A Short Story
by Peter Capofreddi
The Radicalization of Josiah
Paul thanked Josiah for the coffee and began to speak. “The rich use resources for displays of vanity, resources that might have saved starving children.”
“The rich own those resources,” Josiah objected. “They have a right to use them as they choose.”
Paul smiled. “The rich control the means of communication. They control the companies that produce films and television. They control the way you think. If you believe the rich really own the resources they claim to own, this testifies to the success of their indoctrination techniques. What evidence do you have that the rich really own the resources they claim to own?”
“I never really thought about that,” admitted Josiah.
“The rich don’t want you to think about it. They don’t want you to question their claims of ownership. The rich control the government. They pass laws that allow them to get richer while the poor starve. Of course they have documentation to prove they own what they own. But what’s the meaning of these documents, when they’re produced by a government controlled by the rich, enforcing laws drafted by the rich for the benefit of the rich?”
Josiah looked puzzled. He had always just accepted that the rich really owned what they claimed to own. “So what can we do?” he asked.
Paul nodded as he answered, “Yes, there is something we can do. The abuses of the rich, their callous indifference to the suffering of the poor, led previous generations to devise plans for revolution. Today, however, the rich have perfected the art of controlling the means of communication. They have perfected the art of infiltrating the resistance. They know precisely what it takes to prevent revolution. These new circumstances call for new revolutionary tactics. Collective revolution is no longer possible. The only plausible way to oppose today’s ruling class is by individual revolution.”
“What’s individual revolution?” Josiah asked eagerly.
“In a collective revolution,” Paul explained, “revolutionaries work together to eliminate the rich and the power structures they use to enforce their rule. In individual revolution, an individual revolutionary acts independently to eliminate as many of the rich as possible, and thereby lessens the damage done by the rich.”
Josiah still looked puzzled. “I still don’t understand,” he said.
“Suppose one wealthy family squanders on their displays of vanity resources that might have saved thousands of starving children. Eliminating just this one family frees up the resources to save thousands.”
“You keep saying ‘eliminate.’ Don’t you really mean ‘murder’?”
“Righteous elimination of villains isn’t murder. It’s justice. The rich are the true murderers. They squander resources that might have saved starving children on their displays of vanity. An individual revolutionary who eliminates a rich family isn’t a murderer. She is a liberator.”
“But she will be punished as a murderer.”
“If she is apprehended by the ruling class, she becomes a martyr for the holy cause of revolution. Each rich family murders thousands of starving children with its displays of vanity. Sacrificing oneself to save thousands seems to me like a good tradeoff.”
“But you haven’t martyred yourself yet, I see.”
“I intend to spread my message before my martyrdom.”
“I see,” said Josiah, “And when can we expect your martyrdom?”
“I don’t know yet. But I know that when I go, I’ll take as many of the rich with me as I can.”
“Aren’t the rich human beings?”
“Yes, murderers are human beings. But this doesn’t mean we must allow them to continue their murderous rampage. When my moment of martyrdom comes, and I eliminate a rich family, I will have prevented the squandering of resources that might have saved thousands of lives.”
“How do you know the resources will end up in the hands of those who need them?”
“I don’t know if they will or not. But individual revolution sends a message. The fear of being eliminated will lead the remaining rich to conceal their wealth. It will dissuade them from conspicuously squandering yet more resources on vanity. The act of individual revolution serves as a role model for other revolutionaries.”
Josiah in the Cancer Ward
Josiah wasn’t entirely persuaded. He was prepared to martyr himself if his martyrdom would accomplish the aims Paul claimed it would. But would it? His martyrdom couldn’t possibly be effective unless it served to spread the message of individual revolution. But he couldn’t, in good conscience, demand martyrdom from others before he had martyred himself. And he certainly couldn’t spread the message after he had martyred himself. What could he do?
Soon Josiah hit upon a solution. Terminally ill patients had nothing to lose by their martyrdom, and everything to gain. Their martyrdom would make them heroes before their inevitable death. Josiah began preaching the gospel of individual revolution in the cancer ward.
Nettie was sixty-one years old. She had long gray hair, kind eyes, and a body riddled with cancer. Josiah persuaded Nettie that she could prevent the squandering of resources that might have saved thousands of starving children by eliminating a family that was particularly conspicuous in its vanity. Nettie knew precisely such a family. Jane and Hubert Egregious lived with their seventeen-year old son Arnold in a hundred million dollar mansion. Nettie once worked for the Egregious family as a housekeeper. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper explaining how consuming resources that might have saved starving children was unconscionable and must be punished. She determined a time when the Egregious family would be home. She dropped the letter in the mail. She came to the Egregious mansion bearing a basket of flowers and a note thanking them for employing her. They invited her in to sit with them in their drawing room. She shot the three of them. As their blood ran on the floor she once cleaned, she shot herself.
The local newspaper was owned by Harold Plutocrat. He got the letter. He refused to publish it. But he did inform his rich friends about the rapidly spreading idea of individual revolution. Word got around. The rich started to worry.
Then something remarkable occurred. Precisely what Paul predicted began to happen. The rich began to be afraid. Rather than trying to conspicuously display their wealth, they began to conceal their wealth. Rich people began converting their mansions into homeless shelters. They weren’t motivated by philanthropic sentiment. They were motivated by fear. They wanted to appear to be allies of the revolutionaries. They wanted to appear to be on the side of the poor. Conspicuous consumption began to decline.