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Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Instrumentality vs. the underpeople -- or: The ballad of lost S'Pook

For quite a while now, I've wanted to talk to you about the strangest science fiction writer who ever lived. And no, this is not one of those non-political posts I like to run on the weekends. What you are about to read will tell you a lot about what's going on today.

His name, at least his science fiction name, was Cordwainer Smith. Throughout the 1950s, he gifted the science fiction magazines with some of the most far-flung, experimental, advanced, elegant and downright strange short stories ever composed.

How strange were they? you ask. Well, perhaps his best tale is called "The Dead Lady of Clown Town," which opens thus:
You already know the end—the immense drama of the Lord Jestocost, seventh of his line, and how the cat-girl C'mell initiated the vast conspiracy. But you do not know the beginning, how the first Lord Jestocost got his name, because of the terror and inspiration which his mother, Lady Goroke, obtained from the famous real-life drama of the dog-girl D'joan. It is even less likely that you know the other story—the one behind D'joan. This story is sometimes mentioned as the matter of the "nameless witch," which is absurd, because she really had a name. The name was "Elaine," an ancient and forbidden one.

Elaine was a mistake. Her birth, her life, her career were all mistakes. The ruby was wrong. How could that have happened?

Go back to An-fang, the Peace Square at An-fang, the Beginning Place at An-fang, where all things start. Bright it was. Red Square, dead square, clear square, under a yellow sun.
And so on. Eventually this turns into a far-future version of the story of Joan of Arc, as enacted by a genetically-altered dog -- the hopelessly love-filled leader of the underpeople's rebellion against the Instrumentality. It's a story that can bring a tear to the eye of the toughest of tough guys, provided that the tough guy doesn't mind immersing himself in a big tub of Weird.

(This really is a political post. Promise.)

Cordwainer Smith was the pen-name of Paul Linebarger, godson of Sun Yat Sen, and professor at Johns Hopkins University, not far from where I live now. A very strange man, Paul was. Brilliant. A classic nerd. (Just look at him!) He brought his pet cats into class and delivered his lectures to them as if they were human beings. He knew L. Ron Hubbard and may have inadvertently inspired some aspects of Dianetics. (Much of Hubbard's imaginary biography mirrors Linebarger's real-life history.) Linebarger may have been the real figure who inspired the "Kirk Allen" psychiatric case history described in Robert Lindner's classic The 50-Minute Hour.

There's one other big, big thing you should know about Linebarger: He was a spook. CIA all the way. He literally, and I mean literally, wrote the book on psychological warfare. Among his students were General Ed Lansdale, E. Howard Hunt, and David Atlee Phillips.

Lansdale is best-known for pulling a classic mind-fuck on the Huk guerillas in the Philippines: He staged attacks by a red-eyed, winged beastie called an Aswang, a mythical creature which figures heavily in the lore of that region. Hunt is best known for his (proven) involvement in Watergate and his (alleged) involvement in the JFK assassination. Stronger evidence links the CIA's David Atlee Phillips with the assassination -- in fact, the evidence is so strong, even Phillips' own brother became convinced of DAP's guilt. (The brother says that David confessed just before his death.)

To the best of my knowledge, we have only one lengthy, first-hand description of what Linebarger taught the spook battalions. That description appears in a 1976 book titled Portrait of a Cold Warrior – Second Thoughts of a Top CIA Agent, by Joseph B. Smith. Although the book itself is hard to find outside of a university library, you can find the most relevant passage here.

I suggest you read the words at the other end of that link. If your socks are not knocked off, they must be glued to your feet. Here are some excerpts:
Thus assassination was always a contingency action to be included in the plans, though approval would have to come from the National Security Council before any assassination was attempted. Another practical problem was where to find the assassins. The reading of case studies of the successful assassinations by Soviet secret service counterparts, such as the killing of Trotsky, wasn’t much help because the Soviets service exercised a control over its agents we could not impose, certainly not on Asians. That left only criminals and cranks to be considered for recruitment to perform this service.
Mostly however, we followed our mentor through a series of actions that were to be attributed to various of our Communist enemies……Saying that the Communists were evil was merely talk. Doing something evil, disguised as Communists, would have real credibility.
A note of caution that Linebarger added to these discussions of black operations sounds like a bell down the years. He would explain, after someone had come up with an especially clever plan for getting the Communists completely incriminated in an exceedingly offensive act, that there should be limits to black activities.

“I hate to think what would ever happen,” he once said with a prophet’s voice, “if any of you ever got out of this business and got involved in U.S. politics. These kinds of dirty tricks must never be used in internal U.S. politics. The whole system would come apart.”

I remember there was a nodding of heads when Linebarger delivered this admonition. I do not recall that anyone agreed in a loud, firm voice. Perhaps his remark was thought to be really rather irrelevant. We had more serious business to attend to.
Do you need any further clues in order to solve the great mystery which beset this country fifty years ago? You shouldn't.

The following excerpt helps to explain how conservatives have been able to control the national dialogue throughout the past thirty years, always driving the country further and further to toward libertarianism. As an intellectual exercise, Linebarger asked his psy-war students to come up with ways to use psychological manipulation tactics in everyday situations.
After listening to these recitals for a couple of weeks, Linebarger asked, “Haven’t any of you done anything more exciting than figure out ways to have your drinking and sexual adventures? I know none of you as in a psychwar outfit during the war, but has anyone done anything more nearly operational?

To everyone’s surprise Boston Blackie, our group anti-hero and skeptic was the one who replied....“...there was a referendum in Massachusetts on the question of birth control information...Then one of the priests got an idea. He suggested that we explain to the parishioners that if the voters approved the change in the law and permitted birth control information to be legally disseminated, this would mean that they would have to get a written permit from the government if they wanted to have a baby...
How many times have we seen that very tactic in use?

How many times this year? (Think of the debate over Obamacare.)

It's important to understand: This is a classic psy-war technique. It can be, and has been, taught. The people who use this tactic do so in ice cold blood. They know full well what they are up to.

Let's repeat the most important paragraph:
“I hate to think what would ever happen,” he once said with a prophet’s voice, “if any of you ever got out of this business and got involved in U.S. politics. These kinds of dirty tricks must never be used in internal U.S. politics. The whole system would come apart.”
And now you know the name of the guy who brought us Ted Cruz and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Andy Breitbart. It's the same guy who brought us the Dead Lady of Clown Town. His surreal spirit lives on.
Wow, just wow! Thanks.
I still have vivid images stored away from Virgil Finlay's illustrations of Smith's stories.
I like the way you introduce Linebarger here :-) Some things haven't changed in how agent-runners and field intelligence officers get trained.

'Big cons' such as the ones described by Maurer, and used as training material by Linebarger, often involve long 'gothic' stories...

I wonder how many spooks today get trained in sexual seduction, which has become quite a 'science' for some males for whom other people are nothing more than objects. Probably loads.

Linebarger's statement that spooks should keep their hands off domestic culture was probably said with a big wink.
b, I don't think he winked. As clever as he was, there's a weird, innocent quality to the man's thinking, as evidenced by his stories. And he made a sincere turn to Christianity -- "the old strong religion," as he called it in his stories.

In short, I think he really was the kind of ultra-clever, self-deceiving goofball who would come up with a means to take total control and then expect his students to use this power only for good.
Wow! The prototype for Dr. and all.
Another story with a local base that you might find interesting, Joseph, is the court case "Dr. Peter Janney vs. William Lockwood Mitchell (aka Bill Mitchell)” about the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer in 1964. D.C. socialite, painter, former wife of CIA official Cord Meyer, and intimate friend and lover of President John F. Kennedy, Ms. Meyer was murdered, the complaint alleges, to hush up details she had uncovered involving JFK's assassination.

Dr. Janney has written a book, "Mary's Mosaic" about the murder.
Who was it that said "Absolutely power allows people to express their absolute angelic nature absolutely"?
Sharon, I honestly don't think the guy was evil. Dr. Evil doesn't write for a two cents a word.

On the other hand, he did claim adherence to the "old strong religion" -- which was founded by a fellow who once noted, correctly, that we judge a tree by its fruit...
The 1981 edition of Portrait of a Cold Warrior is available from several on-line booksellers for about four bucks, shipping included.

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