An Allegory of the Freedom Train

The following is an extended metaphor, hence why it’s an allegory. If you haven’t yet read, “The Parable of the Mugger’s Sandwich,” then please do so before reading this fictional story.

 

 

A long time ago, there was a megalopolis whose downtown brimmed in a thousand points of light. This sprawling cityscape soon became the technological and social center of a quickly growing empire. Despite the glorious marvels found only in the downtown area, there were other boroughs of the city where its inhabitants were barely living at all. Their ramshackle tenements felt as if they were about to buckle at the seams at any given moment. An air of desperation was all too common amongst the people here, and anything that offered itself as a reliable means of escape was considered to be very valuable indeed. To paraphrase a David Bowie song, the fleas were the size of rats stacked upon rats the size of cats.

It wasn’t just the fact that dilapidated shelters were the norm here; it was also the fact that no one lived here in what they would have considered to be their own homes. For instance, it was rather typical for meddling neighbors to demand the intervention of a constable for every minor inconvenience you could imagine, and many times, for even no problem at all. A culture of tattle-telling was emulated right here in the tenements, because it made many of the people here feel as if they weren’t that different from their wealthier counterparts who lived downtown. Unsurprisingly, this engendered an opposing counter-culture of those who simply wanted to live in peace with their neighbors without the meddling interference of the constables on nearly daily basis.

These brave and unrelenting souls approached their troublesome neighbors in several different ways over the many years. They argued, bargained, and sometimes even made compromises in order to find a resolution that would please both parties. Alas, every heroic effort resulted in stupendous failure, and many of those who had initially resisted their troublesome neighbors eventually became just like them. Dissension and bickering soon followed, and the effort to live in any form of tranquility in the city with one’s neighbors virtually collapsed.

Yet, there was a remnant who understood that the desire to interfere with one’s neighbors ran quite deeply, and ultimately they realized that there was no way to strike a deal with them, or compromise in any way, since such efforts had been repeatedly tried, and had always failed. This remnant eventually proposed an original, if radical, solution to this age-old problem – leaving the city behind forever. Much dissension within the ranks followed, although eventually, such bickering ceased once the eldest of the remnant pointed out that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Soon, preparations were underway for the great escape from the city.

The first major consideration was the mode of transportation. Much debate ensued, but it was eventually agreed upon that a train was the best option. It was cheaper than flying an airplane, yet it was quicker to build than a long caravan of automobiles. A train had just enough room to fit them all, albeit quite tightly packed together (or so said its designers). Most importantly, the construction of the train and its rails would be decried by city officials and potentially halted, so time would be of the essence if this ambitious effort were to be pulled off successfully.

As predicted, once construction was underway, the metropolitan authorities condemned the project, propagandizing that it would rip the social fabric of the city apart by suggesting it was possible to leave the city en masse. Some of these authorities even went so far as to try and sabotage the building of the rail line by pretending to join the project, fabricating phony complaints from non-existent neighbors, and then using these complaints to tattle-tale on some of the train’s builders. Although these poor souls were ripped away from constructing the train by the constables, most of the workers never found themselves in such trouble, and after some hesitation, everyone else went back to work more diligently than ever before.

Finally, the train and its rail were completed. Seeing no reason to delay its departure, and also seeing how impotent the city’s officials were at stopping its construction, these people set a date that, in later years, became known as Independence Day. On that day, there were celebrations, whooping, and speechifying. After the train was stuffed to the hilt with passengers, it began to pull out of the city. There were numerous swarms of people running after the train as it slowly began to gain speed, trying to catch onto the outside of the train before they worked their way inside. Some people who failed to catch the train, or otherwise stay on it, fell off on the outskirts of the city while also suffering injuries ranging from light bruising to broken collarbones.

After that hardest push to get the train moving, those who sought freedom from the city and its arbitrary constraints had set off on what they thought of as their great adventure. What they soon discovered was that there were various railway stations along the way whose memorial plaques told them that these stations had been built by those who had come before. A few passengers got off at this first stop, and they chose a leader who had proven himself capable of fending off hostile savages; his son would eventually take his place, as would his eldest son, for several generations. The supermajority of the train’s passengers, however, did not prefer this particular scheme, so they stayed on the train to see what the next stop had in store for them.

What the passengers began debating with each other over was which train stop was the “best” one to get off at. Passionate speeches were made about how this stop, or that stop, was the one that offered the most capable social arrangement for making sure neighbors don’t interfere with each other. The train would stop at a couple of stations, and a few people at each one would disembark, but the vast majority of the passengers stayed on the train, just to see if they could bear witness to an even better outcome. Before too long, one passenger reminded the entirety of the whole train that, in accordance with their own stated principles, they should stop at each station and passively allow whomever wanted to depart to do so, simply because the decision about whether to not to get off at a particular stop was primarily a deeply personal one. Once the commotion over this new proposal had settled down, most passengers nodded in agreement, even though some of them felt this idea left a bad taste in their mouths, for they had wanted a “solution” that would be applied equally to everyone.

So, on it went, with some passengers stepping off the train at the next stop, but most choosing to stay on it and see how far they could go. One rather vocal minority of the train even went so far as to argue that they will only get off the train once they have reached the end of the line. The majority scoffed at this, claiming that there is nothing beyond the end of the rail, and that everyone must get off only when the train stops at a station, since by now all of them had discovered that the rail line that they had constructed had now blended in with an older rail, which had been built by the same folks who had built this series of train stations.

Towards the end of the line, there was last one stop at a rail station where the remaining bulk of the passengers disembarked. Throngs of bodies dotted the train platform, and that same minority who had wanted to go the end of the line grinned in anticipation of what they considered to be their just reward. Right before the last of the willing passengers had stepped off the train, some of those who had assumed the guise of leadership convinced the rest of the passengers on the platform that it was wrong for even that tiny minority to see the end of the line, much less leave the train for it. By inciting the crowd, these self-appointed representatives stepped in front of the stopped train, drew their guns, and opened fire. They killed every last one of the remaining passengers.

Much time passed, and those who got off at this last train stop had originally built a relatively small fishing village, which then expanded into a small town, then a larger town, eventually a medium sized city, and finally into a megalopolis, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the one their ancestors had originally fled. Unfortunately, these new city officials had learned from the previous great escape, and had forbidden the building of any trains or rail lines that would take people away from the city. Inevitably, there grew a disgruntled minority who wanted to leave this city, but alas, they found themselves trapped, perhaps forever, unless they found another way. Maybe those electrical inventions by that Serbian immigrant could become useful to them.

But for the foreseeable future, they all continued to live miserably ever after.

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