Month 12, 2039: Court Hearing 10456 in the Western Region of United North America (UNA).
Mr. Campbell, while you were sequestered, I spoke with your child, James.
Yes, Your Honor.
James told me he wants to change his skin color because he thinks it’ll be “cool.” I asked him whether he had any other reason for his decision. He said no. He’s eight years old.
We have many precedents. In the Region, there are more than 32,000 children under the age of 10—some as young as four—who have chosen to undergo a change of gender. Puberty blocking drugs, counseling. In every case, it was the child’s decision that was considered paramount. The opinion of the parents was irrelevant.
I understand, sir.
This situation is somewhat different. Now that we have the technology to produce a complete change of skin color in a single treatment, safely, with no adverse effects…
Are you sure there are no lasting problems?
Yes, Mr. Campbell. I’m sure. I want to hear your objections to your child’s choice.
Obviously, my family and the wider community have a rich cultural history. African American, and before that, African history. But James wants to have WHITE skin. Aside from the massive protests that would break out if his request is granted, in America it is more or less taken for granted that whiteness is racist. Those are my objections.
Yes. Mr. Campbell. On the other side of the argument, there are many influential and powerful groups who demand that a child should make his own life-altering decisions. If I rule against James, we can expect outrage from those groups.
So what do we do, Your Honor?
We run the numbers.
I don’t understand.
The government has extensive profiles on every citizen. We utilize algorithms to predict which court decision will provoke the most trouble and blowback. Actually, those calculations have already been made.
And what’s the result?
Either way, I would instigate an unacceptable level of public uproar. The numbers suggest ruling against James’ choice, but only by a very slim margin. A statistically negligible margin. In such cases, we try to look for another course of action. A third way.
Have you found it?
Yes. We can put your whole family into protective custody.
For how long?
Indefinitely. Until we are satisfied that your child is content to keep his birth skin color. If that ever happens.
What is protective custody in this situation?
First, I secretly rule in your favor. No white skin for James. Then we transport your family to an undisclosed location. We assign you a job. You settle down in a remote spot with your family and…live.
We’ve selected a military installation on a small island close to Guam. Forty people are stationed there. They are the only people on the island. You’ll be assigned to work compiling reports in the satellite observation group.
What about James?
You’ll home school him. His mother will. James will not be allowed to leave your property.
Will anyone know what happened to us and where we are?
No. Potentially, the situation is too volatile.
Do you realize how absurd all this sounds, Your Honor?
Of course I do. But looking deeper, it’s quite in line with the edict to prevent social upheaval by any and all means necessary. That’s the overriding concern. In our civilization, people are shifted from location to location all the time, in keeping with their assigned jobs, their conditioning, and the overall pattern of Integrated Population Function. As we say, a position for every person, a person for every position. Yours is just an extreme case of the principle.
What about my monthly allotment from the government? And my social credit score?
Your score will remain the same—in the high range—as long as you follow orders. Your Universal Guaranteed Income payment will be doubled, as an incentive, and as compensation for any psychological effects stemming from relocation to an isolated environment.
I’m a black man. Of the 40 people on the island, what’s the racial distribution?
Eighteen are black, fourteen are white, five are Hispanic, and three are Asian.
Will I have an opportunity for promotion at work?
Yes, but the options are limited. You can advance from a 32 pay scale to a 39. That’s in addition to the doubling of income I just mentioned.
I have a suggestion, Your Honor. I’d like to spell out our new life to James, and see how he feels about it. Maybe he’ll change his mind about the skin color change.
I’ve already spoken with James and told him what to expect. He still wants to opt for white skin.
Suppose he becomes depressed and angry, when he finds out he can’t change his color?
James is going to receive three virtual sessions of conditioned-reflex therapy a week, from here on out.
Is it painful?
Only if he rebels.
This case of my son—it’s called “competing interests.” Correct?
Yes, Mr. Campbell. And adjudication is made on the basis of the doctrine of State Good. What enhances the State? Our flow charts prove that increasing government power benefits the individual, in the long run.
I once wanted to study the law. I don’t suppose there is any chance I could—
No, Mr. Campbell. We have too many lawyers. Most court cases are now conducted in this setting. The relevant citizens and the judge are the only participants.
Your Honor, why can’t you rule against my son and be done with it, instead of sending us to a remote location in the Pacific?
We’ve already gone over that. In this Region alone, there are 42 million people who demand that a child’s decisions concerning identity be honored and followed. They would come out into the streets if I made a public decision against James.
Yes, sir. I’m frustrated.
I can understand that, Mr. Campbell. But what you want or I want doesn’t matter. We contribute to the Whole. That’s all that counts. It’s really mathematics. Once we understand what the Greatest Good is, we can calculate the value or harm of any action on that basis.
May I be frank, Your Honor?
Last Halloween, James painted his face white and ran around the neighborhood pretending he was the Joker from the old Batman movies. That’s how all this started. He had fun. That’s all we’re talking about here.
Yes, we have the surveillance video. Nevertheless, your son is now adamant about his choice of skin color. We can’t turn the clock back and say it’s just a Halloween prank.
Your Honor, suppose a year from now James decides he loves that TV character who has a metal hook for a hand? Suppose James wants a hook?
That would be an easy determination. He could have a surgical procedure to remove his hand and replace it with a hook. It’s his choice. A child’s wishes must be honored.
Suppose I myself want a hook?
You’re an adult. That’s an entirely different situation. I would have to consider the case carefully. Why would you want the hook?
Because it looks cool.
I doubt I would rule in your favor.
An adult should know when he is making a frivolous request. A child is more focused and single-minded. For a child, there are no frivolous requests.
And that matters?
Yes. There is much legal precedent to support the sanctity of childhood wish-fulfillment. To cite just one example, any four-year old can obtain vaccination without parental knowledge. The child can offer a doctor or nurse informed consent.
But in this case, you’re ruling in my favor and against my son.
Only because granting your son’s choice of skin color would create massive social upheaval on a wide scale, once it became news.
Your Honor, do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with the thought that we’re all crazy?
No, I sleep well. During the day, when I hear cases, when I look around me, I KNOW we’re all crazy. But you see, that’s a good starting point. THE LAW is what we create to work our way toward sanity.
And you believe we’re succeeding in our effort to become sane?
Of course. Otherwise, I would retire and tend my roses and imbibe drugs to dull my senses.
Have you ever considered outright rebellion?
—The judge smiled and shook his head. He banged his gavel, walked down from the bench, and as he passed Mr. Campbell, he deftly passed him a folded slip of paper.
Later, at home, Campbell unfolded it. A message read: “We’re all trapped in a dream.” A local address was listed.
James was elected as a judge for mock disciplinary hearings at his school.
When he turns eleven, he’ll enroll in online training for surveillance work. He could have a bright future in that sector.
His…shall we say, disposition for rebellion can be re-channeled to good use. Outliers often become ardent advocates for State policy.