The Blue and the Red

They had absorbed WhoMeaning, as it came to be known, much the way a sponge takes water. WhoMeaning, if you are among the uninformed, refers to the now-common habit of assessing a message by noting the messenger.

Today it will be sunny, says the weatherman.
Today it will rain, says the other weatherman.

Both men are standing in the public square, pointing to the sky. The people have assembled, as they do every morning, to hear the forecast. The Red Shirt People heed the Red Shirt Weatherman, who is calling for rain. The Blue Shirt Weatherman, say the Red Shirts, is a fake weatherman and a liar and a scoundrel. Although it is sunny at that moment, without a cloud in sight, the Red Shirts prepare for rain.

It is the same in every fold of human existence. The Red Shirts watch the Red Shirt News. They shop at the Red Shirt Stores. The Blue Shirts keep to their side of the city, where they patronize the Blue Shirt Restaurants and the Blue Shirt Theatres and the Blue Shirt Temple. It used to be that, now and again, you would see a Blue Shirt Person in the Red Shirt Temple, but those days are long behind. Now, a heedless fool who transgresses the many unmarked boundaries is dealt a mob’s justice. The sight of a blue shirt inflames the Red Shirt People, just as a red shirt arouses Blue Shirt contempt. Everyone learned long ago that it was better to keep to one’s tribe. Certainly it was safer.

All agreed it was in everyone’s best interest to adopt the wearing of a colored shirt. The common spaces were abolished. The wearing of the shirt was only a minor imposition, a small step from the habits many had already adopted—for example the voluntary disclosure of affiliation, whether to the Blues or to the Reds, using symbols affixed to one’s house or automobile. Even in the absence of these symbols, it was a trifle working out the side on which a stranger stood. The shirts didn’t change anything, they merely made life easier.

It was not uncommon that a man would beat a woman to death in the street. In the past, justice had been a messy and complex business. But now, thanks to the shirts and to WhoMeaning, justice was easy. Whenever a Red Shirt bludgeoned a Blue Shirt, the Red Shirt People would deem the event just. The Red Shirts would advert to Blue Shirt crimes of a similar, indeed (they would say) worse, nature. The Blue Shirts would denounce Red Shirt acts but defend Blue Shirt People as patriots. In the Blue world everything blue was noble and majestic, everything Red diseased and evil. In the Red world, nothing Blue was to be trusted. The Blue were not even human, according to the Red People.

The arrangement worked, for a time. After the war and the introduction of the colored shirts, the Blues stayed in Blueland and the Reds in Redland. For a time, there was peace. Then came the tests of loyalty. Among the Blues, there were efforts to determine who among them was insufficiently Blue. The Reds began to purge themselves of those they called The Purples. Now that tribalism ran the land, there was no staunching its flow.

The Red Shirt People re-wrote the history of the Republic to satisfy Red desires. The Blue schools taught the young that their past, present, and future miseries were the work of the Reds. Everyone accepted that another war was on the way. Perhaps this time they would vanquish and extirpate their enemies.

I am writing this to you from the prison where they keep the ones who refuse to wear the colored shirts. By the time you receive this, I will likely be dead. Time is not on my side, perhaps also not on yours. There was a period when we thought, naively, that the war could be averted. Then the world went mad, as it often does. You don’t see it happening—or you do, but only when it is too late. The world is normal, and then, mad. In the meanwhile all that we had in our defence were words, principles, appeals to humanity’s higher nature. Truth and justice, in that small window of opportunity when these could mean something real, something solid, and not just anything that one pleased. And then, the madness, and it was too late.

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