The Chain Heresy

            My name is Judge Ebenezer Chain and this is my final testimony before I am sentenced to death for the crime of heresy against the state. People believe that I am a very unusual man because I am the oldest living person. I am nearly 400 years old. I am always asked, “What is my secret?” I honestly have no idea. I stay active, keep standard meals and I drink. None of these things are different from anyone else, except that everyone else lives until about the age of 80 and I have lived nearly five times as long.

 

            My crime is telling the truth. I am living history. I have been at the places people sing songs about and I have been alive during the times our textbooks speak about. For the past half century, our children have been fed a series of lies: that we are all born with certain inalienable rights, that everyone should be equal and that law is sacred, immutable and fixed. I made the law and let me tell you were your precious laws and rights come from.

 

            The world of my youth was vastly different from what it is today. There was no electricity, no plumbing, no telephones, television or internet. There were no doctors or health care. There weren’t even books. We were a warfaring, pastoral and farming people in those times. The average person sought protection from villians from a few bold noble lords who owned all the land and branded all the animals. Only the most greedy and ruthless lords held on to power. All was chaos and rebellion. In such an environment, there is no such thing as “rights.” There is only survival. If you wanted to exercise your rights, you had to raise your own army and fight away the lords that held the land you wanted. Many good people lived and died of that fashion.

 

            It was in just such an environment that I grew up. My mother died giving birth to me and my father humbly tilled the soil and stored the grain. I was lucky because the taskmaster liked me. I was his little pet. One day, the taskmaster invited me to the manor, which was a fantastic honor. Of course, the lord was away fighting another skirmish at his property line at the time of my visit. It was on this day, at the tender age of 7, that I first encountered the thing that would change the rest of my life: paper.

 

            Paper is a magical substance. It holds our words, our drawings, our very ideas and it stays unchanged until it is touched by human hands again. Of course, mold, animals and fire all play a part in damaging or destroying documents, but the idea that a document can survive a human life is a power one to carry. No longer are we bound by our own fragile memories or our own word of mouth. I could see a day were documents, bound in volumes, would hold the sum of all knowledge. Alas, that day has both come and gone.

 

            It was my fascination with paper that led eventually to my literacy. While the rest of my family sweated in the fields, I spent my time under the tutelage of the taskmaster, and later, the lord. Eventually, the time past when both my tutor and lord fell into their final convalescence, what is called “retirement” nowadays, but in those times was not so pleasant, accented as it was with terminal illness and fitful death. A new lord arose and I was appointed “Steward of the Manor” due to my education and organizational skill. Indeed, whilst my new lord fought to expand the realm, I organized the fields: the planting and the harvesting and the storing of the grain. I also settled minor disputes between the peasants in what many considered a fair and equitable manner. Indeed, I built a reputation outside of the manor for my prudent judgments.

 

            Instead of choosing sides amongst the peasants and being part of a clique or posse, I would hear the merits of the case brought before me. Because I was so studious in writing things down, I had a body of decisions to draw upon to guide my decision-making (what is known as “legal precedent” in these times). It came to the point where people could settle their own disputes without bringing their issues before me because they always knew what my decisions would be.

 

            I steadily advanced to middle age, whereupon I would cease to age physically. I watched as my father aged and eventually died. My wife continued to age along with my sons and daughters, yet I would not. The peasants became frightened and perceived my halt in age to be witchcraft, yet my lords were powerful and always gave me resounding support so that any conspiracies against my person were always laid to rest.

 

            After several decades on the bench, I advanced from Steward to Judge. Having become the oldest living person in memory, I held the trove of knowledge for the kingdom and became greatly respected.

 

            Alas, after 110 years of life, a dreadful calamity fell upon us all. The lineage of my lord was decimated in a rueful battle against a neighboring lord and during this war, my lord fell upon the battlefield. I was faced with the choice of a lifetime. I was issued an ultimatum by the enemy to surrender to his sword and die for the land. I placated him for some time while I did something unheard of – I offered portions of the kingdom to my neighboring lords in exchange for my title as Circuit Judge. Necessarily, they would have to continue the war with the enemy, but at least I would have personal protection within their realms. I have never been a warfaring person. My plan worked and the Congress of Lords defeated the enemy.

 

            As Circuit Judge, I never held title to any land, yet I would travel to each county seat and oversee their lands as they would continue to make war on their neighbors. Often I would be the one who settled squabbles amongst the Congress of Lords. I am no great leader, nor outstanding orator, yet when I produced the edicts and orders and decrees of the congress to each of the bound lords, they would comply. The power of paper became law and those of us bound by law were better organized and beloved by the people. Our organization had a way of settling disputes before rising to wars and something happened which had never happened before – peace.

 

            After some years, I contemplated retirement from my role as judge. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren had all grown up. Some were knights and vassals and others were judges like me. As a way to earn higher tax revenue, some of the lords issued charters. These charters became trading towns which would one day form into our great cities. Around the age of 140, I took a new wife and I decided to quietly settle with her in the country on the land of one of my great-grandchildren.

 

            A generation later, something unexpected happened. There was a revolution. The lords had levied such extensive taxes, that the people felt they could decide for themselves who would hold power over their lives and defend them. The towns which had grown from the charters had produced literate, thoughtful and inventive men and now they wanted their freedom. There was a Declaration of Independence, an overthrow of government and a Republic established. I was recalled from retirement to serve as the first Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic. I demurred, claiming that my wife was in frail health and I was too old for such nonsense, despite having never physically aged past 50. Alas, at the age of 206, my wife died and I was pressed into service for the state.

 

            One of the first orders of business was diplomacy. The new representative congress wanted someone to address the neighboring nations to assure them that we were a stable republic, lest our greedy neighbors conquer us and bring the young nation to ruin. I was originally chosen, but I have no great skill as a diplomat, for I am soft-spoken and my frame is fragile and small. I don’t travel well and I am not fluent in foreign languages. I stood aside. One of the generals who led the revolution was chosen as Speaker. Every four years, an election would be held (I never voted lest the judiciary be corrupted) and a new Speaker was appointed by congress.

 

            As the years progressed, the speaker’s powers grew to such an extent that he nearly became, in essence, what the lords once were. However, congressional delegates were strong then, having once been the immediate descendants of noblemen and scholars, and they passed a series of laws retaining power for congress and the judiciary such that, either by congressional action or by court order, the speaker’s powers would be checked. With such stability, peace returned.

 

            I sat on the bench another 30 years before I began to yearn for my retirement cottage. New notions of property, such as patents and copyrights and company rights came before my bench over and over again. The nature of my casework had less to do with direct human suffering and more to do abstract ideas which I could hardly grasp, so I allowed the lawman with the best procedural work to win most cases. The law became increasingly tedious and, although I had enjoyed and taken pride in the system which I created, I began to feel the limits of what knowledge I could contemplate, so I stuck to what I knew best – minutiae.

 

            At 249, I had grown sick of it and I returned to my home and left the Supreme Court to younger and more capable men of that generation. The world was changing. Where once you would have to make everything on you own, now you could buy something with currency. Credit was available to those who could not afford. Crises had more to do with money now rather than an enemy knight riding the countryside and chopping heads off or barbarians burning crops. I have little use for money, as I can still tend my own land, mend my own clothes and hunt my own game. Technology is a confusing waste of time and energy to me.

 

            Yet technology came. First it was plumbing and, I have to admit, running water, flushing toilets and sewage treatment are all grand luxuries and are most welcome in my house. Then came electricity and lighting at night. Personally, I prefer sleep and a good fire over these electric lights. All of a sudden, in the span of a generation, all kinds of gadgets and contraptions started coming for which I found absolutely no use whatsoever. Who needs the novelty of speaking to someone far away over a speaker? Why do I need to stare at a box with its parade of images when there is an outdoor world with which I can delight in? And where did all the books go? Once, books and libraries were a gleam in my eye, but they are disappearing now and being replaced with these electric doo-dads filled with internet. Give me my hearth and library any day!

 

            As if technology were not changing the world enough, the state developed schooling. At heart, I admire education, but within the past half century, I have become appalled at what I am hearing our young people believe. Inalienable rights? Entitlement? Equality? These are not things which are given! I have watched my entire life as our nation has grown from the plot of land of my first lord to this Republic of Glory which you have today. History does not start with your “Declaration of Independence.” It doesn’t even begin with my birth, and yet you teach your children that there is no history before independence. You teach that law is unchangeable, except by the richest, most powerful congressmen and that companies and businesses are people too.

 

You are throwing away your books of history, mulching them up to pulp and burning away your souls. You hide behind your cloaks of “environmentalism” and “progress” to take our books away while you make available to us only the information found on your internet search engines and your television sets. I refuse to give up my library!

 

You call me a heretic and a bumpkin and a relic, yet you do not see that you are robbing yourselves of your very essence! Alas, I am afraid that my once powerful and respected words are falling upon deaf ears. This truth, my heresy, the story of where we came from is what you have judged unfit for existence. I just want you all to know and to take to heart before it is silenced forever – the law is a contrivance of men. The law is not something handed down to us from on high. It is not fixed. The law is something to which we submit, but that is only until we discover better law. The law is how we organize ourselves and our world. It should be respected insofar as it gives us the clarity and stability to lead our lives. With these words, I submit to my execution.

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