In the land of Freedomocracy there lived a boy named Johnny. Like all children, Johnny went to School, where he was taught to think the same thoughts grownups think by educators with desperate faces.
At School Johnny learned what thoughts to think about his country and the world, so that he would be able to understand the things the News Man on the Screen says. He learned that other countries are ruled by Evil Dictators who hate freedom and kill their people with poison gas for no reason, but in Freedomocracy the people rule themselves using votes. Every couple of years everyone goes to Voting Stations to try to elect the people who will do the things they want to happen, and whoever gets the most votes does the things they were elected to do. In Evil Dictatorships the only things that happen are the things the Evil Dictators want, but in Freedomocracy the only things that happen are the things that the people want.
Johnny learned and learned and grew and grew, and when he got as big as a grownup he was given a Diploma which said, “Johnny thinks all the right thoughts, and he doesn’t think any of the wrong thoughts. He knows how to count and how to spell, and he knows how to find Freedomocracy on the globe. Johnny thinks the right thoughts about Freedomocracy, the World, the Law, the Internet, Money, War, Drugs and Medicine, and he knows how to listen to the News Man on his Screen. He can have a Job now.”
Johnny went out and showed his Diploma to different Job places, and he was hired to turn a gear at a gear-turning office. They paid Johnny money for his gear-turning, and he used it to get an apartment and some peanut butter.
One day Johnny was at the office and everyone started speaking with alarmed voices. Someone turned on the Screen on the wall, and the News Man was speaking next to a picture of an explosion. The News Man’s eyebrows were furrowed, and he spoke with a solemn voice.
“There has been an attack by Terrorists, and now thousands of people are dead,” said the News Man. “We are getting reports that the Terrorists were sent to explode this building by an Evil Dictator, so Freedomocracy will have to declare War to get rid of him.”
Johnny had learned in School that sometimes Evil Dictators are so evil that they pose a danger to Freedomocracy, so War must be declared in self-defense. War is very sad, but sometimes it’s necessary to protect Freedomocracy and to bring Freedom to the people who are always being killed with poison gas by the Evil Dictator. Johnny had also learned that boys of his age would be sent to fight in that War.
Sure enough, the next day a message popped up on Johnny’s pocket Screen saying, “You have been selected to go to War to overthrow the Evil Dictator and the Terrorists who have attacked us. It is your Patriotic Duty to report to your nearest Enlistment Station tomorrow so that we can give you a gun and send you to fight.”
Johnny didn’t sleep that night. He didn’t want to leave his apartment and go someplace where people were shooting one another, and he especially didn’t want to get killed by Terrorists. But he had been taught in School that a boy must always do his Patriotic Duty, so the next day Johnny locked up his apartment, said goodbye to his parents, and went to enlist.
They shaved Johnny’s head and made him wear a uniform, and they gave him a gun and taught him how to shoot it. Johnny was told that once his plane landed he would be greeted by Terrorists who were trying to protect the Evil Dictator, so he’d have to point his gun at them and shoot bullets into their bodies so that they wouldn’t shoot bullets into his body. He was to shoot bullets at anyone who stood between him and the Evil Dictator, and keep shooting and shooting until the Evil Dictator was gone.
Johnny’s plane touched down, and he started shooting. The Terrorists he was shooting didn’t look like the Terrorists the News Man had shown on the Screen; many of the Terrorists looked just like women and children, and when Johnny would shoot one of them a bunch of people would gather around and scream and cry. Johnny asked his Commander if he was sure that those Terrorists were really Terrorists, and he was told to be quiet and keep shooting.
The Terrorists kept running away to avoid being shot, so Johnny kept chasing after them. He ran and he ran, and then suddenly he was being tossed through the air with searing pain ripping through his body. The next thing Johnny knew, he was lying in a hospital bed with no legs.
Johnny was shipped back home to Freedomocracy, but he wasn’t happy there. He kept thinking he was back in the Evil Dictatorship, shooting people and being shot at. He kept seeing the terrified, pained faces of the people he’d shot. Such ordinary faces. So much like his own.
One night after his mother calmed him down when he was screaming and trying to leap out of bed, she switched on the Screen for him to see if it might help him relax. The News Man was there saying that the Evil Dictator has been killed, but another Evil Dictator in another country is now trying to use Terrorists to explode buildings in Freedomocracy just like the last one did. There may have to be another War.
Johnny watched the News Man talk, noticing that no mention was made of the last Evil Dictatorship or the people in it, the ones Johnny had seen running and screaming. All the News Man wanted to talk about was this new Evil Dictatorship and the Evil Dictator who rules it. Johnny watched the News Man’s mouth moving, and the sound of his voice began turning into gibberish mouth noises in Johnny’s ears. Something had changed in Johnny’s mind.
A fear gripped his insides like a big fist. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
“He’s lying,” Johnny whispered.
And from then on, everything was different. Johnny was no longer able to believe the words of the News Man, not just in the present but also in the past. Not just from the News Man, but from the educators at School. Everything he’d been told about the world and about Freedomocracy suddenly felt like a suit that didn’t fit anymore, no matter how hard he tried to climb back into it.
It was like finding the end of a very tangled knot and slowly working out its weavings. Johnny began working through all the stories he’d ever been told about the world and unplugging his belief from them one at a time. He began replacing those stories with different ones, new ones which he learned about on his pocket Screen. It turned out there were people all around the world experiencing the same thing as Johnny was experiencing, and they were all sharing their ideas with each other on the Internet. You never saw any of those people being interviewed by the News Man, so they weren’t famous, but they saw that the stories the News Man was telling weren’t true.
One day Johnny picked up his pocket Screen and typed out the words, “The News Man is lying about the Evil Dictator.” He then posted those words on the Internet for everyone to see.
A bunch of strangers responded angrily to Johnny’s words.
“You’re the liar.”
“The News Man would never lie to us!”
“Why do you love the Evil Dictator?”
“Why do you love killing people with poisonous gas?”
“You should go move to the Evil Dictatorship if you love Evil Dictators so much!”
But another stranger said, “You’re right.”
It was the first time Johnny had felt happy inside since coming back from the War. Finally! A connection! With someone who saw what he saw!
Johnny started writing more things on the Internet:
“The News Man is lying about the Terrorists.”
“The News Man is lying about Freedomocracy.”
“The News Man is lying about everything.”
At first there were way more angry people responding than people who agreed, but more and more strangers on the Internet started noticing the things Johnny was saying. They liked the way Johnny wrote, and they appreciated his story about the War and what had happened to his legs.
Johnny found that he had a lot of things to say to the strangers on the Internet. He wrote long articles, he made videos and voice recordings, all about the lies the people of Freedomocracy were being told about what’s happening in their world. He wrote about how people with lots of Money can control elections and start Wars to get even more Money. He wrote about how the News Company was owned by people with lots of Money who profited from the News Man’s lies. He learned about all the different stories everyone had been told about Freedomocracy to trick them into thinking that they decide what happens in their country, and he got better and better at talking about them.
And people listened. More and more strangers on the Internet kept tuning in to find out what Johnny had to say. They found the stories they used to believe getting torn apart by the information that Johnny was sharing with them, and soon they too were unable to fit inside the old suit of the old stories they’d been taught in School.
One day when Johnny was watching the News Man to learn what false stories were being told, Johnny heard something surprising.
“We have a breaking News report,” said the News Man. “Our sources have learned that the Evil Dictator is using the Internet to spread Propaganda. It is bad that the Internet has been weaponized in this way, because here in Freedomocracy we leave ourselves exposed by letting people say whatever they want on the Internet. In the Evil Dictatorship, nobody is even allowed to use the Internet. This attack is an act of War by the Evil Dictator, and it will not go unpunished.”
“Remember, don’t believe the lies you hear on the Internet about the Evil Dictator, because it’s Propaganda,” the News Man concluded. “It is your Patriotic Duty to get your information here at the National News Company, where we always tell the truth.”
Suddenly there were strangers on the Internet saying that Johnny secretly worked for the Evil Dictator.
“Nobody believe what Johnny is saying! It’s Propaganda!”
“Johnny is a secret agent for the Evil Dictatorship!”
“How much were you paid to say this, ‘Johnny’?? If that’s even your real name!”
Johnny was shocked by all this, but he saw what they were doing. He explained to the strangers on the Internet that this was a trick to make people believe the News Man’s stories, and that it was actually the News Man who was conducting Propaganda. Propaganda is when you trick large groups of people into believing false stories about their country, and that was exactly what the News Man was doing.
Johnny kept attacking the News Man’s stories has hard as he could, and people kept waking up from the stories they’d been told. More and more strangers on the Internet started writing their own things and making their own videos, talking about how they’d like to live in a country where people really are free and really do get to decide what happens, like how they learned things are meant to be in School. People were poor and unhappy because all Freedomocracy’s Money was always being spent on Wars, and if they were really free and really decided what happens in their country, that wouldn’t be how it is. More and more people were getting very upset, and they were talking about it.
It wasn’t long before the next Propaganda report.
“A new report says that the Evil Dictator’s Propaganda is even worse than we’d suspected,” the News Man said. “The government of Freedomocracy has asked Internet companies to do everything in their power to stop the Evil Dictator from spreading his lies in our beautiful free country.”
The strangers on the Internet began having difficulty finding Johnny and the things he was saying on the Internet. They’d go to look for him, and instead they’d find videos of the News Man telling them that it’s their Patriotic Duty to support Freedomocracy against the Evil Dictatorship.
Johnny was frustrated. He kept speaking and speaking, but fewer and fewer people were able to find the things he was saying as the Internet companies worked to hide his words. Johnny wanted to keep killing people’s belief in the News Man’s stories, but he couldn’t do it if nobody was listening to him. He lost hope.
But the strangers on the Internet didn’t. They began copying Johnny’s words and sharing them themselves. They began making writing their own words, making their own videos and voice recordings, sharing what they’ve learned about the News Man’s lies. They began printing out flyers and talking to people on the streets to get away from the Internet companies who wanted to silence them. They began organizing in large groups and demanding to live in a truly free country.
Police were deployed to bash the people and spray gas on them to make them be quiet. The News Man reported that everyone in the streets was a Terrorist or a victim of Evil Dictator Propaganda, but everyone knew he was lying. His eyebrows grew more and more furrowed and the people grew more and more restless.
Then one day the News Man announced that Freedomocracy was going to War. All other recourse had failed with the Evil Dictator, he said, and everyone receiving a notice on their pocket Screens was to report to their Enlistment Stations immediately.
But nobody went. Everyone refused to fight this new War, and everyone refused to support the people who were trying to start it. The tangle of lies fell away completely, and everyone saw what was really happening with clear eyes. The people rose up together, and soon even the police joined them, and it wasn’t long before the News Man appeared on the Screen for the last time.
Then the people began creating a country which really works for them instead of keeping them poor and tricked all the time. It isn’t perfect, but it is theirs, run according to what they want instead of what a few people with lots of Money want. The people of Freedomocracy drive off into the future together, not knowing where they’re going but knowing that they’re driving. And Johnny gets to eat as much peanut butter as he wants.