The Carcer Principle

January 31, 2017

Let me tell you one of the most important lessons my favorite author ever taught me.

In Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, the main villain is a thief, murderer, and all-around bastard named Carcer. He’s the very picture of a psychopath—he has no conscious, feels no guilt, and doesn’t even understand the idea of right or wrong. He’s egotistical, volatile, constantly smiling, and he always has an extra knife. In a basically well-run city where the rule of law is kept, he is a serial killer and a menace. When he’s transported to a fractured city undergoing a civil war, he has the potential to slaughter thousands. Carcer is a monster.

Here’s the lesson that Terry taught me through Carcer:

“Who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men? A copper, that’s who. (…) You saw how close men lived to the beast. You realized that people like Carcer were not mad. They were incredibly sane. They were simply men without a shield. They’d looked at the world and realized that all the rules didn’t have to apply to them, not if they didn’t want them to. They weren’t fooled by all the little stories. They shook hands with the beast.”
— Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

He did this later as well, in a heroic way, with Moist von Lipwig of Going Postal and Making Money fame. Moist also realized that the rules didn’t apply to him if he didn’t want them to—that he could walk straight into places he wasn’t supposed to be, so long as he looked like he belonged there. This is a trait I gave to Mazik, and one I’ve used myself, because it’s both useful and true. The little niceties don’t have to apply to you if you decide they don’t. You can blow right past them, often without repercussion.

The difference between the three of us—Moist, Mazik, and myself—and a man like Carcer is an important one. It’s the shield. While I recognize that confidence and selective obliviousness can carry me through social situations that would stop another, I don’t use this knowledge to do anything bad. Carcer does. Carcer is a murderer and a thug, a monster who abuses his power with zealous glee, and who leaves a trail of broken lives in his unfeeling wake.

We’re seeing now what happens when people like Carcer are in charge of the most powerful nation on the planet. Not in the far-off way of a history book. We’re seeing it play out in real-time.

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon—thanks for making my first name feel icky, by the way, you and Stephen Miller, fuckin’ hell—have zero empathy. They’ve decided that vast categories of human beings—all who are not American, and most who are—are unimportant, and less equal than others. They are callous, cruel, and never kind. They will harm people not by accident, as every president before them has, but because hurting others is the point. They’re making us less safe, less prosperous, less happy, and less generous, and for what? To bring back an America that never existed. Or, if Bannon’s words are to be believed, to burn down the one we have now.

The most powerful nation on the planet is being governed—and increasingly, ruled—by psychopaths. It took ten days for them to trigger a constitutional crisis, and even less to begin usurping power. They are men without a shield, with demons on both shoulders constantly egging them on. Sad, shallow, pitiful, thin-skinned little men who shake hands with the beast, and bring the world closer to literal fuckin’ armageddon while doing so.

That’s the difference between them and nearly every other president we’ve had, as well as all the people I can recall who have contended for the position. The others could be shamed. They could be guilted. The others followed the niceties, more or less. The others played the game, which is why they all seemed mortal where Trump seems bulletproof. Even Nixon knew what he was doing was wrong, knew when he had been caught. Trump doesn’t care. He doesn’t understand right from wrong. He doesn’t feel for anyone but himself.

When I see those men, I see Carcer. Don’t look into their eyes, for you will find demons staring back. Besides, that will mean you’ve taken your eyes off their hands, and by then, one of them will be holding a knife. Men like them always have an extra knife, and they have no compunction about using it on you.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.