"Pilgrim's Egress" was originally delivered as a talk to the Future of Freedom Conference, Cypress College, April 19th, 1980, and was published in New Libertarian 158 (Vol. IV #9, Apr.-June, 1981). It is posted for entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author.
Copyright © 1981 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.
by J. Neil Schulman
With Apologies to John Bunyan and C.S. Lewis
Once there was a prophet, and by that I mean a man who could see into the future, and who spoke to others about what he saw. Now, don't tell me that there aren't any prophets. Whether or not there are doesn't really matter, since this is a story, and if you want it to follow it's proper course you're going to have to allow me my prophet.
There are many different kinds of prophets that are told about, and it just so happens that this prophet was of a kind who saw the future in his dreams. Only his dreams weren't the sort you and I have. When I dream, for example, I dream about flying, or about visiting dead grandparents, or--if I happen to be on a diet, which I am now--about chicken fried steak and hash brown potatoes smothered in country gravy, followed by a huge slice of Southern pecan pie topped with a mound of whipped cream...this is pretty dangerous material for me to write.
But no. Since this fellow was a prophet, he had a proper prophet's dreams, and though they were filled with arcane symbols and archetypal metaphors that are sometimes difficult to interpret, the things he dreams about were things that actually happened and were going to happen.
Now you might very well ask me at this point: how did this man know he was a prophet? Well, first off, he was the seventh son of a seventh son, and as you have probably heard, that's the first requirement for getting into the Prophet's Guild.
Second of all, he had gone through psychotherapy for five years, before he understood he was a prophet, because his dreams were disturbing his sleep. His first therapist was a straight Freudian psychoanalyst, and he had such a tough time trying to figure out this man's dreams that he eventually became a Jungian, and when that didn't help he got so frustrated he had himself committed for observation. Which just goes to show how dangerous it is to assume there are psychological explanations for a man's dreams, when you don't consider the possibility that your patient is actually a prophet. And just by the way, the prophet's second therapist was a devotee of the human potential movement, and after two years with this man as a patient he got out of psychology and became a minister of the Universal Church.
Now when this prophet was twenty-seven years old he had the following dream.
He dreamt he was a passenger on a huge sailing ship, which had set sail from port a longtime ago. You know how time gets confused in a dream? Well, though everyone on board felt they'd been sailing all their lives, the voyage had lasted only a day: they'd set sail in late afternoon and it was now a thick, starless night with a grey fog enveloping the ship. And the captain was cruel, and made everyone work very hard and didn't give them enough to eat or drink, and there were many mutinies, and many captains, but nothing changed except a lot of people died.
Now, as it approached midnight, there were even some on the ship who said, "We sail on the ship as we have always sailed on the ship. There was never any other life."
Others, who were of a more cheerful disposition, said, "No, from land we sailed, and back to land we will sail. It is only a matter of continuing to search for land."
And still others said, "Even if there is land to be found, is not life on the ship better as it is? Forget about land." And some who said this were in the pay of the captain.
Now, the prophet (in his dream) came upon a cabin filled with passengers (and even some crew) who were of the group that believed in sailing for land, for they remembered land better than the other passengers and felt the trial of shipboard life more keenly than them since they knew what life on land could be. And they spoke so fervently about land that the other passengers complained that they never shut up about it, and so they found that the only people they could talk to about land was themselves.
And the prophet listened to these passengers talking among themselves, where he heard them arguing as follows.
One man, with dark hair and glasses, said, "It is the fault of the venal captain that we have not found land. We must choose a new captain, one of our own who is committed to finding land. Then, once we have the ship under a captain of our own, we will find land."
Another man argued with this. "How many captains have we seen come and go tonight without land being found? Fools! Do you think a new captain is enough? Even if one of us should become captain, the crew has become complacent and lazy, and have no wish to find land. We must not only replace the captain, but the ship's officers as well. Then we will find land."
And another of the passengers, a short, brunette woman, took issue with this. "You speak truly. The captain and crew have no wish to find land, but that is because the passengers have not demanded land. We must work on the passengers first, and only then can we get a captain and crew who will sail for land."
"And how are we to convince the passengers?" a third man, who looked like a magician, asked.
"We must teach them how much better life on land would be," the woman said.
"They are too stupid," the man replied. "First we would have to figure a way to make them more intelligent."
"Even that would make no difference," a fourth man replied. "Almost half the passengers think they receive special favors from the captain and his officers. They don't realize that what they are getting are their own spoils which the captain and crew have plundered from them."
"Not quite," the woman said. "Some have more taken from them than others, and others get more back."
"What does it matter?" the third man said. "The point at issue is how to eliminate the captain and his officers so we can sail for land."
"Who said anything about eliminating them?" the woman said. "Perhaps we will reduce their number a bit, but you don't believe we can find land without a captain and crew entirely, do you?"
"Why not?" the man said. "The only question in my mind is how quickly we can get rid of them without the ship losing its direction."
"Slowly," said the second man.
"Immediately," said the third.
"Speak to the issue, speak to the issue," said a young man with bloodshot eyes. "We must seize the steering wheel of the ship, kill the captain, and throw the officers into the brig!"
"Speak softly when you talk mutiny," an older man replied. "But it is useless; it has already been tried. Violence never solved anything."
"Then what do you propose?" the boy asked.
"We must all unify our efforts and work together."
"Better that we work separately," said the third man.
A long haired man said, "Are all you blind to the obvious? We must build a second ship to find land in."
"No, we must simply live long enough that we will live to see land." said another.
"We must keep the memory of land alive so our children will find it." said another.
"We will never find land. We must make the best we can with life on the ship." said another.
"No, we must run around the ship, shouting for land until the passengers come to their senses."
And finally a blonde kid name Doug said, "To hell with all this. I'm going to get laid."
And the passengers in the cabin thought this was the best idea yet. So after they had all gone to their cabins, the prophet went up on deck . And lo and behold! He saw that there was land not fifty yards away from the ship, and he saw that the ship was sailing along the coast. When he looked still more closely, he saw that there were passengers--even some crewmembers--who were taking the lifeboats and rowing back and forth to shore as they wished. Moreover, though occasionally one of the lifeboats would be spotted by the ship's lookouts, and crewmembers would be dispatched to bring them back aboard, there were too few crewmembers who were either competent enough or cared enough to get the crew in the lifeboats, and they interfered only very slightly with the progress of these passengers.
Now the prophet (for he was still dreaming) hailed one of the passengers who was on his way to one of the lifeboats, and asked if he could come along. And the passenger, who was named Jamie, welcomed him aboard. Once he had climbed aboard the lifeboat, they rowed to shore and were there almost immediately, because--as I said--they were only fifty yards from land to begin with. And just so you won't think the prophet was a complete idiot, even in his dream, he had the sense to ask Jamie why the passengers didn't just swim the fifty yards to the land, and Jamie told him that it was because the waters were cold, and murky, and full of sharks.
I should also mention right about now, that the prophet saw that there were passengers who were rowing to shore in another of the lifeboats, but they couldn't restrain themselves from taunting the ship's lookouts, and they made the lookouts so mad that this lifeboat they made a special--and successful--effort to capture.
Now as soon as they came ashore, the prophet could see that he was in a country he had never been to before. He could see the lights of the ship through the fog surrounding the sea, but if he looked inland, he could see the sun beginning to rise "Morning already!" he exclaimed.
But Jamie told him, "No it is always morning inland, just as it is always night on the ship."
"And what about here on the seashore?" the prophet asked.
And Jamie said, "Here on the seashore it is morning when you look east to the inland, and night if you look west to the sea."
Then Jamie told the prophet he would find a village half a day's walk inland where people off the ship made their home. And Jamie said that though he could not accompany the prophet all the way to the village, he would walk with him on the road for a while.
The two of them started walking on the road to the town, but the road went along the shore for a ways, past a shipyard where a huge ship was being built. The prophet asked Jamie what the ship was being built for, and Jamie told the prophet that it was being built by a consortium of different people with different reasons and that he should ask them. So the prophet stopped one of the dock workers and asked him what the ship was being built for. And this man who spoke very elegantly, said, "Some of us who live in the village know that it is the intention of the ship's captain to attack us, so we are constructing our own ship to repel their insidious and nefarious schemes."
Jamie spoke up and said, "But the ship's officers cannot even admit they are so close to land, or even that they know it is here, for their own crew would jump ship. And, in any case, they have no long-range guns capable of firing on the town. How can they threaten you ?"
And the elegant worker said, "Your point is well taken. That is precisely why, if we wish to defend ourselves from the ship we must build a ship of our own with which to fight it."
The prophet called to another worker, a man who had scars all over his arms and torso, as if he had been repeatedly whipped. The prophet asked the scarred worker why he worked on the new ship. And the scarred worker replied, "We will not be satisfied until we make the captain and crew repay us for the misery they inflicted upon us when we lived on the ship. They stole much from us, and we want it back. That is why we work on a new ship."
And Jamie asked the scarred worker, "But will not the cost of this new ship be much more than you could possibly get from the captain and crew? I have seen them, and they are a shortsighted and wasteful sort. They spend even that which they do not have. They save nothing. What is there to get from them?"
And the worker replied, "We will install galley oars on this ship and make the old captain and crew row it. Out of their labor will come our due."
"But what will the ship be used for?" Jamie asked the scarred worker.
"I just told you," the worker said. "It will be used to make the captain and crew row."
The scarred worker went back to work. That was all they could learn from him.
The prophet still wasn't satisfied with the answers he had received, so he called to a third worker, and when the worker turned around the prophet saw that it was a young girl, perhaps not yet out of her teens. And the prophet called to the girl, asking her why she was building a new ship. To which she said, "Life on land is cruel and unfair. Life on the ship would be more equitable."
"You were born on land and have always lived here, have you not?" Jamie asked her.
"Yes," she said.
"Then have not those who have escaped from the ship told you how bad shipboard life is? Did they not tell you about the cruel captains, and the work without pay, and the beatings and how boring it is?"
"They who come ashore are misfits and malcontents," she said. "Who can get a straight story out of them? But I have listened to crewmembers who were thrown overboard by storms and managed to swim ashore. They told me the real story."
"No doubt they finance construction of this new ship," Jamie told the prophet softly.
After they had left the shipyard, the road turned east, and Jamie told the prophet that he could go no further; the prophet had to go on alone. The prophet asked Jamie why he would not accompany him to the town, and Jamie told him that the light was too bright in that direction: "It hurts my eyes," he said.
"Why don't you wear sunglasses?" the prophet asked Jamie.
And Jamie said, "It is a light that gets brighter and more intense the more you try to filter it and block it out. One either takes it as it is, or doesn't take it at all."
"Is it so hard to get used to?" the prophet asked Jamie.
"It depends on one's background," Jamie said. "Some people seem to be able to look into the light from the beginning, others must make great efforts to get used to it."
"Then how do you get to the town when you need to go?" the prophet asked him.
"I do not go often," said Jamie, "but when I go there I walk backwards. And it is by my shadow that I can see where I am going."
So the prophet and Jamie said goodbye to each other. The prophet continued walking east while Jamie stayed at the shore.
Now the prophet did not have the difficulty that Jamie had with the brightness of the light, so he could walk directly east without the light hurting his eyes. But this doesn't tell us anything about the sort of person the prophet was. Let me tell you why. Have you ever had a dream, where you knew you were dreaming even while the dream was going on? Well, it was like that in this dream. The prophet knew he was dreaming, even though he really couldn't do anything other than accept the dream as real for the time being, but because he knew he was dreaming he knew things in the dream couldn't really hurt him. That may be why the light didn't bother him; he knew it was dream light. But he also knew that if he had been awake, and saw light this bright and intense, he might not have been able to stand it any more than Jamie could.
Now also his knowing that it was a dream made it a lot easier for him to deal with what happened next.
As the prophet walked farther on the road, he found that he was in an open and barren desert, very hot and relentlessly bright. And while he was walking along the road in the desert, a band of brigands on horseback suddenly rode up from behind him and surrounded him. He knew they were brigands because they were all very ugly, and smelled bad, and had very bad teeth which looked as if they hadn't brushed them in years. On their horses were draped many spoils made up of gold and silver, many different sorts of guns and knives, and the prophet started worrying that this really might not be a dream, in which case he'd really be up the old creek without a paddle.
The leader of the brigands, who was the ugliest and most foul-smelling of the bunch pulled his horse close up to the prophet and said, as brigands are required by custom to say, "Your money or your life."
The prophet, remembering that this was only a dream (he kept on saying that over and over to himself) screwed up his courage to say, "I didn't bring any money with me."
"A likely story, that's what they all say," the chief brigand said. And the chief signaled to his men who immediately jumped off their horses proceeding to search the prophet. Now, of course, since it was a dream, the prophet hadn't thought to take any money with him, though he was just a bit relieved to find out that this was not one of those sorts of dreams where you get an ugly kind of surprise; you know, where you find out that you had money on you that you didn't know about, and the brigands get real pee-oh'd. But he was lucky on that count, because the brigands didn't find any money on him.
"What do we do now?" the second-in-charge said to the chief.
And the chief brigand thought a moment then said, "Give me the six-sided dice."
The second-in-charge gave the chief three-sided dice and the chief threw them on the ground, where they came up five. "Damn," the chief brigand said. Then he told the prophet to pick up the dice and throw them. And the prophet picked up the dice and threw them, and they came up fourteen, "Shit, he made his saving throw," The chief brigand said. So he signaled to his men and they all rode away into the desert, leaving the prophet alone on the road.
Now as the prophet walked farther east on the road, he saw what looked to be a shining silver mountain in the distance, and the road was leading him to it. But as he walked farther, he came closer, then he was able to see that this was not a silver mountain but a giant, silvery geodesic dome. The prophet walked for several more hours, and he was very glad this was only a dream, because otherwise, after walking so long in the hot desert, he would have been very thirsty by now. In any case he finally arrived at the geodesic dome.
As soon as he was inside the dome, the prophet saw that it was very much cooler than outside in the desert, and though it was just as bright, the light was not as harsh or starkly naked as it was outside.
And then he looked around, inside the geodesic dome, he saw that this was more like a city than a town, although it was so well designed with green lawns and fountains and flowers that it was unlike any other city he had ever been to. There were many shops and restaurants, and many picturesque houses--for there weren't any zoning restrictions here. The prophet looked around, especially at the faces of the people who were walking around--and the prophet saw that everyone there was mellow and laid back. The place was very colorful and exciting. As a matter of fact, it was a lot like Disneyland. Only it wasn't like Disneyland in one way; you didn't have everybody rushing around, dragging their kids along, making sure that they got their full day's admission price before they left. And there weren't any long lines to stand in.
So the prophet looked around, and he came to the following conclusion; the city he was looking at was a port city. It was a crossroads. Only he couldn't figure out where people were coming from and going to since it wasn't near the sea.
And he figured that there was a pretty good way to find out. He looked up the city directory for a travel agent. Then he took a tram across town to the travel agent, walking in and he asked them where they booked trips to, and the lady who worked there said, "Any planet, asteroid, or other habitat you want."
And so the prophet found out this way that this was a space port.
Now, I'd like to tell you where the prophet went next, but unfortunately, he woke up at that point, and hasn't had the next dream in the series yet. And as soon as he has it, he's promised to tell me all about it. And just as soon as he tells me, I'll tell you.