“[S]ocial gains,” “social aims,” “social objectives” have become the daily bromides of our language. The necessity of a social justification for all activities and all existence is now taken for granted. There is no proposal outrageous enough but what its author can get a respectful hearing and approbation if he claims that in some undefined way it is for “the common good.”
Some might think—though I don’t—that nine years ago there was some excuse for men not to see the direction in which the world was going. Today, the evidence is so blatant that no excuse can be claimed by anyone any longer. Those who refuse to see it now are neither blind nor innocent.
The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one’s eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: “But I didn’t mean this!”
Those who want slavery should have the grace to name it by its proper name. They must face the full meaning of that which they are advocating or condoning; the full, exact, specific meaning of collectivism, of its logical implications, of the principles upon which it is based, and of the ultimate consequences to which these principles will lead.
They must face it, then decide whether this is what they want or not.
So we called International 4-8818, and together we scraped the earth around the bar. Of a sudden the earth fell in before us, and we saw an old iron grill over a black hole.
International 4-8818 stepped back. But we pulled at the grill and it gave way. And then we saw iron rings as steps leading down a shaft into a darkness without bottom.
“We shall go down,” we said to International 4-8818.
“It is forbidden,” they answered.
We said: “The Council does not know of this hole, so it cannot be forbidden.”
And they answered: “Since the Council does not know of this hole, there can be no law permitting to enter it. And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.”
But we said: “We shall go, none the less.”
Yet as we walked back to the Home of the Street Sweepers, we felt that we wanted to sing, without reason. So we were reprimanded tonight, in the dining hall, for without knowing it we had begun to sing aloud some tune we had never heard. But it is not proper to sing without reason, save at the Social Meetings.
“We are singing because we are happy,” we answered the one of the Home Council who reprimanded us.
“Indeed you are happy,” they answered. “How else can men be when they live for their brothers?”
And now, sitting here in our tunnel, we wonder about these words. It is forbidden, not to be happy. For, as it has been explained to us, men are free and the earth belongs to them; and all things on earth belong to all men; and the will of all men together is good for all; and so all men must be happy.
Yet as we stand at night in the great hall, removing our garments for sleep, we look upon our brothers and we wonder. The heads of our brothers are bowed. The eyes of our brothers are dull, and never do they look one another in the eyes. The shoulders of our brothers are hunched, and their muscles are drawn, as if their bodies were shrinking and wished to shrink out of sight. And a word steals into our mind, as we look upon our brothers, and that word is fear.
“Unmentionable Times” and the “Unspeakable Word”
And as we look upon the Uncharted Forest far in the night, we think of the secrets of the Unmentionable Times. And we wonder how it came to pass that these secrets were lost to the world. We have heard the legends of the great fighting, in which many men fought on one side and only a few on the other. These few were the Evil Ones and they were conquered. Then great fires raged over the land. And in these fires the Evil Ones were burned. And the fire which is called the Dawn of the Great Rebirth, was the Script Fire where all the scripts of the Evil Ones were burned, and with them all the words of the Evil Ones. Great mountains of flame stood in the squares of the Cities for three months. Then came the Great Rebirth.
The words of the Evil Ones . . . The words of the Unmentionable Times . . . What are the words which we have lost?
May the Council have mercy upon us! We had no wish to write such a question, and we knew not what we were doing till we had written it. We shall not ask this question and we shall not think it. We shall not call death upon our head.
And yet . . . And yet . . .
There is some word, one single word which is not in the language of men, but which had been. And this is the Unspeakable Word, which no men may speak nor hear. But sometimes, and it is rare, sometimes, somewhere, one among men find that word. They find it upon scraps of old manuscripts or cut into the fragments of ancient stones. But when they speak it they are put to death. There is no crime punished by death in this world, save this one crime of speaking the Unspeakable Word.
We looked upon them and we laughed and said:
“Fear nothing, our brothers. There is a great power in these wires, but this power is tamed. It is yours. We give it to you.”
Still they would not move.
“We give you the power of the sky!” we cried. “We give you the key to the earth! Take it, and let us be one of you, the humblest among you. Let us all work together, and harness this power, and make it ease the toil of men. Let us throw away our candles and our torches. Let us flood our cities with light. Let us bring a new light to men!”
But they looked upon us, and suddenly we were afraid. For their eyes were still, and small, and evil.
“Our brothers!” we cried. “Have you nothing to say to us?”
Then Collective 0-0009 moved forward. They moved to the table and the others followed.
“Yes,” spoke Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to you.”
The sound of their voice brought silence to the hall and to the beat of our heart.
“Yes,” said Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to a wretch who have broken all the laws and who boast of their infamy! How dared you think that your mind held greater wisdom than the minds of your brothers? And if the Councils had decreed that you should be a Street Sweeper, how dared you think that you could be of greater use to men than in sweeping the streets?”
“How dared you, gutter cleaner,” spoke Fraternity 9-3452, “to hold yourself as one alone and with the thoughts of the one and not of the many?”
“You shall be burned at the stake,” said Democracy 4-6998.
“No, they shall be lashed,” said Unanimity 7-3304, “till there is nothing left under the lashes.”
“No,” said Collective 0-0009, “we cannot decide upon this, our brothers. No such crime has ever been committed, and it is not for us to judge. Nor for any small Council. We shall deliver this creature to the World Council itself and let their will be done.”
We looked upon them and we pleaded:
“Our brothers! You are right. Let the will of the Council be done upon our body. We do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?”
Collective 0-0009 looked upon us, and they smiled.
“So you think that you have found a new power,” said Collective 0-0009. “Do all your brothers think that?”
“No,” we answered.
“What is not thought by all men cannot be true,” said Collective 0-0009.
“You have worked on this alone?” asked International 1-5537.
“Yes,” we answered.
“What is not done collectively cannot be good,” said International 1-5537.
“Many men in the Homes of the Scholars have had strange new ideas in the past,” said Solidarity 8-1164, “but when the majority of their brother Scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must.”
“This box is useless,” said Alliance 6-7349.
“Should it be what they claim of it,” said Harmony 9-2642, “then it would bring ruin to the Department of Candles. The Candle is a great boon to mankind, as approved by all men. Therefore it cannot be destroyed by the whim of one.”
“This would wreck the Plans of the World Council,” said Unanimity 2-9913, “and without the Plans of the World Council the sun cannot rise. It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the Councils for the Candle, and to decide upon the number needed, and to re-fit the Plans so as to make candles instead of torches. This touched upon thousands and thousands of men working in scores of States. We cannot alter the Plans again so soon.”
“And if this should lighten the toil of men,” said Similarity 5-0306, “then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men.”
Then Collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box.
“This thing,” they said, “must be destroyed.”
And all the others cried as one:
“It must be destroyed!”
Today, the Golden One stopped suddenly and said:
“We love you.”
But then they frowned and shook their head and looked at us helplessly.
“No,” they whispered, “that is not what we wished to say.”
They were silent, then they spoke slowly, and their words were halting, like the words of a child learning to speak for the first time:
“We are one . . . alone . . . and only . . . and we love you who are one . . . alone . . . and only.”
We looked into each other’s eyes and we knew that the breath of a miracle had touched us, and fled, and left us groping vainly.
And we felt torn, torn for some word we could not find.
“I” and “We”
I am. I think. I will.
My hands . . . My spirit . . . My sky . . . My forest . . . This earth of mine. . . .
What must I say besides? These are the words. This is the answer.
[. . .]
I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters. And I shall choose only such as please me, and them I shall love and respect, but neither command nor obey. And we shall join our hands when we wish, or walk alone when we so desire. For in the temple of his spirit, each man is alone. Let each man keep his temple untouched and undefiled. Then let him join hands with others if he wishes, but only beyond his holy threshold.
For the word “We” must never be spoken, save by one’s choice and as a second thought. This word must never be placed first within man’s soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man’s torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.
The word “We” is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.