The Lost and the Least: The Genesis of a Story

I’ve mentioned before that the next Metamor City novel will be called The Lost and the Least. I haven’t spoken very much in public, though, about where this story came from, or why it needs to be written. This blog post is the start of a new series, which I plan to add to roughly once a month, in which I’ll explore the real-life roots of the story and why they matter.

Who are the Lost?

At the end of Things Unseen, police detective Kathryn Kitaen has had a lot taken out of her. She had to make some choices that have cost her personally. On one level, these costs are external: Internal Affairs is investigating a shooting that she had to perform in the line of duty. She had to turn in her badge and her gun and trust the system to work as it should. The staff psychologist is trying to assess her fitness to return to duty.

On another level, the price Kate has paid is internal: she has taken a life, a mortal life. She has been both the target and the deliverer of extreme violence. She has seen the horrors of the darkest corners of the Street, and barely survived them. And right at the time when she needs to try to process all of this, she feels more alone than ever.

Though she does not realize it, Kate is lost: Disconnected from her feelings, her experiences, her loved ones. There is dissonance between her value system and her emotions. She is Not Dealing With It.

Trauma is a very real part of life in the big city, and no one who sees the ugly side of urban life escapes it for long. I saw it in my students when their friends were gunned down by gang members, or when they were sent to juvie or their relatives went to prison. I saw teachers burn out over the stress of trying to be perfect, to reach every student. I saw the rage and grief of police officers whose fellow cops were killed in the line of duty, and the rage and grief of ordinary citizens who were brutalized and terrorized by those same police officers. Living in the big city means navigating an ongoing, circulating current of trauma, a swirling morass of pain and suffering that is fed by desperation, bigotry, poverty, and hopelessness. Sometimes you’re up to your neck in that current, and sometimes you’re just close enough to hear it rushing by, but you can’t walk around in that world with your eyes open and not be aware of it.

The Lost and the Least is, in part, about one woman who has fallen deep into that trauma and doesn’t yet realize how it’s affecting her. Her journey back to herself is the emotional throughline that focuses the story.

Who are the Least?

There is a concept in the modern progressive dialogue that I feel is poorly named, but nevertheless extremely important. That concept is known as privilege. It comes in various flavors: white privilege, male privilege, cisgender privilege, straight privilege, etc., some of which get discussed more in some circles than others.

As I said, I think calling these things “privilege” is a misnomer — the only true privilege in modern Western society is the privilege of the wealthy class, because members of this “1 percent” (or more realistically, the 0.1 percent) operate under a different set of rules from the rest of us. If you don’t believe me, count how many Wall Street bankers went to prison for fraud after triggering the Great Recession.

Nevertheless, the various forms of “X privilege” do speak of something real, and it is simply this: the freedom to remain ignorant. Individuals who possess “X privilege” can go about their lives without thinking about problems that, for those without “X privilege”, are impossible to ignore — realities that contribute stress, trauma and suffering to their lives in ways that the holders of “X privilege” will never have to worry about.

Some examples:

We are surrounded by suffering and injustice that are invisible to us. When we possess “X privilege,” our default state is one of blindness: unless we are confronted in some way by ugly facts like the ones above, we can go through our whole lives without being aware of them. We may even have a hard time admitting that these systemic injustices actually exist.

This situation is not new, nor is it unique to America. Jesus Christ railed against the systemic injustice and oppression of 1st Century Judea, and warned of dire consequences for those who turned a blind eye to those who suffered. “Truly I tell you,” says Jesus, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

Jesus uses the term the least of these to refer to people who are seen as “least” in the context of his society — not because they have any less value than any other human, but because society acts as though they do. Why did America need to be reminded that #BlackLivesMatter? Because too often we treat them as if they don’t.

Who are the Least? They are the marginalized, the forgotten, the devalued and discarded: the people society treats as disposable. In heavily stratified societies, — like ancient Palestine, or the United States, or the Empire of Metamor — the Least can be a tragically large segment of the population. A lot of suffering can happen right under people’s noses, and it usually takes a personal connection to the tragedy before anyone realizes it.

The Lost and the Least tells the story of what happens when a handful of people with “X privilege” become aware of a terrible injustice at work among the Least of their society … and then work both inside and outside the systems of that society to stop it. This is the external throughline of the story.

Come back in the coming months for a deeper look at the real-life hidden tragedies that inspired The Lost and the Least — and what you can do to help.

Posted by chriswlester