Once upon a time there was a high brick wall hidden behind the clouds, far from the mud of the ground and its wretched inhabitants. Safe behind its limits, a thriving society carried out its existence peacefully, equally ignorant of the earthlings and their doings as they were of the city. The citizens composing this society, some of them, were of great beauty, with golden hair and eyes as blue as the sky that surrounded them. Beauty, like any other human virtue, was distributed unevenly among them. Some had teeth a little crooked, others had a nose an inch too long. However, these individuals, unlike us earth-dwellers, could change their physical appearance – not at a whim, but through great effort. It was deeds, either good, bad, or even in between, that gave shape to their cheek bones, the complexion of their skin, the broadness of their shoulders and the style of their hair.
Striving to become more and more beautiful, the people of this mythical city put themselves through daily selfless labor, accepting to work and sacrifice for each other with humility. Maybe it was for a superficial and selfish reason, namely having a more pleasant appearance, but the correlation between worthiness and beauty was undeniable. Kids were raised in this spirit and taught to value beauty, in correlation with kindness and an ascetic way of life. Competence was prized as the highest professional commodity and the cloud-high businesses and institutions thrived, headed by those who earned their place due to their achievements.
Government was naturally democratic, the people of the sky city choosing the most beautiful among them, and thus those whose deeds were good, as their leaders. Parties existed, separated only by their belief in which type of beauty should be pursued and by what means. Ministers were assigned to various parts of the body which they were meant to better. For example, the Ministry for Fair Skin was headed by the woman with the fairest skin, the Ministry for Straight Posture was led by the man with an unbent spine, that for White Teeth by a the minister with the whitest teeth and so on. Money and credit existed, accompanied by a degree of material inequality, but that was considered a result of work and merit.
But not everyone was happy with this state and even the city hid behind clouds had its ugly people. Treated with paternal benevolence, they were judged by their potential to do good and, by correlation, be beautiful themselves one day. But this required excruciating effort from them, effort that they were not so keen on making. And so, one day, they simply stopped trying to be good-beautiful. The ugly denounced the system as oppressive, and beauty as a virtue altogether. Liberated by the punishing constraints of a life dedicated to others, they started enjoying the guilty pleasures of life – unnecessary amounts of food, promiscuous sex and most of all money and commodities. Whenever they made an effort in a certain activity – as rare as that was – they demanded praises beyond measure.
Most of the beautiful and the remaining leaders of the city did not react, or not visibly. A few pleaded desperately for the safeguard of the old ways that cherished beauty and merit, but their arguments fell on deaf ears and corrupted eyes. Witnessing all this, the average-looking people too decided that they tired of trying to appear beautiful, so they chose the ugliest as leaders. The ugly showed them what true success looked like – effortless and disproportional to merit. To do less and to be treated the same as before was something they wanted for themselves. The common strived to imitate the ugly, surgically rejecting and degrading their natural looks. The uglier you were, the less was demanded of you and, of course, the less you did.
As a next step, the prophets of ugliness started attacking the remaining beautiful people. In fact, you see, they are foreign of our feelings and distant to our way of life, they told the average-looking masses. Up in their ivory towers of beauty, how could they know how we feel? Wouldn’t you want to be governed by someone who is one of you, the speaker asked the multitude of ugly faces huddled together to hear him speak. And so the ugly were democratically voted into power, and the ugliest among them were voted Ministers of Beauty in a fashion opposite to the one before. As such, the Ministry of Sensual, Full Lips was headed by a woman without lips, while the Ministry of Chiseled Jawlines was led by a man whose fat covered his neck entirely.
The people went on to indulge in the pleasures life had to offer, following the model of their new leaders. As everyone demanded fortunes in order to lift a finger, the city degraded beyond recognition. Garbage piled up in front of the houses, each throwing his over to the neighbors. Suspicious of one another, the now repulsive residents of the sky city interacted little with one another, deepening in their moral swamp of hatred and disgust. Their once-magnificent leaders, now pushed into anonymity, were utterly defeated. Some became ugly themselves, while still waving the hollow flag of beauty. The others were rejected by society entirely, and left westward to find another sky city that still valued them.
And so the story ends. Reality, however, begins.
Wall Street Journal