Friday, 3 October 2014
The fairness paradox.
Some still do. I have, when working on building sites in the winter. Come the summer months I would swap my choice of undergarment for the far lighter, cooler and more hygienic stockings and suspenders. But I digress.
These tighted men of whom I write would wander into the forest, because we had proper forests we could wander into back then, and fire an arrow through the shoulder of a wild boar, because we had wild boars and you were allowed to shoot them with bows and arrows back then, before clubbing said posh-pig to death and carrying it home to the village. A posh-pig is far too much for one man alone to eat and there was a distinct lack of refrigerators in the villages of the time so, rather than let three quarters of a pig go to waste, the man with the arrows would share it. In return he'd get a share of the nuts another man, probably a man with one arm who couldn't fire an arrow at an animal, had collected. Some vegetables that another villager had planted, tended and harvested, maybe a slice of bread provided by the woman from the end shack that could bake and, if he snagged them, he got the ladders in his tights repaired by the woman with the bent back who was too old to do anything else.
Occasionally the King's men would turn up to collect the taxes of his subjects to pay for a war or a castle or a really nice feather. If you couldn't pay they'd cut an arm off instead, thus condemning you to a life of nut foraging and rendering those lute lessons you'd been taking pointless.
Eventually some people, quite rightly, got a bit pissed off with continually losing their arms and, long story short, we had a civil war. In a nutshell, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, lots of people died, lots more didn't and a King got killed.
It was the time of the puritan. Among many other things, puritans were exceptionally miserable bastards.
"Stop pissing about," One of Oliver's army would shout, "you're dancing when you could be making money."
"Fuck off, we don't need money." Came the retort.
"Well, no, ok, but we do. Wars don't pay for themselves, you know. We need taxes and all we've got in the treasury is a big pile of rotting arms. You can't kill a Frenchman with a rotting arm."
"No Frenchman ever hurt me," the villagers responded, "I'm not working harder so you can hurt them."
"Yes, well, fair enough, but there's this really lovely feather on yeBay that the king-who's-not-really-a-king-we-promise want's to bid on. There's only three days left and it's not reached it's reserve yet."
"Fuck you and fuck your feather." They were an eloquent bunch back then.
The miserable ones were unhappy. This, paradoxically, made them feel better. "Ah-ha!" thought one, "that gives me an idea. Scribe, take down a proclamation."
And so it was that the news spread from village to village. They were doing it all wrong. Yes, they were having a nice time, living and laughing and losing limbs, but forsooth, they were in for a shock.
Someone noticed, in a big old book that most couldn't read, a passage or two that, once lifted from the surrounding text and removed completely from context, basically said "Work hard and go to Heaven or do just enough and burn in a fire pit. FOREVER!"
"Shit," said the subjects with no King, "what a bunch of idiots we've been. Quick, pass me that last piece of pig, I'll take it with me for lunch. I've a field to plough."
So the people worked, and worked bloody hard. Then, after a bit, they got a proper King back. He'd been keeping his head down in France for a while, but he had returned. And there was peace throughout the land. Everything had gone back to how it was before, except it was no longer merry olde England because they all had far too much work to do. It was a new England. Similar to the old one but without all the "E"'s and the fun. A new, old England.
After a while, as a result of the free education paid for by their own taxes, one or two or the hard working members of the hard working families learnt to read. "Hang about," they said, "this book doesn't say anything of the bloody kind. I'm going to smoke a pipe and finish this ploughing tomorrow."
"No," the King's advisors screamed, "no, honestly, you need to work hard."
"Balls to that," education hadn't improved their eloquence, "Do you have a light?"
"Shit." Thought those that had always known the truth about the book and who worked in palaces, "If they don't keep making us rich we'll not be as rich. I mean, we'll still be rich, we're set for life really, but who doesn't want to be richer? AH HAH!" Another bright idea.
"Now listen, chaps, how about this. Work hard for us and we'll build a house for you to buy off us."
"You must think we were born yesterday, chum. We'll build our own houses."
"But don't you want a bigger house, a house so big and so lovely that you could never dream of being able to save enough to afford to buy?"
"Well, yes, I suppose, but I can't afford it."
"Then let us help you out. Have you ever heard of a mortgage?" The King and his men were fond of the odd Frenchism when not busy killing the French.
So the parties stopped again. Occasionally, someone would wonder why they were bothering building a big house that they couldn't afford and staying in on a Friday night just so they could survive until they died. These people became known as the "lazy". Later they would become hippies, then new age travelers and, finally, I.T. consultants.
Of course, people aren't stupid. They know that they're condemning themselves to a life of toil, taxes and tyranny, so they need to be encouraged. The coin only has it's power to bind you whilst it's a necessary evil, if you were to squirrel enough of it away you're free. This must be prevented, there's no point in them being rich if the rest of us are too. You must consume, you must spend, the wealth must trickle skyward.
Finished your grocery shopping? Managed to buy only what is on your carefully prepared, money saving list? Feeling happy with yourself? Good, while you're waiting to pay, and wait you must since only one of the forty-seven check-outs are open, why not treat yourself to a piece of lovely confectionery? Don't worry, you won't lose your place in the queue, they've put loads of the stuff right there where you can't miss it. You walked past the aisle that contains those self same snacks earlier and you weren't even tempted but now you can treat yourself to one. Just one piece of chocolate, four times the price it would've been if you'd bought it in a multi-pack from that aisle you ignored,
Look at that television of yours. It's shit. It really is. It was a good one, when it was new. You were the envy of your friends but then, one by one, they too replaced their aging sets until they all had better tellies than you. They laugh at you. You never catch them laughing at you, with your grainy, crackly, hi-def LCD piece of shit telly, but laugh at you they do. You must replace your telly. You must. You simply must.
You could save up for it, but by then you'd be the laughing stock of the village. No, you need to make this purchase and make it NOW.
Maybe your bank manager will lend you a few bob but then, shit, you had that Velux window fitted in the loft three years ago and you've not finished paying for that yet. If only there was some way of getting an unsecured loan of some kind, preferably without having to prove you can repay it because, let's face it, you can't really. But who to choose? What kind of company is so trustworthy that you can rely on it to play fair and so trusting that it would lend money to someone without the means to repay it? It's okay, the TV will tell you. The shitty, crackly, archaic box of lights and magic that is so in need of replacing. You can rely on the telly.
No time for research or to read the Ts&Cs, the match is on tonight. (It's not on the channel you have a licence for, nor on one of those other ones that fund themselves with advertising, it's on that channel that only costs you fifty quid a month and that the children never watch.) No, you need it now. Right now. If only there were some way you could get the funds released to your bank account within the next two hours.
So you plump for the one with the slickest or cutest advert. That one with the old biddies, if you can't trust old biddies who can you trust?
Don't people read Grimm anymore? The old biddy is always the baddy. There was an old biddy by the name of "Naggy" Harris when I was a cheeky little street urchin. She chased us with sticks for playing football and (unconnected) the council found a pile of dead cats in her bin cupboard. But generally, old biddies are nice.
Not these ones though. These ones are sinister, twisted, evil old ladies. They're friendly at first, and it's all so easy, so informal. The Ts&Cs? Well, they're perfectly in order, you're ninety-nine percent sure of that. You could be a hundred percent sure and read the ninety pages of legalese they've provided, but the match is looming and that shop that let's you have a telly on the never-never without any credit checks closes at five. If you get the telly from them you can get something else with the money the old biddies are lending you. A sofa maybe, or a dishwasher. The world's your lobster. You'll decide when you get there, the salesman will be able to tell you what you should buy. He wears a tie and a name badge. His name is Frank, with a name like that how could he possible be anything less than trustworthy?
Every which way we turn we're tempted, told what to want and offered the means to get it. And why shouldn't we? The King's men have big tellies. Alright, they didn't have to borrow money to buy theirs, but it's probably a human right, or something, that you have nice things. Why shouldn't you? The biddies said it was fine.
But now you're in debt and you don't know how you're going to pay it off. Maybe you could get a second job? Maybe you could win the lottery? Yes, that's it, the lottery, that's your way out. Two quid for a ticket? That's nothing, you can borrow it out of the money you put aside to pay for the new telly, then if you win you'll be able to put it back and, anyway, it's only two quid.
By now any one reading this will surely know that I'm leading up to a comment on the news that Wonga, a non-traditional source of finance, has dropped a huge bollock. They let people borrow money knowing that many of those people were in no position to pay the money back in time to prevent the crippling interest multiplying the amount owed to increasingly "optimistic" [extortionate] sums. The people weren't ever going to get out of the debt they cleverly manipulated their customers into, a steady trickle of income for every more. There would, of course, be legal costs involved in chasing the money and these would eat into their profits. Or would they?
The answer is, as we now all know, no. Why bother selling the debt on to a company for them to send out threatening, but legal, letters. Just mock up a letterhead on Word and write bogus versions, use big words and red ink until, at the bottom, offering them a way out. All they have to do is... stop paying their council tax and pay the biddies instead. Worry about the council tax later, just pay this one off. You must, the outstanding amount is written in RED. It's probably ink made from the blood of babies sacrificed on an altar somewhere, No one ignores red writing, they'll pay. Mwahahahaaa.
Then a man killed himself. And another. A couple of others died of natural causes in homes as cold as the moor because the red writing had demanded the gas money. People suffered and other people noticed.
Most had no sympathy. "They should have read the Ts&Cs" they said, having never in their own life read the Ts&Cs on anything they'd signed. "They owe the money, they should pay it back". Fair enough. Except, actually, no. Now I come to think about it it's not fair, not at all. The people borrowed money for things the corporate world, our new rulers, told them they needed. They were allowed to borrow money they couldn't afford to repay. The biddies weren't SURE they couldn't pay back, but they didn't care.
Actually, they could afford to repay both the sum borrowed and probably a reasonable amount in interest, but there was nothing reasonable about the deal. So they failed to make their greedy, parasitic saviours as rich as they would have liked to be. They couldn't, that's what it boils down to. Right or wrong, they couldn't afford it, the money just doesn't exist and Wonga knew this before lending them the money. It was their game plan all along, a brilliant plan of Machiavellian concept. Clever bastards. Cleverer than the hoi polloi.
But you can't get blood from a stone and so, ultimately, the plotters plan flunked. People were angry, enough people to make them impossible to ignore. The biddies were the baddies, not those scruffy oiks with their benefits and part time jobs, their council houses and food parcels. The scruffy oiks were victims.
Today many of those victims woke up to the news that Wonga have written off their debts. Three hundred and thirty three thousand people woke up and received a piece of news that has had them smiling all day. Tonight they'll get a good nights sleep, maybe for the first time in months because, whatever you think of them, they've been worried about it. They've sat on their couches, couches only a few months old, approximately one-eighth paid and already going threadbare on the arms, watching one of the free channels on their flat screen televisions because Sky have cut them off and all the while wishing they'd never clapped eyes on those wicked grandmothers. The bitches.
They've made a mistake, struggled, suffered and now had a bit of good luck. It's not far off Christmas either, and they'd been worried they'd not be able to afford their traditional family sized tin of Cadbury's Roses that are on offer near the tills in Tesco.
Most of us haven't taken out loans with Wonga. I certainly haven't, with my credit rating even the biddies would laugh at my application. Others among us may have used a similar company with a less cuddly advert but with the same [lack of] principles. Many of us will say "Wait, what? That's not fair. You're teaching them the wrong lesson. You're letting them get away with it." But what is it they're getting away with?
Poverty. That's what. They're getting away with being poor, of having less than fuck all and dreaming of more. Not much more, not a mansion or a Jag, not a swimming pool or gold bath taps, just a better telly than their mate has got. They've had a bit of good luck. Maybe they've learnt their lesson, maybe not. Maybe they'll do it all over again with the next shyster company that rears it's ugly head and end up in a similar amount of debt and a similar situation. In that case we can all shake our heads at them and point out that they are, without a doubt, fucking idiots.
But for now, why not give them the benefit of the doubt? The only reason we have to complain is that it's unfair, that we haven't had a share in the windfall. And we're right, it is indeed very unfair. But, in my opinion, the more unfair life is the better. One day maybe it'll be unfair for all of us, whether villager or King's man. Then, at that moment and in the most beautifully paradoxical fashion, everything will be fair.