The Country/The Country

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43. 'I am questioning the idea of running a great country on a theory.'

“How can you do this?” Keel asked. “Don’t you even believe in Voting? In this contest you’ve worked so hard to win?”

He had made the approach himself this time, daring it. Waiting for a closed-meet to break up in a Lodge conference room and then joining the clique of insiders bundling in the hall. Pushing his way through a momentary gap in the bodies around the big man to beg a few minutes of his time.

“Let’s walk, Keel,” Pig replied. “I need some air.”

When he asked his question, just far away from the Lodge to be sure no one could overhear, Pig answered at once without breaking stride.

“It’s a sham.”

“What is? The campaign?”

Pig glared briefly. “The rule of the people.”

The two walked a few paces in silence, before Pig added, “To ask ‘the people’ in their multitude to make a decision. As if arithmetic were wisdom.”

Keel waited to hear more.

“Look, Keel, nobody knows who ‘the people’ really want for their leader. Who are the people? Just a tally-board of guyz and galz who sit around watching the screen and take an occasional glance at the headlines. What do you think the Sacred Commission exists? What do you think those people do?”

He made no reply, walking fast to keep with the other’s longer stride.

“Do you think they go to each man and woman’s home and sound them out on their views of the issues, their political preferences, their ‘hopes and dreams’? And then educate all these potential voters about the character and the capabilities of the candidates? Analyze the positions and de-claw the rhetoric of each choice for leader? Giving Mister and Mz, every little master and lady, time to think this stuff over, gather their thoughts, read the materials prepared by the Commission, written by experts -- scrupulously even-handed and fair, of course ” -- Pig interrupted himself to indulge in a belly laugh -- “and then come back and pay a second visit to allow madam and master to think their thoughts aloud, bounce them off a sounding board, hear how they sound when spoken aloud to another human being with a mind of his own... and then leave them alone to come to their private, sacred -- rational decision -- over which key to press in a Voting box?”

Pig halted to stare at his companion.

“A decision based on what?”

Keel standing, still waiting.

“What their parents taught them to believe? An influential teacher in their adolescence? A conversion experience? The influence of a wife, or a husband, or a lover who bears a stronger temperament, or more absolute cast of mind... Or a book they read a few years ago, the only one in the last decade or so. Or an old Helistic story about Gode coming down from the heavens and interfering with a crisis to teach reconciliation? Justice tempered with mercy?... Or the screening of a film -- the fight scene? the love scene? the death scene?... Or based on the dinner the wife cooked for the guy the night before? Or neglected to cook? Or the quarrel he picked with her? Or with his boss? Or his brother or sister over a piece of property owned by old blubbering, on-her-last-legs Grandmama?”

“So.” He paused. Glared at Keel. “So you add all these matters up, all these contingencies and accidents and -- you tell me, Keel -- do you really think you get a better decision from all these accumulated irrational notions, accidental encounters, and personal likes and dislikes piled up together than you would get from one man -- one man, but that one the best man... who has studied the matters of state all his life? Look at yourself, Keel.”

Pig looked at him. Keel looked back.

“You were an educator. You have books in your house.”

Keel nodded.

“Do you think your own tempered judgment is no better -- worth no more? -- than that of the man or woman who knows nothing of matters of state? And never has tried to gain such knowledge? And never will?”

After allowing a little more time-space -- a bird flew overhead, a light breeze ruffled a new leaf -- to separate Pig;s impassioned rhetoric from whatever would come next, Keel resplied, “So you are questioning the basis of popular Voting? The theory of one vote for each citizen? The equality of rights in the Commonhope of UZ?”

“I am questioning the idea behind the whole system of rule. The idea of running a great country on a theory. A theory of the way we wish things would be...”

Pig looked away. As if struggling to contain the energy released by the passion behind his ideas.

“People are not equal. Any fool can see that... If the roof is caving in, even a fool wants a strong man to hold it up.”

“Is the roof caving in?”

Keel did not ask, “Are you that strong man?”

“It will fall. Eventually. All dwellings collapse eventually. All states. Empires. The most powerful country in the world declines when it’s time is over. The great trees grow for a thousand years, more than that for some, but eventually they all weaken and fall.”

And if you’re volunteering to put an ax to it? He did not say this.

“You don’t disagree with me, Keel. You can’t.”

“Not if I accept your premise.”

“Which is?” Eyebrows raised. Genuinely curious.

That strength, he thought, is the single essential virtue. Of mind? Of body as well?

But he shrugged off the direct question and said instead, “Even the strongest finger will break. But close it into a fist and it holds with the others.”

“That’s no answer. It’s a figure of speech.”

They looked at each other.

“You wish to destroy the Commission?”

“You come with me, Keel.” Pig’s voice softened. “You see what we can do. It’s not only destruction.”

Was this a sincere appeal?

Did he truly have a choice? Keel would go, perforce, wherever Pig wished him to go. But this manner of speaking -- something new: the ‘personal’ touch, the slight twitch in the features -- seemed more like wish than command.

The Leading Candidate turned and walked back. Not waiting for an answer.

The nooz-sheets had their headlines: “Pig to March to Capital! Future of Country in Doubt!”

The Sacred Commission, Keel knew, was not exactly in ‘the Capital.’ The Capital city’s real name was Moder City, because in the Founding days it was it was seen to be the ‘mother’ of the nation.

Alone in his room at the Lodge, Keel recalled the teaching of his second-school textbook, almost word for word.

In the beginning was Moder City, from which all the countries of the high world have descended. Various archons with their warrior bands seized authority over their own clans or tribes or tribal groups. Their descendants were born to rule and control others, legitimized by birth alone. ‘Reign’ was the product of ‘regus,’ royal birth. That was the way all the countries of the world arranged matters, that was how they thought human society should be ruled, until the people of one country -- this one; Keel’s -- challenged the rules. Its people disposed the ruler by force of arms, replaced him by a Council of Elders, who drew up the principles of the new legitimacy.

The Council proclaimed that all citizens of UZ were equal in the eyes of their country. Each citizen deserved a voice in choosing the country’s leader; as well as in the selection of whatever other officials and popular representatives were required to govern the country’s districts and municiples.

As is always the way in human affairs, a more complicated history then ensued. Having established this basic principle of government, the council slipped back into shadows and permitted the country’s districts to develop their laws and governing structures. When differing policies, driven by regional self-interest, threatened to result in open conflict among the districts, cooler heads re-established a council, now called the Council of the Wise, to draw up a central governing structure for the whole country, to which all the districts would give recognition.

This generation of leaders proved so capable and were so well-esteemed by those who came after -- and their work proved so enduringly central to the life of the country -- that the body of overseers created to sustain the work soon became known as the “sacred” commission.

And while it devised the rules for choosing who would govern UZ, this body also withdrew into the shadows. Its members sought no recognition for the office they performed. They took no direct part in the governing of their country, aside from declaring the triumph of the newly Voted ruler and reviewing decisions of the country’s ordinary courts that appeared to hold significant consequences for the country’s ability to govern itself. Otherwise, they neither sought nor accepted public office, or compensation of any sort. They hid in plain sight, and when the time came for new Voting Days, they communicated their rules and decisions through third parties and various spakesmen. Sometimes a name or two slipped out, and these commissioners’ identity became known to those who cared to know such things. But mystery, as the body’s members realized, was itself a source of power.

When they met to discuss important matters, as once again they felt called upon to do because of the grave questions, and possible dangers, posed to the country by the irregularities of the Pegasso campaign, they did so in the quiet of the small, little-visited setting of a rural hamlet some ways from the Capital called Campos Carolanus.

Chairman Beck Norman saw the headlines as well.

They were embarked on unchartered waters, the Chairman thought. ‘We should all recognize this,’ he said to himself, preparing his little speech for the assembled body. In three centuries no one had challenged the authority of the Sacred Commission like this. Was there anyone who did not understand that ‘challenge’ was exactly what this man Pegasso’s boldly declared descent on the Capital represented?

Who was this man? the Chairman asked himself. Apparently some sort of Financier or money-monger.

His own job, the chairman believed, was to pay minute attention to the wishes and needs of the voters of his country, not to the biographies, and certainly not to the ‘programs,’ some of them highly absurd, of the various candidates for Chief Xec. It was rather easy to become a candidate. One needed only a certain number of signatures in a certain number of districts. But it was hard to remain one. As the results from the first Voting Days came in, the Commission judiciously weeded through the responses. Did this man or woman deserve another shot in the next district? If this other fellow did not break five percent of the vote next time, he was surely a candidate for excision.

The Chairman listened hard to the voting citizenry, listening always for the emerging consensus breaking through the shell of its birth caul in the nest of the Commonhope Eagle -- that great image of powerful ascent. They were not eagles, these ordinary human flesh and blood commissioners, but their eyes and ears and nervous systems were attuned, he believed, perhaps even guided, by their oath-bound devotion to serve as the fore-brain of the nation. They listened hard to whispers that, perhaps, only senses as finely tuned as theirs could hear.

“Don’t you agree?” the Chairman asked of the audience of one to whom he had treated an early version of what was not so much a ‘speech’ as a kind of intimate mind-merge.

He could not share his thoughts to all of his colleagues like this, but he believed he could ‘open his mind,’ as the saying went, to Bedo Marek.

Marek murmured a sigh of agreement.

“You are speaking to me, chairman,” he spoke after a silence, “because you are about to ask something of me.”

The two men nodded to one another: the custom of counselors in this business of destiny-nudging to show that the little consensus of two voices, one tongue, had been reached.

“And you know what it is.”

Marek nodded again. He was a slight, quick, finely tuned presence. Ageless in appearance, silvering at the tips of facial hairs, gray-eyed. Soft-voiced, but tensile strong.

“You think we need a new Caretaker.”

“I’m sure of it.”

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