Short Story: Live with it

On October 51st, some time this century, a conference took place of biological, agricultural, economic and theological experts which was under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation for the Disposal of Food Surpluses.

The chairman, Cyrus Blankmind (chief marketing adviser to Pacific Continents Food Producers Association) opened the conference by pointing out that it had been called because of the gigantic build-up of food surpluses and the complete inability to solve the problem of disposing of them. Bearing this in mind, he would without further comment throw the meeting open to general discussion in the hope that a solution would be found.

During what followed many speakers took part. There was talk of government subsidies, lowering prices, increasing prices, devaluation, revaluation, the green pound up and down, the dollar up and down, even changing the colour from green to blue.

And then it was the turn of Viscount Knowless. chairman of the board of directors of the worldwide multinational animal foodstuffs suppliers, Selmore and Growless Ltd. What has to be done, he said, was to export the food surplus, no matter where, perhaps to some derelict waste—it did not matter as long as there was no-one to eat it. The main thing was to get it off the world’s market. There were nods of agreement from the assembled experts and murmurs of ‘Excellent idea’, ‘What a brilliant suggestion’. The snag, however, was who was to be paid for the transportation and the compensation to the owners.

At this point the chairman wished to bring to the notice of the conference that they had been honoured by the presence of a distinguished visitor, none other than the heir apparent of the United Kingdom of Great Botheram, The Prince of Whales, who would address the gathering. (Applause). The Prince then delivered his speech in the manner of his father, the Duke of Idlesburg.

He said that there were some people who thought that exports should be increased, but on the other hand there were some who said that exports should be decreased. There were those who maintained that prices should be increased, but there were also those who said they should be decreased. There were those who said that food surpluses would never be disposed of, but on the other hand there were those who said that they would and should be disposed of. The problem, he announced, was that surpluses had to be sold and the stability of civilisation depended on this. It was not his prerogative to take sides in the debate, but this much seemed apparent to him: that should the problem not be solved it would remain an unsolved problem. It was with great pleasure, therefore, that he had to inform the conference that the Prime Minister of Great Botherham, Mr. James Lucky, very often endearingly referred to as Honest Jim. had appointed the world famous economist. Professor C. Ball, to head a loyal commission to investigate the possibility of finding a solution to the food surplus problem. These profound observations were greeted by the assembled experts with loud applause and cries of ‘Hear Hear’.

There followed many more speeches: tax concessions, MCAS intervention, price control, dehumanising processes, sell cheap to the Martians.

The chairman then announced that the world famous anthropologist, Dr. Margaret Mindbender, was in attendance, accompanied by the medicine man of the group of primitive people who were the subject of her recent study into the life style of people still in the food gathering and hunting stage of cultural development, the Esaigoinga tribe of the Central Pacific continent. And he invited her to address the conference on the behaviour and attitudes of these people.

In her speech the famous anthropologist explained that the tribe were few in numbers (about five thousand) and that they lived by food gathering and hunting in the middle of dense jungle. She explained that they only gathered and hunted sufficient for their needs, that there was no private property, there were no leaders, no exchange values and consequently no money. Each member of the tribe gave service to the community to the best of his or her ability and took from the common pool what he or she needed.

Through the whole course of this speech there were involuntary cries of incredulity and amazement from the gathered experts. When she had finished the chairman thanked her for her contribution and asked the experts if there were any questions they would like to ask.

The first question was from Dr. Bunkum van Bletheridge, a well known member of the central committee of the World Council for Religious Survival. He described himself as a theologian (he was a practising pastor of the Doltz Misinformed Church) and scientists (he was a member of the Loyal Society for the Advancement of Idealistic Materialism). He said he had been very interested in Dr. Mindbender’s address, but she had failed to make reference to the question (to him, a moral one) of food surpluses, which was, he reminded the experts, the reason for the conference. What, he asked, did the Esaigoina tribe do about the food surpluses that they accumulated? At this, the famous anthropologist had a conversation in an incomprehensible language with her companion, the medicine man. She then addressed the questioner. It was very difficult, she said, for these primitive people to understand what is meant by accumulated food surpluses as it was very rare for more food to be gathered than was required, but on the rare occasion that this did happen no further hunting or gathering took place until the food had been eaten, each member of the tribe having free access to it. This reply brought forth more cries of incredulity and horror. The very idea that surplus food should be consumed with no money or exchange being involved was inexplicable to the assembled experts.

After some further speeches and questions along similar lines, the chairman announced that the time had come to conclude the proceedings. He thanked everyone concerned for their attendance and remarked that although no solution had been found it had been a useful exercise. In the meantime vast food surpluses still remained and although millions of people had to die with it, all of us have had to live with it.

Harry Walters