He was a member of the Caring Party before the merger.
He had difficulty remembering any further details about the old Caring Party. A very old picture passed through in his memory from his first party meeting. An old party veteran had welcomed him. The old man said that the Caring Party had once been two parties.
Precisely as with today's Welfare State Party, he filled in the gaps from current times. He couldn't remember if the old man had told him the names of the two parties that preceded the Caring Party, but he remembered that he said something about the most difficult thing about the merger being to decide which flower would be the party symbol, or which flower best symbolised the mix of rose and bluebell.
This rhapsody of memory had no meaning to him. This business about flowers seemed so incomprehensible that he decided he'd probably remembered wrong. The other party, the Comfort Party, he remembered even less. He remembered that there was no great friendship between the parties back then. The message of the Comfort Party was to prove the benefit of the technological developments and remind people that it was new technical inventions which led to the solution of early social problems.
As the party's name intimated, the party would often connect technical developments with increased personal comfort and a diminished need for physical exertion.
The two parties finally merged. All politicians realised the wisdom that the combination of generous benefits and technical innovations could create the comfortable society which was the goal of the Welfare State. Citizens were to be secure and taken care of. No one could possibly object.
He reminded himself that participation in elections had decreased dramatically when there were still two parties. This despite the very smart election computer program built into the TV. From their remotes, the citizens could vote. Everyone had a personal code to log into their 'election account' where one chose one's parties and ranked one's benefits.
Ranking gave people individual benefit profiles, which the minister in charge of these issues at the time had described as a revolution in freedom of choice. A winning slogan used at the time was 'We Pay - You Choose'.
The simplified election system meant in the beginning that more people took part in elections. The climate facilities that for generations had controlled the weather in the Welfare State had been programmed for sun on election day, which meant a lot of people didn't bother voting.
It didn't help when they reprogrammed the system for rain on election day, people with the increased possibilities of regulating their indoor climate more and more lost their desire to go outdoors at all. The election system was then built into the TV, and in the beginning it was successful.
But when election turnouts despite this still declined, they moved to a system which meant that voters got to choose a party in their 'election accounts' and that continued to be valid as their vote on election day as long as they didn't make any further changes. It was a good solution for it stopped the decline in election turnouts.
But he remembered that after the parties merged, the two old parties had together received more than three times more votes, despite their no longer existing, than the new Welfare State Party. No one had in the hurry of the moment remembered to remove the option to keep the old votes for the old parties. For the next election, that possibility was removed and the votes went to the Welfare State Party.
He couldn't remember when last there had been an election. Elections were managed completely by computers now. He knew he'd sometimes see an announcement on his computer with the number of votes for the Welfare State Party, but it wasn't felt to be significant news.
He was very proud to have remembered all this. His entire life had been about never thinking into the past. There was no such concept. The senses experienced the now and the brain made plans for the future. For the Sleepbrains, almost everything was about the senses. His ability to in a short time recapitulate events from the past was both remarkable and dangerous.
Why was it dangerous? Were there events and ideas in the past that were dangerous for the Welfare State? Had there been ideas that the caring and welfare would not be managed by the state? That was an absurd thought, there was no welfare if the state didn't guarantee it, he thought.
He reminded himself that there obviously had been differences of opinion before the great political merger. They evidently hadn't been bigger than it had been possible to unite them. He felt a rising discomfort from all these unsolicited thoughts. This entire day was a violation of the rationality which on a daily basis characterised his daily life.
He felt it was time to leave the storage room. He looked at his son again. Why had he died? He'd been confronted with the information about a rising death toll in so-called Welfare Death, but it was first now that this information had a brutal basis in reality. He recapitulated from the reports that no suitable explanation was evident why so many young people had perished. The only sustainable theory had been that the total passivity and the great lack of meaningful chores had let to atrophy of both body and soul.
Not physical atrophy, but psychic. From there to explaining why this led to a deadly end was a long way.
Had his son died from having too little to do? He thought of his own pressured work situation. His responsibilities were extensive and his work days were long. He found it difficult to know what it would feel like to have nothing to do. There should be a lot of things to do if only one had the time, he reasoned.
For example, he couldn't understand why fewer and fewer people showed such hesitation to go outdoors at all. More TV option controls showed that fewer and fewer citizens found it worthwhile. They had no one they cared to visit. They could get fresh air from their climate controls and their need for sensory input was satisfied by their TVs. This development was most marked amongst the young.
He could understand the hesitation citizens felt. The earlier environmental issues were for the most part taken care of. Modern technology produced environmentally friendly electricity with very little harm to the environment. This meant it wasn't dangerous to be outdoors, for that reason.
It was far more dangerous to run into a drugged out psycho hooligan. They roamed the somewhat deserted cities under the influence of different narcotic stimulants. They had a tendency to be violent. The high level of drug abuse meant that many people were no longer in control of their behaviour.
Drug abuse was a major problem for the Welfare State. For the lack of other stimulation and to escape from the customarily empty lives that most of them lived, lots of drugs were used, mostly of a hallucinogenic character. They offered Fantasy experiences and feelings of happiness which citizens couldn't ordinarily feel. Most people manufactured their own drugs with chemicals in their Food Production Centre.
The manufacturers had not at first noticed how easy it was to create drugs in the Food Production Centre and how most were well equipped in that regard.
He came back onto the street outside the hospital. A fresh breeze blew against his face. It felt as if his entire world was turned upside down. Thoughts and ideas he'd never before dared think ran through his head in an ever increasing tempo.
It felts like his head was speeding like a runaway train. He was forced to pause outside the entrance to regain his balance. It felt like he'd been ready to stumble and almost fall forward when his thoughts began rushing through him.
Why did his son die? And why couldn't he see his son before he'd died? Why was he so ashamed of his feelings? Why? It was all exacerbated by the fact that something inside him all along reminded him that such thoughts were not actually permitted. He sensed in some way that the answers he sought were both uncomfortable and perhaps even a challenge for a lot of what he'd stood for and believed all his life.
He'd never felt so small in all his life as he did in that moment. He understood that he was forced to do something. He decided to look up his old schoolmaster from his school days. The Master lived at the other end of town and he took his silent electric car and began his journey. His decision to look up the Master had a calming effect on him. His head quieted down and he waited with caution to arrive at the house of the old Master.
He realised it had been years since he'd last visited his old Master. His extensive work took a lot of time, he defended himself, but he realised that wasn't the whole truth. He was almost afraid of the Master.
The Master had taught him logic and mathematics during his school years and always been a source of ideas for him. That had been the person he'd gone to when he needed advice. Their exchanges had always been beneficial, even though he felt an enormous respect for the old Master and therefore sometimes needed a little distance to him. The old Master hadn't approved of his political activity, he remembered.
He opened the door already after the first ringing, as if he'd been expecting this visitor. They stood quietly, regarding each other. The Master had grown very old, his skin was wrinkled and his gray hair stood in all possible directions. It was easy to mistake him for an old maniac if not for the eyes. He remembered that look from before.
The eyes of the Master were awake in a way that was uncommon in the welfare state. It was as if a special light surrounded his eyes. When he looked, it was as if his look burned. His eyes shone with such an intensity that one understood that behind those eyes was a very active brain.
The Master looked critically at him from head to foot and then told him that his wait was over. He had difficulty understanding what the Master meant. The Master said he saw the doubt in his eyes, he'd been waiting to see that doubt for a long time. The Master told him he'd been his most gifted student and that he'd always had high hopes for him. Then he lost him to the Party and his eyes had died. Now the doubt was awakened and then he came back to the Master again.
They sat face to face. The Master led him through a long series of questions and had him tell of the events of the day. He still hadn't said anything about the doubt he'd felt and the questions which still had no answers. Somehow he didn't need to do that. It was as if he didn't control that any longer, he felt that the Master had seen his doubt by merely looking at him when he turned up at the door.
In the end he was forced to ask why did his son die? The Master answered that he already knew the answer himself if he thought about it. He recapitulated the conclusions he'd arrived at when he was in the hospital. His son had too little to do.
He, precisely as so many other young people, spent their entire days in front of their TV screens and steered everything around them with their remote controls. His son, very simply, hadn't had anything to live for. Nothing was meaningful for the Sleepbrains, there were no challenges, no curiosity. They were secure and cared for, that was the main thing.
He looked quietly at the Master for a long time.
'We have failed', he said then, quietly.
The Master nodded in agreement and added that it takes longer or shorter times for wise people to reach that conclusion. His former favourite student had taken a surprisingly long time. After daring admit the failure, it was as if everything fell apart for him.
Feelings took over and weeping, he began a long speech in his defence. He'd been misled, he'd only tried to do the right thing, do his work. They always meant well, everyone would be cared for.
He stopped mid-sentence and squinted at the Master. Had the Master known this all along but not said anything? A person with his capacity should use his skills to protest. The Master squirmed. How was he to protest? Voters in election after election chose parties that promised more benefits and continued care. The demands of the voters for more benefits had in the end been so loud that only parties that promised more benefits could survive. In the end there was no reason to have more than one party, they all said the same thing anyway.
Treatment of those who claimed that this was the wrong way to go had not been merciful. They made it look like people were demanding worsened conditions, that they were antagonistic towards people. You couldn't argue against that type of rhetoric. Maybe it'd have been possible if there had been large groups of people not completely dependent on the goodwill of the politicians, but there weren't any such groups.
On the contrary. The number of those directly dependent on benefits was growing all the time. The terrible side effects were noticed too late. All the characteristics that had activated the citizens had been made redundant by the Welfare State. All were guaranteed welfare and care. The number of human contacts decreased in number and people in the end became completely passive.
He listened attentively to the Master. How would they do anything about this? He and the Master were forced to do something. He'd appear in the Welfare State's information organ and tell everyone they'd failed, he'd write to the prime minister, he'd speak with everyone he knew. The Master waited until he'd quieted down and then shook his head. It was too late. Many had tried before him, they'd all been ridiculed and sent out to the cold. It could also be very dangerous to try anything personally.
Tolerance for criticism had diminished along with the decreasing interest in voting in elections. The people in power were assured of being reelected and therefore were more careless in their treatment of those who came with divergent opinions. There were continual rumours that those in opposition had disappeared without a trace after being overly critical.
What should he do? He couldn't stand by and watch the collapse of human civilisation, he was forced to seek revenge in some way. The Master said he'd introduce him to a small exclusive club that used to meet in his home from time to time. Wise people like him had served the Welfare State, but then for some reason begun doubting and achieved insight that everything had turned out wrong.
They spoke of their insights. That saved them from going crazy, the Master said. They had to vent their angst and their fury at how the Welfare State had been permitted to destroy the human race. There weren't many of them left and their skills and insights would most likely die with them.
The young generation were more lazy and lost than any previous generation. The Welfare State went to its own ruin. They were unfortunate siblings on a sinking ship and they made the best of the situation. That meant they could retain some sort of self-confidence in these people.
The Master said they could continue next time and told him to go home.
On shaky legs that had a difficulty carrying him, he came out into the crisp night air. He understood that his entire life as it had appeared up to this day had been changed in a single moment. He'd never again have a good night's sleep. He'd never again feel he had done well at work. He'd live for the sporadic meetings with those who'd awakened and he would forever condemn the faceless Welfare State.
That guy's brain is sub-primate level.
- Kilgore Trout