Professor Ben Trend delivered the following address to an appreciative audience of financial consultants in the Free Trade Hall last night. It replaced a performance of La Traviata (1) which was cancelled after soprano Lira Carissima had understandably declined surgery for a ruptured appendix. Professor Trend stood in at the last minute and in a fine gesture agreed to waive his fee.
(1. Dollazetti’s `La Traviata’ is named after the original singularly tedious opera about human relationships by the nineteenth century hack, Verdi. This modern masterpiece, by contrast, captivates the imagination with its vitality. It tells the story of a young idealist, Owen Gold, as he rides the heights of bliss upon inheriting a small fortune in shares. The most moving scene in the whole opera is between Gold and his stock broker, Sterling Loss (played most recently by baritone Peseta Domingo on top form). Loss breaks the news that overnight the market has crashed and Gold’s shares have become valueless. This tragic turn of events is played out in a bank vault against a haunting backdrop of safety deposit boxes. In this context, with powerful irony, this location comes to symbolize, not so much a nursery of fulfilment, as a mortuary of hopes destroyed. Gold is grief stricken. He contrives to be locked in the vault over the long Easter week-end. The irony here is again masterly. On the Tuesday morning, after several profoundly moving arias which increase in volume and duration as he suffocates, he is found dead among his shares by the cleaners. One cannot help but admire the way a sterile motif in Aida has been so brilliantly echoed to such good advantage – and invested with new meaning at such a high rate of interest!)
Financiers, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is hard for those of us born into the middle of the 21st Century to appreciate how lucky we are. Recently however a document fell into the hands of one of our researchers which brings home very forcefully indeed the extent of our good fortune. It is heart-breaking to read the anguish experienced by the far-sighted writer of this precious fragment of social history. He struggled almost all his working life against the obscurantist philanthropy of the National Health Service. Those of us who have for so long enjoyed the benefits of the Wealth Service may pity, but can barely understand, the true nature of his predicament. A considerable effort of imagination is required here.
Even the well-educated amongst us may find it hard to credit how backward-looking English society was at that time. We all know that the true value of money was poorly understood in those days, but most of us fail to grasp how extremely primitive and sentimental their mind-set was. For example, the belief that human life was in some way valuable in and of itself was still amazingly prevalent.
We have to really struggle to remember that this was a society that saw as somehow tragic the richly meaningful death of a security guard shot as he defended a payroll. The concept of fiscal martyrdom, which comes as naturally to our minds as oxygen does to our lungs, was quite unknown to them. They knew, but saw as regrettable, that human beings could lay down their lives for their wealth in an emergency. What they could never envisage is what is commonplace nowadays: people, in heroically cold-blood, euthanase when their personal balance of payments in terms of society sinks into the red for more than six consecutive months. Nowadays we take for granted that even those entitled to dialysis, such as Bank Managers, Accountants and Economists, for the most part refuse it because it costs too much. Many of these deeply spiritual people consider that a heart by-pass is, on balance, too high a price to pay for the continuation of their services: it makes them unacceptably expensive to run. This is in touching contrast to the mindless self-interest of those in earlier times who used to cling to life for years regardless of the inordinate expense incurred as a result by the National Wealth, sorry Health Service: it is only fair to add that they were able to do so only with the help of spendthrift medical teams in a context of culpable and widespread collusion on the part of the electorate (2) as a whole.
More far-fetched than almost anything else was their belief that altruism, by which they meant the preposterous impulse to lay down one’s life for another human being, was in some way inherent in the human species, and that it was perhaps not just genetic but had something to do with what they miscalled `spirituality’. (Many such terms have in our day been given their proper meaning: `spirituality’ as every one now recognizes is based upon devotion to wealth and could never lead to such wasteful extravagance as throwing away one’s life, let alone one’s assets, to save, to give a particularly stupid example, the life of a child). It is so long since even the youngest children or the most primitive tribes in this day and age believed such twaddle that we find such widespread delusion absolutely terrifying.
It is for that reason that such a document as the one I present here today is so valuable. The brave person who penned it was a member of a government audit department, the Special Audit Insurance Negotiation Team as it was called: today he would simply be called a `saint’ in recognition of the true derivation of that word. He was at the vanguard, the cutting edge, of society’s evolution towards the present my- – sorry, ut-opia. I leave you now to savour without further interference this evocative fragment of an early, anonymous and pioneering martyr’s story.
The fragment begins half-way down page fifteen of what was clearly a much longer report.
`. . . . . . incredible the moral imbecility of medics who continue to pour wealth into keeping alive such haemorrhaging drains on our resources for interminable periods of time. It is self-evident to any responsible citizen that these so-called physicians should themselves be ablated from the body politic as no longer fit for purpose if they collude with a refusal to comply with the current enlightened legislation that requires the immediate auditing of all those who take more than they give from the balance sheet of society. My recommendation is. . . ‘
We are not sure why so little of this moving communication has survived. Communication technology was in those days very primitive, perhaps because they were more concerned to squander resources on people than on progress. Perhaps he was martyred before he could send it and the heretics responsible destroyed all but this last brief fragment: medics were capable of almost any perfidy to safeguard their extravagance. Clearly, under the circumstances, his choice of words was admirably restrained, a testimony to the self-sacrificing professionalism of this devoted group of civil, in every sense of the word, servants. Here, if any were needed, is objective documentary evidence of the barbarism and heartlessness of the people of those days.
The report’s dispassionate language echoes down the centuries touchingly to us here. Let us end on a moment’s meditation in honour of such self-effacing heroism. Thank you for listening.
There was a standing ovation and flowers were donated for Madame Carissima’s re-cycling into fertiliser.
(2. Electorate is a term long since fallen into disuse along with its sister concept democracy. These archaic and misguided aspects of government involved the barely credible idea that ordinary people were sufficiently intelligent and perceptive to choose their rulers. We long ago recognised that an educated plutocracy was the only sensible arrangement. Rich people who understand economics are the only ones fit to govern for the clear benefit of all.)