I'm going to retire another story this weekend. This is a bit of fun. We had a theme on week in the Hackney Writers Group, we had to write spin-offs from great works. One guy, a super bloke who writes under the name Lochlan Bloom, brought in a story based on Kafka's Metamorphosis. I brought in this. It's OK, it's funny but it's insubstantial. Nowadays he's a published novelist (and well done!)and I'm a bitter, ranting weirdo. There's a lesson in there somewhere.
“Believe me when I say, Mr Sifford, you are suffering from existential despair and existential despair is one of the hardest states to cure... To decide not to decide is itself a decision, after all.” Dr Halford shrugged. “There are those who say we shouldn’t cure it and that without existential crisis we would lack motivation and understanding and regress to the state of helpless children.” He paused and looked meaningfully at his patient, sat opposite, expressionless, no apparent reaction.
Dr Halford rallied to his point: “But I say bunk!” and he bumped his fist lightly on the table between them. This brought a smile and a nod at last from Mr Sifford. “A man of your profession must remain motivated and sure of what he is doing…” Mr Sifford smiled some more. It was working. “And, the fact of the matter is if you or I or anybody else actually got their head around what the hell it is you do for a living, civilisation itself would be rocked to its core, we would be overwhelmed by scepticism, disbelief and downright Jacobinism and that… that is why I want to offer you a brand new treatment… experimental… expensive… very radical…”
“What’s is it?” asked Mr Sifford.
“I’ll show you” said Dr Halford. "Come with me to the basement."
Mr Sifford worked in the City for Babel-Brookes Financial Services, a centuries-old company that dealt in futures. Now a global business, back in the day it provided price hedging for agribusinesses, shipping and freight. Since deregulation the line between hedging and speculation had blurred. When Mr Sifford of Babel-Brookes ordered grain trucks to stop north of the Rio Grande to help correct the price of Mexican flour, or when he advised that rice imports into South-East Asia should be increased because of poor monsoons, he had to show Babel-Brookes was hedging not betting.
Sifford was a success. So why did he feel so ill at ease? Sifford knew that, beyond a certain stage, capital begets capital. Once you invest enough in a particular market the act of investment itself becomes self-fulfilling, the value will go up because… because.
Within this sure and certain paradigm the 2008 crash was a troubling event. For a few awful nights, Sifford laid low in his mansion, would go to bed and be haunted by the Invisible Hand. Despite appearances Sifford’s confidence was rocked and everything depended on his confidence.
Sifford needed to hold his own. Normally, as Chief International Account Holder, Sifford would boss his office, like a master of the hounds. High finance was a dog-eat-dog world. The only way up was if someone fell off the ladder of dogs. If it got out that he was having doubts about his work it would spell disaster and the end of all dog metaphors. Sifford still wasn’t keen on psychotherapy but he read about Dr Halford online, about his practice off Harley Street, and the blurb on the website looked good:
“We promise nothing but the best from our clients – the full range of inducements will be insisted, from the talking cure to compartmentalisation, role-play, ECT, differential exegesis, entropic methodologies, even pin the name on Rumplestiltskin – we will do anyone to anything and at any cost!”
Then there were the excellent testimonies from former patients:
“Better than a course of leeches…”
“I could feel the back of my head for the first time in years…”
“Dr Halford is a real person…”
There were positive, in-depth write-ups too, from sites like What Quack magazine and FindMyShrink.com.
Doctor and patient, down in the basement, one by one crept through the door. “This, this here is a unique new the Total Perspective Vortex... sorry, therapy... what do you think?” Dr Halford seemed anxious. Sifford didn't seem to think anything, until:
“Big?” It was big, it almost filled the basement floor of Dr Halford's practice, whatever it was. It seemed to be a wide flat dome, silvery, with no markings, no knobs or buttons and no exit/entrance. “It's bigger than you think...” said Halford, “but does it ring any bells perhaps? No ill forbodances perchance? Does it trigger any eerie auguries, fell shadows...? Do you know what this is...?”
“The Total Perspective... um?” said Sifford, frowning, confused.
“No” snapped Halford. “I mean, do you know what it does...? You haven't read anything about Total Perspective Vortexes before anywhere at any time have you...?”
“I'm a Senior Account Manager at Babel-Brookes” said Sifford with a thin smirk. “I don't get a lot of time for reading.”
“Good” said Halford, clapping his hands and smiling warmly, “then I'll, uh... The Total Perspective Vortex, Therapy, is very simple. It’s the latest tool in extra dimensional therapy… experimental… expensive… very radical… but it’s showing promising results in the field of, um, therapy. Tell me, Mr Sifford” he said with a frown, “are you a humanist…?”
Sifford was thrown. “I’m a human, if that’s what you mean…?”
“We all think we are” said Halford with a renewed smile. He reached up clapped Sifford on the back. “Have you heard of …” He corrected himself. “There’s an old saying, a maxim if you will, that ‘man is the measure of all things…’ It’s a reasonable proposition, after all we know humanity, or at least we know something about it, enough to be able to compare it to other examples of matter, to see how they stack up, like a universal equivalent, a currency, yes, like a philosophical currency, a reliable value… or is it…?” Sifford wasn’t sure but Dr Halford didn’t seem to mind. “The point is there have been many great humanists… Some of my best friends are humanists… But there's a problem in all this, can you guess, Mr Sifford…?”
Sifford shrugged. “It, uh, takes one to know one?”
“Indeed it does” laughed Halford. He pressed on Sifford’s shoulders for a moment. “But we’re talking about humanists.” He let go. “The problem, Mr Sifford, is the Parable of the Dolphins…”
No reaction. Halford continued:
“The story goes that human beings thought they were the most intelligent species on Earth on account of the great cities and civilisations they built, and the wars they fought defending them, whereas the dolphins just spent all their time mucking about in the sea having a laugh. The dolphins meanwhile thought they were the most intelligent species for exactly the same reason… Humanity, Mr Sifford, is only one currency, just one perspective. This on the other hand” said Dr Halford, pointing to the device in front of them, “this gives you the Total Perspective... Have you ever wanted to know what it’s all about?”
“It can’t harm, I suppose."
Dr Halford just smiled. “Step right this way, Mr Sifford.” Without prompting a door swung open and Sifford climbed inside the Total Perspective Vortex. The door closed.
Thirty seconds later it opened again and Sifford strode out, beaming: “Wow! That was fantastic! I feel so much…!” He shook Halford by the hand. The Doctor's whole body quaked with the force of Sifford’s enthusiasm. “How can I repay you, Doc? Cash, money, yeah, that’s what you guys like, isn’t it? How much do you want, Buddy?”
“A… million… pounds…?” said Dr Halford slowly.
“I don’t have that kind of money on me” said Sifford, letting go. “Anyway” he smiled, winsomely, glancing around the dim, dusty basement, “I was thinking more like two grand?” He returned to Halford’s gaze. “Does that seem right…?”
“That’s also fine” said the Dr, meekly.
“Send the bill to my fake company” said Sifford, "Magrathea Industries." He strode through the door to the basement and up the nearby stairs. “I’ve gotta be going, there’s a job needs doing.”
Halford shouted after him “what job?”
“The meaning of life” said Sifford, “I don’t know. Something like that… I’ll know when I get there.”
“Where?” asked Halford, but there was a slam of doors. Sifford was gone. The Doctor smiled again to himself in the lingering silence.
The 23rd floor of Priapic-Compensator Towers, a thrusting new development just off Threadneedle Street, was given over to Babel-Brookes Head Office. It was a busy, noisy place, an open plan affair, where people paid little heed to anything except their phone and their terminal. Even so, when Sifford came striding in people noticed. His PA came rushing over from the coffee cart:
“What’re you doing here, boss?” the PA puffed. “This is supposed to be your bogus day off.” She looked troubled, rushed off her feet.
“Plan’s changed, Tricia” said Sifford, without breaking stride. “I’ve got a mission. I’ve got to save the world... That or destroy it… Maybe… Or perhaps both… The point is I’m back.”
“That’s great” sighed Tricia. “Arthur, the staff baboon is not going to take much more anti-psychotic medicine. We had to strap him to your seat, you know...? The mess is just horrible…”
“Give the poor guy a rest” said Sifford. “I need to work.”
Baboon removed, mess cleared away, Sifford sat down at his terminal. Though the noise and the hustle continued Head Office seemed instantly more relaxed... that is until a cascade of alarming colours and sounds passed along computer screens. What was going on? Someone was selling and selling everything, dumping huge amounts of capital onto the market. It was Sifford. There was a chorus of voices:
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Where’d the money go?”
Sifford, acknowledging the hubbub, stood up on his desk. “Guys, guys” he said repeatedly until the room came to a slow stop. “Ladies… gentlemen… froods… I know what you must be thinking and, don’t worry, everything’s going to be alright. It’s like the parable of the ant and the dolphin, you know… or something. No... The important thing is, my friends, is that I’ve had an epiphany today. We are at final readout. It’s time to see what the score is before we evolve. Money is just the movement of bits of green paper, or digital information, which might be green, I don’t know. We’ll know when it gets there. The point is, the important thing is I have seen the Total Perspective. Yeah…? And the answer to all or some or none of this is we have to sell everything…”
“But that will cause a global crash” said a heckler.
“Exactly!” said Sifford. “That’s right! The price of everything will fall, everywhere… We have the means… We control the market... We can bring the Invisible Hand down... Yes! Everything will be extremely cheap but no one will have any money to buy things with but we will.” There were nods and smiles around the office. “Isn’t that brilliant?" Sifford smiled. "It's post-modern scarcity, no, post-scarcity! Then, because we've got all the money, then we'll really rake it in” said Sifford. More nods and murmurs of assent. “We can do it... Yes! Now let's get selling!” There was a loud cheer and staff got back to work, the hubbub renewed; sell, sell, sell!
“Meanwhile” said Sifford, though no one was listening, “if you don’t all mind I’m going to do my bit to defuse the pensions time bomb.” With that he charged through the nearest window and fell to his death.