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Peace and Quiet


Snow. He had always loved it. So beautiful. Standing by the window he took it in. It had been the only time the city was quiet. 


The cork came out with a satisfying pop. Red liquid glugged out of the bottle into the handmade mug. Such delicate sounds. He savored them more than the dark fine wine. 


He walked over to the fire and sat in his favorite chair. The crackle of the burning logs was almost too loud. His great grandmother came to mind. She used to say that when she was a child, the church bell was the loudest thing in the city. He wished she could have experienced the world today. 


He couldn't help but feel he was treating himself, just sitting and thinking in the quiet of the city. Of course he knew better than anyone that quiet was a right, not a luxury. It had been his life's work, what he was known for. Everyone had known quiet was a right before the loud times. It was one thing after another until Public Utilities Commission of the District of Columbia v. Pollak made it official and took away the right to quiet in public in 1952. The judges were wrong about that case as they were about so much else. Quiet is necessary for comfort and safety. It was easy for them to pretend it wasn’t as long as they had their peace. Others didn't though. The loudest neighborhoods were always the poorest and unhealthiest by design. 


The trains, the cars, the planes, the factories, the endless construction, the amplified music — it was all unnatural. He used to not be able to sleep, to relax, or even think! You would imagine that the hearing loss that had been so prevalent before would have made it less of an issue, but no. The loud sounds affected our bodies, our organs, our hearts! Hearing was meant to serve as a warning. Wake up! Danger! Run! That's why you can't close your ears, to protect yourselves. 


Someone had to do something. He saw the effect the noise was having on his friends, family, and students, his community. Enough was enough! He created the Quiet Neighborhoods Party and ran for office on a noise reform platform. At first he hoped to change a few zoning laws, but the party took off. Everyone was so sick of the noise. Even the wealthy people in the suburbs couldn't take it anymore. The leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and endless cars made it impossible to work - to live - there too. Even on a hike in the mountains, you could hear the sounds of the highways in the distance. Almost nowhere was free of the noise of that time. 


Noise reform was a perfect solution for so many issues. The things that create noise pollution were often the worst for the environment. Approaching global warming based on sound made the issue so much clearer for people. Even a single ride in the electric campaign buses could change hearts and minds. You could see it on their faces. The comfort they felt spoke louder than any words could. Those who weren’t convinced by the campaign buses were taken to all-wood high rise construction sites. Instead of the sounds of power tools they were greeted by sawing, hammers, and wrenches. The smell of the buildings was just as important as the lack of noise. The wood was welcoming in a way that concrete and steel could never be, in addition to being renewable. The construction workers were clean and happy and that was infectious. People could see it. This was how things should be. 


The epidemic of gun violence showed the need for noise reform more than any other issue. In addition to the unthinkable amount of deaths gun violence caused, the sound of guns had traumatized whole neighborhoods, whole cities. 


The platform resonated with voters, with the whole country, faster than he ever could have imagined. There was so much wrong with the world and most of it was just too damn loud. After dominating in local elections, the Quiet Neighborhoods Party became the Quiet Nation Party and began to win elections all over the country. Party members avoided TV and radio, and any amplification for that matter. Face to face they were all equals – they could really hear each other. The amplification of a P.A. system enforced hierarchies, made some voices less, and that wasn’t what the Quiet Nation Party was about. They did dampen the voices of the companies and their broadcast conglomerates by eschewing them. By refusing to appear on their programs, the party took away their power. The people were with them, not at home watching TV having goods they didn’t need peddled to them by too loud commercials.  


After a few election cycles he was elected president. Even after all these years, part of him still couldn't believe it. Little old me, a teacher in the white house, he marveled. The Quiet Nation Party had won a majority in congress too. They changed zoning laws nationally and mandated quiet construction policies. They invested in ambitious quiet mass transit that reshaped the nation in the process – building a bridge between rural and urban America that hadn’t existed since the railways were decommissioned after the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Strict decibel laws were mandated for all new electronics, appliances, and power equipment and a buyback was organized for devices that didn’t comply with the new regulations. Lowering speed limits nationally not only cut down on noise, it dramatically decreased traffic deaths too. Plus people got better mileage. He wanted to outlaw gas cars and all gas powered engines immediately, but it wasn’t possible at first. They had to settle for The Decibel Laws for the time. The Burrow of Decibel Enforcement or B.D.E. was established to police and enforce the new regulations.


The opposition fought the Quiet Nation Party tooth and nail about everything. They called them anti-technology, anti-progress, anti-industry, and much worse, but that couldn't have been further from the truth. In just a few years people started to see what real progress looked like. The quiet economy created many jobs and grew the GDP. The corporations and their army of lobbyists had aligned with the opposition, but the tax benefits and incentives they were offered bolstered corporate profits enough for them to get in line for the necessary amount of time.


Test scores went up across the nation and America started to innovate more. People finally had the space to think! They were more satisfied with their lives and the Quiet Nation Party kept winning more seats. People were healthier and living longer too. Stress, heart attacks, and alcohol and drug abuse were going down with the decibels.


Despite all the progress, a vocal minority still opposed him. The Quiet Nation Party needed to change the constitution but didn’t have the votes to do so. He didn’t want to have to declare war on noise to take emergency powers, but it was necessary to change the second amendment and so many other things. Too many lives were at stake. He had a moral obligation to do so. At that point over a hundred thousand Americans were dying every year to gun violence — could you imagine? What good is anything if you are afraid to send your kids to school, get groceries, or just walk around? An explosion from a firearm could happen at any minute, and it did. 


The opposition had every right to protest the war on noise. He was a reasonable man, and would have listened, even compromised with them. The party encouraged letter writing campaigns, sit-ins and other forms of nonviolent protests. They couldn’t abide by all the loud protests and demonstrations the opposition organized though. It was like a plague running through the cities, undoing all the good they had done. Loudness is physical violence after all. The injury it causes to hearing is irreversible. So they had to answer in kind. Everyone came around in good time.  


Some think those early years were too extreme, but they were for the best. Just think, so many people had never even really heard music before! It's one of the most amazing things about being alive and it was totally absent for them. Sure people thought they listened to music, but they only experienced digital recreations through recordings, microphones, and speakers at unhealthy volumes, never the thing itself. Experiencing the real detail of acoustic instruments – and the demand for live music now that speakers were outlawed – led to an artistic renaissance of acoustic music. He chuckled to himself just thinking about how much money people used to spend on audio equipment when the real thing was orders of magnitudes more nuanced and objectively better. The music itself changed so much too. All of the “innovation” of the loud years had to be rethought and new genres and kinds of ensembles sprung up left and right. 


America was able to export the new quiet art. It became a pillar of quiet diplomacy. They were able to show the rest of the world the way things should be and the limited number of tourists they allowed in got to experience it first hand. America again became the envy of the world and the Quiet Accords soon followed. 


One thing that always surprised people was that the military supported the war on noise. They forget that it was never meant to be just a domestic war. The party was committed to using America’s power and influence to make the world a better place and to promote their values. It was clear that some countries would resist the quiet world they wanted to create and, sure enough, the Quiet Accords weren’t universally adopted. The generals knew that we would need to get rid of all the stockpiled weapons somehow. They were just too loud to keep around. No one was going to miss Russia, Iran, or China anyway. He did miss California though. Those were hard times but at least they all had the quiet after the storm now. The cost in lives had been high but hey, less people meant less noise too! Maybe they went too far, but the results! No more guns! No more war! Other countries weren’t going to give up the noise they suppressed their people with, let alone their weapons, without a fight. The war was an awful time and he certainly had blood on his hands, but he was a realist at the end of the day. You have to be to get anything done. It was just like a bad dream now anyway. 


After the war, reforming corporate law was a trivial task. All the industry had to go. All those pesky servers too. They were just way too loud! They created so much pollution and no one wanted to live by them, especially now that the world was so much quieter, so much more natural. He wasn’t a luddite, computers can be quiet if they are efficient and honestly, we already have all the computers a society can need. We repair what we have instead of making more. The endless consumerism and exploitation of the planet had to end eventually. We still innovate now, more so than ever now that we have peace and quiet, but we don’t need growth for its own sake anymore. 


He did have regrets. Who doesn’t? He always loved dogs but had been blessed with quiet ones over the years. The odd bark alerted him to visitors, that’s all. It was much better than a doorbell. So many dogs weren’t like that though. They just began to really stick out once the cities and towns became truly quiet. Nothing would happen to them as long as they followed the B.D.E. guidelines, but, well.... His detractors always point to the massacre that followed. Puppy murderer and the like. He loves all animals. Wild animals and the sounds of nature are one of the true joys in his life. They reintroduced the dogs they could to the wild, but there were just too many of them. These pets were such a drain on capital and the food they ate is much better served feeding people now that they have done away with industrial farming of plants and animals. People complain too much, you still have your cats!


The Human Creation Centers were equally unpopular. He saw why now, but they were the perfect solution to crying and loud children. They provide the best health care possible and provide excellent community and support for new families. It was all paid time off too for both partners. The parents had to go back to work, to their lives, eventually and of course the kids couldn’t go with them, not for another few years at least. A screaming child throwing a fit in our restaurants, grocery stores, or anywhere in public just wouldn’t do. Yes, he had to resign in the uproar that followed, but at least the centers were still operational. It had been the right thing, though it could have been handled better. Having everyone raised in the same place, with the same opportunities and education had done so very much for social cohesion. Parents, despite their venomous detraction, were happier now too according to the surveys. 


It wasn’t his problem anymore though. He could just sit and enjoy the wine, the fire and the silence. His wife came in then and kissed him, shaking him from his thoughts. She grabbed a book from the shelf, one he knew she had read before, and sat in the chair across from him, reading in silence. He loved her so much and just being with her without saying a word made his night. There was a stillness here and everywhere. A peace. He had done well. It had all been worth it. 

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