Chapter 1: Pigglies
“One of the things science fiction does... is to extrapolate imaginatively from current trends and events to a near-future that’s half prediction, half satire.” -- Ursula Le Guin
He dreamed he was Atlas, shifting the country in the direction he wanted it to go. He possessed no enormous, spectacular tools for the job, and he lacked an extra-terrestrial Archimedean place to stand.
Still, he pushed.
Keel called the others “Pigglies.”
You saw them on the screen all the time, you could hardly avoid it, lording themselves all over the landscape like conquerors. They lived in the same towns, often on the same streets as their opponents. He saw their signs in the windows of the houses, or planted on the lawns in his own neighborhood. Keel planted a stick in his front lawn supporting the printed slogan “Tax the Pigglies.”
The common word for the others was “pigs,” in satiric deference to their candidate.
Rumors began of incidents in the districts where the Voting Days were taking place. Trash thrown out of car windows. Graffiti scrawled on building walls. It was called ‘defacing.’ It was criminalized as ‘vandalism.’ But Keel knew it was really the release of bottled-up emotions. A cri de coeur. Those guilty of defacing bland, blank surfaces of their own cities and towns had reached an end of tolerance for the preening celebrants of Big Self-ism, the blunt calling card of the victors, the all-but-triumphed party in the recent parade of Voting Days that so divided the populace of Keel’s own medium-sized city of Monro in the broad middling district of Platow, and all the other districts in his sprawling, bipolar country.
What the graffiti scrawlers were signaling in their slashing spray-painted cries of rage was what many felt in their hearts:
“Kill Mr. Pig.”
No one had any doubt who the slogan referred to.
The person whose murder was being publicly, though anonymously, advocated (the advocating itself a criminal act) was Karol Pegasso, that bellicose, fulminating artist of himself. Everybody, except perhaps members of his own family and a few intimates, called him “Pig.”
The name seemed to fit.
The skin of the new favored candidate was very pale. Pink-tipped around the ears, the scalp (bits of which shone through his thinning hair), and on the tip of his nose, the skin surrounding his nostrils.
Keel did not take to killing, as a matter of principle. It was a bad habit for a people to form. He thought the solution to the problems, everybody’s problems, was to ‘build down.’ They had ‘built up’ too much in this country. He preferred the company of birds and butterflies to the golden temples of consumption erected for the wealthy. You could ‘look at’ such places, they were visitor attractions, you could acquire there, but you could not experience such places. There was nothing to experience there but a replication of self.
On the other hand, Keel could not step into a waste lot of tall weeds and broken glass without feeling the damaged life there that went on living there, hoping anxiously to heal itself.
The people, the country he was part of, needed to undergo a sea change -- what an odd, old metaphor! -- to reduce not only the endless round of consumption and exploitation of resources, but also to prevent what Keel preferred to call by older, more concrete words: rot, decay, flood, wildfire. He believed his country should un-pave every parking lot and let paradise find its own way back.
It was a time of crisis, Keel thought, possibly the last of such times. What others would denigrate, or perhaps applaud, as retreat or dissolution. He saw it as rebalance.
But what if this downward swing of the seesaw would not take place naturally? What if somebody -- or something -- large; an Atlas, a titan of the old gods -- had to sit down on the weaker side to restore the natural swing?
Who could do that? Were the zealots who snuck about at night autographing foundations and store windows, in black marker or spray paint, with their demands for rash, violent action aware of something, some higher order of “truth,” perhaps, that he was not?
Still, he did not like killing. It was the tool of degenerates. It had always played a major role in both the rise and decline of historical movements of dubious value. Keel believed, or hoped, that killing belonged to some lower stage of social development, and that his world, and his country, would survive without it.
Yet he could see the appeal of extinction. He could understand the wish to have “the pig,” in particular, made extinct. He could even experience the desire to extinguish him. He shared the impulse, the craving of the fanatics. He felt a thrill when the black-marker graffitied slogan appeared in his neighborhood, scrawled on the side of a city bus. Over a speed limit sign on a street corner. In the blank window of an empty storefront.
He had no idea who put it there. But as for sentiment, he was with them.