Friday, July 31, 2015

The Knock on the Door

by Jean Roberta

It could happen to almost anyone, and it has. If you know something that the establishment wants buried, or you’ve broken a tradition by belonging to the "wrong" demographic, or you’ve signed a petition, they could come to take you away. “They” could be police or members of the military in uniform, or they could be “health” workers in white coats, or they could be thugs waiting in the shadows on a dark street.

“You won’t see it coming,” says my spouse, a survivor of the military takeover of Chile on September 11, 1973. The government had been elected by a popular vote, and much of the population was highly educated. The arts were revered, and leftist thought was part of the culture. The nation, somewhat like a Spanish-speaking (or more Spanish-speaking) version of California, had never been a Banana Republic like the small countries of Central America.

Augusto Pinochet, a member of the military, didn’t seem likely to replace the elected President and run the country as a dictator. Until he did.

Germany was a fairly enlightened place between approximately 1750 and 1930. Liberal-humanism and the romantic movement in literature were well underway there before they reached England. Antisemitism was a kind of stubborn medieval Christian prejudice that lingered on in most European countries, but no one seemed to suspect that Germany in the twentieth century would become notorious as the birthplace of the systematic massacre that came to be known as the Holocaust.

Muslims and Hindus were spread throughout India before 1947, and the chaos that came to be called Partition. Some Indian writers even wrote philosophical works showing that Hinduism and Islam were very compatible. Then the nation gained its independence from Britain, and the bigots ruled. Overnight, families who had lived in India for generations were told to go “home” to Pakistan (East or West) because they were Muslim, and therefore not truly Indian. Hindus in Muslim territory were treated the same way. One unfortunate man who still lived in India during Partition was told that as a Muslim, he was no longer an Indian citizen, so he was sent to Pakistan. The Pakistani government claimed he was Indian, and they deported him back. He was fined and imprisoned for being in the “wrong” place as both governments deported him back and forth for years.

Most of the millions of people (mostly women) who were convicted of “witchcraft” probably weren’t guilty of anything. At worst, they might have used some herbal cures for common ailments instead of relying on prayer alone. They probably didn’t foresee the Inquisition, even after the Pope issued a Papal Bull (in Latin, of course) on “un-Christian” behaviour in the 1480s.

I fear political and social cataclysms even more than I fear natural disasters. As a child in the U.S. during the Red Scare of the 1950s, I learned how whole populations can be made paranoid, afraid of something that isn’t real, or that they don’t understand. None of my classmates seemed to know what “Communism” was except that it was the boogeyman, and it was threatening our “free country.” Academics like my parents were suspected of being Communists because they read too many books, and spread ideas like viruses.

My spouse warns me not to sign on-line petitions, including several current ones about the American dentist who killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. The petitions call for him to be charged with a crime, and/or for the laws about this kind of thing to be tightened. This seems logical to me. Would the Canadian government hunt me for opposing big-game hunters who kill endangered species for sport? It’s possible.

Under the current right-wing government of Canada, a recent bill was passed into law making it possible to revoke the Canadian citizenship and deport anyone who was born outside of Canada and who engages in “terrorism,” widely defined. Word on the street is that this law is aimed at environmentalists, who throw monkey wrenches in the big machinery of corporations with big plans to accelerate the selling of natural resources. I haven’t been highly visible in protests and demonstrations (including the current “Shell No”’ campaign to prevent Shell Oil from drilling in the Arctic Sea and further polluting the world’s oceans). If anything, I haven’t been active enough when the fate of the planet is at stake.

But I know from experience that I don’t even have to actively oppose the current establishment to be labelled a problem.

In my nightmares, a SWAT team in riot gear breaks down the door of my house to haul me out of bed and take me away. If I ask what I’m charged with, the enforcers of the law seem outraged that I think I have the right to ask questions. As representatives of the government in power, they can do anything to me – even make me “disappear.” Realistically, who could stop them?

I may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.


  1. I have similar fears. I don't post anything publicly that could be considered controversial. Then I berate myself for being a coward, not standing up for my beliefs. I console myself with the knowledge that I can't help anyone else if I don't survive.

    Actually, it's easy for me to imagine writing an erotic story about a world in which the public or private dissemination of any sort of erotic fiction could invoke that dreaded knock. Over at the Excessica authors list, there's a discussion going on about how Wikipedia is anti-sex and anti-erotica. We could easily become the new "Communists".

  2. A chilling post, Jean. Reminds me of Charles Mingus' "Don't Let it Happen Here"

  3. Thanks for commenting, Lisabet and Daddy X. Lisabet, I feel the same dilemma: on one hand, I often feel as if I should be doing more to protest the persecution of various people and the destruction of the environment, especially since I'm in a position of privilege (the university where I teach is incredibly accepting of my writing), but then I worry about what could happen. Of course, my spouse Mirtha worries more, since the reason she came to Canada as a refugee in the 1970s is because she was a fearless political protester in her youth -- and see where that got her. I know that she doesn't really approve of my erotic writing because it could bring me to the attention of right-wing authorities -- and I can't say her fear is unreasonable.

  4. I learned to be more circumspect when, of all things, the bumper sticker I had on my "mommy-mobile minivan", got someone incensed enough to leave a hand-written letter to me on a sheet of notebook paper. The bumper sticker was the one about how it would be grand if our schools had all the money they needed to educate our kids, and the air force had to hold a bake sale to buy a new bomber. I thought it was non-controversial.

    The letter was put on my windshield, under my wiper. It said something along the lines of, "If people like you ran things, we'd all be speaking German, because we wouldn't go to war to defend freedom." It insulted me and my family, and made vague threats against us.
    Scared the shit out of me! I had returned to my mom-mobile with my 4 young kids and a cart full of bagged groceries, and was shocked to find that note. I buckled all 4 kids into their car-seats and quickly put the bags into the back, looking around with fear, hoping that whoever it was wasn't still there, watching me, wanting to harm my children or me. Or follow us home.

    Now my bumper stickers are snarky, but not political. The closest to politics I come is the one that says, "If you don't vote, don't whine," but that's because I'm a volunteer registrar to register new voters. All of my kids are adults now, but I still remember the fear.

    And considering how loud and opinionated I actually am, I have to force myself not to be too snarky. I especially like the one about, "Come the Rapture, can I have your car?" In my very Christian town, that would probably get my car keyed.

    1. I love you, Fiona.

      Why don't you move to western Massachusetts? (where Sacchi lives and I used to live) You'd fit in better!

  5. I've been pondering this for a while now. Maybe I'm foolishly affected by living in Massachusetts, certainly among the most liberal states in the country, but I don't hesitate to sign petitions that interest me, or to contribute to causes that might be controversial. And I don't worry about my writing getting me in trouble. Maybe it's also being old enough that I don't think political reverses more than a couple of decades down the road will have any effect on me, personally. I actually feel guilty at not doing more along the lines of activism. A negative future seems more likely if we don't struggle for a positive one.

    This past weekend I went to a mini-reunion at my college with friends I'd know in my cooperative dormitory. Most of them have done far better things than I have in the past 50 years or so--Peace Corps, managing editor of The Nation, working with Planned Parenthood, while I was making my living in pedestrian retail (pedestrian but pushing the envelope of transgression.) When I described my minor activism in the early seventies, and then my writing, I realized that there has been at least a thread of the transgressive through my life, and made them laugh when I said that these days transgression is a moving target. I can't deny that the target may regress some day instead of moving on, that the "glimpse of stocking" that was "shocking" in "olden days" may once again be shocking, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. (Anyway, can't we all make glimpses of stocking just as erotic as naked skin if we put our creative minds to it?)

    1. Why are you judging yourself, Sacchi? With the books you've edited, you are a force for change. And your store was, indeed, pushing the envelope (though in the Pioneer Valley, the envelope is far less constraining that some places).

      I was thinking recently how remarkable it was that I'd turned out to be something of a societal outlaw, given how worried and fearful I was as a child, how concerned about pleasing authority. I'm really not sure how I managed it. But I'm pleased -- despite the risk of that knock.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Fiona and Sacchi! Re a threatening note, it's hard to know whether the person who wrote it is part of a small lunatic fringe, or if there are hordes of them in the bushes, waiting to pounce. It's also hard to know the tipping point when, say, a Christian belief that Jews are opposed to Christ's plan for human redemption suddenly becomes a set of exclusionary laws, and whole communities are hauled away to be locked up somewhere for no logical reason -- but anyone who complains openly risks the same fate. Sacchi, I feel the same way about the future -- realistically, I probably have 30 years left at most (maybe 35), so vast changes wouldn't affect me personally. But then I remember my grandchildren. I take some comfort from the fact I've been writing erotica and engaging in some leftist activity for a long time now, and I haven't been disappeared yet.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.