I read this article, “A Kingdom from Dust,” from The California Sunday Magazine. And throughout my reading, the same thought kept popping into my head:
“The Resnicks are Carlyle. Or Bittner. Or Morray or Hock. That’s Lazarus.”
“This really is Year Zero.”
The series follows the Family Carlyle and their Lazarus (lead soldier/special operative), Forever. The Carlyles, shitty though they are, seem to be one of the kinder and least morally dubious of the world’s Families. They give their Waste (people like you and me) honest shots to move up to Serfs (government employees, but remember, the Family is the government and they control EVERYTHING). The Carlyles keep their population content, docile, and quote-unquote happy. A variety of motivations govern the Family’s actions.
What I want to focus on here, though, is that through their own wealth and their Waste and Serfs’ lack thereof, the Family Carlyle has established complete control of the region they’re in charge of. Everything from schools to food to TV to the military, all of it is Carlyle-sponsored and Carlyle-controlled. All of it is Family.
Apparently, that’s not very different from what’s happening and has been happening in the town of Lost Hills, California, where Stewart and Lynda Resnick have created their own society in the dust. A place that provides everything for the workers who keep their agricultural empire running. Check out this passage from the Sunday Magazine article, talking about Lynda descending on Lost Hills, and the town’s reaction:
That is exactly a Family. That is exactly Lazarus in the real world. The Resnicks exercise incredibly disproportionate influence, and they know how to use it to get what they need. They say: Here are gifts. Here is education. Here are hospitals and food. As long as you work for us. As long as you keep your head down and keep making us money.
As you read through the article, you learn there’s a lot of history and nuance to the situation in Lost Hills, as there is to most any giant, spiraling system built over years and years of accumulation and iteration. But at the heart of it, Lost Hills is a company town that’s frayed around the edges. That looks good from a distance but is built on less than legal labor and less than legal practices. For example, the Resnicks’ almond fields are irrigated using water that everyone knows they should not have. But nobody can point this out, as the Resnicks have bought the right people and made the right deals and would likely derail any attempt to prove what they are doing.
It is a company town built on the labor of people leaving one country for the higher (though still not high) wages they can find in another. According to the article, U.S. immigration doesn’t care where this labor comes from. They let Wonderful, the Resnicks’ agricultural company, do its thing. The Family controls the region.
That’s not to say Lost Hills is worse-off because of the Resnicks. Actually, as you continue reading, you learn a lot of things are actually much better thanks to them. The same man talking above goes on to detail how Lost Hills was first nothing, and then, a place that was not very nice. Now, Lost Hills is definitely something, a place with decent schools, hospitals, parks. Art on the water tower. Nutritional care for children. Locally-owned businesses (though even those are funded in part by the Resnicks).
It’s not the good or the bad of the thing that scares me, or that I think the creators of Lazarus would also be concerned about. It’s the level of control, regardless of the outcome.
A husband and wife decided, unilaterally, that some amount of the water in California is theirs, other citizens and taxpayers bedamned. So they took it. No one has stopped them. The people of Lost Hills have great medical facilities and schools and nutrition. That’s Wonderful. But it’s all Resnick-provided. If the Resnicks decided they no longer wanted to provide those things, they would disappear. The people in the town don’t make enough money or have enough control to provide those things themselves. And, consciously or unconsciously, the Resnicks have kept it that way. They make billions of dollars per year and pay their workers $10.50 an hour plus benefits.
There’s a direct line to be drawn from the city of Lost Hills to the year X + 66 and I don’t know about you, but it scares the beejeezus out of me. Because it means that dystopian future Lazarus promises isn’t just coming. As Rucka’s made a habit of pointing out in Lazarus‘s recent letters columns, Year Zero is here.
A couple other similarities to note, before we wrap up. At one point in the article, Stewart Resnick grapples with the same desire for legacy and/or immortality that many of Lazarus‘s Family heads do. With gene therapy and immortality drugs still a ways off (and pomegranate juice apparently being the closest equivalent), Resnick considers letting the article’s author write a book about him. The book doesn’t get very far, perhaps because Resnick figures out he might not like what he gets to read.
The Resnicks have also recently dipped their toes into propaganda (or feel-good films, it depends on your take of the situation). But within that propaganda, knowingly or unknowingly, the Resnicks lay out the motive that most businesses, and the Lazarus Families, have found for ever giving their workers … well, anything.
Again, the real world to story parallels are staggering. Almost astonishing. There’s a lot more to unpack within the article, and I’d highly encourage you to give both it and Lazarus a read. At the end of the day, the article and the comic are telling the same story. One’s just further along than the other.