Living in your dystopia 10: being a rabid vigilante is no worse than being ignored…

We’d been walking along the canal for twenty minutes before I broached the subject of the conversation from a month ago, the conversation that Tommy had cut short, the conversation where Brian had started to reveal his lack of empathy.
‘Tommy, remember when we were discussing if it was okay to mug an old lady and you stopped us?’
‘Why did you do that?’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’
‘Don’t you think it was getting a bit one sided? Maybe picking on Brian a bit too much?’
‘He didn’t seem to mind.’
‘I don’t think he realised.’
‘But he was only saying what he believes. Why shut him up? Unless you think there’s a risk he’ll influence my assessment of your universe?’
Tommy laughed. ‘Never occurred to me. Do you really want to know what was going on?’
‘Of course.’
We walked in silence. The bushes, the trees and a black metal bridge covered in the scrawls of a language I was unfamiliar with were all reflected in the static water – a portrait of the combined urban beauty of the organic and the industrial. Three boats, each with a bicycle chained to their chimney, were moored on the other side of the canal and the towpath stretched out along the bank until it disappeared under the bridge and around the corner.
‘It’s so peaceful down here, isn’t it?’ he said.
‘Yes.’ I said simply; I was afraid to say more in case I distracted him.
He coughed. ‘I’ve known Brian since we were lads. When we were teenagers he stopped eating meat and fish and was totally convinced that everybody else should too. We all thought he was doing it for effect. His parents thought it was teenage angst and that he’d grow out of, but he was convinced and took every opportunity to tell people why it was wrong to eat flesh. When he left home it got worse. He banned all animal products from his house.’
‘Did he live alone?’
‘No, but all of his housemates were vegetarian. Sometimes, after a night out, people would come back to the house and carry on partying. Inevitably they’d bring late night food with them and often one of them would have meat. He’d go ballistic, call them murderers and cannibals and throw them out of the house. As time went on he became more extreme – he couldn’t even be in a pub or a shop that sold meat without telling them how evil they were. I’m sure you can guess where it all led?’
‘Gradually they listened to him?’ I asked.
‘No. The opposite. He was banned from almost everywhere and one-by-one his friends disowned him; he was too disgusting to be around. I was the only one that stood by him.’
‘So what changed?’
‘He decided to keep his views to himself – he reckoned the only way he was going to influence anyone was to be a role model rather than a rabid vigilante.’
‘And did it work?’
‘No it didn’t. Nobody takes him seriously anymore because he doesn’t have the passion. He simply accepts that everyone else’s opinions are as valid as his own.’
‘But why did you stop him the other day?’
‘He was heading down a path that the others wouldn’t condone and I couldn’t bear to see him lose his friends again. Do you know how difficult it was for me to get people to change their minds about him?’
‘But if he can’t be honest, what’s he meant to do?’
‘I don’t know. Somehow he needs to find a way to talk about his beliefs without upsetting everyone. And that’s something we all want to be able to do, isn’t it?’
‘Maybe, but from what I’ve seen it’s not going to happen without those empathy drugs. Your culture is forcing people to the same extremes that Brian has tried – the liberalist and the absolutist. They’re both dangerous you know. Neither allows for any serious conversation.’
Tommy picked up a stone and skimmed it across the canal. ‘I’m afraid you’re probably right,’ he muttered.