Monday, October 19, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 13, Part 2

"We cannot kill you, you see. I have had a most difficult time convincing Gurloes of that, yet it is so. If we slay you without judicial order, we are no better than you: you have been false to us, but we will have been false to the law. Furthermore, we would be putting the guild in jeopardy forever - an Inquisitor would call it murder."

He waited for me to comment, and I said, "But for what I have done..."

"The sentence would be just. Yes. Still, we have no right in law to take life on our own authority. Those who have that right are properly jealous of it. If we were to go to them, the verdict would be sure. But were we to go, the repute of the guild would be publicly and irrevocably stained. Much of the trust now reposed in us would be gone, and permanently. We might confidently expect our affairs to be supervised by others in the future.

This sounds like a concern of any self-governing body, which is scary, because this is describing a cover-up. So this means that any organization whose powers overlap with any other (and that's most of them) has a strong incentive to cover up wrongdoing. To give a relatively current example, when prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to light, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld formally apologized, but he also said this at a Senate committee hearing:

But I wish I knew how you reach down into a criminal investigation when it is not just a criminal investigation, but it turns out to be something that is radioactive, something that has strategic impact in the world. And we don't have those procedures. They've never been designed.

We're functioning in a -- with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a wartime situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.

This seems like he is lamenting the fact that there are "legal requirements in a wartime situation" (e.g. the Geneva Convention). And it seems like he really wanted a way to deal with the matter completely internally. I just worry that the easiest way to deal with something that no one else knows about is to ignore it. It makes me glad that we live in the information age. That way, at least there will be the possibility to try to make our laws self-consistent.

Yet again Severian's infallible memory becomes suspect: "I saw the red light of the sun again, and breathed that wet wind that tells in winter that spring is almost come.... The first brass-backed fly of the new summer buzzed against the port." So, is it winter, spring, or summer? Is "new summer" a figure of speech, or is Severian seriously mixed up about something as simple as what time of year he betrayed his guild? Another indication that maybe his memory is not as good as he says:

"Severian!" Master Palaemon exclaimed. "You are not listening to me. You were never an inattentive pupil in our classes."
"I'm sorry. I was thinking about a great many things."
"No doubt." For the first time he really smiled, and for an instant looked his old self, the Master Palaemon of my boyhood. "Yet I was giving you such good advice for your journey. Now you must do without it, but doubtless you would have forgotten everything anyway.

So Master Palaemon thinks Severian is attentive and yet forgetful? Hmm...

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