Somewhere in my folder of unfinished short stories is a short fragment, which is the very beginning of a sort of …. Confession, I suppose, by a torturer for some unspecified regime. The fragment is years old and I’ve never really returned to it – maybe out of some sort of fear. Fear that I might – as you do when writing stories – find some part of yourself in it that you don’t really like, or fear that I couldn’t get it right, or just fear of the subject matter.
Anyway, I wanted to show – and this also made me nervous of returning to the story in case I couldn’t get this tone right – that this torturer did what he did out of love, not of hate. That he did what he did out of love for his country, out of love for his leader, his party and – even – out of a sort of love for those he tortured.
He saw those he tortured as a kind of errant children, people who he had to attempt to return to the fold. Unfortunately, he felt that he had to be a very strict parent, but it seemed the only way to make them understand the error of their ways and how they had upset everyone in the state apparatus through their mistaken lives, views and acts. These errant children of the state had to be made to understand – the torturer believed – that the state only wanted the best for them.
It was to be an exploration of the ‘love’ the authoritarian has for those under their control.
I was reminded of this putative story of mine, when I read this at the excellent Heresy Corner a while ago, which – in turn – also reminded me of something Blair said around the time of the F1/Ecclestone affair, summed up by his “I am a pretty straight sort of guy” attitude. Blair seemed genuinely incredulous that anyone could ever accuse him of doing wrong because he was “one of the good guys”. There has been – at least since the days of Thatcher – this belief on the Left that they are the ‘good guys’, the
men people in the white hats battling selflessly against the evil Right, Tories, capitalists and other wrongdoers and ideological miscreants. This is why Labour folk such as Straw and Blunkett cannot see that the ‘good things’ that they do as ‘good people’ from the ‘good side’ of the ideological divide for the ‘good of the populace’ can be anything other than ‘good for the country and its people’.
They do these authoritarian things out of love for us, for our own good. These people mostly come from the post-60s ideological Left, where they were always the good guys, against Vietnam, Watergate, cruise missiles, Northern Ireland, Thatcher, Monetarism, yuppies and so on. The Left has always liked to believe it has right, morality on its side, that it is leading us all – no matter how unwilling and ungrateful – to some promised land.
However, as the physicist Steven Weinberg once said, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” As I said in another piece here there is a lot of overlap between religion and ideology. Just a glance at Fascism, Nazism, communism, even the French and other revolutions shows that nominally ‘good’ people can do evil in the name of ideology too.
So, even when they are out there – on the line – saving us from the naughty terrorists and other evil-doers, even saving us from ourselves by creating the perfect society where all of us will live long, healthy, fulfilled lives and all we can do is respond with small-minded nit-picking and carping.
Instead, all we have to do is trust them, see they are doing it all for our own good, and – in time – we will learn finally how to love Big Brother.