The State, I said, always has ways for that:
More taxation and higher conscription,
More useless, complex regulations,
And more controls imposed on flows of trade.
A people, so oppressed, would soon complain.
But the State must take care not to annoy
And go about its business low key.
This is ever the touch that masters seek
When time has come to make slaves behave.
How flick the lash so it only wounds,
So that it draws the blood but doesn't kill?
How does one get the proper mixture
Of grudged acquiescence and discontent?
Prophet that I am, I said, I see here
Certain similarities to prophecy.
A prophet? Nineveh needs one badly.
This Inquisition has grown too bold.
In order to get the townfolk to plot
They even thought to imitate the gods
And execute folk without just cause,
A few here and there, to stir things up.
One could always hang people at random,
Pick out every third passerby
And hold a swift trial inside the van
During the short drive to the gallows site.
This scheme might promote the desired unrest
And foment revolutionary zeal
Once people take note of missing friends,
And see shorter queues in supermarkets,
Reduced numbers aboard subway trains.
Others might think the plan had merit
And even pitch in to help things out,
Dispatch annoying colleagues on the sly,
When backs are turned and no one can watch.
However, this plan was too half-baked,
Even for that kind who like half-baked,
Who always order cakes done that way,
A gooey, amorphous, lukewarm mess
That looks as if squeezed from flu-struck ducks.
Committees were struck to add new thought
And others were struck to subtract thought out,
But none could agree if the plan made sense
Or, if it did, if sense were crucial here.
The major drawback to the idea,
All agreed, was the great effort involved,
Doing the snatches, the trials, the hangings.
It seemed to require quite a lot of work
To these mostly deskbound bureaucrats.
Worse, it might backfire, endanger jobs
Or even lives if zeal went too far,
If enraged mobs stormed government buildings
And killed the king, purged the civil service,
And sent agents off to bust their asses
In forced labour camps and collective farms.
The less dangerous course, the one taken,
Required little effort, a lot of money,
And best of all, unending paperwork:
Invent a plot, entice people to join,
Keep a watch and file frequent reports.
Entrapment works best, they soon discovered,
When baited with suitable cash inducements.
And King Quintus, they found, would always pay,
And Ninevites, if paid, would always plot.
The Ninevites learned that conspiracy
Was much like a marketing focus group.
Figure out what it was they wanted said,
Say it with conviction and collect the cheque.
Secret agencies built larger budgets
In each successive year by these means,
For more money spent meant more treason,
And more treason found meant more money.
The situation suited all involved,
The king, his agents, and general public,
And everyone involved understood
That real uprising or revolution
Was out of the question: the money would stop.
And the only price that the populace paid
For all the extra income they received
Was the continuous secret surveillance
Under which they must now conduct their lives.
Liber Jonae Contents