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Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters


by Terence Kumpf

Come the time when it’s later, and most of the poorer developing nations of the Earth had finally industrialized. Their citizens, with a reasonable amount of governmental and social support, had finally found a modicum of comfort. Hunger and famine had, for the most part, been entirely eradicated. There still remained some hungry souls treading about their native soil, but they were hungry due to short lapses in meaningful work or an inability to hold down suitable employment to provide the necessary means of sustenance. But even these people, mostly through the generosity and caring of others who had been in their unfortunate shoes once before, usually found enough food, and so forth, to maintain fairly content lives. Greed had also been wiped out, along with other sicknesses of the human condition—jealousy, envy, hatred, racism, and so forth.

People were generally happy, content, and living in a compromised estimation of peace—what it could be, as opposed to what it should be. In light of criticism that greed and desire fuel human activities like artistic creation, well, that had been debunked, and people had found other inspirations to flint their creative sparks and funnel their creative urges. In fact, most scientists and theologians of the day concurred that creativity, rather than an offshoot of our petty wants, lusts, and needs, was merely an extension of our natural biological desire to procreate as a race of sexual beings. Indeed, creativity had come to be thought as closely connected to creation, which seemed logically enough linked anyway.

Yes, everyone was generally happy, content, and satisfied. Smiling and crying had become the foundation for the newly emerging non-verbal global language. Hugs and kisses, too. This was an unforeseen phenomenon, but welcome, for people now had a new technique to cross-culturally communicate. Even though the tools for this non-verbal communication had been in place for eons, we had somehow forgotten the power of a laugh, a hug, or a hope.

War had ceased to exist. People of all races, creeds, colors, and religions had learned to live with mutual respect for one another. It’s never a good bet to surrender that war retired, but no one could recall a major regional conflict in recent memory, and war was something we only read about in history books. In actuality, war had become an arcane principle. If a man or a woman taking stage in conversation chose to ratify the positive points of armed conflict, they were quickly rebuffed and very soon after came their admission that they were merely playing Devil’s Advocate to spin speculative discussion. Everyone had a laugh and would toast their beverage of choice.

Due in large part to the disappearance of armed human conflict, governments had somehow found a way to make money and fund the social programs and support nets that kept society together; hence, contentedness. The coffers, as they were often called, were usually full—if not overflowing. There were never any deficits, and many leading figures in the social, political, and economic forums were seriously considering banning hard currency completely. The monetary system, like war, was an old institution, and people nowadays were starting to see its stuttering inefficiency. A few new ideas for sufficient exchange of goods and services were being kicked around. The best minds were usually busy working on these kinds of problems.

One of the main reasons for the bulging coffers was the behavioral legislation that had been successfully passed and regimentally implemented generations prior. All tobacco and alcohol products were stiffly taxed. Most people thought this would dully lead to a decrease in consumption and, subsequently, a diminishing of what was thought as adverse behavior. The best experts had concluded, after rigorous study and analysis, that ones smoking and drinking increased the costs for public healthcare. This was deemed, therefore, wholly unacceptable. And for a great number of years, consumption dropped off the radar. The public houses that were once meeting place for such activity, smoking and drinking, shriveled up and closed. A number of years after the legislation and ‘reeducation’ programs had been implemented, no one drank alcoholic beverages.
In public, naturally.

The social coffers sagged.
But some people, of course, continued to smoke and drink, these habits long held hand in hand with other customary social behaviors. Folks still loved meeting for a drink, a smoke, and conversation. After some time, people started to remember what joy could be had sipping some fine micro-brewed suds or nipping at a carefully distilled charcoal sour mash or even a fruity Gewurztraminer. With this resurgence, a new appreciation for alcohol and tobacco and the candle around which conversation draws emerged, and the social phenomenon of smoking and drinking again reattached its roots in society.

And so people met, frequently, sometimes in private, smoking and drinking, speaking and chatting, and much to the chagrin of the ‘Others’ who looked down on the ‘dirty’ habit. There came to be a serious stigma attached to the preoccupation with alcohol and tobacco consumption. As per the usual, the smokers and drinkers, their products stiffly taxed, gleefully engaged in their pastime while contributing to the coffers. In these quiet circles it was hipper than ever to smoke or drink, and special meeting places called bars started cropping up where people could smoke and drink and talk.

The authorities saw this reemergence of social drinking and smoking and, although they knew it would negatively affect the health of the users, decided to let it be. The smokers and drinkers knew their behavior could adversely effect their health, eventually leading to a burden on the social health system, but generally took the view that life was for the living. It was soon understood that those people who drank and smoked would again contribute to the social purses. The authorities saw this as a good clean thing. Regarding the known health risks, smokers and drinkers were required, by newly passed legislation, to sign a waver clearly relinquishing their rights to social health care in lieu of their failing health’s link to smoking and drinking. The smokers and drinkers naturally gave in to this waiver system, as they, like most thinking people, knew they would not live forever, and why not enjoy yourself now while full of life and time?

The smokers and drinkers flourished. They were happier than ever. The social stigma, however, did not diminish, due mostly to the barrage of ‘education’ handed down by the Right to Lifers. These were the people who lobbied to pass the original laws barring smoking and drinking. They claimed to work in the public interest when they were actually working in their own selfish interest to infect others with their biased and prejudiced thought. How could they, the Right to Lifers, as one unpopular government official pointed out, be working for the common public trust when they pushed for legislation that would decrease the shiny gold pieces in the public’s purse? Clearly all social programs, in total, were important and not just one. There seemed a dichotomy at hand. This was nothing new; human endeavor had, for years, been marked by serious and often times ridiculous schism.

Despite the gaining popularity of smoke and drink, the ‘education’ program implemented by the politically powerful Right to Lifers found serious success. Smoking and drinking continued, but all the recent opinion polls showed the renewed interest leveling off, if not waning. These new ‘bars’ were closing faster than they were opening. The Right to Lifers cheered and clapped each other on the backs. Boy, were they proud. Some of them even toasted some kind of sparkling liquid in fluted glasses in the privacy of their own homes. When word of this got around town, there was much speculation about what these flutes contained.
The Right to Lifers trumpeted their success and played their flutes for a while. Some people followed along to their song and joined the ranks of the movement. But very soon after the ‘pubs’ and ‘bars’ had started to close, government officials saw a sharp decline in the social coffers. Some programs had to be suspended indefinitely. This raised a public outcry even the Right to Lifers couldn’t ignore. But they, drunk on the success of their ‘education’ program and the convincing history of their behavioral legislation, couldn’t think of a solution to quiet the public outcry for more money for social programs.

The Right to Lifers were stumped.
A new political group emerged. They called themselves the Left to Lifers, the name inspired by the group’s direct opposition of the social agenda of the Right to Lifers. These ‘Lefties,’ some of them proud private social smokers and drinkers (some of them not), had a new idea. Based on the connection between consumables and the constant need for overflowing governmental coffers, but unsatisfied with the delineation and stigmatization of one particular social group, the Left to Lifers introduced their now famous "Chocolate Tax." At first, the Right to Lifers screamed in outrage. How can you tax a good or product a child eats? Why should a child, who cannot work, be expected to pay tax? The Left to Lifers quickly countered this argument by insisting the child’s consumption should be controlled and regulated by the parents, a logical enough argument. The Left’s best argument—chocolate, specifically the sugar in chocolate, greatly increased the possibility of the user contracting diabetes, another debilitating disease. And naturally, since this contributed a significant burden on the social health care system, the point bore serious logical weight. There was stiff resistance to newly proposed "Chocolate Tax," for the Right to Lifers were a powerful legislating force, but eventually, and after much raging public debate, the legislation passed, and people soon paid exorbitant taxes on their chocolate.

The coffers flowed. Most everybody in their right mind saw the painfully clear logic of taxing a good consumed by most everyone. Whether you fell into full milk, dark, bitter, half bitter, white, nuts, fruit, no nuts, crispies, or just plain old chocolate spread, you supported your fellow man, woman, and child by paying a stiff tax and keeping the public purse full. Every logical thinking individual felt they were contributing to the social system; therefore, no one complained very much.

But then came the Swiss. The Swiss had thought for years that their chocolate was the best thing going. In fact, most people came to believe and accept this fact: Swiss chocolate was the best. White, dark, bitter—the Swiss had chocolate down. The Swiss however didn’t feel they should have to pay this Chocolate Tax, as they were the producers of the finest chocolate in all the land. They felt their esteem should relinquish their social responsibility.

Well, naturally, the other people of the Earth felt this was ridiculous. One group could not deviate from the law, no matter the justification, and the public roared when the Swiss started protesting. They ceased producing their chocolate, and this made many people very, very angry. As every person in the world could generally afford any luxury good, most people were damned mad. Many people felt the Chocolate Tax was justified so long as they had access to fine Swiss chocolate. How could the Swiss do this to us, they thought, how could they take away one of the finest products they had ever bestowed upon the world simply because they felt they should be exempt from the Chocolate Tax?

The Swiss, a smart and able bunch, held steadfast to their principles and ceased producing chocolate. The government officials would not allow a Swiss exemption from the Chocolate Tax, as—naturally—governments do not like to shrink in the face of public challenge. The Swiss felt guilty for robbing the world of fantastic chocolate, but they were proud of themselves for sticking to their principles. Over time, this was considered a victory of sorts. Eventually, public discontent with the Swiss decision to cease producing the world’s finest chocolate subsided, as all public discontent usually does, and the Chocolate Tax prevailed. But the world became a much sadder place.

It’s been years since Swiss chocolate has been produced, and even the remaining aged former Swiss chocolate experts have forgotten the production process. In fact if, walking down the street, you ask someone if they have ever sampled Swiss chocolate, they usual stop, look at you, stammer, and eventually reply, "Swiss what?"
And the world is a much sadder place, and it has been ever since, without fine Swiss chocolate.

© Terence Kumpf October 2003

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