Regression: Chapter Nine

We went on a two-month trip to Japan with Erin. In today’s globalization, cultural differences have blurred, besides touristic idiosyncrasies that are kept alive for fun’s sake. To make up for it, landscapes and architecture are very varied throughout the world, emulating the pristine state of the land, wherever possible, and maintaining the historic accuracy of facades and landmarks. This is not as hard as it seems, since history ended in the twenty-third century, with the settlement of Mars. There have been no more hiccups from then on, so building new landmarks was no longer needed. There have been no more heroes or antiheroes, only people dedicated to the betterment of society or to fulfilling their egotistic goals. In any way, these two paths never collided, but they both provided for fruitful lives, whether they were led extrovertedly or introvertedly. The same as there have been no more heroes in the political arena, there have been no more celebrities in the cultural milieu. Art is still very alive, but there are no more trends anymore. Society reached a peak in individualism in the twenty-fourth century and has not descended since then. Fame and authority are still current, and some people are more talented, aware, sharp or skillful than others and they are subsequently emulated, but only by people with similar interests. No one is unduly famous anymore, as it used to be back in your time. Since society has stopped yielding to the mechanics of favoritism and privilege, there are no advantages to fame anymore, only to talent and skill. 

A two-month vacation twice a year is the average nowadays. It’s enough time to get immersed in the environment and involved in the local society. Actually, to your standards, this would rather be called volunteering, since people today generally lend a hand wherever they go on holidays to connect themselves, instead of simply idling their time away. Erin is a doctor, so she gave some free check-ups, especially to the immortals, who seemed to abound in this region. I got interested in the local fauna, which, to be honest, was the reason we came here in the first place. At the local park, I got to tend to a great variety of animals I’d never encountered before, including two that were on my must-see list: the crested ibis and the Tsushima leopard cat. As much as I missed my horses, I was sad when the two months were over, but the zookeeper told me I could fly back anytime I wish and he would be sure to find me something to do around. 

But we did more than work for two months. Sightseeing is still a popular activity today, and Japan has very intricate architecture due to the demands of the land. It was a pleasure to see the reinforced earthquake-resistant structures. The wave-breaking structures on the shores are one of a kind and the lava traps around volcanoes look really science-fictional, even to my futuristic eyes. I must clarify that this country has been consistently depopulated for the last millennia, and today it counts only twenty million inhabitants. This leaves plenty of room for wildlife, which must, nevertheless, be still protected against dangerous natural events, nevertheless. 

Japan has the distinction of being one of the few countries to have reclaimed land from the sea. During the Great Flood at the end of your current century, twenty percent of Japan’s land was claimed by the sea. Unfortunately, that meant most of the Japanese cities were submerged in water. This happened all around the world, and most countries decided to rebuild their civilizations on higher land, but Japan didn’t have much of an option. They created a system of dams and pumps, which in a matter of decades allowed them to drain the water from most of their land, claiming it back from the sea. Also, because they had braced themselves for the Great Flood, preparing their cities for the imminent catastrophe, their buildings weren’t completely damaged by the incoming seawater, so they didn’t have to rebuild everything, like other countries did. In this way, the protective measures taken before the flood, combined with the system of dams implemented in the aftermath, were immensely more economical than the measures taken by other countries to fix the damages caused by the natural disaster. Today, Japan, together with just a few more countries, such as The United Kingdom, Ireland, the Bahamas, Singapore, Bahrain, Holand, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Taiwan, South Korea and Malta, are the only countries that decided to venture into exhaustive land reclamation. This means that most of the populated area of these countries is now below sea level, protected by a waterproof system of dams and pumps. Today, we have the technology to implement a global project of global land reclamation by freezing great amounts of water at uninhabitable places near the poles and covering them with a layer of reflecting material, which would prevent them from melting. The Antarctic, for instance, was populated by many nations after the Great Flood. It became an independent country, made up of refugees from all around the world. However, from the beginning of the fourth millennium, it has been increasingly depopulated because of the short sunshine duration, going from one hundred million inhabitants in the twenty-third century to just six million migratory citizens today. Migratory citizens are another phenomenon of our era. These are people who live in a place during its sunny period and then go to a secondary place of residence, just to come back six months later. These seasonal migrations are generally done in groups, so the societies don’t lose their cohesiveness. Children remain in touch with their playmates, adolescents with their teen loves and friends, and adults with their colleagues, friends and clients.

Most of Japan, like many other regions of the world, has become a big natural reserve and tourist attraction, also due to its interesting history. Interactive museums abound everywhere, and Japan is no exception. We got immersed in Japan’s history. I was a samurai and Efrin was a ninja for a whole day, and we fought warlord wars in the Sengoku period. The next day, Erin tried being a geisha, but she didn’t enjoy it that much, so we both became Pokemon trainers for a day. I loved it. These fantastic animals truly reflected the uniqueness of the Japanese fauna and, again, I was sad when Erin told me it was fun, but she didn’t want to repeat the experience the next day. We decided to split for a day and she went sightseeing, while I played a little more Pokemon, but the next day I joined her because I didn’t want to miss out on other activities, such as the visit to Mount Fuji. I got my own Pokeball and Pokemon, however. I picked Charmeleon because it seemed to be a good representative of this magnificent land of dragons. The Pokeball is a simple ball made with computronium, which endows it with intelligent functions, such as opening itself when thrown, either releasing or retrieving a Pokemon and returning to my hand afterward. The Pokemon, however, is a holoanimation, which is a fully sensorial hologram created by a unit of nanorobots. This unit can orchestrate visual, auditory and tactile effects. Although they’re harmless, they can provoke some dangerous reactions in people, so Pokemons are forbidden to people without proper training. My years of zoological studies and horse training have granted me a green card to be a Pokemon owner after just a week-long crash course on Pokemon handling, which I took in the mornings, while Erin gave free checkups. Charmeleon’s algorithm is very complex, since it comprises the behavior of several indigenous lizards, with fantastic characteristics historically attributed to dragons. It can actually throw fireballs, whose holographic flames can illusorily ignite flammable objects they touch, extinguishing themselves after a few seconds. It wasn’t cheap, but it will surely provide me with hours of entertainment. 

When making decisions, we mostly follow the principle of pleasure. Stoicism and other similar philosophical currents are outdated nowadays, since life is not a source of suffering anymore, but an infinite source of pleasure. True, people still die, but it’s also true that we don’t get attached emotionally as much as people from your era. This is not Buddhism or any sort of spiritual enlightenment, but simple awareness of our solitude. We’re single entities that happen to converge from time to time, but we never lose our individuality. If a raindrop falls into the sea, it appears to be lost, but if that raindrop is self-aware, when it evaporates it regains its identity. It may be changed; it may keep some sea molecules as a souvenir, but it’s still the same raindrop. Especially when it comes to relationships, the principle of pleasure is always followed to decide whether to remain with someone or not. There are no ideal partners but only good enough partners. That is, we don’t idealize anyone but love with our eyes open. If someone is attractive enough so as not to trigger our instinctive roving eye, and if they are interesting and kind enough to make for a bearable coexistence, we stick to them; otherwise, we keep on looking. But Valentine would have none of it. He argued that what makes someone special is that you bestow on them your attention, that you choose them to be special. This is, clearly, circular reasoning, which doesn’t bear the slightest scrutiny, because in that case, anyone can be special, which renders everyone inconspicuous. However idiosyncratic attraction might be, it is still beyond our control, so our decision to bestow our attention on someone is always based on feelings and not the other way around. Valentine’s statement is nevertheless partially true: no one is special by themselves, but we make them so when we choose them. It’s the same as with The Mona Lisa: It may be a wonderful painting, but it’s nothing if there’s no light to make it observable. The only issue with Valentin’s view is that it focuses only on our power to give and take back freely the gift of our attention, ignoring our natural and acquired inclinations. 

On a different note, Milena broke up with Valentin. It was bound to happen, but Valentin seems not to accept this fact. They could’ve had a chance at happiness if he’d toned down his romanticism, which in fact worsened when he met her. He seemed to be boycotting his happiness, and, honestly, it was a sad view to see. I only know about it only from what Valentin told me, but the way he told it was the major hint about his state. He was completely unhinged, more than usual. Now I know exactly why seclusion is recommended for people with regression. Generally, meeting someone is a good catalyst for regular people. They become more integrated with society and develop new long-term goals for their lives. Biologically, it also triggers hormonal changes that boost psychological evolution. Having been in a sexual relationship, therefore, has always a positive effect, except in cases of emotional or psychological imbalance, like Valentin’s. Because, even after it is over, there remains the momentum given by our previous rush of emotions. If the frustration and apathy inherent to any breakup are neutralized, this momentum can be properly channeled into a moment of great beauty or genius. 

As soon as I came back from vacation, I went to see him in person. I admit I didn’t keep in touch while on vacation, except for the exchange of a few messages, one of which informed me that he and Milena had stopped seeing each other two weeks before I came back to Posnan. From my theoretical knowledge about regression, I expected him to be upset when I came back, but his state exceeded my expectations: He was totally disturbed, as if he’d caught some ancient viral disease. His emotions were like the feverish reaction to viruses we used to have before modern medicine. I believe this sort of behavior to be very rare: a product of the combination of Valentin’s regressed condition and his idealistic character.

I tried to cheer him up but he was inconsolable, just like a kid who is denied candy for breakfast. I tried to make sensibility seep into his brain, telling him that it had been all fair and square; they had dated and she had decided to break it up; that he shouldn’t take it personally that she had seen it before him that the relationship wouldn’t work out, because sooner or later he would surely have seen it too; that he should focus on the positive: the thrill he’d gotten from the relationship, the emotions that surely catalyzed his personality for the better. After all, life is nothing without emotions, whether good or bad. For all we know, that’s the only thing real: feelings. Back in the day philosophers used to pose the questions: Do we exist or are we a figment of our imagination? Is anything real? And what is reality? These apparently vain questions hold a grain of truth: We can only apprehend reality with our senses, and therefore reality is malleable to our subjective perception. A rainbow may be a magical event to a kid, while it’s a mere weather phenomenon to grown-ups; an ancient sculpture may be a wonderful piece of art and history for a person, while it’s just misshaped marble to another one. Today, we’re as aware of the subjectivity of the human mind as people were in the past, but we don’t let our senses take over our intellect. I tried to make Valentin look objectively at his situation, beyond his emotional perception, but he was adamant in his sorrow. He embraced his self-pity the same as a martyr embraces the cause that kills him. But we don’t believe in martyrdom nowadays; it’s repugnant to our sensibility. This deprecation of life’s intrinsic value is unethical today, and it’s one of the clearest signs of regression. The same as in the past people used to shorten their lives with narcotics, bad habits and a poor diet, Valentin was trying to waste his by pining after a woman that he wasn’t meant to be with. 

His folly, however, was highly intellectual. He argued back my view of subjectivity, saying that the same as our imagination has created technology and art, our mind can control our feelings and change our future, and, however unapparent a future between him and Milena was right now, if both commit to it, it could be possible. I explained to him that technology and art are rather the product of inspiration than imagination; that we react to nature and life when producing technology and art, and therefore our imagination is also a byproduct of being alive. The same as a hornero imagines the nest it’s building, we imagine paintings, music, buildings and technology. We’re a tool of nature, as much as a tornado is; only we are aware of our existence. The Greeks had it clear with their myths of heroes that went against fate, that is, the will of nature. But, unfortunately, hedonism and the cult of the ego made people recklessly think that everything was possible if they only set their minds and heart to it. I told him that his crusade against the current situation between him and Milena was sure to bring him only discontent since, even if he succeeded in winning over her affection, it would be at the price of his peace of mind. The imbalance of affection can’t be overcome with effort, but only by distancing yourself from the other person. The mechanics of attraction work in such a way that the more effort you put into attracting someone, the less positive results you get. That is why we have evolved towards a facility to withdraw emotionally from people they aren’t completely satisfied with, since this leads to more fruitful coupling with the right person.


Read more: Chapter Ten



I'm a writer born in Argentina, but currently living in Poland. I work as an English and French teacher, translator and copywriter.


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