I am sick of reading or watching dystopias.1
Why do we keep producing blueprints for the idiots who are taking power? It helps them and we don’t need to be constantly reminded of what’s coming, it just increases our feeling of powerlessness.
We should provide alternatives instead. Here’s an attempt.
Many thanks to Johanna for her ideas and support.
Monday, 10 May 2027
“Welcome to the Museum of Europe!” Smiling widely as a good guide should, I looked at the group of tourists that had gathered in the lobby. There were American pensioners in flip-flops and Chinese businesspeople in polished shoes – this group would be an interesting mix. “You’re here on the first floor of the Berlaymont building, which used to house the headquarters of the European Commission. Four years ago, when the European Union dissolved, it was decided that it would become a residency for artists, with the first two floors reserved for the Museum. I’ll take you through the history of our young state, which is also one of the oldest on Earth. Follow me!”
I was leading the group to the first room when I first noticed them. Two males that tried to mix with the elderly Americans but looked nothing like tourists. They were in their forties, wore old polo shirts in bright colors, sunglasses and analog reflex cameras. If anything, they looked like Vladimir Putin in the 1980’s when he was posing as a Russian tourist in East-Germany while working as an undercover KGB agent. Strange, I thought, but I didn’t give it much of a thought and went on with my visit.
‒ “In this room, we made a timeline of the creation of Europe. It seems very linear and logical when you look at the succession of events, from the end of World War 2 to the creation of the European Economic Community to the European Union to the Europe we know today, but let me assure you: it was anything but. Things could have turned out very differently.”
‒ “I remember well, said one Chinese woman in a sleek dark blue suit. I was working for Bank of China in Paris when the changes happened. It was quite a shock to everyone.”
‒ “Indeed, nobody saw it coming. In the Spring of 2022, just five years ago, in France, a new politician sprung out from nowhere…”
‒ “Marie-Rachida Cohen!” I heard several people whisper her name in the group.
‒ “Yes, Marie-Rachida Cohen, or Maraco as many people call her. It wasn’t a surprise to see a new face in French politics. Actually, since Macron, the previous French president, had come to power, French elections were more of a tombola than anything else. Due to the peculiarities of the French voting system, you just needed to be on the top of your wave on election day to be elected. President Cohen was elected with a comfortable 10-point margin against Le Pen and became the first French female president. That she was an Arabic-speaking Jew who converted to Catholicism was interesting to some, but at this point of the story, she did not arouse the kind of enthusiasm that would follow. The French had grown weary of hope, after they fell for Sarkozy in 2007, for Hollande in 2012 and for Macron in 2017, none of whom made any positive change to their lives. The majority of voters had been disappointed at least once and had no reason to believe that this time would be different.”
‒ “It was a bit more complicated than that, the Chinese woman interrupted. I’m an analyst, and I can tell you that our risk indicators were going through the roof in the months before the French election. With Merkel starting her fifth term in Germany in a coalition with the left-wingers of the far-right Alternative for Germany and Lithuania that had just triggered Article 50 to leave the European Union in order to join the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, we were expecting war to break out in Europe pretty quickly.”
The American side of the group nodded in agreement. Apparently, they were all former businesspeople or civil servants stationed in Europe doing a nostalgia tour. I wasn’t surprised that they did not speak. All the Americans I saw were afraid that they could be accused of antipatriotic sentiment when they returned to the United States, either because their devices recorded them speaking against their administration or because someone in the group reported them. The only two to stand out were the strange pair I first spotted, who simply stared at me ceaselessly. A bit disconcerting, but I had enough experience as a guide not to be distracted.
‒ “It’s true, I concurred. Uncertainty in the early 20’s was very high, but apathy was, too. Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, the population discarded authorities and institutions as useless at best and actively corrupt in general. What a surprise 2022 was.” I took my group further down the timeline, to the panel that listed the actions taken by president Cohen of France.
‒ “The population was expecting a mix of tax-cuts for the rich, token measures for the poor and more power for the coercive forces, as had happened in the past twenty years. Instead, president Cohen went on a rampage. She started by promising the introduction of universal basic income within a year. That got people interested. The next day, she legalized all psychoactive drugs. You could go to any pharmacy and ask for any drug with low addictive power, like cannabis, MDMA or cocaine, while more addictive ones could be delivered by medical doctors. She was smart. To prove that she was serious, she had had tons of cannabis secretly flown in from Colorado in the days before so that the pharmacies were fully stocked when the legalization happened. This profoundly shook the underworld. People in the banlieues cheered. Legalization meant that gangs would lose their income and their power of attraction. Most French people were happy to pay taxes before getting high, and people outside of France started paying attention. The legalization action was intended to destabilize the corrupt networks at the heart of the French state. At the time, mafia bosses were routinely ministers or high-ranking police officers. They suddenly had to rethink their entire business model. It’s no surprise that Italy was the loudest opponent of the legalization. The Calabrian mafia who owned the cocaine trade in Europe and most of the Italian government pushed the Italian army to stage an exercise along the French border, as a threat. Thousands of Italians took to the streets in support of the French president. That was the beginning of Maraco’s European plans. On that later.”
“After the Legalization Act, the pace of change increased. A few days later, she signed a law authorizing euthanasia. She had campaigned as a Catholic and the Church had supported her, so this move embarrassed bishops greatly. They got lost in internal disputes and in any case were too slow to react. With the Church neutralized, president Cohen canceled all public holidays except Easter and Christmas and replaced them with Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr, which are two important religious feasts for Jews and Muslims, and a series of secular holidays honoring historical figures, such as Marie Curie Day or Rosa Parks Day.”
“By then, just a few weeks in office, she had the country in a state of near chaos. The millions who had sheepishly accepted the outrage of the previous governments sensed that something was changing, and they were thrilled. But the millions of others, many of which Front National voters, who fed on hatred and distrust of politicians, felt that they had lost their momentum, too, and that they needed to act rapidly.”
“Upon taking office, president Cohen had secretly put an end to all French army deployments abroad. She waited until all units had arrived on French soil for her next move, in late August 2022. At that point, she made official that France was pulling out of all acts of aggression in Mali, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and more. These military occupations were at the core of the islamist propaganda, ending them boosted her popularity among Muslims even further. But there was more. In the same speech, she announced that the whole police force would be disbanded and that the army was taking over policing until the new police was in place. People were jubilant. Thousands of citizens sat in front of police stations across France to prevent laid-off policemen and women from accessing the weapons inside. Apart from a few incidents, the military peacefully disarmed police officers within a couple of days.”
“President Cohen had invited Georgian experts to reform the police force, because Georgia had also laid off and remade its entire police at once, back in 2003. But even as the new police was being set up, right-wing extremists – many of them former policemen – took action. One day, as president Cohen was giving a speech in front of the Chartres cathedral, three shooters emptied their pistols on her. They were immediately arrested by the crowd, but they aimed well. Maraco sustained nine gunshot wounds – but none of them serious. After a few hours at a nearby hospital, she came back on stage to finish her speech. Religious fanatics, not a few of them members of right-wing groups, saw it as a divine intervention. With that, everyone – her supporters and her foes – thought she was invincible. The movement for change continued apace.”
“Before the end of 2022, she had phased out private motor vehicles and made public transportation free of charge, she had increased inheritance taxes, started a massive reforestation plan and outlawed advertising (“a net social loss”, she said). Crucially, she ensured that the key statistic to drive public policy would not be the growth rate, but the CO2 concentration levels. When a decision was unpopular, she followed up with another one. When opposition started to build up against her euthanasia plans, for instance, she made the sharing of cultural contents, such as songs, films and books, free for everyone – this gave her a popularity boost. And when a piece of legislation did not go through the first time, she kept pushing it until her opponents became too tired to fight. She was restless.”
‒ “So much changes, so fast! It sounds like what Trump did at home, except in reverse.” That was an American man whispering in the ear of his wife. He immediately regretted his words when he saw the whole American group looking at him suspiciously.
‒ “Yes, it was fast. Though it was only the beginning. The big challenge was the introduction of universal basic income. By early 2023, the new police force was in place. The financial and fiscal police, which had hitherto been made of two dozen agents, grew thousandfold. They tracked billions’ worth in hidden assets and tax fraud. Before she asked prosecutors to get into action, she toughened the tax code a notch, making sure that rich tax-evaders understood what was coming to them. They could either bring back their assets and pay their taxes or go to jail. Having shored up public finances, she introduced restrictions on capital flows and started to pay a small amount to all French citizens every month, promising them that it would eventually be enough to cover all basic costs of life.”
‒ “Wait, how could she restrict capital flows under EU regulations? Wasn’t that one of the core tenets of the Union?” asked a Chinese man.
‒ “Yes it was, but the EU had shown repeatedly that it wasn’t going to enforce the Treaties. Ever since most member-states had stopped respecting the Schengen Treaty without the European Commission sending a single letter of complaints, no one took the EU seriously. Of course, the liberal wing of Merkel’s coalition was furious, but the CSU and AfD were cheering. All over Europe, popular opinion was so supportive of Maraco that no politician dared going head-on against her.”
“The rest, as you know, is history. Popular pressure in Germany was so great that Merkel started secret negotiations with Maraco which ended on May 9th, 2023, when France and Germany merged and became the Magic and Federal Queendom of Europe. Wallonia, Brussels and Luxembourg joined a day later. The European Commission immediately announced that it dissolved the European Union, in no small part because its high-ranking functionaries expected to be offered juicy positions in the Queendom. How wrong they were!”
‒ “Why did they call the new state ‘magic’?” asked the Chinese man.
‒ “When you remember how close we came to war in the early 2020’s, what happened is truly magical, don’t you think?” I answered.
Tuesday, 11 May 2027
“Here comes our little Lenin cheerleader!” said my Ph.D. supervisor when I entered the cafeteria of the social science department at the Free University of Brussels. “How was your day at the Museum of the Revolution?”
“Stop with the cynicism, I answered. You know full well that the Queen is nothing like your Lenin. She’s younger, brighter and she’s no dictator. More importantly, she has no Stalin behind her and no Trotsky to spill blood in her name. I mean, you saw what they did to our military, right?”
Upon creating the Magic Queendom of Europe, Maraco and Merkel decided on a new flag. The blue flag with yellow stars of the European Union was hated across the continent, so they chose an upside-down rainbow flag as the state symbol instead, on which they added six pink stars, one for each federal subject: France, Germany, Bavaria, Luxembourg, Wallonia and Brussels. The military of the Queendom had been fully reorganized, too. The trucks, tanks and uniforms abandoned their dull dark green colors for those of the rainbow, with huge pink stars painted on them. More significantly, the military doctrine was dramatically altered. Generals took a hint from their successful adversaries in Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. Expensive gear was phased out in favor of light vehicles, heavy bombs were decommissioned, training in propaganda and psychology were reinforced. The Italian campaign of 2024 showed the superiority of the new reginal army. The legalization of cocaine in Europe had caused such a turmoil in Rome (cocaine trade was about 5% of all Italian wealth and the main source of income for the political elite) that they decided to invade and force the Queendom to criminalize drugs again. Within hours of the first movement of troops at the Europe/Italy border near Ventimiglia, hundreds of European soldiers who spoke the local language infiltrated Italy. Unarmed and wearing civilian clothes, their goal was to convince members of the military and their families to stop fighting and to prevent local entrepreneurs from supplying the Italian army. Within days, millions were marching in Italian streets to demand the end of the war. Politicians and generals had no choice but to retreat meekly and order soldiers back to their barracks. A military victory without a gunshot fired – that, too, was new.
‒ “Granted, the campaign of Italy was less bloody than what the Red Army did in Poland in 1920, my supervisor said while staring in his empty coffee mug. And I have to admit that getting rid of the senseless paperwork and the stupid calls for proposals made quite a change. Having direct financing for researchers really transformed this place. But all revolutions end up in destruction, make no mistakes! History teaches us one thing: There is no such thing as peaceful changes.”
‒ “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard your rant before. If the current revolution were as bad as the Communists’, you would already be in a reeducation camp. Believe me, the Museum of Europe is no Lenin Mausoleum, and I’m free to tell whatever stories I want to the visitors. Don’t you want to hear the progress I made on my Ph.D. instead of complaining?”
I took a seat in front of him, under the neon light of the cafeteria. That’s when I saw them again. The two guys from the day before who stared at me during the visit. They were now sitting at the other end of the room, about forty meters from us, dressed up as university staff from a cartoon movie, with burgundy pullovers and dark green corduroy pants, and the same sunglasses.
‒ “Do you know who they are?” I asked my supervisor, hinting at the weird couple.
‒ “Never saw them, he answered. Why, are you getting paranoid? You think that they are after you? You know, ever since the universal basic income was introduced, the university is full of all kind of people, and these two are far from the weirdest I saw this week. Turns out quite a lot of people are interested in what we do here, in the end. You should see the enrollment in my class, I’ve never had so many motivated students! But you wanted to tell me about your progress.”
I started to explain my work. “As you know, I’m working on the effects of universal basic income on the availability of certain products and services. The first part of my dissertation is as good as done. I could show that the inflationary fears most economists had were unfounded. With their basic needs covered by the universal income, most employees considered quitting their jobs. Employers, faced with a potential drain of their workforce, had to find a way to keep their staff working. They could not increase wages and pass on the extra costs to consumers by raising prices, because they knew that the central bank was working hard at keeping prices stable. After all, too much inflation would have rendered the basic income meaningless. Instead, employers had to slash their margins, automate as much as possible to compensate the sudden increase in the cost of human work and provide much better working conditions. I found many examples of companies that ended up being run by employees directly. Because the value of assets nosedived in 2024 after the introduction of the inheritance tax, the concept of ‘shareholder value’ disappeared almost overnight. Business owners did not care much about losing control, since the value of their investment had plummeted already. The employers who remained were the real entrepreneurs, those who were in for the fun of the ride, not for the money.”
‒ “This all sounds a lot like the collectivization of the means of production, my supervisor said. I’ve heard this story before, I know full well where it ends. The USSR of the early days had plenty of idealistic young cadres like you…”
‒ “You’re missing a key point, I interrupted. The USSR and all political systems since the American and French revolutions focused on increasing production, as if the pursuit of happiness was equivalent to GDP growth! The logic of the Queendom is different. Our whole economy is directed towards lowering CO2 concentration levels, not towards increasing production. If anything, that factories and companies produce less is a good thing. Where it gets interesting is in the second part of my thesis. Many factories closed down or reduced production levels in accordance with the wishes of employees. No one mourned the disappearance of marketing agencies or private guards companies, but some other activities vanished from the official economy and were taken off the market. Quite a few producers of honey, vegetables or fruits decided that it wasn’t worth selling to supermarkets and traded much of their produce to friends and acquaintances, in exchange for other things or services. In just a few years, we’ve moved from a market economy to an economy of favors. As the value of currency itself started to lose meaning, people went back to a culture of exchanging gifts.”
‒ “You mean we’re back to a barter economy? he asked. What a great progress your Queen gave us!”
‒ “It’s not barter, I answered. You can still use money if you so like. It’s just that, as money stopped being a means of distinction – everyone now has enough to live and few people have more than that – many interactions happen outside of the monetary system. Many people could technically sell their produce or services, but they don’t see the point. They’re much happier with the social interactions they get from the exchange of gifts. This brings us close to the economy of the USSR in the 1980’s, that’s right. And this could become a problem. If you are not linked to the right people, you lose access to certain goods. I’ll focus my research on who is being left out of this networked economy and how we can remedy to the problem.”
‒ “Back to the USSR!” My supervisor started to sing the Beatles’ tune. “Even you agree that Miss Lenin’s policies lead us to disaster.”
‒ “Three things, I snapped back. One: Disaster would have been to try nothing. Two: Of course, the enthusiasm of the first years will eventually wither. Do you think Theodor Herzl would have written his Zionist utopia if he’d known his imagined country would be run by thugs who support anti-Semites just seventy years after it came into being? And three: Be careful about the tone of your remarks. I sensed a hint of misogyny there.”
Ever since the Brussels police had been reformed on the French model, the gender equality force was strong. Reporting someone for a sexist remark was no empty threat. I left wondering if I shouldn’t find a new supervisor for my Ph.D.
Wednesday, 12 May 2027
I spent the whole time in the train looking through the window and watching the olive trees that covered the hills. There were some good things coming out of global warming – and olive oil from the Belgian Ardennes was one.
I was traveling to an old friend of mine from my high school days. She was one of those who suffered most from the political changes. She was born in a family of modest means, did brilliantly at school, especially at math, and went into high finance after an MA in statistics. Before 2023, she knew that the hedge fund she worked at wasn’t a charity organization, but she told us that her job was to best allocate financial resources so that the economy would be most efficient. She probably knew that this was bullshit, but she made a lot of money and couldn’t afford to quit. The hedge fund closed its Brussels office a few weeks after the city voted to join the Queendom. She was given the choice to be let go or move to Singapore. She decided to stay, but had no idea what to do next. The whole banking industry had vanished, almost overnight. Money was now a fairly boring vehicle of value, not an exciting means of getting rich quickly. In Brussels, the glass towers of the Northern Quarter business district were converted to urban farming to take advantage of the comprehensive air conditioning systems the banks had built for their offices. All that was left from the financial era was a profound disgust for expensive suits among the population.
The hardest thing for her was to admit that her previous professional life had been absurd and meaningless. She knew, deep down, that hedge fund managers were not creating any value for society, but she could not accept that the whole industry could disappear instantly and, that was most cruel to her, that everyone would rejoice.
She could have applied to a government job like most of the Brusselites. International people like them were in high demand now that the official language of the Queendom was European – a language just like English, except you can use any loan word you wanted without having to use italics. It was more or less the language everyone was already speaking in the Brussels bubble. The shift from banking to government was too much for her, so she decided to take on the opportunity the basic income provided her, moved to the countryside and became a sewist – a portmanteau word made of “sewing” and “artist”. She made clothes.
I was visiting her to support her in her new job (I had given her a shirt to repair a few weeks before) and because buying new clothes had become much more expensive. The brutal increase in tariffs decided by the Queen meant that it was impossible to buy cheap textiles from Ethiopia anymore. People were now learning to patch up worn shirts and pants instead of throwing them away, and quite a few became tailors, seamstresses and sewists. I didn’t have much money to pay her for her work, but she wasn’t interested in euros anyway. Instead, I brought her two paintings that the artists of the Berlaymont were busy producing.
From the train station, I rented a bike (with a cart for the paintings) and cycled the last ten kilometers under the heavy May heat. She lived in a large villa with a dozen former marketing managers, bankers and salespersons who explored communal life in the hills of Southern Wallonia. They were mostly working on digital projects. When advertising became illegal, almost all American online services pulled away or were blocked. As a result, an immense opportunity appeared for European techies, who had to replace all the American-built, advertising-supported businesses with subscription-based European alternatives. Not only did this provide an additional source of income for thousands across the country, it also ushered in a new era of innovation, which had been killed by the Californian monopolies a decade before.
I met my friend in the villa’s garden, a large, air-conditioned container where they did hydroponic farming. She was tending to the group’s green bean plants, which were already ripe for harvest. We had barely exchanged greetings that she brought me inside the house to show me an e-mail from the reginal Ministry for Citizen Power that she’d just received.
‒ “What on Earth does that mean? she asked. Do I have to go to Munich and work there? I don’t even speak German!”
I read the e-mail carefully. After the creation of the Queendom, the meaning of democracy changed a bit. In the 2010’s and early 2020’s, we’d seen that elections were not exactly a good way to ensure that capable people would hold power. All over what was now Europe, crooks kept being reelected, parliaments were jokes where industry lobbies ruled the day and the executive power could do as it pleased, unhindered by any parliamentary control.
‒ “You haven’t followed the news much in the past few years, have you?” I answered jokingly. “At the European level, the legislative body is now made of 700 randomly selected people, who each work four years. You’ve just been selected to be a Member of Parliament, congratulations!”
‒ “And I have to move to Munich?” She was visibly distraught.
‒ “No, it says here that your first session will be in Munich, for two weeks in October. Because there’s no fixed capital in the Queendom, Parliament moves from session to session. You’ll get to visit quite a few cities in four years, I really envy you! And no need to learn Bavarian, the Parliament only works in European.”
‒ “Is there a way I can say no? I mean, I haven’t followed current affairs at all since I moved here, there’s no way I can write law!”
‒ “Well, technically, you can apply for an exemption, but since you’re not sick and don’t have a close relative you need to take care of day and night, you probably won’t get any. But don’t worry, you’ll have an outgoing Member of Parliament come here in a few weeks to help you get up to speed on what you need to know. And each session only lasts a couple of weeks, you can work from here the rest of the time.”
‒ “That’s it then, I have to give up on my sewist career! I guess it’s payback time for me, I’ll have to bow to the wishes of the Queen like a good serf!”
I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not, so I remained serious. “If you dislike the Queendom that much, you can find allies in Parliament and push for a vote to bring back the Republic.”
‒ “Well, I’ll see how much sense this Queendom makes and then I’ll let you know if I decide to write a new constitution. But how do we know that the Members of Parliament are selected at random? I mean, couldn’t the Queen pick the people she wants, including a token opposition made of harmless fools like me?”
‒ “No chance of that. The Committee that selects the Members of Parliament is one of the most controlled institutions there is. The code of the software that makes the selection is open source and audited before each selection.”
‒ “Controlled by whom? By the Queen?”
‒ “No, controlled by randomly selected citizens. For every position in the reginal administration, you’ll find citizens who check their work, usually by going on location for a few days each month. If they find something fishy, they can report it to the reginal ombudsperson or directly to the reginal prosecutor’s office. That’s what democracy is all about: Holding powerful people to account. The whole voting thing was the way they went about it in the 18th and 19th century, when they thought human beings were rational creatures, but research in psychology in the 20th century showed that this assumption was totally wrong – hence the need the Queen had for a new kind of democracy.”
‒ “You mean there will be no elections at all in the future?”
‒ “Maybe at the state level. Brussels is changing its constitution to follow the reginal model, but Wallonia is keeping elections for local governments. At the European level, the Queen has already designated her successor, so there’s no risk of a crackpot like Trump or Le Pen taking power via an election. The guy’s Günther Öztürk, who currently serves as the head of the reginal army.”
‒ “And when he’s crowned, we’ll be living in a Kingdom, right? And we’ll switch all the ministries’ titles from reginal to royal?”
‒ “No way. The administration has already made clear that the Queendom will stay. After all, queens have ruled kingdoms for centuries, kings can probably run queendoms too.”
Thursday, 13 May 2027
I decided to spend the night at the villa after we received a warning on our devices that the cyclone “Milton” was coming our way (cyclones were now named after neoliberal economists). It took some time to board up the house, safely store the solar panels and activate the back-up batteries, but we were ready in time. The storm was only a category 2, with winds under 180 kilometers per hour. The noise of the wind against the doors and windows prevented us from sleeping, but not from sharing drinks in the living room.
Damage from Milton was minimal in the village, but a fallen tree had blocked the train tracks, so that I couldn’t make it to Brussels before the early evening. On the platform at Gare du Midi, the two guys I’d seen at the museum on Monday and at the university on Tuesday were there again, starring at me as I disembarked the train. I didn’t have the time to confront them now, but this stalking couldn’t go on anymore. If I ever saw them again, I’d bring them to the police and file a complaint for harassment.
I did not have the time to confront them because I had a date. We were to meet at the football stadium, where the Magic Queendom was playing against Flanders. I loved walking through the new Remembrance Park, which had just been opened around the Heysel Stadium. The park was dotted with little white stones, barely larger than pebbles – 10 million stones, one for each victim of Belgian rule in the Congo in the past century. When you walked there, you really felt that the political wind was blowing in a new direction.
My date and I were comfortably seated close to the pitch, getting ready to enjoy the game. The pair Kylian Mbappé-Leroy Sané gave the Queendom the best attack in the world, even though the Flemish defense would give us a hard time. Ever since FIFA had gone out of business, collapsing under the weight of its own corruption, the European football league was pitting national teams against each other. People loved it and the Queendom had won every championship since the beginning.
‒ “I have to confess something, my date told me. I know you went to great length to get us these tickets, but I’m not really comfortable with public displays of nationalism. You know, half of my family lives in Flanders and they resent us Brusselers for having joined the Queendom. Without Wallonia to blame, their national identity is in tatters and their politicians make it up by doubling down on nationalism.”
‒ “Hopefully a more courageous generation of politicians will rise up in Flanders, I said. The Netherlands can’t operate their levees by themselves anymore. If they don’t want to flood entirely, they’ll have to join soon. With the Netherlands in, there will be no choice left for Flanders. They’ll have to either join Europe or side with the United Kingdom. Once they’ll have joined, they’ll be free to fly their Flemish flags as high as they want.”
‒ “And why would that be a good thing?” my date asked.
‒ “The European identity is nothing like a national identity, I said. The government actively supports regionalisms, in part because the Queen is happy to uproot the political class that was entrenched at the national level, but mostly because the European identity is not bound to a territory. Being a citizen of the Queendom is an act of loyalty, not of belonging.”
‒ “Loyalty to whom? my date asked. To the Queen, as in feudal times?”
‒ “In a way, yes, I answered. But when you pledge allegiance to the Queen, you really declare your support for the constitution of the Queendom. Having these ideas and principles embodied in the person of the Queen is just more practical for our human brains. We’re just not good with abstract concepts.”
‒ “How’s this pledge of allegiance any different from what they do in the United States, or from the nationalism of any other country?” my date countered.
‒ “In other countries, nationalism was really a codeword for ethno-nationalism. In Europe, nationalists were the ones who hated people of color and foreigners, among other things. Those who pretended otherwise, who saw nationalism as a positive trait, simply had no credibility. The administration was fueled by racism from the bottom up. Now that the laws against racial hatred are being enforced seriously, racism is on the way down.”
‒ “Really? my date said. I think racism was more a result of individualism. By having individuals compete against each other, you needed to find a justification as to why some succeeded and some didn’t, because our brains refuse to process complex explanations or accept that chance plays a role. Racism was the justification: Brown people had to be at the bottom of society and those who weren’t had to be grateful for it. Individualism – not the guarantee of personal freedoms, but the action of thinking in terms of individuals – was the problem. To me, the most important step towards ending racism was the announcement by the government that organizations should stop thinking in terms of individuals and start thinking in teams that should be representative of the people they served. That’s why every police unit must be 10% Muslim, for instance. I remember the Queen saying that she didn’t care about having the most capable people in her government if this government could not understand how the country was doing. That was the beginning of the end for the supremacy of white males. This idea is the foundation of our stochocratic political system, where representatives are randomly selected.”
‒ “Interesting, I answered. To me, it seems like the end of racism had more to do with the introduction of the universal basic income. Without competition for jobs, most people stopped having a need to see the population in terms of ‘us’ and ‘people who want to take my job’. Security and a higher sense of self-worth made it unnecessary for most to have enemies within their societies. And because we have plenty of groups to feel different from, starting with the countries that refuse to go carbon-free, we remain cohesive, as a society, without the need for a racial ‘other’.”
‒ “You’re right, my date said. The government also has good political reasons to eradicate racism. There are so many people who want to build a new society with us, so many people fleeing war or misery… We need to integrate them as fast as possible. Making sure that everyone’s cool with all skin colors is necessary for the Queen’s policies. She could not pull out what she’s doing with a shrinking population of racists.”
‒ “And the integration of newcomers does a lot against racism, too, I added. I remember how it was before the Queendom: people were expected to integrate themselves, which obviously made no sense as everyone living here was, by the very fact of being here, part of society! Dropping the neoliberal dogma of individualism, the Queen made clear that integration was something only society, and not individuals, could perform. She immediately prohibited foreign financing of religious services, which made Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders equally angry. But they regained their smile when she announced a major drive to renovate churches and build new mosques, as well as the introduction of theology courses at university for all religions. She made clear that Islam was to be treated equally to Christianity and that the state was going to have a say in the way religion was organized. She basically extended the German model – with the introduction of Islam to the religious mix – to the rest of Europe.”
We were interrupted in our conversation by the national anthems. The loudspeakers first played The Flemish Lion. A few Flemish supporters sang along the military march, but even if they tried hard to show their national fervor, their efforts were more sad than proud. They knew what was coming. Since the creation of the Queendom, our anthem was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. When the disco song blasted in the stadium, thousands started dancing, waving rainbow flags and, singing but mostly shouting, telling each other that they used to cry but were now somebody new holding their heads up high.
I took my date’s hand. This was going to be a good game.
Friday, 14 May 2027
I came back from the night at my date’s in the early hours. I had just locked my bike when I saw, on the doorstep of my house, the two guys who had been following me for the whole week. They wore long trench coats and matching hats, and already had sunglasses on even though the sun was just rising. They were profusely sweating in the morning heat, which made them half-menacing and half-ridiculous.
‒ “Hello. I’m agent X and this is agent Y from the reginal service for Special Missions” said the shorter of the two. In the Queendom, Special Missions was as close as you could get to a secret service.
‒ “I would have expected secret agents to be a bit more… inconspicuous.” I snapped back.
‒ “We’re a new service, we’re still learning the tricks of the trade” said agent Y.
‒ “Maybe you should stop using comic books from the 20th century as learning material, that would help.” I answered. “What can I do for you?”
Both agents regained composure and explained why I was a person of interest for them. “You know that Europe alone cannot win the fight against carbon dioxide. The diplomatic corps is very active in convincing other countries that they need to act. But not everyone is playing along. For the few countries that still run refineries, oil drilling platforms, cement factories, coal-fueled power plants etc., we need to go beyond diplomacy. We send undercover operatives there to delay the entry in service of some factories or decrease the output of some others.”
‒ “Cut the bullshit, I said. You want me to do sabotage? Where? Why me?”
‒ “We prefer to talk about carbon dioxide management, but you get the idea. We recruit mostly singles who have had experience abroad and speak several languages, people like you, agent Y answered. Your task would be to reduce the production capacity of the Hot Lake tar sands in Alberta, Canada. We would provide you with a new identity for the duration of the mission, lots of money and a lifelong exemption from military duty.”
Tar sands production really was an abomination worth fighting against. On the other hand, it sounded dangerous and the perks were meager. For one thing, I loved military duty. Once a year, we had to report for two weeks of military training. It was, of course, a great opportunity to wear gorgeous rainbow uniforms, but it was also a way to meet people of all ages from all across the Queendom and from different social groups. The least fun part of it was the sub machine gun practice – the army still needed lethal force, after all – but the rest was more like a MacGyver camp than a remake of Full Metal Jacket. We learned to build houses in the forest, to operate secretly in a foreign crowd, to tail people in the street, to drive off-road, to hack into computer networks… I didn’t want to give up on that. Travel to Canada was the only attractive thing in the offer the agents were making me. Plane travel was a thing of the past now that kerosene was priced according to its real environmental cost, and intercontinental holidays had become all but unimaginable.
‒ “What’s the level of danger for such a mission?” I asked.
‒ “Not every mission is successful, but the country needs heroes to …”
‒ “Oh, please! I interrupted. Will you give me real numbers or shall I file a freedom of information request with your boss?”
After a short lull, his colleague answered matter-of-factly. “We have launched 15,000 individual missions since 2025. 6,000 are ongoing and 2,000 ended successfully. You do the math”.
Playing Russian roulette was slightly less dangerous than accepting. After all, blowing up a massive tar sands operation with my own two hands was not going to be a walk in the park. But staying in Brussels and watching the temperature rise year after year, looking by as the category 2 cyclones became category 3, 4 and 5 wasn’t an appealing alternative either.
“Let me think about it.” I finally said, and I went up to my apartment for a solid nap.