Bah, Hummer! Lessons We Should Have Learned From 19th Century Fiction

Posted: November 8, 2009 in Politics


We’ve had access to this book for 166 years. And not just the book. Since 1901 there have been 23 adaptations of the book for film, 21 for the stage, and countless retellings, reimaginings and revisits to the source material in print, on radio and on television.

166 years, we’ve all seen it or read it or heard it. University English and Theology courses are taught on it. We know its characters and their famous lines. We think we know what it’s about, and we let our kids draw the same inferences we do.

But we really, really, obviously have no clue.

In 1843, Charles Dickens published a book called, “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.”

Do you feel silly yet; do you know where I’m going with this one?

You probably think. “A Christmas Carol,” is a story of redemption. Of a man’s ability, even in his twilight years, to recognize his faults and correct them. Or maybe you think it’s a cautionary tale; a story about your bad deeds coming back to literally haunt you. Maybe the hero for you is Bob Cratchit, ever suffering, ever kind and unwilling to say bad words even about monsters, even at Christmas.

If you were nodding along to any of those, or maybe coming up with a few more nuggets about charity and kindness and reaping what you sow, I’m sorry. I’d like to call you an idiot and dismiss you forever from the rolls of people that count. But I can’t. I can’t, because I was once like you. The real message was obscured from me by the same fear of certain dirty words that now blinds you.

The true message of this wonderfully simplistic book is incredibly, blindingly glaring.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Money bad. People good.

For the last year, the world has been suffering a recession. We’ve been loath to call it a depression because no one’s lining up for bread this time, at least no more than usual. The truth is, the systems and safeguards that ironically allowed for a depression in the thirties are no longer present today. We’ve ensured that the “free market” is anything but, and price fixing, imaginary money and the forward march of THINGS WE MUST BUY AT ALL COST have ensured that, to a point, things will always limp on. So we have three default positions of economic status now. Good, kinda broken, and apocalypse from which there is no return. Guess what most reputable economists are saying is going to happen next time.

This has all become extremely relevant to me over the last month. I work in a union shop, in an industry inextricably linked to the oil industry. And, while all around me when I shop, I see help wanted signs and newspaper articles telling me the recession is over, at my work people are getting ready to line up for bread. Why? Because there isn’t enough profit to be made from my labour yet; at least not until demand for it has been artificially raised by stalling production of oil until people start screaming for it; until they don’t care about cost anymore.

Last week I watched a Law and Order episode whose climax revolved around a drug designed to cure heroin addiction. I got curious and did some research and it turns out that the drug does exist in a raw form, and has applications that could instantly cure any physical dependencies or compulsive behaviour disorders. In its raw, unrefined form, which is the only one legal in Canada, and which is considered a Schedule 1 narcotic in the U.S. it unfortunately has a 1 in 300 mortality rate. Better odds than Russian roulette to be sure, but still not fantastic. Surely, you might ask, drug companies could refine the raw form of the compound and turn it into a usable and safe medicine that could bring withdrawal-free relief to millions of people afflicted by a host of addictions. Well, yeah they could. But they won’t. See, the FDA, for whatever reason, while not declaring a legal position on either side of the debate, simply allowed the patent on the drug to lapse. Which meant pharma companies couldn’t make any money off developing medicine for human trials. So they didn’t. Methadone, nicotine patch, gum, solvent, hypnotism, acupuncture and faith healing dealers the world over must have breathed a collective sigh of relief through the ashes of their dead, homeless or worse, patients.

Hey, and let’s not forget the media darling, H1N1. My daughter and fiancée both went to get their immunizations yesterday and the nurse giving the shots made sure to let us know that, if I contracted the virus before inoculations for the general population were made available, there was an antiviral cure that I could get at any E.R. within the first 72 hours after the onset of symptoms.


So, a virus, which for all intents and purposes is just another variation of the common flui,and which has been floating the earth for less than a year, is curable? What about the other flu? What about the common cold, or HIV or Herpesii or Stupidiii,which might be the worst perpetrator of all? How many people have died in the last century that could still be walking the earth rather than spending billions of dollars on “treatments” that not only didn’t work that well but, in failing to do so, guaranteed repeat purchase?

But you know all this. I knew all this.

We drive cars we know will kill the planet, ingest food we know is slathered in preservatives that will probably give us cancer, give money to charities we know can’t produce results, and generally engage in an assortment of very bad behaviour that, not so deep down, we know is colossally bereft of intelligence and will most likely doom us all.


Well, two reasons, really.

1) That’s just the way things are.

2) We’re lazy, and scared.

We’re scared of those dirty words I alluded to up top. Socialismiv and communismv

. We are a people raised to the belief that the Market is God; that financial regulation is Satan and that only those who serve the system will descend, borne on golden parachutes, into the promised land of The Country Club. We have, in short, tricked ourselves into believing that the companies we work for are more important than we are. That there is inherent weakness, stupidity and evil in believing that the homeless guy outside the liquor store has as much right to a hot and a cot as the guy who owns the building he used to live in.

For fucking shame.

Capitalism is broken. If we have another recession our entire economic system will collapse into a ball of green flame, fuelled by the empty promises and full bank accounts of the talking heads who try to tell us how to think. There are only so many different types of iPod, laptop, and fake hair we can buy before we just stop. Our way of life is one of consumption and it doesn’t take a genius to know that the more we feed the monster the bigger and hungrier it gets; eventually we start looking like dinner.

I don’t know what the solution is. The idea of communism and socialism scare me as much as you, whether that’s because I’m as much a product of programming as anyone else or because I’ve seen the math on why they don’t work in the real world, I’ll keep to myself. I’m not an economist, I’m a writer. But so was Dickens, and 166 years ago he wrote a story that sold a bazillion copies and failed utterly to educate in the way he intended. We all have ideas, we just need to put aside our laze and really learn to think for ourselves. You know, in between the commercials telling us what to buy for Christmas.

Please back away from the broken toy and find something new to play with. Or ghosts will get you.

That’s the message, right?

iWhich has been killing people big, small and rich for who knows how long.

iiLate night T.V. assures me that there are antiviral treatments for good old Herpes but they never say anything about a cure.

iiiPlease God, let there be a cure for Stupid.


vFeel free to faint now.


  1. jubri says:

    I’ve just finished a course on 19th century English literature and that is an interpretation I’ve never come across before XD
    this is a great article and I agree with every point it makes which is boring because there will be no discussion, oh well… on to ‘No “News” is Good News: Enquiring Minds and the Salvation of Print Journalism’

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