17. Facing the choice between false truth and true falsehood Harry's natural choice is a neutral attitude

'In the collective they have their minds made up: the barrels are the bad conscience of the reformist, the one he refuses to acknowledge.'
Why was the reformist of all people always expected to have a bad conscience? He could offhand enumerate ten - twenty political ways of intervention that had really qualified for moral hangovers...
'I guess we have the whole invention from there, from these snakes that we nourish in our bosom.'
'I was struck by that possibility, too. So i asked an outright question - and got a clear no for an answer.'
'And you are buying that?'
'For the present, yes. The lady in question is meaner than the Devil, but she bets on The Absolute Truth, or on truth as something absolute.'
'What a pity.'
'Let's forget about the whole thing,' Heikki said firmly. 'Let's not talk any more about barrels, not even think of them.'
How should a responsible municipal politician react to such a proposal? Harry smiled sadly and shook his head. The very day hidden barrels were ignored, the have-nots of the suburbs would start a riot, and before you knew the parked cars of the haves would stand ablaze. The historical task of the Party was to act like a well-trained truffle dog, constantly on the lookout for what was hidden beneath the surface.
'What do you mean? Shouldn't it be possible to forget an invention, a damn dogdays story?'
Harry continued his line of thought: in the civilised world (and well outside it) the nation was known for its unswerving neutrality in international conflicts, you could call it an established trademark. In spite of this the neutral trot had gradually passed into something that reminded of a cat's pattering around hot porridge. It is true that the object avoided had been in safe keeping at some hundred and twenty metres' depth in the adjacent sea, with such a location one might feel tempted to believe that the whereabouts of the dumped barrels of neutrality would never be brought to the knowledge of the public truffle dog - but as later generations knew, that wasn't the case. (The national electricity producers had learnt from this example and planned to shove the bad conscience of energy production ten times deeper into the placenta of the planet, would that be enough?) The dilemma of neutrality was by no means so unique; didn't all kinds of relations, the precarious balance of power between classes, the distribution of economical assets, have their buried barrels? Not forgetting the precarious balance between the sexes: for more than twohundred years the farmhands of the nation had sailed far and wide and collected sex slaves both to the west and to the east; if the women of the nation still had a sheepish-yielding smile and whimpered through their noses when talking - wasn't this the rumbling - or the whimpering - from barrels buried long ago?
'Come, come, Harry!'
'It's not as simple as you are trying to make it.' Harry gestured, trying to form the answer in the air. He wasn't fond of committing himself, casting his anchor at a fixed position, there was something suspicious about all verbal cocksureness. Bluetooth transmitted its information packages sixteen-hundred times per second at seventy-nine random frequencies, why should politics be worse off? Well, that might be taking the matter a bit too far. 'It's a question of... ...world view. Or just language. Language as world view. Yes.'
He straightened his back and committed himself. 'Yes, language as world view. Neutrality... Peace in our time... Pooh!'
'Sorry, I take the 'pooh' back.'
'Objective reality is our pigeon, Harry. There are no barrels, by that they fall outside of our qualifications, or at least our responsibility.'
'Well. If the problem had been as easy as that. Objective reality may be your pigeon, Heikki, but in some way I have - a wider authority...'
Heikki nodded to acknowledge Harrys wider authority.
'Politics no doubt has to tackle a number of virtual problems, that never were and never will be real problems, even municipal politics lives under that obligation. Alas. Our difficulty is that even the things have - or acquire - voices, not even tins are speechless any longer. And the voices come from so many directions. Then it's no longer an easy task to tell right from wrong, not the way it seems to have been in the past. You don't step out of doors like some doctor Stockman, collecting a specimen and sending it to the lab, next being transformed into Public Enemy No. 1 by the local Employers' Society... Nothing walks straight and simple roads any longer. And remember: sometimes empty barrels are the ones that make most noise, the thought has struck me more than once since i had the call. Maybe barrels that are empty to the extent that they don't exist are the loudest of all, they must rumble furiously.'
Heikki grabbed his elbow, rocking him like a restive horse.
'There is a saying that a lie goes halfway around the world before there is time to deny it. And when it has gone a few turns in the public forum it becomes truth. The truth criterion of our time is highly pragmatic; a lie passes into truth when it has been repeated sufficiently often.'
'It sounds like bullshit to me. The result would be some sort of squared environmental pollution.'
'That is typical of our time: the sale of single copies offers the ultimate criterion of truth. You saw how the tabloids quoted you: as if you were hiding something. Believe me: we won't get rid of them. We will have to treat them as if they were out there, some place. You should be wise not to join those who try to bury and hide. On the other hand I make no secret of what I have been saying all the time: They lie best where they are. Everything need not be pulled out into daylight.'
'That way you can block the whole of society! Spreading a lot of lies and claiming time, force, resources, that are needed elsewhere. It seems to me as if the whole thing was started by interests that want us to achieve nothing. Want to tie us up to mere fiction, preventing us from reaching the real world.'
'Maybe it is that way. Maybe pure fiction lies behind most of our actions. We can't perform the correct incisions. We don't intervene correctly. But we are still building a society, be it on information that can be put in doubt. Let us admit: there is a number of more or less adequate fictions underlying our attempts to approach the real world.'
'You are telling me: on one hand they must be taken seriously. On the other hand you'd prefer them to remain where they are. So, what do you want us to do?'
'The established lie is everywhere, living its life as false truth. Things are that way, the whole of our public life is a tangle where you can separate "false" from "true" only with the utmost difficulty. Most people don't even have criteria to do it. And you never know where the lie is biggest: in the glaring limelight or in the twilight of the sewers. That's the reason why we shouldn't exalt ourselves to judges, weighing truth on a scale. We are not ready for the task. The best thing one could do is to bend truth or lie - what you regard as truth or lie - a trifle and use it for your purposes. They must contribute, like everything else.'
'Those are the words of a jesuit. What would your purpose be in this particular case?'
'Tja. If the rumour turned out to be long-lived, you might for example use it to support the creation of a register of all hazardous waste in the municipality. With mandatory reporting of all possible hazard you know of and all you believe to be there...'
'Do you want to punish the ones putting about the rumours?'
'I have one concern: that the wheels keep rolling, that things are going on just as ususal. One way or another. I am the chief wheel-lubricator here, that's my only task.'
Harry added: 'They might even be exported.' The thought seemed to have an invigorating effect on him.
'You are probably thinking of Africa. Patagonia.'
'No, just a few miles. Let them be the worry of someone else in his own backyard.'
'How is that to be managed?'
'The same way they came to us.'

The house was owned by the municipal housing company; everywhere soiled surface, dirty and cluttered stairs. It was one of the storehouses harbouring those who didn't sail in the big suction.
'There is light in the kitchen,' Jenny whispered. She was breathless and had some difficulty in finding the right position of her nose. Ruth felt a great affection for her. A man moved in there, came to the window and raised his hand to greet them, waited with the entrance door open when they came up the stairs. A hall, the kitchen they had just glimpsed from the outside, a living-room with a bookshelf and a long working-table. His name was Hussein, and he was called Hassan.
'I'm going to be your wedding witness,' Ruth said, 'and I thought it would be strange if I hadn't seen you before.'
The man nodded and pointed towards the kitchen, it was an invitation. He beamed forth a sort of gentleness, or tranguillity, you didn't expect him to raise his voice or burst out laughing. A red scar ran over his right cheek from the cheeknone to edge of the chin, and he turned his right foot outwards when walking. After a short inspection he lowered his head and turned the side of his head to them, it was as if he lent them his ear with this carriage.
'Strictly speaking I could leave now.' Ruth sat on a stool and laughed. 'Normally I never get beyond my first impression of people. I guess what Jenny is seeing in you and like her choice.'
The man made an odd grimace. 'I guess I am confronted with a matriarchal tradition, where a would-be-bridegroom first has to be approved by the sister-in-law of the bride, before he can be shown to the rest of the family.'
He had adopted the language completely, even dressing it in the local dialect.
'Never mind,' Ruth answered. 'Sometimes one has to accept being cheated of one's expectations. The reason why we didn't bring Harry is that he has some difficulty in sitting still and just talking, he must cook, serve or clean up in order to feel at ease. He always feels so embarrassed when he meets with people not familiar to him. You might get an unfavourable impression of him.'
'What she says is the truth,' Jenny amplified. 'If Harry had a choice he would never meet but old acquaintances. But that's not because he is shy or timid, nor because he feels superior, but because he has to check first if the other is a person with whom he can be equal. And the weak link of the chain isn't himself but the other, which Harry always suspects of some sort of primitivity or ungrounded feeling of superiority. Remember that. You always have to announce to Harry: We are equals. We are of the same sort. When I say "baah;" it means the same thing as when you say "baah".
Hussein stroked his crown, where the hair began to thin out. 'You have been here for three minutes, and already you tell stories about some person, an absent person. Tell a story about yourself.'
'I can't oblige you: no stories are told about me. At least not as far as I know.'
'Then we'll have to content ourselves with stories about "the-one-stories-are-told-about".'
'Don't bother about Harry, I was only ticking over. That's how we women do when we grope about for threads that can be spun into our webs: we tell stories about men. I will be frank with you: I would rather hear you tell a story about yourself. Jenny doesn't say much, probably because you have asked her to, but it seems to me that there is a story worth hearing.'
'In that case: let us barter. Everyone tells a story about himself or herself, a true story from life.'
'We were lucky not to bring Harry along,' Ruth said, 'he starts a lengthy philosophical discussion each time he hears the word "true"!'
She looked at the two others, burst into laughter and knocked her palm against her forehead. 'He is indelible, he follows me everywhere.'
Next she thought: you babble like a child, Jenny doesn't get a word in edgeways. You must be more on the alert, Ruth. And since she had herself completely in command, like a puppet, she could obey her own instructions immediately.
He had a way of listening, that was a bit scaring; you had the impression that the whole world was keeping its breath. Such a person must come from a corner of existence, or from a life where talking and listening where highly valued. She felt a great demand to express something on a par with this listening tension. Or relaxation, it was hard to tell which.

'Now, listen to me. I am going to explain once how I look at things. This time I'm going to make a real effort.'
Silence, silence from Heikkis direction, on Harry this always acted as a stimulus.
'It's a fight. It's a tug-of-war. If you peel it down and look at it a little dialectically, the whole of society is a tug-of-war.'
It was in the nature of this conversation that you didn't need to show your hand in every respect, Heikki had decided not to tug from his side, not this time.
'There are two voices, two tongues, two that drown all others. One speaks with words, it says: equal salary, peace and freedom, pure water, clean air. That's man's own voice, the first voice, the voice of ideas and symbols. It votes for me, if it thinks that I am hiding nothing. The second one speaks with money, it saves and buys and sells, it tries to appropriate advantages, in many cases not considering consequences. That is the second voice: the self-interest, the wallet voice, the market voice. It votes for me, too, if it thinks that my finances are in order. One voice thinks town estate vans are an abomination, the other voice buys one and values the fact that it puts many wheels in motion. I am bound to listen to both voices, to understand their logics, and i do, all the time. And mark my words: I don't automatically side with the first voice, in spite of the fact that people may expect me to do so. I listen and listen and weigh pros and cons.'
'All our difficulties recoil on this, the two voices. One fights imprudence, the other acts imprudently, you bugger that. Not on all hands, but the ideal itself is imprudent, whenever it approaches practice. The other acts imprudentlsy, enough to break your heart, but there is a sort of method in the folly, that you might even call reason. This is how it is with most of my voters. They speak with a cleft tongue, and worst of all: sometimes i know that the second voice is wiser, seeing in a wider perspective than the first one. That is my dilemma, my real dilemma.'
'The whole of society is construed that way, going on around us is a perpetual tug-of-war between "truth" and "lie", "reason" and "unreason". The mere thought of digging up some fundamental, undisputable truth in such a context, a sort of historical or political trumf that clears the table, makes me despair. The dialogue, the tug-of-war between double messages is the truth. It is almost as if the rumour about barrels was spread out just in order to put the finger on this absurdity. In the very moment when barrels are dug up you must start doubting them, if not before that. Anything that is offered on show in the glaring light of public life must be doubted.'
'Now I understand what's it all about as far as you are concerned,' Heikki answered. 'I didn't before. From that position I think our line of action is obvious: we are going to keep our hands off the spades.'
'Not exactly... I often say: the false truth should be refuted with the true falsehood. It deserves such a countermove.'
'What would it mean in our case.'
'A plot like this creates insecurity, it points out the insecurity of our lives. We should be brought to realise that existence is ambiguous, that it contains hidden things. For society endorses only its own white side, it carries reason and truth in the shield. This is stupid, downright criminal. Why should society be that much better than the average of its constituents? An honest society carries a sign around its neck, where it is written: I am a mendacious truthteller, a caring maltreater, a diabolic angel.'
Harry paused in order to allow his words to settle.
'That's the way things are arranged. At any rate: such a lie, and many others of the same kind, puncture the system's self-lie. There is something I can't see through, it seems as if we can never get out of that circle, but let's not worry about that. You and I are partisans of the system, Heikki, we can't tolerate undercover attacks on our employer. That's why we are going to strike back, and we will do it where the attacker isn't guarded. We must turn the lie around to our own advantage and strengthen the function of the system using the lie. Beat an enemy with his own weapons, that was always a good strategy. We are wrong in looking for something that we don't believe is out there, we are going to abandon that, but if there is an opportunity, we'll make a countermove. As long as people believe in us we deny that there are any barrels, but if we get the impression that the scales tip in favour of the rumour we create the barrels, unearth them and decontaminate the soil. We see to it that the barrels become reality, but note: only as a last way out.'
'I suppose you are thinking of a nocturnal action, in darkness and fog. And that it falls to my lot.'
Harry looked grimly at him, nodded.
'And if another two-hundred come to the surface? Adding to the ones we create on our own?'
'If they don't surface the stake goes to us, and the confidence of the population. If they surface we will have doubled our stake. Whatever we do, we gain. Call it a variation of Pascal's wager.'
'A variation of the true falsehood.'
Silence reigned for a while, until Harry tossed his arm in the air with a jerk and read his watch. 'It is getting late. I have two favours I want to ask of you, or two and a half. The first one concerns the campaign: I don't want to be a part of it, I have no time to spare, or I want to avoid certain persons. But I want to have someone there that I can trust and who has common sense. They are going to meet once a month. You are the man I'm thinking of.'
Heikki's facial expression in this moment could be used to illustrate the absolute zero-point of enthusiasm, and he made an extra effort to make this obvious when he looked up.
Harry grinned: 'Of course they intend to dig in the heroic past of the working class, a sort of ideological body-building, but I thought that you were suited to bring - contemporary views.'
'The second thing...' He rummaged with one hand in the book-shelf, producing a topographical map and unfurling it. 'Here lies a farm, or a couple of houses, just above the lake. Water runs from the dunghill straight into the lake, I want you to pay an official visit and strike a little terror into them.'
He pointed with a finger, directing a spotlight towards the point, and Heikki read the text in small type without difficulty: Black Hole.
Heikki muttered something in his native language.
'Yes, I never thought of it before, it's hell of a name. Do you think that you can handle both things?'
'What was the half one?'
'Oh yes. It would be easier for you to work in the campaign if you were a Party member. It's merely a formal thing. You can go to church afterwards as well.'
'Well, I'm not so sure about that.' Heikki accentuated his doubt by exaggerating his singing dialect. 'It's a matter of conscience. I'll have to give it a thought. The transparency of your organisations never impressed me.'
He rose to his feet. 'Is there some particular reason for your interest in a - hole - out in the wilds? Something I should be informed about?'
'I do some fishing in the lake.'
'Nothing else?'
'There are certain plans... Nothing definite, more of a project.'
'And what's it all about?'
'I can't tell you yet.'
At once Heikki looked so threatening and negative that Harry was quick to add: 'Some sort of establishment. An around-the-year thing. Jobs on a permanent basis, maybe two- three-thousand jobs and potential for more. I want them. I will inform you to the full extent when the time is ripe, but so far I keep my mouth shut. The whole thing is in a very sensitive phase, Capital snaps (nibbles?) at the hook, but there is no bite yet.'
'Oh. An around-the-year thing. What is an around-the-year thing, when it comes to it?'
'You couldn't imagine even in your wildest phantasy. One might say: a sort of utopy. In concrete form.'
'It sounds much like a circular square.'
'A circular square, yes. There is a first time for everything, why not this thing now?'
'So you expect me to pull on the uniform.'
'Yes. It's important that the reputation of the lake is - immaculate.'
'And that of the town?'
'The barrels?'
'Do you want me to prepare a finding-place?'
'No, let's be content with reading the sentiment to start with. We'll do nothing except denying and feeling from what direction the wind blows.'

Afterwards Ruth got frightened at her own frankness.
'There is a difference between people, that I cannot see through. I note it when I compare myself with Harry, and it came to my mind when you called Harry "the-one-of-whom-stories-are told". That's the way it is, you have no idea of the wild stories I've heard with Harry one of the parties. Most of it is pure invention, I know him that much, and I don't think of them for a second. But there is another aspect, that really worries me, that makes me jealous in a way. It's not only that people are talking about him, it's even more that people always have something to say to Harry. Sometimes he seems to be nothing but a big ear, being there only in order to be talked into. Everyone, each single human being, has something they want to communicate to him. There is a need for him. Or, strictly speaking not need, maybe it's more about the fact that he is accepted. That is a difference between us: I am not needed, or accepted, not in the same way. Nobody comes to the social insurance in order to tell something intended for my ears only, it never happened. That is a truth about me. And I am telling it, since I have realized it to the full only lately. Harry is a person to whom it is spoken, although he in some way endorses the system. It must be about people trusting him, people feeling that certain things can be said to him, things that other ears - for example mine - cannot bear hearing? People confess the most terrible things to Harry, and he receives the confessions without batting an eyelid. What exactly is this about? Is there something wrong with me when I won't do? I got all upset when i detected it and I have been thinking of it day and night since then. I would like to test him, saying a-thing-intended-only-for-Harry's-ears in order to see how he reacts, what he answers. Something really awful.'
Jenny nodded calmly. 'She is telling the truth. He is the municipal Wailing Wall. But he is acting under compulsion, it's not from free will.'
'What kind of compulsion,' Ruth asked, almost indignant. 'What could coerce him?'
'Harry is a gold-washer, standing in the middle of the current. He turns and twists each grain entering his strainer. The point is that he thinks that everything of importance is said that way, in passing, pulled out from a collective mumbling. Remember that he has qualified for this position by listening to all kinds of nonsense for twenty, thirty years. Think of the wear it implies, think of the strain! I would never have been able to put up with it.'
'Where is the compulsion?'
'He is afraid that something of importance will pass him unnoticed.'
'That's why he won't let go of the anonymous calls... Is he unhappy because I took over?'
'Yes,' Jenny answered.
'Has he told you?'
'No, but I can feel it, he is dreading their absence.'
'God! And I thought I was doing him a favour.'
The man pinched his chin, looked from Harry's sister to Harry's wife. 'It's a rather ineffective method, isn't it? Gold is extracted in a more effective way in our days.'
'The origin, the provenience is important to Harry,' Jenny answered. 'All is not gold that glitters to him. But he also does some strip-mining in the available tv-channels, he is that modern.'
Rut was still considering the conversation. 'But Harry doesn't care one bit about gold! He is neutral to gold, the way he is neutral to all other matter. I can't understand at all how he can take up a standpoint or commit himself.'

27 kB, last corrected 14.3.06, 27.11.08.

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