The Prison

a county jail library

“The world, young man, is a tornado of colliding particles, inhabited by stones and gasses and a few scant blobs of gray matter suffering from delusions of grandeur.

“For generations, the men of the Prison believed we were the only biological beings in the universe. We even believed the Prison was the entire universe —that nothing else existed.

“You youngsters laugh — but put yourself in their shoes. This was everything they knew: walls, floors, ceilings, cells.

“The tanks that grow our young. The vending machines that dispense pills when we’re hungry, syringes when we’re sick.

“The snaketubes that suck us up and drop us into the firerooms when we got too old, or fall out of line.

“If that was all you knew, then why would you ever imagine a different world — a world beyond these walls, a world of sunlight and grass and running water. It would take a true genius to conceive such a thing. And even a genius has to start somewhere.

typewriter in a county jail library

“Do you know how long it took the pre-Theorists even to locate the Libraries? And then to learn to read? And to deduce from what few books the Libraries held that a world existed — somewhere — beyond the Prison? That the Prison, as enormous and all-encompassing as it seems, amounts not to the sum breadth of the universe?

“Do you know how difficult it was for the first Theorist to write a single word of comprehensible prose?

“My young friend, think about the struggle those men had to wage against the violence and the willing ignorance of the anti-Theorists — before they could freely turn their gaze on the walls of the Prison, and ask the great questions of Theory: Where did the Prison come from? Why are we here?

And what might be out there?

head jail

“Unfortunately, since those early, heroic days, we men of Theory have lost sight of what’s important. We argue and argue and argue — chase our noses down endless flights of arcane minutiae, disputation, nitpickery — but I believe the matter is truly quite simple.

“There are only two possibilities.

“Either the universe is governed by righteousness, and we deserve to be in here…

“Or the world is a place where nothing means anything, and we are in here for no reason at all.

“If we do deserve to be here — if each prisoner earns his sentence while still in the tanks — then we don’t understand justice at all. Then justice is a monstrous thing, beyond the power of our poor brains to understand — something awful and obscure and deeply malignant.

“Yet, if we do not deserve to be here, then why would anyone have gone to such astounding lengths to build the Prison in the first place? To keep us locked up in here, for centuries? To run the lights and the tanks, the snaketubes and the vending machines (the operation of which not even the brightest men of Theory have ever managed to understand).

“The answer, the only answer possible, lies in the one thing we know for sure must exist outside these walls.

“And that, young man, is whoever, or whatever, built the Prison.”

Teacher, I’m sorry…but are you saying that Theory cannot answer the great questions?

“No. But I am saying there is one way, and one way only, for Theory to answer them.”

And what’s that?