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THE SMUG

    Once a thick smug spread from sea to shining sea.
    There had been smug alerts in the past, periods of time when large segments of the population were imperiled, but this particular smug was denser and more widespread than any in recent memory. A smug so complete it made it difficult for many people to see beyond the tips of their noses.
    Nor was it a temporary smug, a passing phenomenon that might be expected to dissipate with time. By all accounts, it had been gathering and thickening over the course of many years, while computer projections suggested it might last far into the future as well and come to affect every aspect of life.
    Another feature of this smug was the way in which its toxic effects were starkly present, even palpable, to some and grossly exaggerated in the opinion of others, who maintained the scientific evidence was still open to doubt. 
    Those likely to find themselves victims of the smug were, as might be expected, the most vulnerable members of society: the old, the sick, the impoverished, and the very young, who were perhaps the most at risk because they would be paying the price of its deleterious consequences the longest.
    “Why are you complaining?” was the response given these sufferers by those who didn’t feel the full effects of the smug themselves or else were so used to it they wondered what all the fuss was about.
    “If you don’t like the life down below,” they would say offhandedly, “what’s keeping you from pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and taking an elevator to the 80th floor, where the air is sweet and clear and you can see as far as anybody’d ever want to? The view from up here is truly something to behold, a shining dream of the good life open to all.”
    Seen from on high, the layer of smug blanketing all that lay beneath it was particularly conducive to such declarations, as the rays of the sun glancing off its surface were redirected upward, filling the world of the 80th floor with warm contentment and a conviction the smug must be part of how things were always meant to be. 
    From down below, on the other hand, the airy heights where these attitudes flourished seemed to belong to the fairy-tale world of make-believe or outright fantasy. A realm where the happy few must feel they led a charmed life closer to the heavens, perhaps within earshot of God even. In any case, well above the reach of troubling reminders of whatever might be the reality suffered by those below the dense layer of smug.
    As the smug grew thicker, therefore, it also became more of a barrier separating people into two groups who couldn’t see each other. One group suffered from having the suffocating smug settle downward upon it from overhead. The other group, believing itself above it all, came to consider the smug as an inseparable part of how the world looked from up there—and was created to look, for that matter. The longer the smug retained this positive aura for them, the more natural it appeared. Until the idea there were real people down below who might be choking on it was dismissed out of hand, almost as if it violated the laws of science.
    And if it didn’t violate them, why then science itself, as mentioned earlier, might simply be open to doubt once again and need further adjustment.