Chapter Five – Passage Three
“Jesus, calm down,” says Deepak, “no one here’s even remotely considering anything like that. Besides, like Van said earlier, that sort of ‘hard-power’ move only works initially. It only gets you so far. Eventually, the poor slaves in the galleys will all kinda look at each other and realize that they’re being trampled upon by artificially-imposed scarcity. And once that happens, you’re gonna get Spartacus on your hands, which ends exactly how you’d imagine.”
“What we need to watch out for,” says Katherine, “is the ten percent.” She says this while staring intently at a donut which she’s speared with a fork off the breakfast spread. The intensity of her gaze seems to suggest that she’s about the untangle some grand mystery of the universe.
“The ten percent?” Coleman looks perplexed. “Ten percent of what exactly?”
“In any given population,” Kat continues, “ninety percent of your people will be followers. Maybe not always happy. But they’ll be obedient. As long as they’re ensured safety, food, and shelter, they’ll fall in line and do as they’re told. The mass of men are not leaders. Leading is difficult. And annoying. It’s a burdensome and thankless job.”
Van nods. It’s the nod of a kindred soul whose been in the trenches. Beside her, Coleman swivels around in his office chair, looking clueless.
“Ah. And the other ten percent?” I ask.
“The other ten is the potential for trouble. These are your aspiring revolutionaries, your dreamers, the wide-eyed and the eager. People who’ll harp on about the grandeur of democracy and equality. Young folk who grew up having never worked a single day of their lives and instead read James Baldwin and Malcolm X on Mommy and Daddy’s dime.”
Deepak nods. “Your Gandhis and your Kings. The Jeffersons and Adams of the world.”
“Exactly,” Van agrees. “Without leaders, people degenerate to their native and primordial form– the common sheep.”
“Alright,” I say, “some gross and sweepingly broad generalizations notwithstanding, let’s say we run with Kat’s idea. So what exactly? You’re not thinking of more starvation and disappearance campaigns, I hope.”
“Tsk, tsk,” Van shakes her head. “Honestly, you think such awful things about my nature. On the contrary, it’s in fact the exact opposite. We devise a system to reward the outliers and would-be changemakers. Scholarships and job opportunities abroad. We export them out of China.”
The moment Van describes her idea, I immediately realize there is merit in her thinking. By appealing to the self-interest of the excellent and ambitious, it’s possible to use a carrot and simply lure them away. No sticks necessary. It’s promising and the idea I like best so far, as it doesn’t require forced starvation or genocide.
“But how do we do that, exactly?” asks Katherine. “Academic decathlons? National competitions?”
“No, rewarding scholastic aptitude won’t work,” says Alan. “In fact, many of the best test-takers and highest scorers, our data has repeatedly shown, are in fact the least capable of independent thought. They are beneficiaries of China’s rigorous standardized testing system and destined for government sinecures and riches. Many are from wealthy families as well who obviously possess a healthy interest in maintaining the status quo. Almost entirely across the board, they’re the least likely to shake the boat.”
“So basically,” Coleman summarizes, “the valedictorians are sheeple and non-threats. It’s the rebels and dropouts that we need to watch out for.”
“In a nutshell, yes.”