A Parable Before Dawn

by Tom Radcliffe

An old man and a teenage boy sat on the beach at night. The waves washed gently over the pebbles, and the images of stars danced in the black surface of the sea. Behind them, in the darkness, mountains loomed.

The boy asked, "Why don't we go?"

"There is too much to be done closer to home."

"But people are dying in Politics! We could help them."

"Yes, we probably could."

"Then why don't we go?"

"Tell me, how would we get there?"

"Set sail from here, across the Gulf of Metaphysics, past the twin islands of Identity and Causality, through the Straights of Epistemology, around the islands of the Ethical Archipelago, through a gap in the Great Barrier Reef of Ideology, and to the Harbour of Liberty on the coast of Politics."

"The Sea of Truth is broad and dangerous, isn't it? And to face the dangers of Politics we will have to travel back and forth many times. First to establish a beach-head, then to build a colony, finally to take the land as our own. All the time new supplies will have to move across the sea. Many such attempts have failed — the journey home is at least as risky as the journey out. Many have found their way there, but few return."

"But we know so much more now!"

"Not enough. It is too easy to get side-tracked. Look at the expeditions that have been becalmed in the Great Sargasso of Anarcho-Capitalism, or caught in the Dialectical Current and swept right past Politics and marooned on Aesthetics."

"You're just bitter and sullen because you failed when you were my age."

"I did fail. And I don't want you to fail as well — I want you to succeed. Or perhaps your children."

"What will the conditions on Politics be like by then?"

"They may be worse than they are now, they may be better. They have never been very good — don't believe what you hear about the good old days."

"But what can we do?"

"Learn to navigate the Gulf, explore the twin islands — there are those who say they are in the Gulf, others in the Strait, still others that they straddle the divide exactly. Understand the currents and reefs of the Ethical Archipelago, and chart all the tides and waters around it. The navigation there is tricky, because depending on the tide the best route may change dramatically. Only once that is done will we be able to travel to Politics safely enough to do any good there. Until then we will always arrive on the shore starving and fighting amongst ourselves, confused and contradicting each other, able to do nothing."

The boy sat for a long time. He thought of the excitement he was missing in Politics, but then again considered the risks along the route. He thought that one day people like him would be able to travel to Politics in comfort and safety because of the knowledge he discovered. But the work itself seemed so dull, so frustratingly long and lonely and unrewarding. The sky was beginning to lighten, and he stood up suddenly, saying, "Look! It's beautiful!"

Far across the Gulf, the first ray of dawn was touching the peak of Identity, and he thought that perhaps the work might be worth doing after all.