Gil Lawson

Violently Lite


ISSUE 32 | SMALL WARS | SEP 2013

They had a very long and complicated history.

Border activity increased. A issued a public statement to the effect that, “For the time being, any immigrant from B will need to display, in addition to a valid passport from his/her home country and a valid visa as issued by an embassy or consulate, a letter of recommendation from an individual employed in a non-administrative capacity by the Civil Body of A.”

In the flat scrubland that comprised the northeastern province of A and the northwestern province of B, a 2006 Kia Sedona approached the outpost, dodging potholes. From inside the outpost, a guard watched it approach for upwards of twenty minutes. He would watch it, turn to his desk, straighten his forms, make certain his pens were point-down in the container, watch it, turn to his desk, make sure the drawers were closed, wipe the counter with his sleeve, watch it. The Kia deposited a woman and withdrew. She took a moment to collect herself, and then approached the outpost.

She had both a current passport and a visa, but did not have a letter of recommendation. There simply wasn’t time, the mandate was brand-new, she didn’t know anyone in A, with the exception of her son, whom she had to see, there wasn’t any time to delay, nor tarry, she had to see him, and there was no apparent way for her to obtain a letter of recommendation, she didn’t know anyone in A, and she did have a current passport and visa, and she didn’t know anything about any ‘increased border activity’, she’d read the news, of course, but nothing that involved her. She and her sister had decided that the best possible way to circumvent the new mandate was to come to this particular border crossing, far out in the scrubland, too far out to walk to or from the nearest towns, this border crossing despite the fact that there were three that were more conveniently located relative to her hometown in B, to have her sister (in the 2006 Kia Sedona) drop her off and then withdraw, the withdrawal firstly to communicate that there was clearly no reason why she, the woman, shouldn’t be able to get through, and, secondly, to make the guard feel somewhat obligated to let her through, for if he denied her, where would she go, how would she get anywhere, and so on, the guard surely not being so heartless as to make her walk back through the scrubland, the distance between the border outpost and the nearest town, which was a very great distance away, especially in this heat.

For the entire duration of the car ride from her hometown to the border crossing the woman had been trying to decide what strategies would be most likely to produce success or something like it once she was alone in the outpost with the guard, whether it would be better to come clean and beg for mercy, to assume total ignorance regarding the new mandate, to reach into her bag as though to draw out a letter of recommendation once prompted and then to act concerned and incredulous about the fact that she could not find a letter of recommendation in her bag, but none of those suited her, she was not a liar, and she could not put such an important matter in the hands of a stranger’s mercy, so she was left to devise some middle path, which would neither be explicitly misleading/immoral nor let the guard understand what was going on, at least not to the extent that he might become aware that he was making a choice between doing his job and performing a self-endangering act of mercy.

She entered the outpost and approached the desk. The guard hoped she noticed how tidy it was. He requested her passport, she produced it, he took it from her and inspected it, he requested her visa, she produced it, he took it from her and inspected it, she recognized that that was the moment before the moment in which he was going to ask her for the letter of recommendation, and thereafter anything she did that was not turning the letter over would be suspect, she began talking. She could not sound as though she were telling a sob story; she could not sound as though she were talking about the letter or the absence; she could not sound as though she were giving a reason for why she should be allowed through, as though there were reasons why she shouldn’t. Pique interest without raising alarm.

She talked about how the 2006 Kia Sedona that had taken her here had been sagging a bit, which had grown worse as it had passed over more potholes, so she had been afraid that she would be late, especially if the sagging turned out to be a flat tire or something structural that was more systemic than she and her driver could easily fix if left to their own devices on the side of a road in the scrubland, talked about how the road was in terrible condition and couldn’t something be done, about how, was he quite finished with her passport, if so she’d like to put it somewhere safe, she understood that there were pickpockets, how, no offense intended, really, but didn’t he think that A was a dreadful country, really, with all these regulations, even as a citizen, as a responsible citizen, he had to admit. She realized she was about to say something that might indicate the urgency with which she had to enter the country and stopped talking very quickly, lest she show her hand. He continued looking at her, not really following, late for what, what road, couldn’t she be more specific, what was she trying to tell him, he wanted to know what she was talking about but didn’t know where to begin to ask to begin to make any headway on her story, she seemed to be alluding to a number of blanketed nouns, he was reminded of a nightmare he frequently had about a museum where his friends were disappearing into closets that he could not find. She was looking at him, saw the incomprehension in his face, knew what was coming next, knew that he would ask and that she would be forced to choose from remaining silent or admitting the truth or beginning to explicitly lie, quailed at the thought of being turned away or even detained. Her face torqued, startling him, he recoiled, she bolted for the door into A, broke a pane of glass opening it violently and was out. The man rushed to the door, saw her sprinting, already 34 meters gone, felt a welling-up of apathy or resignation before it occurred to him that there was a real, existent relationship between her receding form and his continued employment, drew his handgun and put a bullet through the back of her right knee at 48 meters.

There were rallies at the facility in B to which the woman had been medevaced, as well as protests at a number of border-crossing checkpoints. The guard was put on paid investigation while A’s federal government mounted an investigation into whether he had done poorly or, on the contrary, had not done poorly. In a room, two men observed the footage. An esteemed senator within B’s legislative branch gave a speech which was ‘tonally problematic’. This speech became the first aspect of the episode to attract international attention; specifically, a video clip of the representative saying, in response to an unincluded question, “Well, we remember how recently the fine inhabitants of A were our brothers and countrymen, even if they seem to have forgotten,” and then snickering along with the wave of laughter that followed the statement, the mics picking up the wave of laughter as a distant roar but the snicker as a discrete, sharp little thing, received a lot of air-time, and was considered to be generally representative of the ‘state of affairs’ in that part of the world. Overnight, someone sent a rock through the window of a border station 108 klicks south of the border station at which the woman had been shot, startling a janitor. Two men observed the footage. The next day, the government of A sent out a press release stating, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, it has become necessary that we, for the time being, temporarily close our eastern border until such a time as the political climate has changed. We apologize to those citizens of A to whom this presents a difficulty, and recommend you consult with your local embassy concerning reimmigration.” The government of B announced that they would not be allowing citizens of A into the country, full stop. The government of A began airing advertisements on the TV and on the radio, and sending emails to its citizens, advising them to, “Be careful, remain calm, and do not provoke any acts of violence from those individuals who might possibly seek to do you harm.”

A day passed. Over a thousand people all over the world, during respective pause in respective conversations, leaned into the group and said, “Look, you mark my words, it’s gonna go off. I don’t know in which city, or who’s going to start it, but, you mark my words, in the next twelve hours, it’s gonna go off.” They then shook their heads sadly, burdened by their own wisdom.

The next day, the mood in a great many rooms was extremely ‘tense’. People with a poor grasp on empathy felt disappointed, and even feared that that was as far as things were going to go. At noon, the UNDP announced that it was going to be implementing preventive measures in the major urban areas of each nation, as well as along the border, through the deployment of blue helmets in those areas and the assignation of Peace and Development Officers to state and federal governments in the affected nations. In response, high-ranking individuals from each country remained within their homes and offices.

The blue helmets arrived the next day, as did media representatives from both foreign and international entities. Their respective presences produced a near-immediate ‘irreconciliable shatter’: The intimidating (albeit unarmed) presence of the peacekeepers made the residents of the affected areas of A and B feel as though they were ‘venturing out’ anytime they left their houses, and were ‘laying low’ anytime they remained within their houses. The intrusive presence of the media representatives produced an intrapsychic signal cacophony as those individuals who, ‘venturing out’, were pinned down for an interview or recorded in the course of attempting to maintain their daily schedules, began to feel at once like both protagonists and voyeurs, witnesses to and critics of the goings-on around themselves, themselves the goings-on around themselves, ‘self-statisticizing’, representatives of a population demographic and the individual around whom all this business constellated, as the interviewers were asking questions about, “Have you noticed any tension in the days leading up to this event,” and, “How have you personally been impacted,” and although the interviews themselves rarely lasted more than two minutes, the resulting personality conflict persisted much longer, not ebbing away after the precipitating event but somehow spinning itself to greater and greater excesses of energy and frustration within the closed system of itself, the movement from, “This is all going on around me,” to “This is all going on to me,” and back again at first a mild, almost academic traversal of the empty space between two attractive concepts, a clean switch between the Hero and the Martyr, but in the hours that followed the movement between the two becoming sloppier, the terms blending into one another and becoming indistinct even as they continued to refuse to be reconciled with one another, the fact of sharing ‘unique, personal, extraordinary’ things with the interviewers but that very interaction being prompted not by the interviewee being special or noteworthy, on the contrary, being selected as the subject of an interview precisely for being unspectacular, ‘representative of the local community’, that is, a one-man or -woman barometer for ‘what did the locals think of all of this’, the visible frustration and concern tainting the other members of each plagued individual’s household, family, social circle, etc., especially in the close quarters of ‘laying low’, and in this way a crisis of relation began to spread from two zero points and one zero line: the capital of A and the capital of B, which shared a latitude, and the innocuously geometric longitudinal border that separated the two countries, without those areas affected earlier making any progress on the problem over those areas that were newly infected, all parties involved very rapidly approaching an asymptote of distress after initial exposure to the problem.

That is replicating itself out of sight, and is not available for general public consumption. That which is available for general public consumption: the initial prompting force (viz. the interview yielding distress—about which no more need be said, as those interviews are all ‘of a type’, the interviewers themselves are professionals and have this stuff down to an established mechanical system, multiple instances of such are available on a number of media each day) and a lot of speculation on the personal activities and emotional states of those in power, of whom very little has been seen since the preventive measures were announced.

The chief personality of A is sitting in an old chair in a nearly-empty room alone, her advisers having been sent out and told not to reenter without knocking, but that they should immediately knock should any privileged news make itself known. She had ordered her advisers out as a preventive measure against her ‘biases of attention’ becoming publicly known, for she is watching news streams on her internet-capable television, interpreting through the interviews with citizens of her country the prevailing mood of the general populace, interpreting the same for B through the interviews with citizens of B, and attempting to discern the activities of the chief personality of B through the speculation, feeling outrage at the terms being thrown around by know-nothings in regard to herself, becoming physically agitated at the theories that she has ‘fled’, or is ‘cowed into passivity by fear’, or is ‘maintaining radio silence until such a time as she has determined that path forward which will be politically optimal for she and her party’. She switched between streams every ten seconds, about. As a subscriber, she was entitled to skip the ad breaks. Without any especial effort on her part—call it a sensibility honed by years of practice—she has developed a mode of information synthesis that is based upon a periodic ‘collapse, analyze, and purge’ routine. Every twenty seconds or so, she executes the macro. It is far beyond unconscious. This system allows her to receive an enormous amount of information without devoting time to ‘rumination or reflection’; the only downsides are that, firstly, she spends about a half a second every twenty seconds in ‘full reboot’, during which she is difficult to get through to, and secondly, certain subtleties can be lost.

The way in which that talent is realized in this particular instance: By taking the material being broadcast on these streams that pertains to what she herself is up to, conjecturing as to her thoughts, her policies, her motives, and ‘collapsing’ it into truths and untruths, ‘analyzing’ the similarities and disparities between the what is said and what is actually true, and ‘purging’ the exhausted material, she is left with a framework, a filter. She can then apply this filter to what is being said about the chief personality of B, what is being said about the increased border activity, what is being said about the blue helmets, and so on, which is not a foolproof method of uncovering the truth but does at least allow the true texture of things to come forward. The more time spent on image consumption, the more precise the framework becomes. The less crude the process. The less complexity lost. Over time, the process tends toward greater accuracy, as the framework can always be doctored . . . she remained within the room, shuttering on and off, unobserved.

The chief personality of B was in the tub, having a leisurely soak. He was not neglecting his responsibilities as chief personality; on the contrary, the leisurely soak had been pencilled in by an assistant hours before, in preparation for his eventual public appearance, whenever that might be. Health or the appearance thereof, solidly hale, a ‘ruddy disposition’, looking full to bursting with good, clean blood, a wicked gleam about the teeth, his mane suffused with verve and luster, looking profoundly anthropic, carefully deploying his ‘emboldened swagger’ which he did not haul out on all that many occasions, lest it become the sort of trait vulnerable to parody. The head representative of the body, at all times, in all things, a precise encapsulation of the constituency. The aim wasn’t simply to look unconcerned. The aim was to look as though current events, the relative browbeating that B had suffered, had, far from haranguing the chief personality, actually given him strength, replenished some of his lost years, as though he fed off these sorts of things, was not only rising to the occasion but was actually becoming somehow activated as an individual. From this, any viewer would be forced to conclude that that same ‘thermal dynamic’ applied to the nation as to the elected official, that its recent embarrassments and the ongoing tribulation of being occupied by blue helmets was creating a sense of good faith and good cheer which reverberated through the people, an open invitation to both A and the UN to keep on as they had until then kept, all the better to accelerate B’s already-considerable ‘upward mobility’.

It was just a matter of getting our man at B healthy-looking enough, as it was a matter of getting our woman at A close enough, neither of them aware of the other’s plans, both of them aware that the other was planning, each beginning to suspect that they were performing an act of irrelevancy for an audience that already knew better. They were each well-qualified, living up to their offices; little gaps and lapses in the streams for A, the ministering hands of assistants for B, had already signaled to each that this couldn’t possibly come to a head. Nonetheless, they put on a brave face for those that needed it, and maintained S.O.P., very nearly sure that the rate of approach for all involved parties had begun to deteriorate, but staunchly refusing to let anyone else in on the joke, so to speak.

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