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The Parable of Scubation (1994)

The Parable of Scubation (1994)

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Published by Lewis J. Perelman
What if people had to depend on a government bureaucracy for breathing the way they depend on public schools for learning? And then discovered that they didn't need to anymore?
What if people had to depend on a government bureaucracy for breathing the way they depend on public schools for learning? And then discovered that they didn't need to anymore?

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Published by: Lewis J. Perelman on Jan 08, 2012
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01/08/2012

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Perelman 1 Scubation
THE PARABLE OF SCUBATION
*
Lewis J. Perelman
To grasp the inevitable link between technology and politics, consider this parable:Suppose that long ago humans had so effectively pioneered working andliving at the bottom of the ocean that, over a long time, they had forgottenthatthey had ever lived differently.In this deep-sea society, scuba gear obviously wasof such over-arching importance that the provision and regulation of scuba gear was uncritically accepted as one of the essential functions of government.The ministry of scubation incorporated a vast bureaucracy of credentialedexperts to administer and carry out every facet of scuba provision: mining air fromseawater, filtering and compressing it into bottles differentiated to match the breathing capacity and requirements of each age group and vocation, andcompulsory scubation of the young to guard against the possibility of parents providing inadequate air for their children.Local scubation districts werechartered and funded with taxes to pump air into the captive youth in speciallyconstructed neighborhood buildings—called“schools,” perhaps because of theway children were herded into them like bunches of fish.An elaborate testing bureaucracy also was formed to accredit the scubation“schools” and tocontinually measure the breathing ability of the young against sea-worldstandards. Naturally, scubation was such a vital function for social well-being that it couldnot be left to the whims of privatecommerce; so the government owned, operated,and regulated virtually the entire scubation enterprise.And all this was acceptedas normal and reasonable by a general public that could neither remember nor imagine that air could be supplied any other way, and that simply took it for granted that breathing and scubation were just different words for the same thing.Then, somewhere along the line in this undersea society’s march of technological progress, scientists and engineers came up with a wondrousinvention they might have called a balloon or dirigible or even“airship”—avessel filled with gas cells that allowed it to rise upward to explore the higher reaches of their liquid world.In due course, these explorations led to arevolutionary breakthrough:The scientists discovered an altitude at which theatmosphere suddenly was transformed from all-water to all-air.Moreover, theearth in many places rose above this boundary, providing islands and continentswhere people could go work and live free of the encumbrance of gas tanks andhoses and face masks.
*© 1994, Lewis J. Perelman.A version of this essay was published in
 Education Week 
(1994).
 
Perelman 2 Scubation
At this point, of course, the technological revolution spawned a political crisis.The bloated, rich, and powerful scubation ministry faced a lethal threat to itshegemony.Once enough pioneers came back from the frontier to tell of the newall-air environment, the public would eventually figure out that scubation—which,for as long as most people could remember was accepted as utterly vital—hadsuddenly become not only unnecessary but actually an obstacle to human progress.For those who moved to the new world of universal, free air, breathingcould simply be taken for granted as a normal activity of everyday life, and thevery word“scubation” would fall into such general disuse that it would beremembered at all only as an historical oddity.There being no heaven on earth, the pioneers of the air-world recognized thattheir new society would need new technologies to keep the air clean, and evensome new government roles and agencies to guard against dangerous pollution of the atmosphere.But the archaic empire of scubation had no role, experience, or knowledge relevant to these new challenges—it was simply obsolete.Worse, thehuge scubation bureaucracy, with its vast demands on the public treasure, itssprawling waste of human resources and time, and its kelp forest of regulatorysnares, worked only to undermine the pioneering of the new world of free breathing.The scubacracy thus threatened to squander the rich opportunities for freedom and prosperity the air-world offered.The crisis eventually compelled cities and states in the ocean-bottom society toconfront inescapable political choices.In most places, the scubacrats fought back to prevent the liberation of the lung from dependency on the bureaucratic air hose.They used their political clout to get local governments to outlaw the commercialdevelopment of airships; or, failing that, they imposed regulations requiring thatall airshipsbe owned or at least effectively controlled by the scubation bureaucracy itself.The scubacracy used its prodigious finances to counter the threat to its survivalwith self-serving propaganda.First they tried to deny the existence of the air-world altogether.As the scientific proof of the air-filled environment eventually became public knowledge, scubacrat propaganda claimed that airships were anunproven technology that required years of further research; that travel to theocean’s surface would cause crippling, even lethal attacks of the bends; that people never could learn to breathe on their own without the careful regulation of a respirator; and that children left to run wild in the open air would hyperventilateand die of oxygen poisoning.People who advocate replacing“schools” withairship transport to a new world of free air, the scubacrats proclaimed, are greedycapitalists out to destroy our sacred institutions of public respiration.In a few visionary communities, political alliances of business leaders and grassroots organizations overwhelmed the scubation establishment’s resistance, andredirected the community’s resources to construct the airship fleets needed totransport everyone to the new environment of open air.In these communities and

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