23 Aug Chapter 6: Affliction
I know, age eighteen and CEO of a huge chemical and pharmaceuticals conglomerate? Yeah right. But it’s true. It’s actually completely normal around here, ever since what happened. I know you’re not from our solar system, so I’ll fill you in.
About ten years ago people started to notice something unusual. A general nervousness, a collective unsettled feeling that wasn’t there before. Very subtle but unmistakable, just under the surface. Some folks brushed it off—crime on the news, inequality was increasing, the education system was failing—how could anyone not be nervous? But as a year went by and then two, it was undeniable: something was wrong. The angst, this sense of palpable fear really started affecting people.
Two things became apparent: first, the unease wasn’t generalized, it was specifically around making decisions—the bigger the decision, the greater and more paralyzing the fear. Second, the phenomenon didn’t seem to be affecting those under the age of twenty.
The scientific community went into overdrive trying to identify the culprit and fix the problem, but by this point the scientists working on it (who were of course over the age of twenty themselves) began having anxiety attacks, were paralyzed by indecision and… you get the idea. The closest anyone came to real progress was a discovery that the ‘affliction,’ as it was being called, was likely caused by a self-replicating, highly infectious molecular compound that came about from a patient zero who used steroids, synthetic hormones, hair loss drugs and erectile disfunction pills all at the same time.
But it was too late to do anything about it by then. Adult scientists were all but useless, and the few child prodigies working on it could never find a way to reverse the effect. Every kind of drug and treatment, even brain surgery all failed to help. A remote hope was that some adults would be immune and could be studied, but no one like that was ever found. Even bona fide psychopaths were susceptible.
The other inhabited planets in our system weren’t of any help, as they were either busy killing each other like the Oliot and the Plutoch or they were so backwards technologically that they had no help to give. At least the affliction didn’t seem to affect adults from other worlds.
A little history: although there’s no definitive proof, historians believe the planets in our system were colonized by travelers arriving from a distant star around four thousand years ago. No one knows what they were fleeing, but the lush, life-sustaining planets they found here must have been just what they were looking for. It sure seemed like they had no intention of leaving, since it’s been said they destroyed all their starships and any information about how to build one soon after the initial colonization. Separated by the uncrossable distance of space, the peoples of each colony evolved independently to better survive their planet’s unique environment. The physiological changes, although not huge, were apparently enough to make others immune to the Threa affliction.
So what happens when adults are afraid to make any kind of decision but children are unaffected? A non-stop twenty four hour party, obviously. It was youth paradise for a while there—no school, no rules, no adults telling us what to do. Everyone was staying out late, eating whatever they wanted, stealing stuff from shops—the toy stores were cleaned out. Young kids ‘borrowed’ their parent’s cars and crashed them. Hordes of kids would descend on a restaurant and take over or completely trash the place. I have to admit it was fun while it lasted—I mean, I was only ten at the time.
But you see where this is going. Soon we heard about some kid starting a fire in an apartment building, which then burnt to the ground, tenants still inside. The adults were too paralyzed with fear to decide how to escape. The firefighters couldn’t decide how to fight the fire. Worse, water service to the hydrants was becoming sporadic due to lack of repairs at the water company.
Supermarkets were running out of food, power kept going out, and lots of people were dying. A large number of deaths were from suicide. Not the adults—that was way too big a decision for them to make. It was the twenty and twenty-one year olds. At that age folks would start to feel the affliction coming on, see how it affected people just a few years older, and… well, they didn’t want to face that. I have to say I can’t really blame them; who wants to look forward to fifty or sixty years of paralyzing fear and anxiety? I haven’t made up my mind as to what I’m going to do a few short years from now—if I’m going to make that same decision. I can’t completely rule it out.
Something had to be done. A ‘congress’ of older kids was called to look for solutions. Lots of silly ideas were thrown around, like regressive ‘inner-child’ therapy for all adults (really?), magic 9 balls for everyone (now there’s an idea) and mandatory lobotomies (yuck, and someone actually tried it—it didn’t work). Even though off-worlders were immune to the affliction we were completely unsuccessful in recruiting adults from other worlds to come help. For the first few years they all were afraid to death of catching it and wanted nothing to do with us. With every other option exhausted, it was finally decided all jobs that required high-level decision making would be filled by kids. Someone named it the ableYoung Initiative and the name stuck.
The most obvious way to implement ableYoung was to have the child take over for their parent, so if your mom was a judge then you would take her place, or if your dad was a restaurant owner then you would run the business instead. The adult would stay on as a ‘specialist’ to help the new hires—adults could still regurgitate uncontroversial facts without undue stress. Kids who were not cut out for their parent’s job could go to an employment center and pick from openings that were more appropriate. Same for jobs that needed filling where the adult had no kids or the kids were fully grown.
The plan was unpopular at first for obvious reasons—it didn’t sound like fun at all. A lot of kids refused to participate. Eventually everyone had to face the difficult truth that it was just going to be a lot of hard work. I’d like to think that it was kids’ compassion or wisdom that lead to the acceptance of ableYoung, but I’m afraid it was more the realization that without keeping the factories and supply-chains running there would be no more toys manufactured. Ever. I guess you could hand-carve your own wooden blocks or something, but really, how appealing is that?
There were some jobs that didn’t translate well. Air travel was completely wiped out. Schools and colleges had to adjust and offer ways for kids to get an education while on the job. Medical care was a real problem—kids had to learn a whole med school degree’s worth of knowledge in a few short months. Mistakes were made, but I have huge respect for those med kids, they really sacrificed for the rest of us.
Research and development basically ground to a halt, but we figured it was the least of our worries. Just to have kept food in the shops and toys on the shelves was enough. Hey, just keeping the world economy from completely falling apart was a huge accomplishment.
Once things got halfway back to normal, products and services started being tailored to the new needs. Manufacturers would take as much choice as possible out of the equation—does your product come in multiple colors? Narrow it down to one. Are there different versions? Get rid of them. Car salesmen and real estate agents became ‘decision consultants,’ which was a glorified way of saying they picked the car or house for you based on what your needs were. ‘Love consultants’ appeared to tell couples when to have sex (and what position to do it in), how many kids to have and what their names should be. My company’s food division even came out with a new product called ‘Dinner! In a Box.’ It was just a regular frozen meal, but I think it was the large letters that proclaimed ‘No decision required, just eat it!’ that propelled it to astronomical sales.
Surprisingly there were some good side effects of the affliction. Regional wars and skirmishes all but stopped. Thousands of prisoners were released—what were they going to do, decide to commit another crime? Rape and murder rates fell dramatically. Kids voted for new governmental policies that were less harsh on the poor and unemployed. It seemed unfair to give rich people handouts in the form of tax cuts while afflicted folks who were living paycheck to paycheck were going hungry. Corporations stopped only focusing on making money for shareholders and instead used excess profits to raise minimum wages and create new low-stress jobs for adults who couldn’t do theirs anymore.
So that’s where we’re at, and why I’m the CEO of a corporation at age eighteen.