Greed by John Mulligan

A little connivance

There are villages, towns and cities. Cities are the most undesirable of the three. There is a great lie protruding through society connived by the ‘responsible men’ who falsely claim the cities are the places full of civility, liberalism and decency. These same cities are no longer the hotspots they were once considered, they have changed quite drastically, and the reason for this was simple enough. There is nothing in the newspaper archives written by shameless journalists, neither was there anything in the academic journals written by dishonest scholars. The reason can be explained plainly and truthfully without grandiosity. There was a government policy which was quite clever in itself and devious to remarkable levels at the same time. The clandestine plan was to force the underclass, the unemployable, the elderly, single mothers and so on out of these cities and into more gruesome areas and the way this was achieved was through economic policy. It was a war by other means, but it had backfired...spectacularly. 

In one country which is the home of the greatest writer of his age, of any age, and the city which is the birthplace of the author of Paradise Lost is where we draw our gaze. The streets, roads, paths, bus lanes, train stations, shop entrances, in parks and everywhere else it seems are a certain category of people who are considered be the modern-day pariahs. These are the homeless who have come to the city to make their money begging on the streets. But this is untrue. They are not homeless but would have everyone believe so. They receive their training just outside the city, that is right, they require training to fill out their role in convincing the public that they are in fact homeless. The training takes place in a colossal building which looks like a gas chamber from some years ago, but it is not a gas chamber. The leader who trains these conniving beggars is an aging man called Percy Pickleflower, if that is the name he was born with then more the fool him for not changing it. Currently he is training the reprobates in the unknown location just outside the city.

‘Go about the city unshaven or with an untidy, scruffily dangling beard if it creates empathy from the public. The golden rule is this: most will ignore you, they will mutter obscenities, others will give you grotesque looks. Whatever they do the golden rule is to compliment them: have a nice day or enjoy your evening, then if they see you again, which they will, there is an even chance they will spare you some change. Remember you must act like businessmen, hunting your prey. Seek out the vulnerable and the naive. You must behave like there is a hunger in your stomach, look dejected, always be pathetic and put on a suffering voice. The time has come to make yourself proud. Let us make the free market proud and rein in the profits. Go, and like Henry the fifth, fight for England!’

The men, yes, they were all men, swamped the city with their make-believe homes; there were cardboard boxes, tents, sleeping bags, duvet covers, with some there were just pillows. There were hundreds of these beggars who would disperse in the city and make a small fortune. It was important for these men not to be spotted so they traversed the city escorted in large vans in the very early hours of the morning, so they would not be seen. All this terrible business was justified by the unceremonious individuals of course, they would often argue about this matter, one person would have one view about this, law and behold the other would have a different view. At this very moment one of these altercations was taking place between two of the beggars, and it was all becoming very hot-tempered.

‘This is a legitimate business,’ said one man who had big beer gut and a face so ugly people often gave him money out of sympathy for his abominable face. The man’s nose was so large and malformed even Cyrano de Bergerac would be shocked at such a thing. There were spots everywhere strewn across his face, the teeth were rotting, his face had more wrinkles than a 500- year-old witch. Nevertheless, he continued his conversation with his opponent. ‘We are leading the revolution into the new world, the new business class we are, how are we any different to business people; we are no different to them, we both operate in the same bedevilling and devilish ways. They con people, make them buy things they do not really need or want, they are deceitful and only wish to get a promotion, make as much money that is humanly possible and stab everybody in the back at the same time. We are only copying their model and it is a very honourable thing to do.’

‘You are no human being,’ came the exasperating response. ‘This is how it is in the world, eh? I was born in the gutter myself and saw how life was. I watched Nazarin, Luis Buñuel’s tale. I became Nazarin, a man that is a moral voice, yes, he is the only moral voice and the others, all the others are diseased vermin like yourself. When I was a young man and homeless, some supercilious student threw a book my way. It was Ibsen’s A Public Enemy, I read it and I became Doctor Stockmann overnight, yes, it is he who I became, the only man in the town who speaks of the social lie and moral truths. I should punch you in your gut.’

The man with the monstrosity of a nose was grunting with rage and malice. ‘Look at you, look at him everybody, it is our saviour; it is Jesus Christ. Here he comes as our moral saviour. What are you doing here, tell me that much, you are here because you are spineless, gutless and supine.’

His learned colleague punched him on his great big, flushed, crimson nose. He fell tumbling to the ground, clenching his nose which was covered in blood. His attacker stood over him and looked down at him. ‘I had no money,’ he said. ‘I had nothing, I became desperate, I became weak, and lowered myself to the immorality of all this. You lot should be thrown to the dogs. This is what we call society, I would rather starve to death and be ripped to pieces by a dog the size of your nose. Goodbye.’ And with that, he left.

The incident did not last very long in the mind of Cyrano de Bergerac the second. He was more interested in filling his pockets with undeserving money. Business continued as usual, and the conniving bunch made a great deal of money by conning the public. They took money from children who spared them their last bits of change from their pocket money, and they happily took it, they harassed and begged like savage beasts. This went on day after day, night after night, when they went, other men would take their place and engage in these abominable practices, they all knew it was grotesque, but they continued nonetheless. A great deal of scandal and shame had been committed by these people, but they did not care about that, what was important was their lust for money, and they were not to blame for that, somebody or something was to blame, but it was not them. It was approaching five in the morning, it was quiet of course, and while they were waiting for people to saunter in the busy area of the city, the men were discussing the purpose of their work.

A man who looked over one-hundred years old but had not yet reached fifty was animated about all this talk about ‘the national character,’ and he gave his views on what the national character ought to be. ‘We are not a proud nation, we say we are proud, but I do not think we are proud. We do not have intellectual brains, we dislike the intelligentsia, philosophy, our culture is backward, our whole way of life is backward, there is not much of a national character as we struggle to attain our identity. There is one redeeming quality about us as a nation though, and that is the greatest thing of all: we are bigger rogues than the most terrible villains in the world, we are even worse than the Machiavellian Shakespearean and Dickensian Malefactor. We are worse than the conniving brother of Brutus, Cassius; the cruelty of Iago and Aaron the Moor; the cowardice of Hamlet and Falstaff; the crimes of Macbeth and the Duke of York. Our one redeeming quality is greed, avarice, the capability to make money, to exploit the weak, to make profits, to live a prosperous life, that is our one redeeming quality, and it is the best quality, we have that much pride, and can say that much.’

One fellow was listening with some distaste, and his face screwed up as the man spoke. He stood up and proclaimed something quite remarkable: ‘It is all disingenuous of you to say those words. We are the envy of the world; God is on our side, he always has been, who can say otherwise? We are a great nation, and a proud one. Our tanks batter other countries down and only over here can God move in mysterious ways, yes, God was an Englishman. Go on laugh, all of you laugh. All this is true. We are the superior race. We dealt with the inferior races of the Irish, the Indians, Jamaicans, the Americans, the French, Germans, Russians. We are a great nation and we must hold our heads up high.’

Then another person stepped into the argument who had only one leg and one arm. ‘The both of you are talking rubbish here. This is the talk of children. Look to those heavens and look to God. Look to the heavens and look at the music in our ears. God did not give this nation an ear for music, just look towards Germans for music; look towards God again and what do you see with this literature, yes, God gave the pen to the Russians and the French; ask God about art. He gave the paintbrush to the Italians, greed and avarice to the Americans, manners and customs to the Orientals, hard work to the Japanese, and to the British God gave everlasting suffering, torment and pain, that is it! That is the one character of the nation: to suffer and to suffer and to suffer. Who else in the world would do the work we do? We were born to suffer and when we die we will suffer more because we are pigs, vermin, and nothing more.’

This discussion of sorts carried on between the three men while everybody else observed their different views about ‘the national character.’ These observers did not care to discuss these sorts of things because their interests lied elsewhere. Their heads did not have the appetite for it or the desire. Sometime later when all the talk abated somewhat, one of the grubby-faced men who loathed all this talk about ‘the national character,’ surprised everyone and blurted out the following sentence ‘All this is pretence, yes all pretence!’ When he was asked to explain himself away at this insult, he did, and said the following: ‘The national character is this: we do not have the brains or mentality to discuss such things, it is not our way. You think you are Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, get away with all your pretence. Let us have no talk about this national character. We do not even understand intricate subjects, let us talk about idle frivolities, and rest.’

The men were silent. Some slept; some did not. Time soon dissipated, they made their money and went home. There was nothing more to say. Some men thought deeply about the discussion, as did others, but never again would they discuss ‘the national character,’ they did not believe they had the right to. The three men who added their voices to the discussion all confessed they did not have the mentality to discuss international affairs, international literature, music, culture, and so on, sure, they could drop names and speak briefly about them but that is as far as this took them, and they later admitted it was because of ‘cultural chauvinism,’ a term they coined themselves, yes, they were all chauvinists. It was a terrible state of affairs, but it was the plain truth. 

Some weeks later, when all this had been forgotten, the same men congregated in the same area, working, as they would have it. A number of girls in their mid-twenties sauntered past, giving the men some money. The man with the colossal nose asked one of the women where she was from as he noticed she spoke in a foreign tongue. When they told him they were from Germany, he almost exploded with excitement.

‘The Germans know how to make their money, they know how to get along in the world and know how to speculate, they are great investors, all these business people in Germany are an inspiration to me. That is something to be. To be rich and know your market well. That is the way to be in the world. That is something to aim to. Yes, I am a great admirer of the German race.’
The women gave blank expressions at the men, and each other. One of the girls stepped forward, who had boots big enough to kill any man, replied to his ramblings. ‘You, sir, are not a great admirer of the German race, you are a great admirer in wanting to bankroll your pockets. That is nothing to do with my country. You could have said anything about the success of the Germans: you could have mentioned Beethoven, Goethe, Bismarck, Marx, Nietzsche, even the Bayreuth festival, I was there last year to watch Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, but that does not interest you.’

For some reason this retort from the German girl played on his mind; he could think of nothing else. He knew the words she spoke were true. He was muttering incoherent sentences to himself, half statements even. ‘Why do I think the way I do?’ and ‘Am I really that much of a brute?’ He concluded he was, but he could not understand why he had these awful views, and he could not shake this obsession off, as he was walking, he passed a newspaper stand. He browsed at the papers, as he did often, but this time it was different. He saw two front-page headlines which struck a nerve with him. He looked closely at them, he picked one of the papers up and started to read the article. This great nation of ours has no national character because all these invaders, aliens, foreigners, scroungers, and outsiders are polluting our way of life.’ He mused for a few moments then drew his attention to the other newspaper. He did the same and started reading the frontpage article. We, in this great country of ours, differ from our neighbours, we think big. Let us not waste our time with prattling on about the culture of other countries, we must make ourselves, our children and grandchildren prosperous. Again, he mused to himself but remained silent. His face suddenly went pale. He found a moment of clarity and said out loud, ‘Now I know why I, along with everybody else in this country, think the way I do.’