10 March 2022

The Silence of the Lambs

Flock of sheep.jpg
“Evil commonly strikes us not as a problem, but as an outrage. Taken in the grip of misfortune, or appalled by the violence of malice, we cannot reason sanely about the balance of the world. Indeed, it is part of the problem of evil that its victim is rendered incapable of thought.”
— Austin Farrer*, Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited
While I have never personally seen The Silence of the Lambs (I don't watch movies in which a serial killer is the hero), I do know that the title comes from Clarice Starling's nightmares - memories of the screaming of spring lambs as they were slaughtered at a relative's farm.  At the end of the movie, Clarice is able to sleep again, because her success at saving Catherine Martin has allowed her to "sleep peacefully in the silence of the lambs."  (Thanks Wikipedia!)

We all prefer the silence of the lambs.  Quiet those nightmares.  Make those dark memories go away.  Paper over those dark thoughts.  And for God's sake, don't let anyone remind us of how bad life is for all the little lambs still being slaughtered.

It helps that little lambs often don't scream while being slaughtered.  Faced with inescapable evil - and it's surprising how much evil is inescapable in this world - the lambs are rendered incapable of thought, of speech, of reason, of anything but enduring what has to be endured right now.  Later can come a reckoning - that is, if they can ever come up with the words to explain what happened, the stomach to tell it, or the courage to pursue any sort of redress.  

And here's the thing:  when something truly terrible happens, there's almost always a moment of silence.  Because the mind just stops.  There is no reasoning, no words, just raw experience.  A very strange place to be. Most people (including myself) leap to somewhere else. I'd say 90% of the time, the first thing that rushes up is a black hole of horrordenialfearangerdisgustpanicrepeat.  The second is rage and/or violence. Anything but stay in that black hole. Anything at all.**  

NOTE:  Freezing also happens in the face of natural disasters. My husband was in Gulfport, Mississippi during Hurricane Camille, and when it hit, he stood at a plate glass window and watched the winds pick up a semi-truck and throw it directly towards where he was standing. Luckily, it didn't go through the window, just landed right outside. But the point is, he couldn't move. He was hypnotized.

NOTE:  Same thing happened with a cousin of Allan's in Ireland during the Troubles. Standing outside a building, having a cigarette, and then a bomb exploded - and the wall behind her went down. She couldn't move. Frozen.  

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog about powerlessness and protests in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots.  You can read it here:  (Absolute Powerlessness)  

I don't know a woman who hasn't been sexually harassed, discriminated against, assaulted, and/or abused, and it's not because I'm hanging out with a loose crowd.  It's just what happens.  And if you say something - well, "Jeez, can't ya take a compliment?" "What were you wearing?" "Were you drinking?" "What were you doing there?" "Why didn't you say something earlier?" "Now is not the right time to say anything." "Why can't you wait to say something until later?"  (There's never a right time to say something, is there?) 

I know a lot of people who have been harassed, discriminated against, assaulted, and more based on their gender, ethnicity, and/or race.  And those who attempt to get redress - well, "I didn't hear / see anything."  "I don't remember that happening." "Why didn't you just shut up and follow orders?" "Why didn't you say something earlier?" "Now is not the time."  "Why can't you wait to say something until later?"  (There's never a right time to say something, is there?)

I know a lot of people with PTSD, from a variety of causes, because I know a lot of veterans, victims, survivors, etc. Most of them never talk about what happened, because it's too damned hard. 

Here's the thing:  no one becomes powerless, they are made powerless, either systematically or traumatically.  It's alarmingly easy to do.  It's what every domestic abuser / child abuser / cult / dictator etc. has done throughout history to keep power and render the lambs silent.  The wealthy and the powerful count on their money, their clout, their background, their connections to get them out of anything. And the powerful always believe that the powerlessness  they have created - the lack of reaction, that stunned silence, the helpless capitulation that powerlessness can cause - will last forever.  

And this is why the powerful are always horrified when the lambs finally turn. 

I'm writing all of this for two reasons:

(1) For those of us who write mysteries, thrillers, or just about anything, to keep that in mind. The first reaction to evil is sometimes indeed sheer stunned silence. What comes next is a crap shoot. For example, look at this picture of Zelensky, meeting with a President who wanted a quid-pro-quo of lies for desperately needed - and promised - military aid weapons. 

That stunned reaction might indeed be part of how that particular lamb has changed:

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.” - Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

(2) There are apparently a lot of people in "certain circles" (looking at you, Tucker Carlson!) who deep down really, really, really wish Ukraine had just rolled over and surrendered like a good doggie. Because then they could keep their talking points beautifully intact about Putin as a strong, moral, pro-Christian global leader. 

A few notes on that subject: 
Just because Putin attends church on high holy days does not mean he's devout. That used to be the norm for everyone - we've all heard of Easter & Christmas Christians. 
And while he is anti-LGBQT, which seems to prove something to "certain people", he's also pro-choice on abortion. 
Not to mention that he has people killed (see below). 
And then there's the fact that he's declared the liberal ideology that has underpinned Western democracy for decades to be "obsolete." 
NOTE to his admirers: in Putin's Russia, there is no freedom of speech, assembly, elections, movement, protest, or anything else - even for you, if you dared to go and live there.  
And he has said, “The breakup of the Soviet Union is a national tragedy on an enormous scale; only the elites and nationalists of the republics gained.” 
(Last I heard, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, what used to be Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, what used to be Yugoslavia, and Albania do not agree with him. And before people write, "Most of those weren't Soviet Satellites!", they were in the Warsaw Pact, each of them had Soviet installed or Soviet friendly governments, and some had Soviet tanks which rolled in to put down any attempts at independence in the 1950s and 1960s. Look it up.)  
Back to killing people:  Alexander Litvinenko, Putin critic, 2006; Anna Politkovskaya, reporter on Chechnya, 2006; Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine 2005-2010, poisoned 2004 but survived, permanently disfigured; Sergei and Yulia Skripal, father and daughter, 2018 in Salisbury, England but survived (barely); endless journalists, dead.  Etc, Etc, Etc.
But - according to many people, still, in "certain circles", the current invasion of Ukraine is the West's fault, because we haven't realized how vulnerable Putin feels. And how much we in the West had to do with his feeling vulnerable and threatened, because...  NATO. Never mind why NATO exists in the first place. Never mind Soviet interventions in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), or the hard-line Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe that lasted well into 1989 countries (or later). 

Look, the classic position of any bully or abuser is: "You made me do this!" "They were picking on me!" "Shut up or you'll get worse!" "But I want ___" 

Hey, in the immortal words of innumerable people in "certain circles":  "F*** your feelings, snowflake."

And always remember, "Total liberty for the wolves is death for the lambs." (Isaiah Berlin)  

* Austin Farrer (1904-1968) was an Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian and biblical scholar. He was friends with C. S. Lewis (Farrer gave Lewis communion on Lewis' deathbed), Tolkein and Sayers.

** Denial is also another way to deal with it, but it didn't work for Clarice. An even better example, perhaps, is Daphne du Maurier's short story No Motive:  the price always has to be paid. 


  1. Eve, you might appreciate the Netflix documentary Winter on Fire about Ukraine's 2013-2014 revolution. The people held out more than three months against the government police and hired thugs. More than sixty people 'disappeared' during that period.

  2. Eve, I’m like you in that I avoided the popular Dexter series, where I gather he’s a ‘heroic’ serial killer. I’ve not seen a single episode, not one.

    But I don’t see Hannibal Lector the same way, at least the first two novels/films. Thomas Harris studied serial killers originally for non-fiction articles and then fiction, basing his characters on real examples. He did deep dives into understanding what made them tick.

    In the first two novels and film, Lecter is a major supporting character, fascinating but not a hero. Will Graham and Clarice Starling are the knights in white armor, all the more heroic because of the clever monsters they face.

    The sensationalist tone of the third novel/movie changed everything. Shock value played a major role in deciding the plot, and it lost me. Anthony Hopkins said he should have not make the third movie.

    This marks the dividing line where, as you say, Lecter arguably becomes the dark hero. I question whether the careful forensics and psychology studies any longer applied to the criminals.

    I never bothered with the Rising prequel or the television series.

    If you choose to dip your toe in the murky water, you might watch Manhunter (1986), the first time Lecter appears in film, based on the novel Red Dragon (1081), which would later be made again in the original novel title with Hopkins. (2002)

  3. I've never seen "The Silence of the Lambs" either. I'd have thought the fact that they were silent, meant they were dead, so it would be more disturbing not to hear the little lambs bleating!

    Last night I was in a gift shop run by NBC Channel 4 news at Dulles airport. They're working both sides of the street. The store sells t-shirts & coffee mugs featuring President Biden, "Build Back Better," Vice President Harris etc., but also a t-shirt with a picture of the Orange Demon & the words "Miss me yet?" Yeah, with every bullet so far!

  4. Leigh, I will continue to avoid any movie with Hannibal Lecter - sorry. But I will check out "Winter of Fire".
    Elizabeth - I agree 100% with your response to the Orange D's t-shirt!


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