Wednesday, August 10, 2016
British Navy, early 1800s
Despite the thin veneer of anonymity I have here, there are some situations at my library that are too pointed, too explosive to discuss with a naked directness. With changed names and a bit of dodging I can call out an occasional co-worker or misguided policy, and I can speak to a structural problem here or there, but when the shit hits the fan I am in a delicate position.
Fortunately I am surrounded by literature. And stories talk. So let us talk through a story today.
Here I am in the British Navy in the early 1800s.
The Captain, an amiable drunkard, can be relied upon for a certain range of ship tending, and is a decent enough fellow in his way, but he scrupulously leaves much of the running of the ship to his First Lieutenant, and he will not be bothered with these things.
The First Lieutenant, though, is slowly going mad.
He pops up out of nowhere to criticize randomly and by implication. He tells people who are working to get to work. He lurks like a spider in all areas of the ship, disappearing for hours and then leaping out to put an end to any sound of laughter. There are so many things to be done, and laughter is not one of them.
There is too much to be done!
The other officers haven't a clue and are not put out by this incipient madness. It barely affects them. But below decks there are ever the murmurs among the afflicted. And yet there are never as many murmurs as the First Lieutenant seems to hear. And the word that hasn't even occurred to the below decks crew is the the word that ever whispers in the First Lieutenant's ears: Mutiny.
He fears being taken advantage of. He fears the work not getting done. Why? Because everything reflects upon him, and he dreads and fears the judgement of a murky array of people who are paying no attention. Was a splash of blood from the last battle not fully scrubbed out? The First Lieutenant is terrified it might be so. So he cajoles. He rushes onto the deck every few minutes to cry out "There is much work to be done!" He tells everyone to do exactly what they're assigned to do, then he randomly shoves tools and scrub brushes into the hands of people who are supposed to be elsewhere. Overwrought with delusions of responsibility and feeling a desperate inability to get the crew to work as hard as they should he suddenly decides to do it himself. He throws himself into the scrubbing in a fury. "This is how it's done!" His mind cries out. But the whispering, the whispering, my god with the whispering. He cannot concentrate. He resolves to abandon himself into this work- ah the respite of work- but even a minute of trying to ignore the whispering is already too much for him. He must leave the scrubbing undone to put an end to the whispering.
Did he hear laughter? There is work to be done, so much work to be done! Why are those two people talking together. Why are they smiling? Break it up, break it up. Underneath it all he knows what they're really doing; they're taking advantage, slacking, being insubordinate, talking about him, whispering. Yes, they are whispering. They are whispering "Mutiny".
The work, the well-run ship ever recedes in importance. It is merely the excuse now for the Lieutenant to drive things on, to stop the voices, to stay in control. The ends don't matter. It is only the means. Everyone must look busy. Everyone must be where they're supposed to be! And no more whispering. Yes, there is only one thing left now, to stop the whispering. Mutiny! Mutiny! My god, before it's too late! He must stop the whispering...