Consisting of pseudo-philosophical drivel that has nothing to do with the rest of the book, this chapter may be safely skipped.
The Happiest Man on Earth was depressed. All he wanted was to be happy. Was that too much to ask? If you think about it, that’s precisely what almost everyone else wishes as well. Have you ever heard the story about the fisherman and the businessman? It goes like this:
“Why should I do that?” asks the fisherman.
“With the extra money, you could eventually get a second boat and someone to catch fish with it. Then you could get a third and fourth, and then you could start a company and expand—”
“That’s all very nice, but the question stands: Why should I do that?”
Somewhat startled by the interruption, the businessman stares longingly into the distance and replies, “Once your company is big enough, you can get someone to run it for you and just sit back in the shade and relax …”
“Well, duh, that’s what I’m doing right now …”
That story is a lie. Being happy yourself doesn’t mean much, unless you cut yourself from the rest of society. In the real world, there are people out there who make you miserable again the moment you reach happiness. I hear it’s called peer pressure. And it’s not just the peers. Did the story mention the fisherman’s wife, who was bickering that her neighbor had gotten an expensive necklace for her birthday from her husband? Or how about his kids, who’d compare everything they had to everything the other kids at their school had? The story simply doesn’t account for any of this.
The Happiest Man on Earth was aware of the above, so his plan for when a genie would tell him to name one wish was to ask to be happy. That was foolproof. After all, you can’t be happy if the people around you are not happy, so that wish has their happiness covered as well. But then he realized that the genie would simply smile mockingly and make him an egoist or a hermit.
Being a dreamer, the Happiest Man on Earth didn’t give up his pursuit of happiness, but since he was more Oblomov than Peer Gynt, he would have gladly let the trolls poke his eyes out. He knew that no matter how enjoyable and interesting his life would be, he’d get bored with it eventually, and so he finally decided to start a new religion just for the heck of it.
He called it Screensavists of the Seventh Day, and the fundamental dogma was that our world was created in such a way as to provide maximum entertainment value to an omniscient observer. He got the idea from the awesome zooming-out sequence at the end of Men in Black, and then there were people toying with concepts of our world being a simulation or a computer game, but he decided that still gave us too much importance. So he went with his screensaver thesis. Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, someone had left his computer unattended too long, and the screensaver had kicked in. The screensaver had started from nothing and created our universe, with Earth eventually being the most fun part to look at, or then again, maybe not. The computer’s owner is eating dinner, maybe he glances over every now and then, maybe he even interferes shortly from time to time to make things more interesting, or then again, maybe not.
He is of course omniscient from our point of view. Everything that goes on in our universe takes place on his computer screen, after all. Maybe he has to zoom in or out a little from time to time, or then again, maybe not. Thanks to Flatland, we have no problem with understanding that concept. The screensaver is designed to be as fun as possible, of course, which explains all the incredibly dumb stuff going on around us all the time.
The goal of the religion was to embrace this thesis. As with most religions, you sacrificed some of your comfort or indulgences, but not to help others—to make your life more interesting for someone who was watching you all the time.
Many misunderstood the idea and just did whatever they thought would be fun for them and bragged about it using all the social media available to them afterward, but true practitioners simply considered what choice was more interesting when faced with a difficult decision and went for it.