The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“But you’re in government. Your continuance in power has always depended on the ultimate sanction: ‘if you don’t obey we’ll kill you.’ Maybe you weren’t consciously aware of that basic truth. Maybe it only became clear to you, against your will, when you were obliged to try and work out why things were no longer ticking along as smoothly as they used to. As a result, naturally, of the shift in emphasis from weaponry to individual brilliance as the key national resource.

“But brilliant individuals are cantankerous, unpredictable, fond of having their own way. It seems out of the question to use them as mere tools, mere objects. Almost, you find yourself driven to the conclusion that you’re obsolete. Power of your kind isn’t going to be viable in the modern world.

“And then it dawns on you. There’s another organization exercising immense power which has always been dependent on individuals far more troublesome than those you’re being defeated by. In some cases they’re outright psychopathic.”

“And this organization is equally determined to maintain its place in the sun,” Brad supplemented. “It’s equally willing to apply the final sanction to those who disobey.” Kate’s jaw dropped.

“I think we got through,” Ted murmured.

“Yes—yes, I’m afraid so.” Kate folded her hands into fists. “But I can’t bring myself to believe it. Nick… ?”

“Since your apt was blown up,” Nick said stonily, “I’ve been prepared to believe anything about them. It was a miracle we had enough warning to clear the streets. Or did we… ? Ted, I’ve been meaning to ask. Was anybody injured?”

The sheriff gave a sour nod. “I’m afraid some of the students didn’t take the warning literally. Ten were hurt. Two of them have died.” Kate buried her face in her palms, her shoulders shaking.

“Go ahead, Nick,” Ted invited. “Spell it out as you see it. You yourself said yesterday: the truth shall make us free. That holds good no matter how abominable the truth.”

“There was exactly one power base available to sustain the old style of government,” Nick grunted. “Organized crime.”

Ted rose and set to pacing back and forth, back and forth. He said, “Of course that’s not exactly news. It must be fifty or sixty years since the traditional fortunes that used to put this party, then the other, into office either ran dry or came under the control of people who weren’t willing to play along. That left a vacuum. Into it criminals looking for ways to convert their huge financial resources into real power flooded like water through a breached dam. They’d always been intimately involved at city and state level; now was their chance to ascend the ladder’s final rung. It’s true that the syndicate’s first attempt at the presidency was pretty much of a bust. They didn’t realize how bright a spotlight could be shone on 1600 Pennsylvania. Moreover, they used tricks that were already well known, like laundering their bribe-money through Mexico and the Virgins. But they learned fast.”

“They did indeed,” Brad said. “The moral of monograph 21 lies not in the half-million dollars we were able to trace, but in the rest of the money which we couldn’t. We know where it went—into political war chests—but we stood no chance of finding the evidence.”

“In the context of the world nuclear disarmament treaty,” Ted muttered, “we were hoping for something better.”

“I bet you were.” Nick was scowling. “Oh, I should have figured this out long ago.”

“You weren’t so favorably placed,” Brad countered dryly. “Sharing a tent with ten refugees, without a change of clothing, decent food or even safe water to drink, it was easy to spot the resemblance between the federal agent and the mafioso. The fact that they were invariably on the friendliest terms merely underlined what we’d already realized.”

“I should have got there by another route,” Nick said. “I should have wondered why behavioral science received such colossal government subsidies during the eighties and nineties.”

“An important point,” Ted said with a nod. “Consistent with the rest of the pattern. The behaviorists reduced the principle of the carrot and the stick to the same kind of ‘scientific’ basis as the Nazis used for their so-called racial science. It’s not surprising they became the darlings of the establishment. Governments rely on threat and trauma to survive. The easiest populace to rule is weak, poor, superstitious, preferably terrified of what tomorrow may bring, and constantly being reminded that the man in the street must step into the gutter when his superiors deign to pass him by, Behaviorist techniques offered a means to maintain this situation despite the unprecedented wealth, literacy and ostensible liberty of twenty-first-century North America.”

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