Monochromatic Mandate

by Milo James Fowler



Black or white. No other option. You either agree or disagree. Black for YES, white for NO.

No wiggle room for cognitive dissonance or seeing potential with both sides of an issue. No gray areas allowed. Binary is best, all things considered. Less confusing, at any rate. So they say.

The noon chime signals that it’s time to vote. You have thirty seconds.

This one is easy. You either want the new overpass, or you don’t. It will join the westbound four-lane highway with the northbound eight-lane interstate. Looming over a gas station and two restaurants, it will sweep merging traffic between two high-rise hotels. Unfortunate to be in the business of luring potential customers during the sprawling, clamorous construction phase, but perhaps these establishments will see more clientele in the long run.

You read the details on the heads-up display, glowing across the windshield of your autonomous sedan. Your forebears would have had to let go of the steering wheel with one hand and tap either YES or NO on their phones, docked on the dashboard. But you have both hands free, stuffed into the generous pockets of your gray fleece hoodie.

So you pull out your left hand and reach toward YES…

And pause.

The potential convenience entices you. The idea of merging onto the northbound interstate without getting off the highway, driving two blocks (each one equipped with a temperamental stop light), past a gas station, two restaurants, and two hotels before taking the northbound onramp. The overpass is a no-brainer; it really should have been built decades ago.

WARNING: 15 SECONDS lights up on the display. No time to overthink this. The Spectrum Enforcers say that your first knee-jerk reaction is always closest to your truth.


Then again, there are the construction efforts to consider and the effect these long-term activities (with no completion date set in stone) will have on traffic in an already congested area during the morning and evening rush hours. Not to mention the literal shadow cast across neighboring buildings by such an unsightly addition. The southbound overpass already in place channels traffic across a no one’s land of indigenous desert vegetation. No gas station, restaurants, or hotels to be concerned with there.

Is a northbound counterpart really necessary?

Your hand falters, begins to sway toward NO on the glass.

If commuters have to get off the highway in order to merge onto the interstate, so what? They should be used to the inconvenience by now. It’s an expected part of their daily commute. If two traffic lights slow them down in the process, so what? Why the rush, anyway? The northbound interstate is often little more than a parking lot; anything that delays the merging traffic should continue to do so. Better for everyone, congestion-wise.

Inconvenience or convenience? That’s what this boils down to in the end, and that which is in the public interest is usually the most beneficial. Or so you’ve been told.

Your hand drifts back toward YES.

But then you see in your mind’s eye that newly minted overpass choked with traffic merging onto the northbound interstate, backing up all along the westbound highway. Without those two stop lights to filter the traffic, everybody is sitting on that overpass going nowhere fast, sluggishly merging northbound a few centimeters at a time.

WARNING flashes on the display.

Your fingers twitch. It’s taking you too long to decide. Vote either YES or NO. Agree or disagree. That’s all there is to it. You can’t afford to overthink this.

Of course you remember the popular vote for 1% or 2% milk last week. No way you could forget it. You took too long to weigh the benefits and disadvantages, and you received a warning from the Spectrum Enforcers then as well.

You can’t make a habit of this. You can’t afford to be disenfranchised. Your parents were, once their advanced age precluded them from making snap decisions, and they never contributed to society as a whole ever again.

So you close your eyes and tap…


The results of the vote will be available shortly. Every citizen has a voice, and everyone knows how their fellow citizens voted. There’s no need to keep such things private. No one has anything to hide. Voting is good for one and all. Spectrum boasts a 98% participation rate by the voting populace, up from that pitiful 47% a generation ago. What was wrong with people back then? Didn’t they see value in voicing their opinions?

You voted NO, so the exterior of your sedan is now white. You glance outside at the other commuters in their vehicles, and you notice their exteriors are black.

All of them.

They’re looking back at you, some scowling, others insulting you with rude gestures. Horns blare as you pass each other. A delivery truck nearly sideswipes you, the driver foregoing autonomic features in order to seize full control, both hands on the wheel. Another rude gesture from him for good measure as he speeds past you.

You keep your hands in your pockets, your eyes fixed on the road ahead.

The abuse from your fellow motorists continues as long as it takes for your sedan to navigate a course home. Past the gas station. Past the two restaurants and hotels and stop lights. Down the two-lane road toward the coast where the setting sun shimmers golden on the liquid mercury of the Pacific. Yours is the only vehicle winding up the steep cliffside hill to your earth-toned house surrounded by blooming jacaranda mimosifolia. Bursts of lavender blue greet you like silent fireworks paused mid-celebration against an indigo sky.

The ocean view is spectacular up here. So many colors, so much variety.

Your sedan rolls to a stop in front of your garage door.


You stare at the words hovering on your windshield.

Then you give them a rude gesture and exit your vehicle.

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