Brooks is up to the “Party Staff and Responsibilities” module of the new employee tutorial when his new supervisor comes in to check up on him. He has just started his job as a sensory technician. They don’t discuss the manual, but the merits of the new ruling Negative Utilitarian Party. The NUP (delightful acronym) swept global elections with their emphasis on pain reduction by providing an AI program that allows people to turn on retinal feeds in uncomfortable situations. In other words, to mentally check out at will.
Their predecessor, the Positive Utilitarians, are now seen as hedonists because of their emphasis on pleasure-seeking, an outlook now viewed as destructive. No amount of pleasure is ever enough.
Of course, there have been growing pains with the NUP plan. At first, deaths among the elderly and infants increased. Then the birth rate fell. The dolorimeters measured spikes and drops in pain and discomfort.
This one was a little hard for me to get a handle on. The author seems to be poking fun at following extreme fads and the oscillating favor of the public. As stodgy as it is, the old Golden Mean remains a fair guide. (Now, Aristotle, you may have blown a lot of physics, but you didn’t blow everything.)
At one point, the supervisor asks Brooks, “Do you want to know the true source of all suffering?”(It is suffering, after all, that the NUP seeks to reduce by tracking through the dolorimeters)
It’s hard to read the question and not think the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism, that is, that suffering and frustration arise from desire and attachment. I won’t say what the story says—or doesn’t say.
As often with stories this short, the final sentence is a punchline. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. I enjoyed some of the play with language, as well—Negative and Positive Utilitarians, and the dolorimeters.
According to his blurb and his site, author John McLaughlin’s flash pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, The Drabble, 600 Second Saga, and Literally Stories, among others. He holds a Ph.D. in Biology from the City University of New York. He’s interested in science and science fiction and writes both fiction and non-fiction within those genres.
“Non-Existence Never Hurt Anyone” can be read here.
Title: “Non-Existence Never Hurt Anyone”
Author: John McLaughlin
First published: Theme of Absence, July 17, 2020