23 December 2008

What the surplus is, and where it is

I’m not a religious person (oh, that’s putting it mildly), but I have an enormous affection for Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a work of enormous literary skill, a perfect snapshot of the world of mid-19th-century London, and a piece powerful political insight. I have my own personal connection to this work, since as a sophomore, I performed in my high school drama version of the story. I played The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and it was an amazing experience.

So, with the Solstice Season here—yes, I call it Solstice—I offer this exchange from A Christmas Carol, which speaks out to the impoverished and against the horrific greed of that has paid some horrible dividends recently:

“Spirit,” said Scrooge with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”

“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”

“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”

“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

That’s right: Forbear until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Got that, you jet-riding CEO jerks? I think three ghosts are coming to visit you this season.