The prologue to a novel set on a border town between two very different countries...
| The curtain was pulled closed, a coin dropped into the slot. First the clunk of levers, then the grind of cogs. The spluttering whir of the celluloid began and the screen lit up.
Trumpets. Text: ‘History on the March’
Voice: The two countries were originally one.
Images of a map of a large country called ,,,, which fades to a scanning shot from the underside of a helicopter showing mountains and forest.
Voice: Nomadic tribes formed settlements, stability of location entailed the development of routes of trade.
Primitive land and sea vehicles.
Voice: The need for regulation and protection of trade engendered forms of government and military. These were essentially monarchic or oligarchic in the early centuries.
Less primitive vehicles carrying soldiers, grandiose government buildings.
Voice: Government gradually became more democratic as the centuries passed and invariably reformed during times of industrial change.
Factories, basic production lines and ballot boxes
Voice: Technology progressed due to the requirements of rapid communications and increased consumption and politics became more fragmented and individuated.
Splitscreen of dozens of children typing on computer, their faces lit only by the monitors
Voice: Faith in the metaphysical gave way to the aggressive, weary cynicism of science and the established hierarchies of blood were mongrelised.
A bulldozer destroys a synagogue, a nightclub packed with people of all kinds. Fuzzy b/w CCTV footage of people having sex in public places.
Voice: Strong and weak, rich and poor, noble and mediocre became indistinguishable. Class war became individual war, the fight for control of the means of production became the fight for five minutes of fame.
The ‘cast’ of a reality TV show being introduced to the press. Flashbulbs
Voice: Nonetheless the bottom line remained. Money, or more specifically the control of the movement of money, remained a priority for those who sought to influence the future of the whole country and not just themselves.
Market data floods computer screens and red LED readouts
Voice: It isn’t fame that these people seek, fame is available to any person who desires it sufficiently; it is a place in history, a role in the big story. Perhaps it is fear of death, the need to leave a legacy that drives these people to excel and dominate.
A meeting room full of executives. The Chairman stands up and takes a gun from his pocket, holding it to his head. Then he smiles and turns the gun on the others
Voice: The country was rich in oil and was suited to the farming of various drug crops that had proved useful over the centuries in providing energy in the former case and social cohesion in the latter. At the peak of the country’s industrial development and the height of the individualist norm the then democratically elected government instigated a policy whereby every citizen in the land was unconditionally awarded a share in the country’s oil fields.
Queues of citizens receiving documents from various offices.
Voice: This proved to be an extremely divisive policy because many people simply cashed in their shares by selling them back to the government and spent the money on short-term material benefits (as they were free to do).
Women struggling to carry dozens of shopping bags at once, men struggling to move furniture out of vehicles and into homes.
Voice: Others saw it as their duty to maintain ownership of the reserves so that future generations would enjoy the advantages such natural resources offer.
A close up of a furrowed brow pulls back and we see a sensible couple placing their documents in a bank safe.
Voice: As time progressed because they didn’t wholly trust a government so obviously reckless with the nation’s future they bought as many shares in the oil fields as the law would allow.
More queues of people, this time buying documents from various offices
Voice: Over the decades the risks for future generations were perceived to have diminished and more and more people sold off their shares to fund their little extravagances, leaving those who retained and augmented their shares as a distinct minority.
A hotel meeting room at night time, security officers on the door, a small group of people gathered around tables set in an oval.
Voice: High employment due to rapid industrial progress had created a booming economy, and everyone knows that they don’t last forever.
Factories, shops, banks, jubilant stock market officials, rich colours, fine foods, affluent clothes, expansive cars
Voice: When the economy ruptured those few who’d hung onto their shares in the oil suddenly found themselves to be much wealthier than those who’d sold their shares and bought goods that had rapidly depreciated with the crash. They took pride in their foresight and castigated those who’d lost themselves in short term indulgence.
Newspaper headlines and newscasts condemning the consumerist lifestyle, the elite wealthy riding through the streets in ludicrously tall vehicles
Voice: They rose in power due to their collective wealth and due to the government needing their oil to prop up the flagging economy. They were smart and managed to unite as a solid group, eventually superseding the elected government in certain areas of influence.
A much more grandiose hotel, daytime, massive security presence, same small group gathered around tables set in a much larger oval
Voice: Many of those who’d cashed in sat simmering in guilt while the minority grew in power. Guilt became resentment, and resentment led to war.
Secluded meetings of large numbers of angry people, their shouting and jumping fading to regiments of parading soldiers.
Voice: The oil-owning minority had been clever in their rise to power, employing orators and other propagandists to try to convince the public that history had shown that they were the most responsible group in the land, and therefore the best qualified to run the country. Because the government could only make suggestions regarding the content and limits of communications (lest it be accused of censorship) there was very little opposition to the group commanding vast sections of assorted media.
People walking the streets with sandwich boards declaring that democracy is corrupt and decadent, more newspaper headlines, cinemas showing pro-oligarchic films
Voice: Air-time was bought up on the most popular TV channels and devoted to programmes that explicitly or implicitly advocated the oligarchic agenda. Works of art were commissioned and eventually, when it became acceptable to do so, entire buildings were built in honour of the oligarchy and all they stood for. The permanence of such buildings did lead to widespread support for their coup but it also forced the issue and let to open conflict and debate. When it became clear that the conflicts were not going to be resolved in the newspapers and on the streets the elected government was forced by its own people to declare war on the powerful minority.
Planes dropping bombs, missiles being fired, guns blazing, troops running around ducking and weaving
Voice: The propagandists who had been the voices of the minority’s rise to power became the voice for the war effort, declaring the aim to be the vanquishing of the democratic state in favour of an oligarchy by the responsible few.
Senior member of the oligarchy delivers a speech:
“Democracy seeks to make even the weakest people into tyrants. It makes the strong mediocre and the weak nothing but equal, so no-one can truly fit in their place.”
The crowd boo and jeer and hiss
“It leads to political apathy, which in turns leads to low standards of government.”
The crowd boo again
“We must overthrow this decadence, break ourselves from its shackles.”
The crowd cheer warmly
“We must fight this with our bones and our spirits, with our very blood!”
The crowd roar in approval and leap around like a pack of dogs
Voice: The war raged for a couple of years, continuing due to neither side having the humility to admit the war was a dreadful way to try to resolve the conflict. Nonetheless neither side risked too much as it became clear that eventually peace would break out.
More missiles being launched, more soldiers ducking and weaving
Voice: A pattern emerged in the country’s geography as to which regions the two groups desired. The army fighting for the democratically elected government wanted the industrial cities in the south and east whereas the oligarchy’s army focussed on securing the historical and therefore culturally significant cities to the north.
Panning over a map as it is being drawn, fading to factories and shops, fading back to the map, moving north, fading to museums, castles and churches
Voice: Eventually a peace treaty was formed which split the country in two, and allowed each a share in the oil and the ability to run their own country as they saw fit. The powerful minority became the rulers of the Rational Oligarchy of Helsius and the elected government and its people became the Democratic Collective of Arakon.
The map is redrawn to represent the two countries
Voice: All was peaceful in the neighbouring states for a decade, the Oligarchy cementing its position with the creation of a permanent Rational Council of 55 members comprising the leading minds in philosophy and mathematics. The council was to legislate on all matters of policy and would only resort to a democratic referendum if a majority in the Council of at least 35-20 could not be reached. The Council was supplemented by a large civil service that provided the reports commissioned by the Council and were responsible for the executive duties in the state as defined by the Council.
A reformed ancient government building with an oval arrangement of 55 members in its main chamber
Voice: The Democratic Collective elected a small parliament whose role was to maintain the economic strength of the country while its long-term status could be discussed. In what would centuries later be referred to as The Great Debate Debate the Collective tried to lay down rules of how they would discuss the future of the nation. They soon found that manufacturing consent from the bottom up isn’t as easy as from the top down and it soon became impossible to generate a national consensus on any issue.
Arguments run wild in meeting halls, across dinner tables, in trains and buses, in offices, classrooms and lecture halls, laboratories, churches and streets
Voice: The Council realised that despite controlling the majority of the communications in the country that there was a persistent feeling that there was more pleasure to be had in Arakon than in Helsius, principally due to the proliferation of drugs in Arakon’s cities. This longing and envy was seen as a potential root of instability and so the Council decided to declare war on the state of Arakon and claim the fruitful regions where the drugs were grown. The war was totally unnecessary because the Collective hadn’t even organised a basic military and as such had little way of preventing the Council from seizing the land.
The Council are seen decreeing, soldiers march over land without opposition while unarmed locals flee in terror
Voice: So the fertile soils became part of Helsius and the people of Arakon were forced to reconsider their position.
The map is redrawn
Voice: They faced a crisis, a dilemma suspended between the democratic principles through which they had united as a state and the impending threat of a country far advanced in terms of military power and political organisation. Small bodies of power tend to make quick decisions. The resolution was to seal the borders of the state, only allowing a select few towns and cities to act as perforations for the necessities of trade and communications.
Huge construction crews erect a security wall that is 50 metres high and 50 metres deep at its base that surrounds the entire nation of Arakon
Voice: An agreement was struck whereby every citizen had to serve a mandatory 3 years in the military that would patrol and ensure the security of the border. With building such a wall came diplomatic difficulties. The Council of Helsius had no objection to such a security measure as it had already been considering a similar project. Of course their reasons were different; they simply wanted a permanent reminder for the peoples of both states, a psychological emblem of their power and authority. The problem became where to draw the line on the map. Lengthy conferences and arguments took place between representatives of both states and eventually it was decided that several cities would have to be split in half as neither side was willing to relinquish the whole.
Houses and shops being demolished to make way for the wall which strides through urban life
Voice: These border towns became notorious due to the people who, legitimately or illegitimately, were crossing the border into the other state.