The Emperor of Plagues

Recently in a cave on a remote island in the Pacific anthropologists found this document sealed in a stone coffer. After months of hard work they translated it from an ancient tongue almost lost to history.

I, the official scribe of my people, write this with full authority of the ruling body for those of you who should come upon it in good time. It is the story of a long-ago Emperor about whom you ought to know.

The father of the Emperor was said to be a god from an ancient land across the sea who often imbibed too much mead and had many wives. Others whispered his real father was the pedophilic poet who lived on the other side of the island with his wife. These people said the Emperor’s mother made up the story about the father god. In any event, the Emperor never lived with either man. The man from across the sea sailed away soon after his birth. For a while the boy lived alone with his mother and then when she moved away to a faraway place and married (or remarried depending on which version of the legend you prefer) she was made goddess of the blacksmiths. She was busy with anvils and such and sent him here to live with her parents, the gold-counting grandmother and the good-time-teller-of-wild-tales grandfather. The boy who became emperor felt all alone but his grandparents and the poet told him he was brilliant and meant for great things. And he believed them.

The Emperor’s education was also remarkably strange. True, he was sent to the island’s most expensive lyceum, but his free time was mostly spent with his grandfather and the island lowlifes. He smoked a lot of choom, the weed of strange dreams, and was educated to despise order and thrift, diligence and competence. Natural-born genius leaders of men have no need of such characteristics. His teachers and friends and family led him to believe that the people of his island were responsible for all the ills of the world, that want and disease were caused by the islanders’ greed. They called this greed “imperialism” and “white privilege”. As the islanders had been called upon regularly by the outside world and expended vast amounts of their best lives and treasure -- treasure earned by hard work and accumulated by means of an ordered society -- to render aid to others with no reward to themselves, the charge seemed bizarre. But they believed it and so did their star pupil who lacked the wit to discern cant from truth.

As a young man the emperor was always just given what he wanted and had no idea how wealth was created, what uses it could be put to -- besides buying choom and stuff -- and generally despised anyone who had it. Except for himself, of course. He thought the wealth of others was all gotten through theft and he dreamed of the day when he could steal it back and give it to his friends.

Still the emperor was young and impressionable and he believed these silly things.

Then there came a day when he was older when the old emperor passed out of office and his friends -- and those who liked the idea of getting back the wealth they thought had been stolen from them and people who shared his view that this society’s institutions were corrupt to the core and failures -- joined together and made him emperor. He had huge pillars and a stage made and showed himself to the people as their new emperor. He promised to keep the seas from rising and impossible stuff like that. They cheered and clapped. Some people thought this a dangerous sign of an ego out of control, and as the emperor set about weakening the institutions that hold all civilizations together, he wasted the island’s wealth, stealing from his industrious, orderly foes and handing it to his lazy and crooked friends. As he did so his sense of his great powers grew. It helped, no doubt, that he surrounded himself with incompetents just so he could continue to believe he was smarter than anyone in the empire. It also helped that those who knew better were too embarrassed by what they had wrought to speak out. What kind of pundit helped foist this on his own people? They secretly hoped no one would wise up and diminish their hold on power along with him.

The Empire’s friends were insulted and harmed. Its enemies were feted and supported. The island found itself increasingly reviled and isolated from the productive world. The world’s lowlifes (unsurprisingly) didn’t actually love the island more in its weakness than it did when it was strong.

As you might expect, the island grew poorer. Not his friends or those serving the capital’s expanding needs for tailors and chefs and hairdressers, wigmakers and chariot drivers -- no, they were fine. It was those who paid the taxes who watched their lives and livelihoods diminished who bore the brunt of his disastrous policies and actions.

But that was not even the saddest part of the story of this Emperor. He let in many people from islands south of here who brought with them a pestilence called enterovirus, killing and crippling his people and he would not halt their coming, even when they were known carriers of this disease. The children of his subjects were dying and becoming crippled with no recovery in sight. And then from the other places he welcomed in yet others who carried another plague, Ebola.  He would not keep people from those countries out either, even though it was not even known how exactly to stop its spread. Did it travel in the air? For how long was the carrier contagious? People asked and got no real answers.

But the emperor did not recognize that these plagues were developing elsewhere because the societies these immigrants came from had irretrievably broken down and lacked the services to sustain their people’s good health and hygiene and medical care. Nor did he recognize that by allowing those infected with lethal diseases entry without restriction he was likely to so disturb civilized order that the same disasters that befall their native lands would occur here.

We forced him out of the palace and into the scrublands and scraped his name off all public buildings, and he is so despised I dare not even write his name on this document, which I am sealing for people far in the future to read as an object lesson. Although I can’t believe anyone would make a mistake like this again.