Chapter 31: The Gulag

Alex Kurtagic, Special to AR News, October 23, 2009

This is a chapter from Alex Kurtagic’s dystopian novel, Mister. It attempts to illustrate the everyday consequences of living in a world in which current social, cultural, political, economic, and demographic trends have been allowed to continue. It treats the result of the liberal utopians’ efforts with sarcasm and derision, but its main target is the so-called “respectable conservative,” that has the right instincts and is fully aware of the destructive forces at work in Western societies, but is too preoccuped with maintaining social status and professional prestige to risk voicing politically incorrect opinions. He silently opts for a reactive strategy of avoidance and adaptation, rather than an active one of confrontation and revolution.

The primary thesis of the novel is that in the long run it will prove impossible to insulate oneself from the social chaos. Not only will the attempt to accomplish even the simplest of tasks become incredibly frustrating, but they may very well have unexpected and perhaps disastrous consequences. In Chapter 31, our anti-hero, a gifted (but respectable) conservative, finds himself in a squalid detention cell. He has been arrested for reasons unknown, and has just been put through a devious and highly contrived interrogation by an Obama lookalike, a Black police inspector, intriguer, and racist, who is determined to be his nemesis.

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For foreign readers, in Britain.


Chapter 31: The Gulag

Never would he have imaged that he would one day find himself in such a situation. There he was, a respectable businessman and law-abiding citizen, an intelligent person with a post-graduate education and the subject of articles in the most prestigious scientific and business journals, lying on the floor of a holding cell, in the dark, on remand, suspected of vile crimes and dubious associations, forming part of a sudorous human carpet alongside all manner of tattoed thugs, drug addicts, and common criminals. The overcrowding inside the cell made it impossible to see the floor: chests were pressed against backs, groins against glutei, and shoes against faces; detainees slept on their sides, using each other’s heads or feet as pillows. He had chosen the latter, the kinky hair of black men appearing at best too prickly for him. The temperature exceeded what old-fashioned thermometers were able to register; the walls and ceiling perspired with condensation; there was a constant murmur of breathing and snoring, sniped at every second by coughing, sneezing, and throat-clearing. The air was thicker than lentil soup, and pungent with the stench of perspiration, flatulence, and tooth decay.

He was very concerned with keeping his Saville Row suit in good state of repair. Appearances mattered.

He had realised almost immediately that he had made a stupid mistake. He imagined Obama was now buzzing with the satisfaction of knowing that he had caught him, the scientist with two PhDs, telling a pack of lies. Of course, there was no way he could have known about Hitler’s secret base in Antarctica without being aware of Miguel Serrano’s writings. Never mind that he had never read them. Mr. Wermod had told him and he had an eidetic memory. That was good enough for Obama. Obama would not care to hear reasons, excuses, or explanations.

‘There were Hitler survival myths for decades after the war,’ he had said, trying to sound dismissive. ‘Even twenty years ago I remember seeing press reports of Hitler being found in Chile or Argentina, aged over a hundred. So Hitler in Antarctica, why not? It makes sense when you appear so obsessed with Hitler and the Nazis.’

‘Don’t you start. Don’t you start projecting your Nazism on me,’ had warned Obama, waving an admonishing finger at him, before adding, condescendingly, ‘I am BLACK, remember? BLACK, as in, man with black skin, originating from Africa, with a big cock and a big sense of style. Yea? My heroes are Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, George Washington Carver, and people like that. Not that you’d ever heard of them.’

He had been sent back to the holding cell soon after; and he had been kept in there all afternoon, until evening. It was now one hour since lights out, but he could not sleep.

How had he managed to end up in there? Less than six days ago–the previous Saturday evening–he had been in his double-glazed, air-conditioned woodland cottage, sitting on a comfortable sofa, surrounded by his possessions, in the company of his wife, reading the introduction to Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. They had done nothing extraordinary that evening: they had dined on a roast chicken, watched an old film (Twelve Monkeys), and picked up their respective books. His wife had finished McKittrick Ros’ Delinda Delaney; she had read the novel purely because of its bizarre literary style. On Sunday morning they had played a game of Dominos with his wife’s mother, who had come to visit; his mother-in-law was an astrophysicist who also composed deep space ambient music in the vein of Arecibo’s Transplutonian Transmissions. In terms of that type of music, however, he preferred Wierzba’s 1999: Earth Termination, but his mother-in-law cited it only as a minor influece. After Dominos, which all of them played over a dram of mead, his mother-in-law had challenged him to a game of speed Chess. They had tied, winning each five out of ten games, and his mother-in-law, an irate loser, blamed her not winning on the coocoo clock he had in his kitchen, which had broken her concentration by striking three o’clock just as she had glimpsed a decisive series of moves. She had then left, Bobby Fischer-style, allegedly to continue working on her 13,200-piece puzzle, depicting Bruegel’s The Battle Between Carnival and Lent. How far away that seemed to him now! His normal life, by which he meant his private life–and which could very well end up becoming his former life–suddenly felt like a pleasant dream, distinctly recollected, but forever beyond reach. He longed to be back at home, lying on the sofa, wearing a clean shirt and a clean pair of trousers, reading his book, losing himself in Spengler’s metahistorical analysis, in the sedentary tranquility of his private environment, bathed in comforting silence and tungsten light, and feeling his wife’s warm and affectionate presence as she worked on her latest novel nearby. If only he would wake up now and find himself on that sofa, smelling the scent of beef roasting in the oven–along with basted potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and onions–as he discovered that it had all been a nightmare, and remembering that he had simply completed his project and returned home on Friday night to spend a leisurely weekend, drinking lemon iced tea, reading and listening to music, and playing games with his wife.

His wife! She had probably been ringing the mobile all day, at first eager to report her observations inside Pierre’s apartment, subsequently simply to hear his voice and confirm that he was alive and uninjured. He guessed that she would have attempted to contact the hotel, his office, and, eventually, Scoptic. Dr. Oker, if he had not been ‘in a meeting’, would have been no help, but at least she would have made him aware of the fact that his absence had been unplanned and unintentional. If Dr. Oker had been unavailable or uninterested, however, she would have left a message with either Mrs. Cotter or Dr. Oker’s personal secretary, neither of whom would have been careful with the wording of her message and passed on a mutilated, vague Chinese whisper, which would have been imperfectly recited, carelessly heard, and wrongly interpreted by Dr. Oker. He hoped Mrs. Cotter had resisted the temptation to spew her misandristic venom, implying somehow that she assumed he had buggered off with some secret lover or prostitute, because that is what all men are like. His wife would dismiss such gratuitous prejudice out of hand, correctly ascribing them to unhappy experiences with a long concatenation of indolent misogynists, promiscuous rakes, repressed homosexuals, and impotent kleptomaniacs. Having exhausted obvious contact points, his wife would have, most likely, decided to wait a while, hoping for signs of life from his camp, before prologuing the escalation of her search with a fresh and attempt at contacting him. He was pained by the idea of his wife worrying, increasingly anxious by the lack of information and the impossibility of obtaining any. She would probably eventually lose her appetite and find it difficult to concentrate on her writing. If only his captors would allow him access to a telephone, as they were legally obligated to do. One telephone call is all he would need to get things moving in the outside world.

The problem would be who to call. His wife was the obvious choice, but then that was probably not the most effective option. She would want to extricate him from his plight irrespective of cost, only lawyers would not necessarily obtain any results other than cleaning out all their bank accounts. He had the impression that this is what his captors would be hoping for, having contrived his detention in such a way as to protract any legal process and render it as costly as possible so as to leave him destitute. After all, they appeared convinced that he was a neo-Nazi, and in a nominally capitalistic society œconomic destruction was a favourite way to neutralise political dissidents. No, he would have to call someone with influence who could get him out of there by pulling the appropriate levers, and have that person convey a message to his wife. Whether they would let him talk long enough to explain his predicament, suggest the appropriate course of action, and articulate a satisfactory message to pass on to his spouse was another question. His captors would probably impose an artificially low time limit on his call; they would also record everything, and have a plan in place to neutralise any ally or advocate he might have in the outside world. He would therefore have to use whatever time he had available to (1) compose a highly-compressed message that could be intelligibly and unambiguously unpacked by the recipient, and (2) decide on a way to encode it, so as to frustrate any attempts by his captors to frustrate any bid to regain his freedom.

Evidently, the most secure encoding would be one that hid the information in plain sight. The encoding itself would in turn need to be concealed within apparently banal and typical phrases: talking over the phone in ASCII or Base 64, for example, was out of the question. And since his captors’ strategy obviously relied on facilitating collaboration by progressively depressing his faculties, using noise, and food and drink and sleep deprivation, he would have to concoct his message quickly and in such a way that it would be easy to remember even after his mind was no longer in proper working order.

He had his work cut out for him.

Even if he managed to get out of that dungeon, however, he could not help worry that his troubles would not end there. Obama’s conduct, and a string of vaguely-recollected press reports involving ‘enemies of democracy’ over the years, made it plain that the government wrote the rules as they went along, legislating on the hoof in order to obtain the desired result where existing legislation failed. Usually, these ‘enemies of democracy’ had been radical Islamists, for whom he had felt zero sympathy. Because he felt Islam had no place in Europe, and because it was clear to him that Islam–never moderate, regardless of politically correct platitudes to the contrary–was resolved to conquer Europe, he had consumed the aforementioned media reports–typically informing concerned citizes about the deportation or conviction of one radical Islamist or another–with angry glee. Moreover, he had greeted the introduction of anti-extremist legislation with great delight, since it ostensibly targeted Islamists, on whom the ordinary legal process, and anything but the most draconian of penal consequences, was a complete waste of tax-payers’ money. Naturally, he did not like being forced to tolerate the limitations to his freedom of speech, thought, movement, and association that resulted from the egalitarian application of such legislation. To him Islam was always radical, and because it was (and openly declared itself to be) a proselytising Middle Eastern religion favoured by men and women who shared common characteristics, it would have been much more reasonable and rational if such legislation had relied on racial and/or ethnic profiling for its application. He would have also preferred strict controls on who was allowed to come and settle in Europe, rather than strict controls on what people who lived in Europe were allowed to say, write, read, watch, think, or publish, what organisations they were allowed to belong to, what political parties they were allowed to vote for, what music they were allowed to listen to, and what personal associations they were allowed to maintain, in order to keep the chanko stew in the social pressure cooker from exploding. After all, a homogeneous society was easier to legislate for because people shared a concrete set of values; a highly heterogenous society required mountains of legislation, regulating every aspect of the individual’s life, as well as a bloated and highly complex bureacracy, designed to invent it, record it, expand it, refine it, and enforce it, alongside an omniscient surveillance apparatus, to constantly monitor behaviour and report non-conformity. Indeed, finding formulas for inducing highly heterogeneous groups of individuals to cooperate and perceive themselves as members of a single community with common or compatible interests had excercised the brains of even the most highly gifted of academic researchers. It was the difference between dealing with a solution versus an emulsion, or a cohesive compound versus an adhesive compound. Would he have just preferred? Well, not just preferred, but a lot more than that: in fact, he had strong objections to how Western politicians had reconfigured Western societies, allowing or encouraging high immigration from all over the world in order to appease the lobbying of big businesses, who demanded cheap labour in order to reconstruct profit margins obliterated by taxation, regulation, and ruthless competition, once they had finished cutting all the corners and discovering all the cheapest materials. Yes, he had strong objections, had nourished them for decades, but he was also convinced that, unfortunately, there was nothing he could do: protesting in any meaningful way would have fixed the government’s microscope on him, inviting monitoring, tax probes, media reports, social discomfort, public opprobrium, and worse; and as a serious person and reputable businessman, leading a serious consultancy firm, he could not afford to put his livelihood or his reputation at risk. Learning to live with the state of the world, and insulating himself as best he could from its continuing deterioration, had been the least risky and therefore the most rational choice. He had reasoned that, provided he did not rock the boat, kept his grumbles private, and voted with his wallet, he would be able to live his life in relative comfort, irrespective of how bad things got out there. And if things ever got so bad that maintaining his safety and standard of living became impossible, he would always have the option to emigrate.

Given recent evidence, however, it appeared to him now that, perhaps, his method for adapting to the realities of a changing world had not been optimal.

Surely, the causality chain that led to his head resting on a common criminal’s brown moccasin shoe, inside an overcrowded holding cell, in the steamy basement of a corrupt police station, did not begin with him having chosen the wrong taxi cab, or even the wrong method of transport, at Madrid Barajas, Terminal 4, back on Sunday night. He could have hailed a criminal cabbie at any time: either in the future, where criminality in the profession would have been statistically probable, or in the past, where it would have been less endemic, but in neither case an impossibility. The existence of criminal cabbies was a constant in time; their frequency, and their proliferation in the form of airport mafias, however, varied in conformity with the law of entropy, or second law of thermodynamics. The problem, therefore, had been the rate of entropy–the rate of social decay, the speed at which form degenerated into chaos–a factor over which, despite his misanthropic pessimism, he knew well enough humans had some degree of control. But not all humans, of course: only those in a position to influence events, those equipped with elite brains and who were, or had put themselves, in a position to be able to shape events and reconfigure society as per their aspirations; the rest, the average consumer, either through apathy, lack of brains, lack of power, a combination of these, or all of the above, were shaped by events, and accepted as inevitable the society they found themselves in. He, of course, considered the latter inferior to himself. But he also considered most members of the current political and intellectual establishment inferior, despite the fact that it was their world he was living in, and their rules he was shaped by. If he was superior to them, however, then he was back to his initial question: how did he manage to end up in that cell?

If it was the brainless, apathetic consumer who conformed to the status quo, then he had not been living up to his own standards, because he had behaved just like them. If the power elite was comprised of corrupt ideologues and nincompoops, then he had not been living up to his own standards, because he had not displaced them. And, of course, he had not failed to live up to his own standards because of lack of talent or ability, and therefore because the acquisition of power was beyond his reach; rather, it was because of his conscious and deliberate lack of involvement, instigated by a belief in his own helplessness. Because this belief was not founded on empirical evidence collected through personal experimentation, but rather on a priori conclusions, adopted on the basis of everyday observation, he had effectively abrogated responsibility, and world-shaping had defaulted to those next in line, all too willing and glad to have a bite at the cherry. There was no question in his mind that he could out-think, out-innovate, and out-manœuvre most of the craven dilettantes running things these days; and, there was no doubt in his mind either that he was enough of a misanthrope to match them in ruthlessness. Yet, it was they, the degenerate parasites he despised, who had ended up with the upper hand, moulding his behaviour, limiting his freedom, and deciding his fate for him.

He had riled against the mediocrity of the common man, fulminated against their choice of political leaders, ranted against the cowardice of politicians beholden to œconomic interests, and orated against the supine addiction to comfort and safety of the general voting public, because they would rather make small concessions here and there than actively defend their freedoms–their freedom of speech, of thought, of movement, of assembly, and of having full control over their assets and their œconomic affairs. He had expressed himself on the subject in no uncertain terms–except that he had done so privately, strictly among trusted friends and family, where there was no risk and therefore where it did not count, while acting in the outside world just like the common man and member of the general voting public he had so acidly criticised. When taxes had risen, he had growled to his wife and quietly reconfigured his finances, staying clear of any activism–he had been sure activists would be duly investigated, and he had wished to avert that risk; when laws had been passed, limiting acceptable modes of speech and thought, he had learnt of it only after the event–at no point had he taken an interest in the political or academic process leading up to the passage of such laws, or become involved in any form of opposition; when new regulations had been introduced, requiring him to surrender ever more information about his identity, his whereabouts, his assets, his income, his habits, his spending, his organisational memberships, and his personal tastes and predilections, he had reacted by growling to his wife, but otherwise done as ordered–at no point, except in risk-free circumstances where it counted not, had he acted by attempting to create alternatives of his own, either as a spearhead or in association with like-minded individuals.

His flattering self-concept stood in baffling contradiction with his belief in his own helplessness. Whence lay the origin of this belief? Certainly, the fact that his letters of complaint (to editors, to companies, to airlines, to hotel managers) had typically met with no response, and infrequently with merely a perfunctory apology, composed by cut-and-paste monkeys out of ready-made clichéd phrases, had time and again confirmed him in his belief. But these experiences only provided him with confirmation; they were not the primary source. And, if he was frank with himself, he could not think now of a single incident whereby a belief in his own power to influence the way the world was run had been changed into a belief in the futility of even trying. The primary source was internal: it had to involve something he had a stake on–something like, for example, his preoccupation with his own social and professional status. It was this preoccupation that had consistently checked the impulse to publicise his non-conforming views outside a narrow circle of friends and family–that had encouraged him to emasculate his language, and conceal his real opinions under a veil of obliquity, obscurity, allusion, proverb, dissimulation, irony, and euphemism. But was not social and professional status dependent on external validation? Had he not made himself subservient to his inferiors by making his source of self-esteem dependent on their granting validation? Within this analytical framework, a belief in his own helplessness betrayed itself as a convenient rationalisation.

Obama was ill informed about the nature of his crimes: his had not been a sin of commission–and it was quite possible that Obama knew this and was persecuting him for that reason; his sin had been one of conscious and persistent omission. Viewed from this perspective, he was guiltier than his cellmates, and deserving of his fate. Why? Because his cellmates were cellmates because they lacked the ability and the qualities necessary to change–or at least contribute to change–the way the world was run. The stupid did not always become common criminals, but common criminals were always stupid: therefore power, other than in the transient forms afforded by fists, guns, bombs, and knuckledusters, was beyond their reach. Unable to make the rules, they broke them all in the only way they knew how, out for whatever they could get. He, on the other hand, was a vastly superior specimen–superior to his cellmates, to the common man, and to their rulers–and yet he had withheld his talents, withheld his opinions, withheld his energy; in short, opted out, and focused on being comfortable within the domesticity of his life, watching his civilisation being devoured by anarchy, brutality, corruption, incompetence, misguided ideology, and hyperinflation, in an inexorable descent from the the light of the stars to the mud of the jungle.

True: he could not, by himself, abolish the indignities of airport security; purge the academic establishment of mutant Communists; elect politicians who would abolish the income tax and resist special interests; break banking cartels; seal Europe’s borders; revoke Turkey’s EU membership; repeal all the ridiculous anti-hate legislation; or re-introduce a commodity-backed, inflation-proof currency. He could not, by himself, do any of these things; and neither could he do them in association with like-minded people any longer: demographically, the numbers were now against him; most who once thought like him had long been replaced by new generations and new peoples, who could not, and would not, be roused to righteous anger by the issues that mattered to him. But the world he lived in had not materialised in an instant: it had been the result of a long and gradual process, spanning many decades, during which the opportunities had been available to him to do something to frustrate the type of transformation being inflicted upon the peoples of the European continent. He had glimpsed the deeper import, and sensed the underlying thrust, of each small capitulation that had been required of him and his fellow citizens, and yet he had been satisfied with merely snarling at home and adapting silently, resorting always to a strategy of absquatulation, obscurity, obfuscation, and avoidance, and never to one of active confrontation. Each demand for a concession–a new law criminalising certain opinions, the prohibition of a word, the lowering of a tax threshold–had been an opportunity he had consciously wasted, and a tacit assent he had given to the villains and idealists and so-called world-improvers to whom he had, by default, given carte blanche to destroy the world. In short, his obdurate passivity made him a criminal worse than his cellmates, because the magnitude of his crime was far greater. The differential between his potential and his achievement, between the rarity of his gifts and the pedestrian nature of their exercise, was immense; a myopic and miserly Promethean, he had silently accepted, and lived by, the rules of his inferiors. He lived in the world that he deserved. That is how he, a serious person and respectable citizen, with two PhDs and a serious consultancy firm, had ended up sleeping rough among criminals, in an overcrowded holding cell, inside a corrupt police station, with his gifted head resting on a brown moccasin shoe.

While lost in these lucubrations, he felt a boulder roll onto his head. It was round and approximately four kilogrammes in weight; it also had a prickly surface.

A Black man had rolled over and began using his head as a pillow.


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