Is there such a thing as a useless person?

Imagine a post-apocalyptic world.
We survive the great annihilation of 2037 but lose everything except our lives. It is as if we are thrown back into the stone ages. Money is meaningless, we have no food, everything we ever created lies in shambles. Our people beg on the streets and die of hunger and no one can do anything.
The governments have broken down. There is no industry. The only thing to do is to clear the rubble and plough the vast land. And to look towards the stars in constant anticipation of another attack.


Gradually, a new world government begins to find its feet. Besides food, the only thing they say we need are bigger guns than we’ve ever had. People with scientific or technical expertise suddenly become invaluable assets.
Everything comes to be judged by its usefulness.
Art, of course, is the first casualty. In the cold nights after the attack, those of us who had survived had burned books as firewood alongside whatever else we could find which wasn’t of immediate use. And it wasn’t remarkable at all, because what use is Shakespeare of to you if you’re killed by the cold? Literature, music and art all become luxuries too dispensable in the scenario.
But our resources are meagre. Our farms have been burned down and the air is too toxic in most places for agriculture to be possible. All our people working from day to dusty night cannot do enough. We either need more food – or we need fewer mouths.
Left to itself, the situation will slide into chaos and anarchy. Some people have to die, there is other option, but which ones? The law of the jungle favors the fittest. But that might mean losing our aeronautical engineers and mathematicians and physicists and being left with a population of mainly big, burly, ‘useless’ street fighters.
That is not the way to do it.
There’s no money, and we’re all following some extreme sort of communism, giving to the State all that we produce, and receiving back whatever it distributes as rations. But the allocation is disproportionate: the scientists, the technologists and the doctors, and the leaders themselves get more. Next come law enforcers, the Police and the State workers. Only then is line comes the bulk of the public, which are now merely farmhands or construction workers or cleaners. There are some conflicts but they are suppressed ruthlessly. By and large, we accept that this is for our own protection and preservation.
But we are told that this is not enough, that the food situation is quickly deteriorating and that the State, after much painful contemplation, has decided to withdraw rations for those over eighty years of age, unless they can prove they are still “useful members of the society”. This creates a shallow furore and half-hearted talks of ethics and morals and ideals, but in their hearts people accept that this is the logical thing to do.
And what follows quickly is, supported by the same logic, discontinuance of provisions for the terminally ill, the mentally challenged and the cripple. After all, what use are these people? Under drastic circumstances, larger part of public accepts these. Those who do not, are the families and friends of such people. They make arguments of love, happiness and bonds being larger than hard, cold, tangible utilities, but there are not many to listen to them. Protests break out, stronger this time, but they are suppressed with an iron fist, ‘for the larger betterment of the society’. The public gives in finally and continues its ever-more mechanic existence: the feeling of drifting away from humaneness is ebbing and flowing in their hearts.
Bolstered by the apparent success of its policies, the State next unveils its greatest device of control. The Court of Utility . Every man, woman, child and animal must prove or have proven their ‘usefulness’ to the State if they are to enjoy the right to life. If they cannot, they must be shot to death so as to remove the burden they place on the society. A jury of Gods sits at the high table. One by one, men and women are brought and kneeled before them, and each must beg for his or her life. Physicists and engineers and doctors have it easy, as do the other elite. But great artists and musicians of highest repute and profound thinkers and writers and movie-makers and sportsmen must contest as working hands. Art serves no purpose which is fundamental to existence. The only reason these people may be allowed to exist would be their physical ability to plough the land. Nothing else.
At birth, every child is issued a
Certificate of Potential . But he must stand before the jury again at the age of eight years with his academic report cards in his hands. He must
prove that he is progressing along the strict path set for him by the State, that he’s becoming a member that the society can use later. Failing this, the child may be given one more chance… but no more.
All animals who cannot serve a well-defined purpose must be slaughtered and consumed.
Based on statistics, eighty becomes the maximum allowable age for life.
Next, the State appoints Special Utility Police, because being ‘useless’ is now a crime. The officers must bring to book every person who seems not to be doing useful work for the State. In cases where they deem the person in question to be unable of ever performing such work, they are entitled to put an end to the matter on spot, thereby saving valuable Court time.
I see a starving beggar by the street, who was crippled and blinded by the bombing. As he opens his palm to me, I feel rightfully offended, as if personally robbed. But I am not an SUP officer, and the law of the land forbids me from harming him. I can, however, poke him and swear at him and curse him for being so useless and spit on him. The next day, I do it again. The next day, some others join me in the act. This goes on for some days, until one day, as I approach, I see a small crowd gathered. In their midst stands the harried and broken man, with a can of gasoline by his side. To the satisfaction of the booing onlookers, he quickly douses himself and sets fire.
As I watch him immolate himself, a strange feeling fills up inside.
It is pride.

I don’t think I have to say much more. Usefulness as a worth of life is highly subjective. Who is to say, and under what circumstances, what is useful, what isn’t? And how do you even begin to weigh love into the equation? Or potential?
The great English poet John Milton asked God if He was disappointed by Milton’s failure to contribute due to his blindness; God said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Meet me here: Mukund Madhav

Author:Anirudh Gupta

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