Una forma de esclavitud, post crisis climática, basada en la deuda, en «The Parable of the Sower» de Octavia Butler
por Juan Pablo Anaya
“Something new is beginning—or perhaps something old and nasty is reviving. A company called Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton, and Company—KSF—has taken over the running of a small coastal city called Olivar. Olivar, incorporated in the 1980s, is just one more beach/bedroom suburb of Los Angeles, small and well-to-do. It has little industry, much hilly, vacant land and a short, crumbling coastline. Its people, like some here in our Robledo neighborhood, earn salaries that would once have made them prosperous and comfortable. In fact, Olivar is a lot richer than we are, but since it’s a coastal city, its taxes are higher, and since some of its land is unstable, it has extra problems. Parts of it sometimes crumble into the ocean, undercut or deeply saturated by salt water. Sea level keeps rising with the warming climate and there is the occasional earthquake. Olivar’s flat, sandy beach is already just a memory. So are the houses and businesses that used to sit on that beach. Like coastal cities all over the world, Olivar needs special help. It’s an upper middle class, white, literate community of people who once had a lot of weight to throw around. Now, not even the politicians it’s helped to elect will stand by it. The whole state, the country, the world needs help, it’s been told. What the hell is tiny Olivar whining about?
Somewhat richer and less geologically active communities are getting help—dikes, sea walls, evacuation assistance, whatever’s appropriate. Olivar, located between the sea and Los Angeles, is getting an influx of salt water from one direction and desperate poor people from the other. It has a solar powered desalination plant on some of its flatter, more stable land, and that provides its people with a dependable supply of water.
But it can’t protect itself from the encroaching sea, the crumbling earth, the crumbling economy, or the desperate refugees. Even getting back and forth to work, for those few who can’t work at home, was becoming as dangerous for them as it is for our people—a kind of terrible gauntlet that has to be run over and over again.
Then the people of KSF showed up. After many promises, much haggling, suspicion, fear, hope, and legal wrangling, the voters and the officials of Olivar permitted their town to be taken over, bought out, privatized. KSF will expand the desalination plant to vast size. That plant will be the first of many. The company intends to dominate farming and the selling of water and solar and wind energy over much of the southwest—where for pennies it’s already bought vast tracts of fertile, waterless land. So far, Olivar is one of its smaller coastal holdings, but with Olivar, it gets an eager, educated work force, people a few years older than I am whose options are very limited. And there’s all that formerly public land that they now control. They mean to own great water, power, and agricultural industries in an area that most people have given up on. They have long-term plans, and the people of Olivar have decided to become part of them—to accept smaller salaries than their socio-economic group is used to in exchange for security, a guaranteed food supply, jobs, and help in their battle with the Pacific.
There are still people in Olivar who are uncomfortable with the change. They know about early American company towns in which the companies cheated and abused people.
But this is to be different. The people of Olivar aren’t frightened, impoverished victims. They’re able to look after themselves, their rights and their property. They’re educated people who don’t want to live
in the spreading chaos of the rest of Los Angeles County. Some of them said so on the radio documentary we all listened to last night—as they made a public spectacle of selling themselves to KSF.
“Good luck to them,” Dad said. “Not that they’ll have much luck in the long run.”
“What do you mean?” Cory demanded. “I think the whole idea is wonderful. It’s what we need. Now if only some big company would want to do the same thing with Robledo.”
“No,” Dad said. “Thank God, no.”
“You don’t know! Why shouldn’t they?”
“Robledo’s too big, too poor, too black, and too Hispanic to be of interest to anyone—and it has no coastline. What it does have is street poor, body dumps, and a memory of once being well-off—of shade trees, big houses, hills, and canyons. Most of those things are still here, but no company will want us.”
At the end of the program it was announced that KSF was looking for registered nurses, credentialed teachers, and a few other skilled professionals who would be willing to move to Olivar and work for room and board. The offer wasn’t put that way, of course, but that’s what it meant. Yet Cory recorded the phone number and called it at once. She and Dad are both teachers, both Ph.D.’s. She was desperate to get in ahead of the crowd. Dad just shrugged and let her call.
Room and board. The offered salaries were so low that if Dad and Cory both worked, they wouldn’t earn as much as Dad is earning now with the college. And out of it they’d have to pay rent as well as the usual expenses. In fact, when you add everything up, it’s clear that with the six of us, they couldn’t earn enough to meet expenses. It might work if I could find a job of some kind, but in Olivar they don’t need me. They’ve got hundreds of me, at least—maybe thousands. Every surviving community is full of unemployed, half-educated kids or unemployed, uneducated kids.
Anyone KSF hired would have a hard time living on the salary offered. In not very much time, I think the new hires would be in debt to the company. That’s an old company-town trick—get people into debt, hang on to them, and work them harder. Debt slavery. That might work in Christopher Donner’s America. Labor laws, state and federal, are not what they once were.
“We could try,” Cory insisted to Dad. “We could be safe in Olivar. The kids could go to a real school and later get jobs with the company. After all, where can they go from here except outside?”
Dad shook his head. “Don’t hope for it, Cory. There’s nothing safe about slavery.”
Marcus and I were still up, listening. The two younger boys had been sent to bed, but we four were still clustered around the radio. Now Marcus spoke up.
“Olivar doesn’t sound like slavery,” he said. “Those rich people would never let themselves be slaves.”
Dad gave him a sad smile. “Not now,” he said. “Not at first.” He shook his head. “Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton: Japanese, German, Canadian. When I was young, people said it would come to this. Well, why shouldn’t other countries buy what’s left of us if we put it up for sale. I wonder how many of the people in Olivar have any idea what they’re doing.”
“I don’t think many do,” I said. “I don’t think they’d dare let themselves know.”
He looked at me, and I looked back. I’m still learning how dogged people can be in denial, even when their freedom or their lives are at stake. He’s lived with it longer. I wonder how.
Marcus said, “Lauren, you ought to want to go to some place like Olivar more than anyone. You share pain every time you see someone get hurt. There’d be a lot less pain in Olivar.”
“And there would be all those guards,” I said. “I’ve noticed that people who have a little bit of power tend to use it. All those guards KSF is bringing in—they won’t be allowed to bother the rich people, at least at first. But new, bare-bones, work-for-room-and-board employees. … I’ll bet they’ll be fair game.”
“There’s no reason to believe the company would allow that kind of thing,” Cory said. “Why do you always expect the worst of everyone?”
“When it comes to strangers with guns,” I told her, “I think suspicion is more likely to keep you alive than trust.”
She made a sharp, wordless sound of disgust. “You know nothing about the world. You think you have all the answers but you know nothing!”
I didn’t argue. There wasn’t much point in my arguing with her.
“I doubt that Olivar is looking for families of blacks and Hispanics, anyway,” Dad said. “The Baiters or the Garfields or even some of the Dunns might get in, but I don’t think we would. Even if I were trusting enough to put my family into KSF’s hands, they wouldn’t have us.”
“We could try it,” Cory insisted. “We should! We wouldn’t be any worse off than we are now if they turn us down. And if we got in and we didn’t like it, we could come back here. We could rent the house to one of the big families here—charge them just a little, then—”
“Then come back here jobless and penniless,” Dad said. “No, I mean it. This business sounds half antebellum revival and half science fiction. I don’t trust it. Freedom is dangerous, Cory, but it’s precious, too. You can’t just throw it away or let it slip away. You can’t sell it for bread and pottage.”
Cory stared at him—just stared. He refused to look away. Cory got up and went to their bedroom. I saw her there a few minutes later, sitting on the bed, cradling the urn of Keith’s ashes, and crying.”
Butler, Octavia, The Parable of the Sower