Lanark

„…Thank you, I don’t smoke,” said Lanark, cooling a little. A while later Lanark said, „Would you tell me exactly what the creature is?” „A conspiracy which owns and manipulates everything for profit.” „Are you talking about the wealthy?” „Yes, but not the wealthy in coins and banknotes–that sort of wealth is only coloured beads to keep the makers servile. The owners and manipulators have smarter ways of banking energy. They pay themselves with time: time to think and plan, time to examine necessity from a distance.” An old man leaning on a stick and a dark young man with a turban entered and stood talking quietly by the pillar. Grant’s loud voice had been even and passionless, but suddenly he said, „What I hate most is their conceit. Their institute breaks whole populations into winners and losers and calls itself culture. Their council destroys every way of life which doesn’t bring them a profit and calls itself government. They pretend culture and government are supremely independent powers when they are nothing but gloves on the hands of Volstat and Quantum, Cortexin and Algolagnics. And they really think they are the foundation. They believe their greed holds up the continents. They don’t call it greed, of course, they call it profit, or (among themselves, where they don’t need to fool anyone) killings. They’re sure that only their profit allows people to make and eat things.” „Maybe that’s true.” „Yes, because they make it true. But it isn’t necessary. Old men remember when the makers unexpectedly produced enough for everyone. No crop failed, no mine was exhausted, no machinery broke down, but the creature dumped mountains of food in the ocean because the hungry couldn’t pay a profitable price for it, and the shoemaker’s children went shoeless because their father had made too many shoes. And the makers accepted this as though it was an earthquake! They refused to see they could make what they needed for each other and to hell with profit. They would have seen in the end, they would have had to see, if the council had not gone to war.” „How did that help?” „As the creature couldn’t stay rich by selling necessary things to the folk who made them it sold destructive things to the council. Then the war started and the destructive things were used to wreck the necessary things. The creature profited by replacing both.” „Who did the council fight?” „It split in two and fought itself.” „That’s suicide!” „No, ordinary behaviour. The efficient half eats the less efficient half and grows stronger. War is just a violent way of doing what half the people do calmly in peacetime: using the other half for food, heat, machinery and sexual pleasure. Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation.” „I refuse to believe men kill each other just to make their enemies rich.” „How can men recognize their real enemies when their family, schools and work teach them to struggle with each other and to believe law and decency come from the teachers?” „My son won’t be taught that,” said Lanark firmly. „You have a son?” „Not yet.” The chapterhouse had filled with chattering groups and Ritchie-Smollet moved among them collecting signatures in a book. There were many young people in bright clothing, old eccentric men in tweeds and a large confusion of in-between people. Lanark decided that if this was the new government of Unthank he was not impressed. Their manners were shrill and vehement or languid and bored. Some had the mark of the council on their brow but nobody displayed the calm, well-contained strength of men like Monboddo, Ozenfant and Munro. Lanark said, „Could you tell me about this committee?” „I’m getting round to it. The war ended with the creature and its organs more dominant than ever. Naturally there was a lot of damage to repair, but that only took half our time and energy. If industry and government had been commanding us for the common good (as they pretend to do), the continents would have become gardens, gardens of space and light where everyone had time to care for their lovers, children and neighbours without crowding and tormenting them. But these vast bodies only cooperate to kill or crush. Once again the council began feeding the creature by splitting the world in two and preparing a war. But it ran into unexpected trouble–” „Stop! You’re simplifying,” said Lanark. „You talk as if all government was one thing, but there are many kinds of government, and some are crueller than others.” „Oh, yes,” said Grant, nodding. „An organization which encloses a globe must split into departments. But you’re a very ordinary victim of council advertising if you think the world is neatly split between good governments and bad.” „What was the council’s unexpected trouble?” „The creature supplied it with such vast new weapons that a few of them could poison the world. Most folk are dour and uncomplaining about their own deaths, but the death of their children depresses them. The council tried to pretend the new weapons weren’t weapons at all but homes where everyone could live safely, but for all that an air of protest spread even to the council corridors. Many who had never dreamed of governing themselves began complaining loudly. This committee is made of complainers.” „Has complaint done any good?” „Some, perhaps. The creature still puts time and energy into vast weapons and sells them to the council, but recent wars have been fought with smaller weapons and kept to the less industrial continents. Meanwhile the creature has invented peaceful ways of taking our time and energy. It employs us to make essential things badly, so they decay fast and have to be replaced. It bribes the council to destroy cheap things which don’t bring it a profit and replaces them with new expensive things which do. It pays us to make useless things and employs scientists, doctors and artists to persuade us that these are essential…”

Alasdair Gray – Lanark. A Life in Four Books