The Intercellular Union
The Intercellular Union is a highly closed nation. Although I was denied entry to the Union because of fear of “social contagion”, I was allowed to visit its flagless embassy in Mexico City.
The building was an imposing cuboid monolith made of concrete with no windows, the vertical grooved lines being its only externally distinguishing feature. I entered through the door and showed the guard my guest armband. The meeting room itself was sparsely decorated, with only white plastic chairs and tables, and a telephone. The Ambassador A-1273 sat in front of me, wearing the gray uniform and white armbands as dictated by the Civilian Standard Dress Code. "FC- Chana, welcome to the Embassy of the Intercellular Union!" Although his tone is enthusiastic, his face is largely stoic and I suspect this display has been rehearsed. A-1273 as the first letter of his Role Number suggests, is an ambassador, and 1273 designates which ambassador he is, by date of admission. Other than that, he has no actual name. He asks for the sake of readers that he be referred to as the Ambassador. Since he has been informed of the purpose of my visit, he cuts to the chase.
The Ambassador begins by explaining the notion of the Body Politic, as it applies to the Union. "Unlike in English law where the body politic refers to the nation as a corporation, here it refers to how different types of people work together to build a nation. Also, we distinguish between productive labor which builds the state up, and unproductive jobs which tear it down."
I ask him what "productive" means and if it just means physical labor.
He responds: "Productives aren't just physical laborers - they include teachers, doctors and other professions which directly and openly aid society. A teacher teaches students who become workers, and a doctor heals people. Unproductives don't do that. They waste people's money on useless displays, like a musician making music - that doesn't help anyone, or an athlete running for the crowd."
Isn't happiness another form of social benefit?
"It isn't. An athlete or musician can make an audience feel better but they don't do anything concrete for society. Feelings are irrational and can impede progress. Only rational action can advance progress. Unlike our predecessors, we replace "life, liberty and happiness" with "life, function and progress". Just as our Standard Buildings are purely functional, so are the jobs allowed to us by the leadership for the sake of progress."
I note that his definition of rationality may well explain the stoic facial expression he has been assuming through the entire course of the interview.
I pause for a second and ask him about the purpose his role number to clarify for residents of other timelines. He huffs for a bit and speaks: "Like cells in a body, we do our jobs. The fact that we get our jobs done correctly matters more than the want to trumpet so and so's name everywhere. Of course if you do exceptionally well, leadership will look up your number and promote you to a better one. And no, these aren't punishments or meant to degrade us like how prisoners numbers worked in the Old Republic. We take pride in them because they represent our work."
He continues, "this function applies to the Standard Chairs and Standard Table I use. There's no need for ten companies to all make a chair and plaster their names all over it. The State Chair Corporation makes them, and they are durable - we design items for function, not form. We also have one shipping company that ships everything from Our Heart, a massive warehouse in the center of the country., so we don't have to worry"
My interview continues.
The Intercellular Union is a successor regime to the United States. During the late 1800s to early 1900s, the US was marked by immense inequality. Two main responses emerged: socialism and producerism. The socialists argued for worker unionization and control . The producerists viewed small businesses as being squeezed between the rich and the poor. Tension between the upper classes and the rest boiled over into uprising and war. A faction of the military were supported by the producerists, promising to redistribute wealth to small businesses and to use force to crush the socialists. The producerists turned on the army because it refused to redistribute wealth. The military sentenced most of the rebels as "unproductives" who could become "productive" after X years of labor. Productives, the former working class and the loyal middle class, were relocated to planned cities and wore “productives’ uniforms”.
During the Total War (1936-1943), the military government began the “economic streamlining” that saw “naturally unproductive” jobs banned and their members sent to “increase national preparedness”. During this period, the flag was banned, and productives’ calendars were replaced. With scientific discoveries like trimuriatine acid, the postwar leadership changed the country’s name to the Intercellular Union.
Knowing that A-1273 had some knowledge of the fate of other timelines' planned economies, I probed deeper about exactly why their bureaucrats deserved to be "productives". "Of course they do work - if they serve on the Corporate Boards, they help plan our Standard products and integrate Customer Feedback so that we make them more functional, and if they serve on governmental boards, they help ensure everyone's work is rewarded appropriately and unproductives can be dealt with ."
Because of his calm appearance, I decide to ask a controversial question. "If trade means dealing with ... less efficient societies and their "Unproductivity", does it make Cells want to leave?". His demeanor changed into a scowl. "Of course not! Loyal cells at work know what is at stake if they leave and they wouldn't anyways."
I decide to get another opinion from a defector in the Japanese dominion of Formosa, a surprising destination for defectors sufficiently far away from the Union.
My contact was Leona Hoover, a former trader. She greets me warmly. Unlike the Ambassador, I can see the emotions on her face. I mention to her what the Ambassador said to me. "Nonsense! First, the Union never really concerned itself with "efficiency" or "progress". If they gave a damn about progress they would have created 10 new types of jobs for the computing industry alone. Instead they stick to the "basics" hobbling innovation. Second, he didn't tell you about the unproductives, did he? The moment you express an inclination to do something "irrational" like painting, they begin keep to tabs on you for "wasting resources". And if you actually do so much as draw, they can send you to some distant farm to dig pig feces. I was lucky enough to become a trader for their state companies so I could trade actual products instead of the dross they make for internal consumption and actually travel to Japan to talk." I nod. What hopes does she have for the future of the Union? "Oh they'll stagnate sooner or later. The generals don't care, but they're falling behind the Compact when "academics" is restricted to things you could learn in 1950."
 the central warehouse of the nation
 An organization of Eurasian nations that was formed after the Total War and opposes the IU including the British Confederation , the French imperial complex the holy Roman Empire-like Federal Russian Empire and Japan and her dominions.