The Risks of Empathy, a Novella
Harry was on his knees with the side of his head down flat on the floor; he was looking under a pallet stacked with bags of cracked corn. He was talking to a small brown mouse. "Come on now. Get out of there. I need to move this corn into the barn."
He looked up and over his shoulder at Karen and said, "Hand me that rake behind the forklift seat."
She did but said, "Be careful Harry."
Harry used the handle to reach under the pallet and gently nudge the mouse. It ran out and under the next pallet. Harry smiled and got up. "That's about the tenth time I've flushed him. I think he is learning not to be too worried about me."
Karen sat down on one of the forklift's two work-polished tines and breathed a deep sigh.
"What was that for?" asked Harry. "You didn't think I was going to hurt the little guy did you?"
"Of course not. It's just that I've been thinking more about this whole situation. Mr. Selling says we might actually have to fight a real war. I just don't get it. What's wrong with people Harry? Why can't they see the truth? Why don't they care?"
Harry walked around and sat down on the other silver tine. He looked at Karen, seemed to think for a moment, and answered her sigh with one of his own. "Well. Do you want to hear my opinion on the subject?"
"Yes, of course."
"I think that there are four kinds of people in the world. There're those who see immediately that animals are people; I don't mean they're human of course, but some people seem to notice immediately that there's someone looking back at them when they look into a dog's or a cow's eyes. But people like that, people who are sensitive or open enough to see this on their own, well, they're rare. I doubt that many of the people around here are like that. Most of the people around here are in the second group.
"The second kind of person is someone who is shocked that they have been missing something that seems obvious once it's pointed out to them. Or, in this case, it's the kind of person who really is kind and has always been kind and at least a little charitable. These are people like you and me. Once we watched the TEs we realized that we'd just been wrong or had missed the fact that a dog really is a sort of a person. I think these are the kind of a people around here mostly. I think that most people are like this. We are shocked at first because we didn't really imagine that an animal was something very different from anything else we owned or ate like a shoe or a carrot.
"The third kind of person is someone who watches a TE and gets a little shock but is either too stupid or selfish or too something to care. I guess that these are the kind of people who never did really care too much about other people either. So when they learned that a horse was another person, they just said 'so what?'
"That's what I think."
"But you said you think that there are four kinds of people," said Karen.
"Yeah, I guess I did. The fourth group scares me so much that I don't like to think too much about them. Those are the people who didn't learn anything they didn't already know when they watched an animal TE."
"Like the first group?" asked Karen.
"Sort of," answered Harry. "But these people have never been willing to stop hurting or killing animals, even though they know that the animals are a lot like themselves. These are the scientists who have shocked dogs and monkeys so often that the animals have gone insane. These are the people who catch a child and hurt them just because they know how frightened they can make them. These are the people who grin at bullfights and rodeos, who like watching dogs fighting and dogs peeing on themselves in fear. These are the people who devise experiments to frighten baby animals. These are the people who make me worry that evil is very real and not just a name we use for describing coincidentally bad things.
"If there's a war for the animals, you can be sure that these people will be the ones who will be killing simply for the fun of it."
Karen stared at Harry for a while then looked up as a flock of birds wheeled free in the sky. A single tear coursed slowly down her cheek.
The assassination was the big news, of course. On every screen, in every home, in every bar, the images were the same. The President and the Vice President were each giving a speech to commemorate the first fifty years of the American Lunar Colony. Critics were quick to point out that fifteen scientists barely counted as a colony, but the media and the propagandists said otherwise, so it was a colony. The President and the Vice President rarely appeared together in public due to security concerns, but the party wogs had been worried about the upcoming elections and the chance for a pure flag-waving spectacle was irresistible to them.
Three shots could be heard on the recording. The President appeared to be the first one hit and he went down - quickly covered by a pile of secret service agents. The Vice President provided a more spectacular image when his head exploded in an eruption of blood and pieces of, well, his head. The third shot seems to have missed altogether.
Rita was watching the news along with half a dozen others at the bar in Jim's Lounge. Secretary of State Rebecca McGuire was speaking:
"This was a cowardly act that strikes at the very roots of our democracy. I am sorry to say that we have lost two of our finest Americans today. But their deaths will not be in vain.
"Our intelligence agencies tell us that the assassins, and I can now tell you that there were four, have been captured. Our interrogation proves that they are part of a larger plot of revolution against our republic.
"These cowards are part of the same group that has been involved in the growing terrorism we are all too familiar with today.
"But I am committed to seeing our nation continue as a world leader in trade and commerce. Acts of terror, such as the recent attacks on so many of our finest institutions - our ranches, our meat packing plants, our biomedical laboratories, and now on the Presidency itself - will not stand unchallenged.
"In the interests of democracy and the American way of life I am left with no choice but to declare a state of martial law. This will be temporary and is needed only until the radical elements - that have acted with such vile contempt of our hallowed traditions - are brought to justice.
"You have my word that we will see our way through these dark times and emerge with renewed vigor and pride in this great country."
A newscaster then came on the screen and began announcing the local rules that were being put in place in support of the new War on Terrorism.
Rita spat on the floor.