There is a scene in one of Giovanni Guareschi’s books (I think The Little World Of Don Camillo) in which the communists set up a rally in front of the church complete with amplifiers. Then there is a big wig from the city who comes to give the big rally speech and it’s all about the evils of capitalism, the imperialism of America and clerical reactionaries who exploit the people and other such chestnuts.
In the book, Don Camillo paces up and down, each sentence making him feel like he has a live cat in his stomach (I understand Don Camillo at a gut level, you could say.) And then he loses it and remembers that the bell tower is constructed in three (four?) levels and that at each level the bell puller can pull the ladder up into the next level. Which means, when he’s at the top there’s no way to get at him.
So Don Camillo goes to the top of the tower, and starts ringing the bell at/over the most offensive passages. (I can imagine that as Americans you’re all recoiling instinctively at this, because the idea of freedom of speech is so strong, but let it rest that in the context of the book this is a battle in a war between communists and “righties” – which in the post war era meant “sides with America” – for the hearts and minds of the people, and that the communists had violated the rules of the game by putting the amplifiers in front of the church.)
The communists rapidly come to the conclusion there’s no way to get at him, but since the bells only peal on the most outrageous pieces of cant, about American imperialism, retrograde clericalism and the like, the speaker quickly learns he has to moderate what he says – and, to paraphrase the story “ends the speech on a pathetic and patriotic note that the bells wouldn’t deign contest.”
(I later repeated this incident – sort of – by getting caught in the middle of a communist rally and singing patriotic songs at the top of my lungs whenever they went over the acceptable partisan bullsh*t. This while I was on the phone with Dan, who still married me, despite it. [I was in a phone booth the rally formed around.] Only I didn’t have a bell tower, but that was all right, because I had the weighted weaponized umbrella. [ You only think I was joking. Mom had it built for me.])
Most of us don’t have a bell tower – or an umbrella – not even metaphorically. I keep coming up again and again to the thought that we should have started talking back in the eighties, instead of letting friends, colleagues and people in public life construct this myth that if only Carter had had a second term, we would be living in paradise. We should not have gone along with their myth that Reagan’s cutting (a bare pruning) of government was iniquitous.
And we should never, ever, have let them get off easy over communism and the horror that communism really was. We should have pointed again and again, when they tried to weasel that “but it’s not real communism” that “real communism can’t exist with real humans.”
We should have pealed our bells so loudly that they couldn’t tell themselves their comforting fairytales and pull their collectivist dreams over their wooly little heads.
We didn’t, partly because we had no blogs, and partly because we had no metaphorical bell tower. For those of us in creative professions – but even for the ones in tech ones – there was no alternate route, no ladder we could pull up. They could get us where we lived. And they would. Since they confuse morals with politics, they have no qualms about punishing political opinion with professional disgrace and ostracism.
So we couldn’t talk. And because the media, entertainment and the news, or what the fabulous Ms. Chase calls the media/entertainment/industrial complex all reinforced their delusions and assured them there was real gold and promise in trying again all these old, bankrupt, vile ideas of forcing everyone to live the way the “enlightened” ones at the top decided, we’re now in the position we’re in.
I mean, you hear about echo chambers but for the last fifty years we’ve had an enormous echo-chamber of what is now called “progressive” (progressing rapidly back to the thirties. The NINETEEN thirties) ideas.
Even for me, talking before I had an alternate route to feed my family fell under unacceptable risk.
And then of course, the question is if by then it was already too late. As I said this madness, worldwide, started before any of us (or most of us) were born, certainly before any of us were old enough to do anything about it. It was all “scientific governance” and therefore a small cadre of “geniuses” were supposed to steer us past the rough spots that the common man couldn’t navigate. It was the spirit of the age, and as inevitable then as it is out of step with reality now.
Mind you, it didn’t work well, even then, but the illusion it could work could be maintained in the era when everything was “mass” – mass transportation (though that never took well in America) and mass manufacturing, and mass marketing, and mass entertainment, and mass—
The likely future of that world was 1984, where things were run tightly from above, not well but inevitably. Heinlein predicted something like that, too. See the beginning of the Door Into Summer and how forlorn it was for the character’s father to hold on to individualism.
We didn’t go there. We went the other way, towards a million different alternatives, towards niche marketing, An Army of Davids, the ability for someone with a bell tower and a ladder to make a lot of noise indeed.
Because the last time I posted about something touching on this, one of you got the idea I was saying mass manufacturing of heavy industry stuff shall go away soon, I would clarify that’s not what I meant. (I’m not saying that it will be with us forever, either. I never cut short human invention. But I think that for the remainder of the lives of everyone who is alive today there will remain some mass manufacturing and some heavy manufacturing.) What I mean is that each age has a “prototypical” way of doing things. In Elizabethan England, for instance, the nascent industry was cottage industry, labor intensive, and most people still worked mostly at growing food, because their methods of cultivation required THAT much work.
In say the forties and fifties, our factories required – still – a lot of human labor and human supervision. To create the goods needed for civilized life, you need to make them all in one pattern, and as many as possible for economies of cost, and the making of them involved a lot of people in work that was done for a few, massive employers.
Now we’re at the beginning of that trend going the other way: towards distributed employers, and small-scale and customized goods for the people, all of it taking less human labor to produce. The trend is maybe forty years young, so very young indeed in sociological terms, where things change very slowly, if they ever change at all.
So maybe my dream that we should have started talking back back in the eighties is just that. Maybe it was impossible.
But the panic and lashing out we see on the other side now, comes from just a few towers, spread throughout the landscape and ringing in tiny voices over their speakers and amplifiers.
So, two things:
First, never think that we are defeated. Yeah, they finally captured all the high ground, and they have all the amplifiers, and sometimes it seems our little bells mean nothing, even when we’re ringing the pure truth. But just by ringing, by being the dissenting voice, we’re causing a reaction and we might in time even – who knows—cause moderation and common sense in those amplified speakers. Don’t lose heart. Don’t let that ladder you pulled up behind you make you believe you’re in a world of your own, and that nothing you do affects anything out there. It’s very early, and they’re still angry and trying to find a way to silence the bells. Once they realize that’s impossible, that’s when sanity can be expected. Will it be in our time? I don’t know. Shut up and keep ringing.
Two: My friend Bill Reader reminded me that October is coming out month, though as he put it “I don’t think they meant it for conservatives.”
I’m not in your position. I don’t know how secure your tower is, or if you can pull the ladder up after yourself. I’m not advising anyone to do anything that will cost them family support or employment, or the material things they need to survive. But I’m asking you to take a step back and access where you are, because things are changing very fast. And if you come to the conclusion that you can come out, do so. As someone who did – it makes you far less conflicted. There’s something soul-corroding about pretending – even through silence – to be something you’re not. My grandmother used to say “Quem cala consente” which for those less fluent in Portuguese means “Those who remain silent are taken to give permission.”
If you can, consider taking up that rope and ringing that bell. It might seem to you – it often seems to me – the sound gets lost as soon as it echoes, but little by little you start realizing people are listening. And those in the crowd who do not dare come out yet, are taking comfort from it. And the other side starts to realize that no, this is not what all thinking people agree on.
And we take a step back from the cliff we’ve been careening towards.
It’s entirely possible that the future really is a boot stepping on a human face forever – but that future is only possible if we let it happen. You’re not responsible for the past and you can’t change it. And the present is the direct result of that past. But the future is what we let it be.
Shut up and ring your bell.