*I normally don’t do blasts from the past this recent, but somehow this one called to me this morning, and I can’t even tell you why. I hope one of you knows! *1 And Sorry, not awake this morning, so did the date European style. Sigh.- SAH*
The Architecture of Fear — A blast from the past from
Years ago on this blog I talked about Technique of The Coup D’Etat by Giovanni Guareschi and I typed the beginning in here. I shall copy that. (Assume typos are mine.)
At ten o’clock on Tuesday evening, the village square was swept with wind and rain, but a crowd had been gathered there for three or four hours to listen to the election news coming out of a radio loudspeaker. Suddenly the lights went out and everything was plunged into darkness. Someone went to the control box but came back saying there was nothing to be done. The trouble must be up the line or at the power plant, miles away. People hung around for half an hour or so, and then, as the rain began to come down even harder than before, they scattered to their homes, leaving the village silent and deserted. Peppone shut himself up in the People’s Palace, along with Lungo, Brusco, Straziami, and Gigio, the same leader of the “Red Wing” squad from Molinetto. They sat around uneasily by the light of a candle stump and cursed the power and light monopoly as an enemy of the people, until Smilzo burst in. He had gone to Rocca Verde on his motorcycle to see if anyone had news and now his eyes were popping out of his head and he was waving a sheet of paper.
“The Front has won!” he panted. “Fifty-two seats out of a hundred in the senate and fifty-one in the chamber. The other side is done for. We must get hold of our people and have a celebration. If there’s no light, we can set fire to a couple of haystacks nearby.
“Hurrah!” shouted Peppone. But Gigio grabbed hold of Smilzo’s jacket.
“Keep quiet and stay where you are!” he said grimly. It’s too early for anyone to be told. Let’s take care of our little list.”
“List? What list?” asked Peppone in astonishment.
“The list of reactionaries who are to be executed first thing. Let’s see now…”
Peppone stammered that he had made no such list, but the other only laughed.
“That doesn’t matter. I’ve a very complete one here all ready. Let’s look at it together, and once we’ve decided we can get to work.”
Gigio pulled a sheet of paper with some twenty names on it out of his pocket and laid it on the table.
“Looks to me as if al the reactionary pigs were here,” he said. “I put down the worst of them, and we can attend to the rest later.”
Peppone scanned the names and scratched his head.
“Well, what do you say?” Gigio asked him.
“Generally speaking, we agree,” said Peppone. “But what’s the hurry? We have plenty of time to do things in the proper style.”
Gigio brought his fist down on the table.
“We haven’t a minute to lose, that’s what I say,” he shouted harshly. “This is the time to put our hands on them, before they suspect us. If we wait until tomorrow, they may get wind of something and disappear.”
At this point Brusco came into the discussion.
“You must be crazy,” he said. “You can’t start out to kill people before you think it over.”
“I’m not crazy and you’re a very poor Communist, that’s what you are! These are all reactionary pigs; no one can dispute that, and if you don’t take advantage of this golden opportunity then you’re a traitor to the party!”
Brusco shook his head.
“Don’t you believe it! It’s jackasses that are traitors to the Party! And you’ll be a jackass if you make mistakes and slaughter innocent people.”
Gigio raised a threatening finger.
“It’s better to eliminate ten innocents than to spare one individual who may be dangerous to the cause. Dead men can do the party no harm. You’re a very poor Communist, as I’ve said before. In fact, you never were a good one. You’re as weak as a snowball in hell, I say. You’re just a bourgeois in disguise!”
Brusco grew pale, and Peppone intervened.
“That’s enough,” he said. “Comrade Gigio has the right idea and nobody can deny it. It’s part of the groundwork of Communist philosophy. Communism gives us the goal at which to aim and democratic discussion must be confined to the quickest and surest ways to attain it.”
Giggio nodded his head in satisfaction, while Peppone continued: “Once it’s been decided that these people are or may be dangerous to the cause and therefore we must eliminate them, the next thing is to work out the best method of elimination. Because if by our carelessness, we were to allow a a single reactionary to escape, then we should indeed be traitors to the Party. Is that clear?”
“Absolutely,” the others said in chorus. “You’re dead right.”
“There are six of us,” Peppone went on, “And twenty names on that list, among them the Filotti, who has a whole regiment in his house and a cache of arms in the cellar. If we were to attack these people one by one, at the first shot the rest would run away. We must call our forces together and divide them up into twenty squads, each one equipped to deal with a particular objective.”
“Very good,” said Gigio.
“Good, my foot!” shouted Peppone. “That’s not the half of it! We need a twenty first squad, equipped even better than the rest to hold off the police. And mobile squads to cover the roads and the river. If a fellow rushes into action in the way you proposed, without proper precautions, running the risk of botching it completely, then he’s not a good communist, he’s just a damn fool.”
It was Gigio’s turn to pale now, and he bit his lip in anger, while Peppone proceeded to give orders. Smilzo was to transmit word to the cell leaders in the outlying settlements and these were to call their men together. A green rocket would give the signal to meet in appointed places, where Falchetto, Brusco and Straziami would form the squads and assign the targets. A red rocket would bid them go into action. Smilzo went off on his motorcycle while Lungo, Brusco, Straziami and Gigio discussed the composition of the squads.
“You must do a faultless job,” Peppone told them. “I shall hold you personally responsible for its success. Meanwhile, I’ll see if the police are suspicious and find some way to put them off.
Don Camillo, later waiting in vain for the lights to go on and the radio to resume its mumble, decided to get ready for bed. Suddenly he heard a knock at the door and when he drew it open cautiously, he found Peppone before him.
“Get out of here in a hurry!” Peppone panted. “Pack a bag and go! Put on an ordinary suit of clothes, take your boat and row down the river.”
Don Camillo stared at him with curiosity.
“Comrade Mayor, have you been drinking?”
“Hurry,” said Peppone. “The people’s Front has won and the squads are getting ready. There’s a list of people to be executed and your name is the first one!”
Spoiler alert, though this is not one of the stories that you read for the denouement: by the end of the story, the entire cell except Gigio is crammed in Don Camillo’s closet, as each successive comrade shows up to try to save him and is shoved into the closet as the next one comes along.
Then it is revealed that they didn’t in fact win the election, but more importantly, the entire cell, which had lived in fear of the Stalinist *sshole who pulled book and fervor on them every time and made everyone of them live in terror of being denounced as insufficiently fervent, now knows who the enemy really is. That is, each individual now knows he is not an isolated individual surrounded by good party members who will turn on him, but one in a collection of decent individuals kinda sorta following an ideology but not so far it blunts their humanity and ONE isolated *sshole turning them against each other for the power.
At the end of the story, Peppone finds Gigio proudly waiting to send up the red rocket and kicks him all the way to main street.
Gigio’s power is gone, because he’s revealed to be ONE individual working for himself and only that, and a hateful, little one at that.
It is worth noting that Gigio in Italian means mouse. This was the mouse that roared, until they realized he was amplifying his squeaks through their fears to sound like roars.
This is not about the Hugo. Or rather, this is not exclusively about the Hugo.
But it is about the Hugo as well.
My first encounter with what I’ll call the Gigio effect, was in a mailing list for writers, where I dared question the insanity of a well-respected pro who said that George Bush (personally) had raised the price of stamps to ruin her (personally) in her efforts to sell used books through Amazon.
There are levels of insanity I can’t tolerate and couldn’t even while in the political closet. So I pointed out the sheer insanity of this, the inefficiencies of the post office and probable causes for it.
The list went silent. I figured tons of people were cussing me behind my back (this was when GB’s name was after all like invoking the devil.)
So, I shrugged, figured I’d be kicked out of the list and went for a walk. When I came back my email was full of “Oh, thank you, for saying…” ALL OF IT IN PRIVATE MESSAGES.
The senders ranged from raw beginners to established pros, but no one would challenge this lady’s illusions to her face. Only me.
So how did the private messages make me feel? They made me roll my eyes.
I swear 2/3 of the list pmed me to say they stood with me, but in public, not a peep. They were all so scared, you see, of the imagined disapproval of “all the rest of them.”
I didn’t say anything and I didn’t push them. It wasn’t any of my business, and at any rate, I’d grown disillusioned with the list and the comradery (Meh) of my peers. I had gotten to see some people I’d respected prior to that in full silly mode. (We all have one. I try only to show it to the cats, and sometimes to my husband.) I was tired. I don’t know if I answered any of those messages, not now 12 years later.
And now, there’s the controversy over … more people voting in the Hugos and voting for a different slate than the entrenched group approves of. There are many accusations flung at us, including that we’re pushing an all white slate (which would surprise some of those people) an all male slate (which transformed my friends Amanda and Cedar into guys and made Cedar’s fiance gay. He’s still in shock) and that we’re pushing inferior taste (It bears reading this post apropos that) and that we’re buying votes for total strangers to vote our slate. (No, we’re not. Mary Robinette Kowal, OTOH IS, but yeah, I know, it’s different, after all leftists are good people)
I’m very tired. VERY very tired. Not of opposition. I’m never a happy warrior, but I have had huge arguments (rational, non-attacking arguments) with some of my very best friends, Dave Freer and Kate Paulk included, and emerged from them energized, because we mobilized ideas and facts and our disagreement forged a stronger bond, rather than breaking us apart or making each of us feel small and isolated.
But I’m tired of answering the same senseless accusations over and over and over again. It’s like fighting people under an enchantment that prevents them from thinking.
And all through this, there are pms on FB and emails to my old email registered with SFWA and not used much now. “I am with you, but I don’t dare say anything.” “I don’t agree with everything you say, but you have some damn good points. But if I say anything, my career is done.” “Your opponents are scary and are eating each other, but I can’t say how evil they are in public, because they’ll eat me.”
…”Get out of here in a hurry!” Peppone panted. “Pack a bag and go! Put on an ordinary suit of clothes, take your boat and row down the river.”
Don Camillo stared at him with curiosity.
“Comrade Mayor, have you been drinking?”
“Hurry,” said Peppone. “The people’s Front has won and the squads are getting ready. There’s a list of people to be executed and your name is the first one!”…
I’m not going to push ANYONE out of the political, or even the SF-political closet. I lived in it too long and too fearfully to do that to anyone. Your secret is safe with me.
But because it matters, I must beseech you, consider, please that you are not alone. Consider that the sound and fury, the threats, the people pushing you to do things against your will and conscience because you’re so scared of them might be less than the full crowd. It might be just a small mouse, full of him/herself, roaring up a storm. Consider that the decent people who disagree with all this bs might actually be in the vast majority but not know it because none of you dares speak.
Yes, it is entirely possible that the publishing establishment will turn its back on you for a while at least, even if you are a loyal leftist, because you dissented from the lynch mob. OTOH considering — eyes emails — maybe they too are in that closet with you, trembling for fear of the mouse.
But even if you were “blacklisted” — you do realize I know indie writers making six figures a year, right? And that I myself made as much from Witchfinder as from my Baen books, right? DO consider that being blacklisted by the establishment might mean less fear and fewer ulcers. And being yourself.
Do consider how it would feel to come out of the closet and kick the mouse up and down main street, making him eat his Stalinist “guilt by association” cries.
I’m not going to force you. I’m not going to out you.
But this Stalinist “I know everything you do and it’s all analyzed for deviationism” always leads to purges. In SF/F those purges might mean not publishing traditional. Or they might mean not winning awards. Or getting kicked out of an organization.
But this type of mind-set is a cancer in the culture and sooner or later leads to gulags and graves.
I can’t push you and I won’t. If you want to keep your opinions — left, right, moderate, libertarian, anarchist — hidden, it’s your job. I am not the keeper of your soul.
However, I want you to think of the dark and dank place that fear and that suspicion and the constant spying lead.
And then I want you to think of how good it would feel to get off your knees, stand on two, look your tormentors in the face and say “No more. I’m free. My thoughts and my opinions, my beliefs, my tastes, my friends are my own. You have no power over me. Not now, and not ever again.”
That’s all. I just want you to think.