IT WAS LATE and the fire was dying. The wine bottle was definitely not half full. In the far corner a couple of vapers appeared to smoke. But up this end, nearest the fire, I was alone. Until she turned up.
I’d met her a few months before. She’d arrived with a whole crowd of others. People from the university. Trade unionists. Journalists, Students. She didn’t look like any of them. Not much for talking. Or, at least, unwilling to break into the conversation of so many “brilliant” minds. When I asked her what she did, she tilted her head to one side, like a cat who had expected more.
“You’re an artist?”
“And what do you paint?”
“What I see.”
And here she was again, bearing a dangerously full bottle of wine.
“Why don’t you build up that fire?”
“I wasn’t planning to be here much longer.” I waggled the nearly empty bottle in the firelight.
“Plans have a habit of changing”, she said, waggling hers.
I searched in the shadows for the management’s stack of firewood and returned with an armload of logs which I positioned carefully over the feathering embers.
My companion stared at the fireplace for a few minutes, watching the flames curl themselves hungrily around the dry timber. The shadows began to dance.
“I’m over democracy”, she said quietly, her eyes fixed on the flames. “It’s failed. It will kill us all – if we let it.”
“There are decisions that have to be made that won’t be made if majorities composed of selfish and ignorant people continue to dictate policy.”
“Don’t you come over all Socratic with me, I’m not in the mood. You know full well what sort of decisions need to be made if the planet’s to survive. I read your stuff. You get it.”
“You’re talking about climate change.”
“Of course. But not just climate change. You and I both know that without a single global government, backed by sufficient armed force to quell any and all dissent, the human species, and most of the other species inhabiting this planet, are doomed. You also understand that such a government cannot possibly be democratic. Which is why I began this conversation by saying that I’m over democracy. Because, if it isn’t over, we are.”
I took a long sip of wine and set my glass down softly on the table.
“You realise that the only nation state with sufficient military power to overawe all the other nation-states on the planet is the United States of America. So, what you’re actually calling for is a Pax Americana.”
“Doesn’t have to be America. What if the Chinese wiped out the West with a deadly virus genetically-engineered to kill only kwailo – round eyes?”
“Leaving the planet to Asians and Africans?”
“Poetic justice – wouldn’t you say?”
“Maybe. But what happens when those Asians and Africans begin to assert their right to participate in this new planetary government? What do the masters of China’s new global empire do then?”
“What the Americans should have done at the end of World War II, when they alone possessed the atomic bomb. They simply inform the rest of the world that unless it submits entirely to their benign guidance, then their super-weapon will be deployed in a manner guaranteed to secure compliance. Chinese rule. Or, a virus genetically engineered just for you is released. That will be the choice.”
I stared into the bright conflagration filling the fireplace. The heat beat against both our faces. The wine was tepid on my tongue.
“You’re happy to have the Chinese in charge of the global conservation of wildlife?”
“Not entirely. No. But the USA had its chance to rule the planet; to become its enlightened global despot; and it let the moment pass. All the peoples it could have freed from hunger and superstition. All the corrupt feudal despots and obscurantist priests it could have deposed. All of the pent-up creative energy it could have released.
“A world of workers and teachers, artists and scientists. A world in which women were free and equal. A world in which skin colour was irrelevant.
“That was the only sort of world that could possibly have made the loss of 75 million human-beings in World War II meaningful. The only outcome that could have atoned for all that human smoke. But, was that the sort of world the Americans made? Like hell it was! All the Americans were interested in making was money!
“So, you’d prefer to see the planet governed the way the Baathists governed Iraq? Free health care. Free and secular education – especially for women. Homes and jobs for everyone. But woe betide the brave soul who criticises the government. Or, even worse, Saddam!”
“Ah, yes, Iraq. Where everyone is so much better off for being able to stuff a piece of paper in a ballot-box. The free health care and education are gone. The housing projects are all burnt to the ground or blown to smithereens. Unemployment is rife. Women are second-class citizens. Gays are murdered. But, oh my goodness, who cares about the loss of all of those inconsequential things when you have been given the right to vote!”
She took an heroic gulp of wine and refilled both our glasses.
“To the death of democracy!”, she cried, raising her glass.
“Or, to more of it.”, I answered softly, raising my own glass reluctantly to hers.
We both drank deeply.
The blazing logs collapsed in on themselves with a shower of sparks. The stars shone fitfully through the woodsmoke billowing out of the squat concrete chimney. It reminded me of something, but I’m damned if I can remember what it was.