How it could be.....

Chapter 5
More and Thoreau meet one Thomas Paine
Dave Patterson

Copyright Notice

Greenways Home

About half an hour after the GRIPP showed up everything was sorted out and cleared up. MacIrving had been escorted to the city jail by two other GRIPPs who had arrived shortly after the small fracas erupted, over the loud protests of his friends who were told they were “about one more word away from joining him” before they finally departed, promising that we’d “... not heard the end of this, god-damned hippies and commies pretending to be a police force in this god-damned fairyland ... you’ll be hearing from the Big Irv on this one, lads, you can be sure..”.

Unprovoked violence, however, as I explained to More and Thoreau as we finished our coffees (of which Zam had most kindly brought fresh hot ones for us all, on the house, and we had moved to the larger table with Old Mac and a couple of the others - introductions had been performed all around, and we were talking about the incident, as people do afterwards....) was one of the major crimes as far as the Green Island Assembly, with the full support of almost all Islanders, was concerned - there had been a lot of discussion about this, all over the Island, in small meetings and bigger, once the Islanders saw we were serious about it, and they could speak freely.

“We consider freedom from all types of fear to be one of the necessary prerequisites to true egalitarianism and true freedom, and thus true advancement for all of us,” I said, speaking of a subject dear to my heart, “and allowing and encouraging all members of our society to be, truly, “all that they can be” in the real sense of the phrase. A central part of this, of course, means that such things as intimidating others through physical violence (or any other type of violence for that matter such as economical) are simply not tolerated, as anyone who is behaving in a certain way because they fear violence from someone else is very, very far from free. The ....."

"Yes, of course," said More, "and I'm sorry to interrupt, but surely there are exceptions! - That is to say, for instance, if people are inhibited from killing their neighbours or stealing things from them because they fear punishment - violence - from either the wronged individual or the state itself, surely that is not a bad thing? And who draws the lines about what will attract state violence and what will be accepted, and within which parameters one's freedom shall thusly legitimately be constrained? In some senses this is the very basis of any society at all - what is permitted and what is not!"

I smiled. "An excellent observation, and of course that is true," I replied, "and such things were the cause of much concern and discussion for quite awhile around here, believe me! But eventually we came to agreement on this, by and large - there is, you must admit, a world of difference between the man who refrains from killing his neighbour and stealing his property because of fear of state punishment, and a second man who is prevented from living a full life, is indeed living a very poor life, because HIS neighbour is, through violence, forcing him to spend his days labouring to make his neighbour, or master, wealthy. A fear of violence in both cases is central to the observed behaviour - but in one case leading to a good end for society, and in the other a bad end for not only the one individual, but society as well, for this man might have a great deal to contribute, were he free to do so - we understand well that we may not yet be perfect, but that is the path in which we are trying to head, maximum freedom from fear for all. As to choosing what behaviour is to be tolerated and what not - well, we let the people themselves decide that, as we let the people decide pretty much everything - if I may defer that particular discussion for a few hours, we shall be observing such a thing directly this afternoon, if all goes according to plan.

"However, a central thing required in this case - and, for that matter, in most of what we do here on Green Island, in terms of laws or regulations or guidelines or the discussions thereof, requires what we eventually came to call Intellectual Honesty - that is to say, when an individual promotes a certain course of action, are they doing that with the good of society in mind, or simply their own selfish ends, and merely pretending it is for the good of all to try to convince others to go along with them? We see this often - indeed, it was a central component of our old society, which still exists in the rest of Canada, wherein the state undertakes many actions, and laws and regulations, claiming them to be "for the good of all", while in reality, benefiting a few and hurting a lot - it has always been a central problem, the willingness of so many people to lie so egregiously in defence of their own selfish ends. And an equal problem was the unwillingness of so many to challenge those who were lying so for their own ends, while pretending to work for the common weal - it is one of the reasons we have made such an issue of Truth here, in every way we can - the lack of truth, or intentional falsification, is perhaps the single greatest barrier to a decent society for all of us..."

Old Mac had been casually leaning back in his chair, sipping on a morning beer, and listening with a small smile as I expostulated, but now he decided it was time to join the conversation. The man had seen a lot in his years, and from his chosen post outside the societal Box, most of his observations were quite insightful. Living on the street for so many years had had at least one major advantage - his mind wasn't polluted by 4.5 hours of tv every day, every week, every month and year, of his life. Indeed, the oft-complained of ravages of "the drink" on the human brain, while perhaps notable if "the drink" were partaken of in excessive doses, were nonetheless considerably less damaging than the ravages of tv in equivalently excessive doses. Alcohol is a stimulant, enticing the brain to think new thoughts, while tv is the complete opposite, turning off the beta-waves and thoughts at the same time - and the cumulative effect of this, after years and decades, can be quite horrible, if you consider the lost potential of the magnificent human brain. While not promoting drunkeness as a way of life, at least it was now understood, when examined honestly, that it was far less harmful than the control freaks and demonizers of earlier days had made it out to be. We had some researchers working on this, as the fishing and farming communities of the Island, in combination with a societal heirarchy that kept them poor, had always spawned a lot of alcohol abuse, and they were finding some interesting things - as researchers tend to do when some higher authority isn't fore-ordaining their findings, the way most previous alcohol "research" (and much other "research" in the late 20th century) had been conducted - alcohol tended to spark feelings of creativity, and independence, a reluctance to acknowledge authority, a bold willingness to "go where no man has gone before" - all things the Masters of the Western World had wished to discourage in the common people, such things being better left, in their view, to properly sanctioned actors, on tv or otherwise. We, on the other hand, wished to encourage such activities, in our own quest to help all people truly be "all that they could be". And people like Old Mac, dismissed in the old days as a "town drunk", sitting here of a fine morning sipping on a beer, were proof we were on the right track.

"Yes, Stephen is right, as far as he goes," said the grizzled old poet, a small frown of concentration on his deeply tanned and wrinkled brow, speaking in his slow, somewhat rough voice, "but what we are aiming for also, and this honesty Stephen speaks of is one of the central requirements, is a great deal more than refraining from violence because of fear of state reprisals - what you said, Mr. More, was quite true, and for people to be truly free, they must be responsible adults - that is to say, they refrain from violence not because some kind of Big Brother or Big Sister is there with a rulebook and jails watching them, but simply because they know it is the wrong way to behave. I don't kill or steal from you because somebody will punish me if I do - I don't kill or steal from you because that would lessen both of us, in our common goal of being better human beings. That is not to say, of course, they are afraid of violence - mature, strong citizens can do what must be done in any given situation - but they understand that violence on another human being, in any of its myriad forms, is an action having great consequences on many, many lives, rippling with bitter waters through both time and space, and only to be done as a very last resort, or if actually forced into it, through some kind of self-defence - non-violence does not mean weakness, as many have mistakenly believed, but is actually a greater form of strength. We saw the GRIPP in action a few minutes ago - believe me, he could have broken that thug's legs or arms or head in a second, or even killed him if necessary, but he chose the course of minimum force required to restore and maintain order. Which of course leads into the question of why we need any police force at all, in a society of strong and free people hohohohoh!!! - but that is another matter, and I think I just wanted to raise the one point, and have done so!"

"Well, yes, I see," said More, nodding thoughtfully, "you are right, of course, both of you - it may not be an easy matter to arrange, but surely a community that strives to be a civil society must try! And if you are as new as you say with your new way of doing things, I suppose people like the man we saw this morning will not have all been weeded out yet."

When I saw he did not wish to pursue the matter further at the time, I carried on - "So, as I was saying, the minimum punishment, for instance, for violence resulting in little actual damage such as MacIrving’s assault on me (after a fair trial, of course, and being found guilty) is a public apology, and, when appropriate, a fine large enough to relieve any financial loss of the victim and cover court costs and time - those who have no money for such a thing are required to work it off in public service jobs, of which there are plenty. We believe the apology is a necessary, even central, measure, as one who is not forced to acknowledge both his crime and the wrongness of it has little incentive not to repeat it. Almost all cases also result in at least a few days in jail during which the perpetrator gets some time to think about everything, and also during which time he (rarely she) receives visits from several people experienced with assessing and dealing with such violence, and further recommendations are made concerning whether or not the aggressor can be trusted on the street or not."

It was Thoreau's turn for a question. "But what do you do, then, with those who appear unrepentant, and apt to turn to violence again at the first opportunity?"

"Ah - you have hit on one of our larger problems we are grappling with right now - that is something we have not yet entirely resolved, I am afraid," I answered, "and it is causing quite a lot of controversy. In my opinion, I would like to say that biting dogs rarely get a second chance here - it is not all that easy to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone who has resorted to unprovoked violence once will not do so again, and often the second time with a great deal more violence - but the matter of what to do with such people remains. Some want to simply kill them, on the theory that knowingly allowing rabid dogs to run around the streets is just asking for trouble, but there are many others who shy away from such treatment on humane grounds - a human is not a dog, for starters, and they may understand better as they grow older and wiser that such behaviour is not appropriate at any time - youthful indiscretion can happen to anyone, and does not mean they are evil or unfit for society when they mature. But that leaves the question - what to do? Locking people up for long periods of time is a big drain on budgets, and not really a solution, as it does not cure them. Some want to deport them, but that leads into all kinds of problems as well, primarily how to stop them from returning, as we have neither the means nor desire to institute police-state type border controls. We have tossed around the idea of chemical treatments to try to reduce the aggressive tendencies, but such treatments are again controversial, as well as uncertain of outcome. Fortunately the problem is small and seemingly getting smaller as our education system is much better than previously in teaching young men about their instincts, and how to control or channel them better, which we feel is the only long-term viable solution - but it is an ongoing concern. But good heavens - look at the time! We really must be getting on!"

The time had flown by while we helped the GRIPP get the sequence of events sorted out, and finished our coffees and Frenzz paztiez, and now also the sky was getting rather ominously dark when finally I dragged More and Thoreau away and on down past the Victorian shops, arm in arm like comrades in arms now, as I suppose we were, laughing as the shock subsided and we recounted the high points of our recent experience. On past the original Province House where the historic Canadian Confederation documents were signed in 1867, the wind swirling the leaves in a dusty dance around our feet as we stopped for a moment to admire the new sculpture of "The Council of Truth and Freedom" that had been erected there, and shortly on to the offices of the Island Voice newspaper - motto prominently displayed over the door, dark letters underlying a rather impressive bas-relief of the Island on an oaken bed:

Where liberty is not, that is my home...

- a saying picked in honour of our Editor, and also fitting for a Free Newspaper, we all agreed. The previous couple of decades in Canadian “journalism” was truly a blight on the history of that mostly noble enterprise, as, as part of the Corporate Revolution which had begun in the 1970s and gathered steam throughout the 80s and 90s, all of the major media had been bought up by the corporate interests who had also bought up most of the governments, and turned into little more than corporate propaganda rags - a far cry from earlier and nobler times in the profession. Although there had always, inevitably, been some crossover between media, politicians and Big Business, during the last part of the 20th century they had become, to all intents and purposes, one. And We the People were shut out in every important way, while We the Corporation became ascendant. The Internet had gone a long ways to rectifying the imbalance, but the printed word was still very influential, and the Island Voice was one small step for mankind, in the battle to retake the commons for us all, and banish the Elite who had tried to abscond with all of it for their own selfish purposes.

We barely made it through the door before the dark skies opened behind us with a roar. In front of us was the newspaper office, a counter running across the front a few feet inside the door, with a gate in the middle and three empty desks behind it, computers on two of them, which immediately attracted the attention of More and Thoreau - “Oh, my, yes, they’re everywhere!” I assured them, at their nudging. On the walls over the dingy yellow paint were various posters of Island scenes and placards with sayings - Question EVERYTHING is the journalist’s job!, Truth is Beauty, To Comfort the Afflicted, and Afflict the Comfortable!, and other pithy little sayings collected at various times over the years. Over the door leading to the back part of the building was one of my favourites, and one of the principles which led the Island Voice to many useful stories in these troubled times, and would have done the same in the rest of the country if the new crop of journalists would of had the courage - Follow the Money! - as in an earlier age all roads led to Rome, in modern times, all money-paths led to wrong-doing in VERY high places - places high enough to own most of the new-age embedded journalists, at any rate. I would normally have preferred something more like Follow Truth!, but with corruption still fighting strongly for dominance in our new government, as in governments all over the world, the former was usually more in line with our journalistic endeavours. It had certainly led the truly intrepid reporters of the Voice some interesting places the last few years - places NEVER explored by the former or present “reporters” of the Colonial. We had some top-notch people working for us now - word had gotten around "upper" Canada that we were looking for "real" journalists, and some very high-quality people who could no longer find work with the mainstream Canadian "press" because they refused to color inside the corporate lines had found their way to Green Island. A pattern we were seeing in many fields, actually. Truly intelligent people were not happy wearing any kind of chains, and chains went with almost every good job in the mainstream world the last few years. Not here.

It was almost immediately apparent that although the front office was momentarily deserted and quiet, this was not the state of affairs elsewhere. As the door banged closed behind us, muting the sound of the rainfall, a voice roared from somewhere in the back, quite audible in the front even over the driving rain -

“By God, lass, ye’ll do as you’re told, I say! I’ve got a damned paper to get out today, and it’ll never get done if you’re goin’ to question every blessed thing I tell ye to to do! Now get that story back to Guettenberg for settin’ or get t’hell out of here for good! I’ll have no more of it, do ye hear me? No more!!”

“Alright, Mr. Paine, I’m sorry I ever said anything to you!” a second voice, female, equally loud, equally agitated, “But if Hewlett sues the very arse off you, don’t say I didn’t warn ye - you!”

- which was followed momentarily by the slamming of a door, another roar of sound but this time the words mostly illegible, and then footsteps approaching rapidly, with feeling. A young woman of perhaps 30 years of age, medium length blond hair, baggy red sweater and blue jeans over a nice form, round granny glasses framing bright blue eyes, now flashing in anger, stormed through the door which led into the back offices, mouth set in a grim line. Those flashing eyes quickly took in the three new arrivals. And especially me.

“Stephen Bigelow, I don’t know how you ever managed to talk me into working with that ass-” she paused for a moment, flicking a glance at my respectable looking guests, then flicking her head as she continued, “- that sub-human creature called Paine, but it was a big mistake! I knew it from the start! Look at this!!” she cried, waving a handful of papers in front of her, stomping over to the front counter to show me ...

And then there was the sound of a slammed door opening and more heavy footsteps in the hall, and a great dark figure of a man, white hair rather long and in disarray, but handsomely dressed in white ruffled shirt with vest and dark trousers and topcoat, closely followed through the same door the woman had just come through. Not quietly, of course -

“Fannie Avalon what are ye doin’ out here? I thought I heard voices! I told ye to get that story back to Guettenberg RIGHT NOW!!” his eyes left the target of his immediate attention and noticed the rest of us. He hardly paused for breath - “Bigelow! I need a new assistant immediately! I have no idea where you found this worthless baggage, but it won’t do, Bigelow, it won’t do!” he punctuated his remarks by slamming his large hand forcefully on the counter top, fluttering papers and bouncing a pencil to the floor; “She never listens to a blessed thing I say! I have no doubt ye’ve managed some fine things with this new society of your’n, but by God freein’ up these damned women isn’t one of ‘em, I’ll tell ye! I never heard such talkback, nor thought ever to!, in my whole entire life! Mark what I say, by God!!” and then, turning back to the woman named Fannie, “And you! Get that story back to Guettenberg NOW!!”

With which he turned on his heel, coattails snapping, and stormed through the inner door, a second later his office door slamming. The really-cute-when-angry-but-scary lady named Fannie was stomping along right behind him, head high and spine stiff as an oaken plank, although turning the other way, presumably to deliver the papers in her hand where it was she had been ordered to.

Silence ensued. I looked at More and Thoreau, who were both looking from the door to me with rather wide, inquisitive eyes. I was not sure about More, but I knew Thoreau to be a peaceful man who avoided unnecessary confrontation, of which he had only recently been involved in one already today, and the beginning frown above his dark eyes and downward turn of his mouth gave me the idea he was about ready to look for new company this morning.

“Wait, please, gentlemen,” I began to speak, “I assure you this is not the usual state of affairs here. I am sure things will calm down shortly ...”

Just then the sound of the office door that had so recently slammed came through as it opened again, followed by a brief silence. More and Thoreau watched the doorway warily. I watched More and Thoreau.

The voice: “Bigelow ... why don’t you bring your friends in now, eh?”


The atmosphere was somewhat calmer a few minutes later, as Tom Paine, Editor-in-Chief of the Island Voice, served coffee. Under that wild mane of long white hair was a strong, weathered face, large and sun-dark, imposing and big in every way - large black eyes under expressive bushy eyebrows, able to rise to the very edge of his pate in surprise or sink seemingly into his very eyesockets if in disapproval of something; a truly gargantuan nose, red-veined at the distal tip indicating perhaps a fondness for a few tots of something of an evening; and a generous mouth, one evidently used to much use. Which was occurring at the moment.

“Now this little machine is a fine invention, to be sure,” he said as he poured, referring to a little coffee dripper, which had a special nook at a lower corner of the bookshelf that filled one wall, with dishes for sugar and spoons and other brews, and even a small built-in fridge underneath to keep the cream fresh and cold (and possibly to store other items as well, for times requiring something a bit stronger to encourage the conversation or thought processes); “Even after a few years here I still feel blessed every morning to have coffee like this!" He spent a minute or two thus occupied, then poured and passed the results, nattering away the meanwhile about the rain and other such trivialities, as all of us gave the thundercloud atmosphere time to dissipate a bit and calmer airs to reassert themselves. I saw both More and Thoreau running their eyes over the packed bookshelf, interested in the titles and the variety, books packed and stacked every which way and straining the shelves.

“So, gentlemen,” he continued, with a wry sort of smile, resuming his seat, after “good mornings” and the fresh coffee had been passed around and tended to, “first then perhaps I will apologize for that little tiff you were unfortunately witness to earlier - and I assure you I didn’t really mean what I said about the women here - I am quite agreeable with the new freedoms to be had here in every way, but I was just a bit frustrated and letting off steam, if you see what I mean. I am of years enough that I can usually hold my temper around the young people, but I'm of years and experience enough that I expect to be listened to as well, usually - but it’s been a hectic morning, I tell you, with the big debates coming up, and then the referendum, and there’s a great deal needs sayin’ in the next few days, you know! And tryin’ in the same time to keep up with the slanderous lies of that damned Colonial, now, would put any sane man off his feed, I tell you! But I get ahead of myself, I am sure. Bigelow - you seem to be at the center of most of this situation, so why don’t you take over for a bit - at least I should pause long enough to get one foot out of my mouth before ramming the other in, eh?” and he closed with a typical snorting laugh, what I knew to be his normal good humour evidently having resurfaced.

I could see More and Thoreau relaxing a bit, having seen the big man named Paine calming down, and they looked expectantly over to me, still chuckling a bit over Paine's last self-deprecating comment, both appreciative of such talk, open and honest and straightforward. We were all now sitting around Paine’s rather small office desk - there was a largish desk-bookshelf arrangement behind him filling both sides of the corner which was his main working space, with a computer and printer and stacks of papers and books and other writing paraphernalia scattered around, keeping the desk space in front more or less clear to meet with visitors such as ourselves. A large corner window highlighted the near corner, looking out onto Prince Street, and the sheets of rain which were now falling, giving the light coming through the window a darkish aspect, and the occasional vehicle or huddled walker who passed before it a pencil-drawing aspect.

“Well, Tom,” I began, “as I said a few days ago, I would probably be in this morning with some guests, and here we are. Mr. Thomas Paine, may I present to you Mr. Thomas More from England, and Mr. Henry Thoreau, a fellow countryman of yours.”

Thoreau was the first to respond, rising to his feet politely. “Paine the journalist, is it? Common Sense and all that?”

Paine nodded, also rising. “Indeed, Mr. Thoreau, one and the same.”

“Well, then, Mr. Paine,” continued Henry, stretching out a hand at the end of a long thin arm, “an honour indeed to meet with you - a most unexpected pleasure!”

Paine reached out his own right hand, clasping Thoreau’s; “I am sure the pleasure is all mine, Mr. Thoreau - I have perused some of your works on this Internet thing they have here - most interesting - I would say our ideas are quite compatible, all in all.”

“Why, thank you indeed,” said Thoreau with a smile, “an honour to have such things said by Thomas Paine!”

They shook hands, two sets of steady eyes sizing each other up, and by the looks of things not displeased with what they observed.

“And Mr. More,” continued Paine, breaking away from Henry’s grip and look, “Given the strangeness of the time, might I be correct in assuming Saint Thomas, then?”

“Oh, well,” replied Mr. More with a small laugh, looking a little abashed, if not unpleased, “it is not a title I was honoured with in my own time, of course, being rather less well regarded more often than not, so it is somewhat strange to me as well. Really, gentlemen, regardless of what posterity has arranged, I am quite content with the same sobriquet as yourselves - you may call me - indeed I would be less discomfited - Mr. More, or More, or Thomas, come to that, if it please you!”

“Well spoken, indeed, Mr. More,” replied Paine, with a twinkle in his eye, holding out his hand, “and pleased I am to make your acquaintance as well. I am quite familiar with your work as well, of course - although your Utopia remains between the pages of the book, rather than in the halls of government!”

More arose from his chair, and took the proffered hand. “And I yours, Mr. Paine, I am sure,” he said with a small chuckle, "And as for Utopia - well, we all have our dreams, it seems!" It seemed to me that More was still a bit wary of the big man - not, I suppose, without reason - Paine could certainly be intimidating, but his ire was generally reserved for unworthy souls, which More assuredly was not.

“Well, sit please, and let us get on with it then,” replied Paine, “I do not wish to rush you, but I do have a busy day - a busy few days, indeed! - ahead of me. Bigelow - let’s turn the floor over to you, since you arranged this meeting. You said something about a bit of writing, I think...??”

“Well, gentleman,” I said, addressing More and Thoreau, “as you are both gentlemen of the written word, and also seekers after the truth, I felt that you would find it useful to meet the editor of our main newspaper here on Green Island, so you could make your own opinions about its credibility - you have both had opportunity to read both the Colonial and the Island Voice now, and it would be understandable to wonder who was telling the truer story. I think you would both agree that words can very easily be manipulated, but that speaking to a man in the flesh, as it were, it is much less easy to conceal one’s true character....”

“Yes, indeed, Bigelow,” said Thoreau, “such has been my experience. The written word is very much like a wheel of soft clay, and the letters and sentences can be molded into any shape whatsoever, depending on the skill and bent of the potter! But whether or not the potter has a true soul is not evident from the potter’s work - for that, I have found truly, it is necessary to look in his or her eyes, to observe the demeanour of their bodies as they speak, to observe their actions in the shops and ale houses after they have finished their spinning, or writing.”

“Yes indeed," I answered, "which is why I wanted you to meet our main Editor for yourself, to judge his character as it were - and I think he also has a small proposition for you, if you are interested, that he will tell you about in a minute. But first, I thought I would give you a bit of the history. You see, what we had a few short years ago was a situation where the only important daily newspaper on PEI was controlled by those who were very opposed to our new Green Island government, and they were determined to bring us down. They...”

“Oh, really!” interrupted Thoreau, “excuse me for interrupting, but one of the hallmarks of a modern democracy such as we had in Concord is the wide range of opinion and newspapers available! Why, in my time there were dozens of them, every town had at least 3 or 4! - and if one of them tried to fool the people with lies and other kinds of falsenesses, the others would expose them immediately, and their reputations take such a beating they would probably have to close down! Not to mention that most citizens were quite intelligent and independent, and not that easy to fool about things that concerned their lives and communities!”

“Yes, so I understand it was in earlier and freer times, here in Canada as well,” I replied, with a, I suppose, somewhat grim grin, this being another of my sore points, “but in the modern times, the publishing of a newspaper has become more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands - it is a very expensive business, and only those with quite a lot of money are able to do so - and that has gotten ever worse. Why do you know, Henry, that in the USA today, fewer than 5 giant corporations control over 90% of the newspaper and television companies in the entire country?!?! - and the situation is just as bad in Canada.”

“No!!!!” Thoreau sounded truly shocked, “Five companies controlling 90% of the entire national press?! Whatever has brought such a terrible state of affairs about?!? Such a thing is the very antithesis of democratic debate in a democracy! How are people to be educated, to learn of the many points of view that any issue will engender?”

“Exactly," I replied, “they cannot - and having been raised from childhood not to know any better, perhaps that has something to do with their credulousness in the face of such constant lies as well, and perhaps we can speak more on that some other time soon. But that is the problem - and, to get back to where I was, was the problem when we first got elected. The Colonial was the only widespread daily newspaper on this small island - smaller in population than any town of any size in your country, or the mainland here - and it was dead set against us from the very beginning, and printed all sorts of stories and opinion pieces from those we had defeated, offering their wild ideas on how we had “stolen” the election, or how it somehow wasn’t “fair”, or any number of other stories based on nothing but lies and vicious gossip, designed only to destroy our reputations and make people wonder if we really were fit to govern!”

“But how could such a thing come about?” inquired More, a frown on his face, “Things seem to be quite free around here, do they not?”

“Hahaha" I laughed, "Oh indeed, there have been no government laws or anything against starting a newspaper or anything, but as I said, in the capitalist society that had evolved here, almost everything revolved around money, and newspapers in this modern world are very expensive things to produce and distribute - really huge amounts of money are involved, Thomas. And very, very few people can afford to undertake such an activity anymore. So the much-vaunted right of "freedom of the press”, while still more or less intact in spirit or in law, is, in actual practice, as some smart person once said, pretty much restricted to those who can afford it.”

“Well,” huffed Henry (he really did huff), “that’s not my idea of "democracy” or “freedom of the press” - if a society does not make every effort to encourage a full range of debate on all issues, how are those who talk about such things to be aware of all the options, to talk about them among themselves and know what is the best thing to do?”

“Well, I should tell you too,” I said, “that in these times, most people don’t actually read newspapers anymore, regardless of the content - they watch the television instead....”

“Yes," interjected Henry once again, "I have watched some of this "television” a few times since arriving here, and I must say, it seems to be singularly lacking in anything intelligent, and all the people talking down to me like I have the intelligence myself of a 5-year old when they try to sell me their soap and other things are quite offensive - surely you aren’t suggesting the people of your time, the citizens, are forming their opinions based on such nonsense? Why, we had FAR more intelligent debate of ALL the issues in my time!”

“Heh heh, yes, I am afraid it is so, Henry,” I said, with this time a definitely grim chuckle, “what you see on that television is indeed the general tenor of "debate" of the issues of the day. Most people, it seems, do not want to be bothered anymore with taking a political or economic interest in their country, and are happy to watch the television mostly for entertainment than for sharing real news or views.”

"Sounds quite tragic to me," said Henry, a thoughtful, perhaps even a bit sad, sort of smile on his face as he settled again in his chair, "Why, the very highest privilege and duty of the citizen is to look after their community - it is quite mad to trust others to look out for one's own welfare! I would have hoped that our societies would have advanced considerably by this time - but if the citizens all let themselves be led around like sheep by this television thing, and take no interest in the running of their government - well, I suppose nothing much good could ever come of that."

“Well, I couldn't agree more, and the situation we faced a few years ago that we wished to do something about was just so. However, we can continue with this and other things later today - we will have a few hours on the train to talk - but for now, to cut to the heart of the matter,” I said with a smile, “and since we are running a bit late now, and I know Paine is rather busy at this time, the period following our election victory threatened to become Pyrrhic if we did not soon do something to counteract the extremely inflammatory - “

“- and lying!!!” chirped in Paine, with those great bushy eyebrows reflecting a gathering thunder - Paine did not take injustice lightly, or the misuse of his beloved 4th estate -

“ - yes, inflammatory and mostly untrue coverage of the new government. And then one day, as we were sitting - yes, hahaha, I believe it was!! - as a few of us were taking a small break from the morning's deliberations at the Province House - the old building I pointed out that we passed on the way here, our center of government - sitting in Zelda’s having a coffee and talking things over, a rather large, strange sort of man walked through the door...”

“Haha! Strange, is it!” interrupted Paine with a laugh! “Well, I do recall you were somewhat shocked at my appearance that day! But things were getting rather boring where I was, and as I think you know, most of you having studied history, I had always made it my life’s work to assist colonies aspiring to democratic ideals - and I can tell you, news of Green Island had spread far and wide, in certain circles, and was being viewed with considerable interest! So against the advice of my companions, most of whom seemed to feel everyone should be left to sink or swim on their own merits, I found my way here, and offered my services - my services, of course, being best expressed through pamphleteering of one sort or another!”

“Yes,” I continued, “And Tom’s appearance was indeed most timely, not to mention strange - I remember clearly, he just walked straight up to us, and said "I hear you're looking for a newspaperman - well, you've found him!" We needed a strong editor for our Island Voice, but were not sure who to turn to! We had many able people available - but all of them had one rather serious drawback, as well. You see, during the previous years, for whatever reason, those of us who were opposed to the Corporate Government Model of the modern world had somehow become factionalized - I myself still believe there was a lot of 5th column work, but shan’t get into that sidetrack right now - and our small collection of able editors were all identified with one or another of these groups - which, were they to take over the new Voice, would immediately attract suspicion that the other groups were going to be ignored or marginalized - that was, you see, the political climate of the times, crazy though it was, and even though we had just won an amazing victory and now more than ever needed to work together! We did not want to present the opportunity to once again have us all divided, all the easier to conquer, while we were still in the earliest stages of getting on our feet, and quite vulnerable to this and other things that might have stopped us before we got properly under way.”

“And then out of the blue - as if the answer to a universal plea of some sort - drops in one Tom Paine, a perfect choice in this time when we needed a strong, fearless voice, that noone could accuse of favoring one group or the other - at least on “our” side of things!”

“Yes, indeed,” said Paine, laughing outright now, “And I will never, never never forget the looks of outrage and absolute disbelief and astonishment on the looks of that halfwit Cluebells Missing IV, the editor of the Colonial, and GruellyGreyMatter Grupplegrisser VIII, the head of the Liberal Law Society which at that time ran the government and most everything else from behind the scenes, with the first issue of the Green Island Voice. Hohohoho!!!”

Swivelling his chair around and opening a drawer in the long shelf-desk behind his meeting desk, Tom pulled out a tabloid-sized paper and laid it on the desk so we could all see it.

VOL 1 NO 1 Green Island Voice - removing the dew from your eyes and letting the Truth shine through!

96 point type shot out one word across the top, the entire area above-the-fold and between the masthead - LIES!

“It is the unfortunate duty of this Independent Newspaper to accuse our sad sister publication, the Charlottetown Colonial, of gross distortion of the truth - so gross, in fact, that their words can be called little more than outright lies - lies, it would seem, made intentionally for no other reason than to discredit our new Island government - the government of, by and for the people of this fair Island, duly elected in a fair election only a few days ago!....”

- read Paine, in a ringing voice, the anger still creeping into his voice after all these years.

“Ho ho ho,” laughed Thoreau, “Yes, I remember well reading your Common Sense and Rights of Man, and I think most of what you wrote at one time or another - never a shy man about getting in other's faces, were you, Paine? Hohoho!!”

"Hohoho!" laughed Paine in answer, "But true, you know! You find out a great deal more useful information from accosting a man face to face and looking straight in their eyes than you do from somewhere behind their backs!"

“When you live to tell the tale, at any rate!” interjected More, smiling also “Such writing was certainly a direct challenge to the rulers here at the time! And what was their response? In my day, it was basically the Tower, and/or Off with their heads!!!”

“Well, that was certainly the desire here, I think,” said Paine, with a grim smile, “and we were served with papers the same afternoon to appear in court immediately to answer to slander charges, and to "cease and desist publication forthwith" until we could prove that we would no longer publish such “slander”, and so on and so forth - basically handing us the shears and ordering a self-castration, if you see what I mean. We, of course, immediately published a special edition, with the summons and affidavits in full - it appears that the former Masters of the Island were so angry, and worked in such haste, that they forgot the obligatory "Gag Order", as such things are called and are apparently a regular tool of the governments of this time when they are doing something reprehensible they wish the public kept ignorant of, against publication - a fatal mistake! - although, in fairness, we likely would have ignored such a thing anyway and taken our chances with the people - and I must say, the people were in the streets that evening and the next day, like a smoldering volcano ready to erupt. They knew, you see, that what we said was entirely true, and the Colonial had indeed been publishing slanderous lies themselves - Bigelow and some others had indeed tried to use the courts to stop them, but Stephen’s case was outright refused by the courts, if you can imagine!!! - on the ridiculous excuse of “free commentary in a democratic society” or some such thing - which, hohohoho, obviously did not extend to us! - but it was just another instance of the sort of double-standards common in the corporate governments that ruled at that time - and still do in most places, for that matter. The Islanders, though, being country folk, fishers and farmers, are well familiar with the smell of fresh bullshit, if you’ll excuse the language hohoho, and although they let a fair amount of it go by in their governments, having little choice they know of, they also at that time were quite disgusted with the corruption that had become so obvious in the previous government, so blatant, so insulting to the people, and much to our pleasure and good fortune (and I think, you might say, their own good fortune as well!), they decided that they would let the Old Guard know that they had about had enough, and they wanted us to at least have a chance with our new Green Island government. Happily enough, our lawyer gave them enough excuses the next day in court to force them to withdraw all of the charges - it seemed tuck and go for awhile, but there was a large crowd gathered outside the courthouse that did not appear to be in a mood to accept a ruling they did not approve of, and although I think it was a close call, they did give in to the popular will for a change. For the time being, anyway - which was enough for us at the time - one day at a time was all we could deal with then. And, as it would appear, to a large extent still are ....”

Just then the door opened behind us, and the young lady named Fannie poked her head in, somewhat more composed than when we first saw her, which did not make her any less lovely. Had I not been very happily married already ....

"Stephen," she said, looking at me, "Sorry to interrupt, but Brittany is on the phone, and she says it's important..."

I rose from my chair, and, asking the others to excuse me for a minute, followed Fannie out to the front office, where a phone lay on the desk beside the cradle. Fannie had continued through to the composing room to, I suppose, allow me some privacy. Islanders were considerate like that. I picked up the phone.

"Hi, Love," I said, "What's up? Liz said you might phone about supper later - I'm not sure we'll be able make it, actually - we're running kind of late right now, I'll tell you about it later..."

"Oh, Stephen," came the voice over the phone line, sounding upset, angry, "I won't be there myself - that goddamned son of a bitch Black and his oldtime buddies have managed to get a new Appearance Order issued - for tomorrow!!"

"Tomorrow!" I exclaimed, "but they can't do that! There always has to be time!"

"Well, in normal legal circles there has to be time - but as you know, the PEI courts have never been any more truly legal than courts anywhere else in this country - worse than most, probably - and they seem to have convinced that senile old idiot Judge Fitzgerald, who should have been forced into retirement decades ago - to sign this order. They say the matter is so urgent it cannot wait, due protections will be followed, blah blah blah - the shit they have to say in case the stuff gets into the press somewhere that asks any questions, the ol CYA stuff. Basically, they are saying that the thing is so urgent because it may expose new important information concerning the parties in the referendum next week that the citizens have a right to know - and you know what they mean by that!"

"Oh, really!" I interjected in disgust, "but we've been through all that before, and it's all bullshit - and they know it! We can ..."

"You know it's bullshit, and I know it's bullshit, and undoubtedly THEY know it's bullshit - but all they have to do is create a question in the minds of a bunch of the voters here at that crucial time just before the vote before we have time to respond, it's a lot easier to throw bullshit than clean it up later - you know it's not an open and shut situation, even though almost everyone admits things are far better here than they have ever been - there are still a lot of older people who just don't like the change who are susceptible to this kind of thing if pushed by people they know, and a lot of other people whose families have lived good lives under the government patronage for generations and wouldn't mind getting that privilege back, and a lot of people worried about the outside threats as well - and if this gets going again right now, with the Colonial going crazy with its lies again - well, who knows what could happen. I - what?? - oh, excuse me Stephen, I really have to go! - No big problem, beyond what I've told you! of course - but I'm meeting with Julie and Fred and a couple of others, and stuff is happening - so I don't know what time I'll get home tonight, if at all - but we'll talk later this afternoon, ok?"

"Yea, right Brit," I replied, "like I said, we're running a bit behind here, too, and I was thinking we might well wind up staying in Rustico or Alberton or someplace up west overnight, and coming back tomorrow. I don't like to leave right now though..."

"No, no Stephen," Brittany said, "you all go on with your plans - I know how important it is to you. And I don't think there's much you could do here anyway - we've got things under control as much as they can be, and it's mostly going to be a lot of legal talk and preparation and cold pizza probably. So you go on, hon, and have a good day - and we'll talk later, ok?"

I thought for a second, but could see no flaw in her logic (there rarely was, even when she was under pressure). "Ok, Brit, I guess you're right in all that - and taking Henry and Thomas around is important today - but you be sure to call if there's anything I can do, and I'll hustle back. Ok - we'll talk later - good luck, lov! Love you!"

As I hung up the phone, and turned to go back and fetch Henry and Thomas to leave on our planned excursion, I was thinking that it was shaping up to be a most interesting few days, although rather more in the sense of the old Chinese saying than a new book one was looking forward to reading.

And so they would be.

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