HomeNovelInvisible Hand – Chapter Thirty-Four: Oscar Confesses

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In which Niall is rejected, accepted, and reflected.

That evening Niall was a little worried as he approached the barracks after the evening meal. His classmates had seemed a little shocked to find that he was a convicted felon or whatever assault and battery was. He wasn’t sure what kind of reception he should expect. He had eaten alone in the cafeteria. The only people who had come to his table had been people who were not in the class.

When he entered the lobby where everyone gathered for bull sessions before bed, the room quieted noticeably so he went on through to his room and sat on the bed for a minute. Had he really blown it when he confessed his crime? Would they reject him now that they knew? Was he now in “Coventry” to be shunned and ignored whenever possible? What could he do about it if that were the case? You can’t force people to be nice to you.

Well, if he hid in his room all night it would be the same as being shunned. He might as well find out right up front if he was to be considered persona non grata, or still a human being and a friend. He combed his hair again, chewed a breath mint (no point in giving them any other excuse to dislike him), squared his shoulders, and practically marched into the hall and onward to the lounge.

Once again the sound level dropped when he entered. Some heads swiveled his way and others studiously did not look his way. It wasn’t good but perhaps it wasn’t disaster either. He saw an empty chair and headed toward it trying to appear casual and feeling anything but.

He sat and the group of three became a collection of four. He looked at each of the others but they each looked away. The silence in his immediate vicinity slowly spread to the others in the room. Now all the heads were turning his way. He felt his face growing hot. His stomach felt hollow despite just having eaten. He momentarily wished he had not eaten quite so much.

“What have I done?” he asked. “I’m still the same guy I was yesterday.”

“But you aren’t what we thought you were,” Natalie said. “Sure we knew you were in the Middle East and you might have had to do violent things but this isn’t the Middle East. You don’t need to do violent things here. I asked about you and found that you hit a bartender for refusing to sell you another drink after you were already drunk. You didn’t need to do that, that was just plain you. In vino, veritas.”

There was a murmur of agreement and some nodding of heads around the room. A few of the faces were showing some signs of anger.

Oscar, who had been sitting alone on the other side of the room, said in a rather loud voice, “May I say something before we string Niall up by his thumbs. First of all I have to confess that I am not what I suppose I appear to be either. What do you think I was before I came here, Natalie?”

“I don’t know. A business man, a lawyer, a professor?”

“Anyone else care to guess?” Oscar said looking around the room.

“An undertaker,” D.W. said quickly and got a good, tension relieving laugh.

“You’re pretty close, D.W. I was a preacher. I had a small congregation in what you would probably call a fundamentalist church. I doubt that you ever heard of the denomination because there were never more than a few thousand of us. So far so good. There’s nothing wrong with being a man of God… if you are a man of God. I was a man who used people’s faith in God.

I won’t try to tell you that hitting a man in the face with your fist is a good thing because it’s a really bad thing. But there are worse things a person can do. There are pains one can inflict which go far deeper than the bones of the face. The face will heal and I am sure that the bartender will be more careful about how much booze he sells to tipsy customers.” Oscar’s small smile gradually faded and his head dropped.

“I used people, taking advantage of their faith in God and twisting it for my own ends. I strongly opposed the new money when the idea was first becoming popular. I gave fiery sermons against it. I told my people it was the work of Satan. I said it would result in gross immorality. That poor men and women would stop working to live off the work of others while living lives of debauchery. I told them their teenagers would leave home to get away from their authority and fall into lives of sin.

But what was I really afraid of? I’ll tell you. I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to give me their money any more. I wouldn’t be able to talk little old ladies into giving me their retirement money to build a bigger church. Sure I believed in God and sin and hell but that never seemed to stop me from doing things in His name that now shame me.

My home cost over 500 thousand. I had a place at the beach and one in the mountains. I was often at the country club. I gave sermons on my radio show about the evils of wealth and how those who stored up treasures on Earth could not have treasures in heaven. I preached about the rich young ruler who gave up all to follow Christ. Meanwhile I gave up nothing and followed no higher principle than greed.

My wealth included a beautiful wife and three children. At the time of the transition my daughter was 16 and my sons 14 and 11. My daughter was a cheerleader and very popular in school. Everything seemed to be going my way. The new money represented a threat to all that I possessed. I could envision the new church that was just beginning construction never being completed. Sponsors for my radio show would stop advertising. I still owed quite a bit of money on the house and the other vacation places. They would surely be taken from me. But the legislation passed and the transition was upon us.

Things began to go wrong. My daughter’s grades had begun to slip and her attitude toward her mother and me was becoming surly. My older boy was talking about dropping out of school. My wife said she didn’t like the kids my daughter was hanging out with. Finally, my wife caught her stealing money from her purse and grounded her for a week. My daughter was supposed to come directly home immediately after school and stay there. That was when my daughter left home one night and disappeared. We were frantic. We searched her room and found indications that she was using drugs. Our older boy confessed that he had gotten her started on them about six months before. We called in the police after the required waiting period but they seemed to be no help at all. We struggled on but the days passed in a haze of worry. We had to move out of our house due to the depression and my drop in income since we could no longer pay for it. We decided to take a smaller house. It turned out that we were able to get enough from the equity in the big house and the vacation places that we could buy a modest 4-bedroom place.

About a month after the transition we got word from the computer system that our daughter was in a city about 500 miles from where we lived. We left the boys with some friends and hurried to our daughter. She had gotten an account for some reason. Certainly she had little enough money at the transition to put in it and I don’t know if she ever earned any money before we arrived. But when she identified herself to the computer, it recognized that she was our daughter and underage. She was in pretty bad condition from drug withdrawals and from not taking care of herself. She had turned to prostitution shortly after leaving home and her pimp had treated her pretty roughly. After the transition he’d tried to get her to work for luxury items but that just didn’t work out. So he left her. She was still ‘strung out’ for a couple of weeks on the drugs she had left but by the time we got to her she had been going through withdrawal for several days, had not eaten anything for quite a while and was dehydrated. We called a hospital and they sent an ambulance. Do you know she’d not even washed the garish makeup off her face since she had last gone out to offer her body? She was ghastly and she smelled terrible. It literally made me vomit.

Her mother was much stronger than I and, though pale, managed to give her some water and hold her. They talked quietly for a time while I was in the bathroom.

Her mother and I sat in the hospital with nothing to do but think. She told me what our daughter had been through. She also told me that she had found our daughter’s diary in her suitcase as she packed it for the hospital. She let me read it. At first the entries showed only the ordinary concerns of a girl in middle or high school. But they began to change about a year before. She had noticed the difference between what I said in church and on the radio and how we lived. She had seen me beg for the ‘widow’s mite’ and spend it on myself. She lost all respect for me and was ashamed to be my daughter. She lost interest in school and cheerleading. She changed the people she hung out with to a group that was angry at their parents and rejecting of their ideals. Her brother gave her some drugs and she found release in the high. It wasn’t long before she was dating the guys who would give her drugs and gave them sex in return. When that failed her, she resorted to stealing from her mother’s purse but after a time her mother caught her. The beginnings of withdrawal and the isolation from her friends were too much for her so she ‘escaped.’

Even when things were at their worst she wouldn’t call home. The idea of living with us was too unpleasant for her. She preferred the beatings by her pimp to my hypocrisy. At least he was honest in his exploitation of her. She felt free to hate him. She was supposed to love me and she couldn’t do that.

That night I got a little taste of the tortures of the damned. Remorse flooded me. Guilt, shame, and self-loathing were my constant companions for a time. In a couple of days she had improved enough that we could take her to our new house. I think, in a way, it was good that we weren’t in the old neighborhood and the old house. The change in scenery may have made it easier for her to endure being with us again. That next Sunday I prepared a sermon which said nothing about what had happened. I did it almost without thinking. At the service, I went through the ritual almost mindlessly until it came time for the prayer.

As always I raised my hands and said ‘Let us pray.’ Nothing came out. I was mute. How could I call upon God in that condition of sin? After a time I dropped my arms. I looked at the people of my congregation, those honest, earnest faces of true believers. I was the least of them. I was not fit to wash their feet. Yet I wore expensive robes while they wore the plain and simple garb of the working poor. I was so embarrassed, so ashamed of myself that I could no longer stand before them. I came out from behind the lectern and fell to my knees before the altar. Without uttering a word, I went forward on my belly crying brokenly, my hands outstretched to the cross. It was as if, I don’t know, as if my whole life was worthless and doomed. I would readily have ended my life then and there had there been some easy means to do so. But somehow, in my mind I could see the Lord on that cross and hear his words, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ I felt judged and forgiven. I felt cleansed. I didn’t feel happy or peace or exultation. I was not a new man. But I did know that I would have to become a new man for I could never again stand to be what I was.

I don’t know why but not a word had been spoken while I lay before the altar. Nobody seemed to move. When I got to my feet and faced the congregation it seemed as if everyone was still right where they had been when I had last seen them. It was as if time had stood still while I experienced my epiphany. I looked at them and said, ‘We have to make some changes starting with me.’ I then told them that I would not accept any gifts of luxury items from them ever again. That I had already accepted far too much from their hands. I swore to live as the least among them lived and I have done so. I swore to finish building the church with my own hands as much as I could and I did that, too. For some reason, the church was finished much faster when it was the congregation that built with contributed tools and materials.

As I looked at them and they looked at me I seemed to see them differently somehow. I saw people who were stronger than I, who deserved the luxuries I had taken from them. I saw people to whom I owed a great debt. They weren’t people to be cheated or bilked or scammed. They were people who could have and should have been my friends. They had trusted me and cared for me and followed me even as I had betrayed them.

In the weeks and months that followed I found that I could not preach nor pray in public. The few times that I tried the overwhelming guilt and shame would make me almost physically ill and I could not choke out the words. My pastoral counseling, on the other hand, improved greatly.

At home, my relationship with the children changed. Rather then send them to school I undertook their education while my wife worked. Oddly, it seemed to me, she had no problems at all finding things to do. It was as if a great torrent of pent up energy sprang from her. She was organizing other people and getting materials together and doing all sorts of things. At first she worked out of our house but before long she was given an office in a nearby shopping center and she began to get paid some significant amounts of money.

As my time with the children increased I began to see them as people and learn about them. I would take them to church with me because they could study there without distraction. I began the long and difficult process of winning the respect of my daughter and older son.

They were put to work by their mother. She had them helping her in the afternoons. It was not long before they, too, were earning money.

My daughter is now free of the drugs because they simply are not available. The young people in my congregation also started working, even the children in some cases. It was not as if they were doing regular nine-to-five jobs but they found things to do to earn money. They cleaned up the neighborhood and painted and repaired. They did things for some of our older church members. After a time it seemed like they spent half their time trying to find ways to be good to other people.

The change in the congregation was quite apparent as well. They were far better-dressed and there was far less complaining about health problems. They couldn’t tithe but they could spend time helping others instead. This suggestion, I am proud to say, was my own. The Lord, I believed, would far rather have ten percent of their labor go to helping others than go to building a larger building.

Though I now avoided all luxuries and never even looked at my account balance, I found life far more satisfying. I stopped worrying about money matters altogether.

Then one day, I realized that all the improvements in my life had come about because of the transition to the new money. The hospital that treated my daughter had not asked anything about our ability to pay. They just did what they could for her. I no longer had to worry about providing for my family, since their needs would be met whether I were meeting them or not. My congregation was healthier and happier and had far less stress. The marriages that had been in trouble either broke up almost right away after the transition or, for lack of money to argue about, improved. No husband thought his wife stayed with him just for the money. No abused wife had to stay with her husband. No mother had to work outside the home to support her children. The elderly no longer worried about whether they could afford the drugs they needed. Even my own children were learning to help others now that I was setting them a good example.

Today my wife is a coordinator with an excellent reputation. My daughter is a mother of her own family and has a husband I can respect. My sons are making a good living, each in his own way. For them this story has a happy ending.

But for me it’s not yet over. For me I see God’s hand in this new money. I have really read the Bible these years since the transition. Whereas before I read it looking for reasons why people should give me money, I later began to read it looking for God’s message to me. Not so much in the words but in my heart. As I read the passages about money it seemed to me that those who sought money were some of the worse of the characters in the Bible. Jesus was angry at the money changers in the temple. He told the rich young ruler to give his money to the poor. He told the tax collector to return the money he had taken falsely. Yet with the new money I saw people doing so many good things for each other. I saw that those who were rich were among the best. It seemed to me that this new money was a root of much that was good. When somebody performed some act of kindness I couldn’t tell whether it was from greed or benevolence. Both the greedy and the kindly were acting the same way.

It seems to me that money is now a good thing because of the Payers. The Payers have made our money moral. The Payers have converted us from a greedy, grasping, lying, cheating, robbing, murdering, people into a people who care for others as they care for themselves. We love one another. We do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

This money saved my son and daughter and probably saved even me. Certainly I’m much more nearly the man God wants me to be now than I was before. I feel I must support the good works it brings about. The best way for me to help is to put my money where my mouth is. I feel called to become a Payer for that is God’s will for me. I hope that some day, if I am a truly good Payer, I’ll be able to preach and pray in public again. I hope that I will wash this stain off my soul. I pray that I can accept God’s forgiveness.

So you see before you a man much more deserving of your rejection. You see a man who almost destroyed his own children and betrayed the trust of hundreds of people. If you can find it in your hearts to forgive and tolerate me, how much more deserving is Niall of that same forgiveness and toleration. Is there one among you who is worthy to cast the first stone? Which of you is without sin? Which of you had anything bad to say about Niall before he, of his own free will, confessed the truth about his past? I did not. I saw only good in Niall. He is but mortal flesh and blood and is not perfect, but he is also our brother before God. His sins are surely our sins as well, for all of us will go before God undeserving of his blessings.”

As Oscar finished, he crossed the room and put his arms around Niall, kissed his cheek and called him brother. There were several others who had a tear or two in their eyes who also came forward to hug both Oscar and Niall. Before long everyone in the room was on their feet hugging each other and telling each other how much they cared for them.

Niall had been in the emotional depths of fear and isolation and was now wrapped in love and affectionate words. He felt as though he was no longer mentally in captivity. The paranoia which had been his constant companion for years was dissipating. He experienced the feeling that he was truly home at last. The acceptance that had been his at Brianna’s apartment, in the little town of Aldie, in Los Alamos, and here in this barracks was finally getting through to his emotions. Finally he could feel safe.

Niall went to Oscar and gave him a big hug. He then held Oscar by his upper arms, looked up into his face, and said, “You are able to preach in public, Oscar. You just gave a magnificent sermon. Your congregation may have been only a handful of people but your message was a powerful one.”

Oscar’s eyes were filled with tears and all he could do was nod.

————————–

Niall slept better than he had for years and awoke in the morning feeling great. Then he remembered that he was going to have to face Mr. Sharpe today about supply and demand. He had better do some thinking.

Everybody knew that the greater the demand the higher the price and the lower the price the greater the demand. No wait, that didn’t make sense. Try it again, simply. If the supply increased the price should go down and if the supply decreased the price should go up. Yeah that was it. If the price increases, the sales should decrease and if the price decreases, the sales should increase. But which one caused the other? Did the supply cause changes in the price or did the price cause changes in the supply? Maybe it worked both ways at the same time. Maybe they influenced each other. Or maybe whichever one changed first had that effect on the other. But then when the other changed in response, it had an effect on the former.

Wait, that’s a feedback loop. We’re talking about a thermostat type of thing. The price responds to perturbations in the supply in a way that restores stability to the system. If the price changes, the supply responds to restore stability to the system.

OK. So in a POM free market there’s stability despite the variety of things that happen in the real world to change supplies and prices and it all happens without any individual having to understand it and without any individual being in control of it. Now what does that have to do with the Payers? Where is the feedback loop for them?

There can’t be a feedback loop in the prices of luxuries, since those don’t change. So if the loop isn’t there when money is spent, perhaps it is there when money is earned. OK. What are the Payers buying by crediting accounts? Presumably they are buying net benefit. But what’s the price of net benefit? How can anyone know how much benefit is done to someone else? Hell, I couldn’t even say how much benefit something is that benefits me. You can’t measure something like that. And even if you could know something like that, how would you put a dollar amount on it?

No, it just doesn’t make sense. The prices of luxuries don’t change, so there can’t be a supply-demand feedback loop and you can’t tell what the prices are of the net benefits. That’s all there is to it. Both ends closed off. I think I have him this time. Right. No way out of that argument.

On the other hand, they tell me he’s been teaching this course for years. He must have something in mind. I know I’m not perfect. Maybe there was something I didn’t think of. Maybe there’s another angle to it. Think, darn it.

OK. OK. It can’t be the luxuries. That’s a dead end. It would have to be on the other side, in the payments to the workers. The workers are paid for the net benefit. No wait. The Payers don’t have to pay for net benefit. They can pay for whatever they want to. So what do they want to pay for? What motivates a payer? I know what motivates Oscar. He wants to be a good payer, whatever that is. What does a good payer want? Benefits. Damn, right back where I started. Why does a good payer want benefits. So people will be happy. Why does a payer want people happy? So they’ll be nice to the Payers. So the Payers are paying for their own benefits? Well, I guess that makes sense. The Payers pay the workers to make the consumers happy so the consumers will be nice to the Payers.

Well that’s a feedback loop. Does it qualify as a case of supply and demand? Let’s see. The money the Payers give to the workers has to be the prices. So that would make the consumer’s treatment of the Payers the thing in supply. If the supply of rewards to the Payers goes down, there would have to be an increase in the price paid to make those people happy.

No. Let’s make it more concrete. Let’s say that the streets in a town are not being fixed. This makes the consumers unhappy. That would mean that the consumers would not be nice to the Payers. So the Payers pay more for the repairs that are being done to the streets. This should attract more workers to do that work; that makes the people happy again… Yes, that works. Let’s see the other way. Let’s say the people are nice to the Payers, so the Payers keep doing what they did before… There isn’t any price change in that direction. If the consumers are even nicer to the Payers, the Payers don’t change anything, either. It seems to work only one way. Consumer unhappiness about something gets more money spent on that thing. But consumer happiness doesn’t reduce the pay. Is that a feedback loop? It isn’t symmetrical like the POM free market loop. But it is feedback.

OK. Let’s try from the workers’ point of view. If there is X amount being spent to reward a certain kind of work and the number of people doing that work increases, then the average pay per person goes down in that trade. That should cause people to leave that trade. If the amount of money for a trade like, say, bricklaying, goes up, then the average pay to those in the trade goes up. That should attract more workers, so the average pay goes back down again. The supply of workers and the pay (or price) of workers, that’s a feedback loop, right enough. It’s even a complete loop, just like the POM free market.

OK, that’s two feedback loops that are supply and demand. Perhaps there are more. What about the supply of Payers? They get the necessities without having to pay for them, but what constitutes a necessity? That can change. If the supply of Payers is too small, some luxuries can be relabeled as necessities. If the supply of Payers is too large, some necessities can be relabeled as luxuries. Of course, that’s harder but it can be done. That’s kind of a feedback loop, even though there’s no money involved.

Three supply and demand situations each having its own feedback loop. Who would have thought?…

Noises in the hallway indicated that the others were going to breakfast. Niall got quickly out of bed, threw himself together, and hurried after them. He didn’t intend to miss any more of their acceptance than he had to.

When he got to the serving line he could see that several members of last night’s group were already seated at a table and that the conversation seemed to be animated. As he approached he heard…

“I say he’s just a fat slob who likes rubbing in our faces the luxuries he can afford,” D. W. said.

“But you have to admit he knows his stuff,” Natalie countered.

“He ain’t so smart. He probably inherited money before the transition and has been living off that ever since.”

Clayton put in,” How can you say that, D.W.? Have you checked into his background?”

“Well, no. But how many rich guys do you know who go around with a staff of body servants all the time?”

“Good morning, Niall.”

“Good morning, Natalie. It’s good to see everyone up bright and early this morning.”

There was a chorus of greetings from the others.

“Niall, we’ve been discussing Mr. Sharpe,” Wendy informed him. “What did you think of him?”

“I only know the obvious about him, what we saw in class.”

“Yes,” D.W. said, “but what did you think of what you saw. Pretty disgusting, wasn’t it?”

“It’s the first time I ever saw somebody eat a meal while they were giving a lecture.”

“But did it detract from the points he was making?” Oscar asked.” I thought it was a rather entertaining side show, but it didn’t take my mind off the points he was making about bureaucracy and the free market.”

“We can’t trust a guy like that. He’s a slob and he would look the part if he didn’t have all those obsequious servants around to wipe his chin and clean his clothes.” D.W. was dead certain in his tone.

“I wouldn’t go that far, but I agree it’s obvious that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and never had to do anything for himself,” Leyden said. “How can he understand the plight of the poor or how they feel about things? All his knowledge is theoretical, out of books.”

“But this is a pretty theoretical topic, isn’t it. What difference does it make if he understands what it means to be poor?” Wendy asked.

“There’s Brenda in the serving line. Let’s get her to tell us about Sharpe.” Niall stood up and waved at Brenda, who looked over and nodded an acceptance to Niall’s pantomime invitation to join them.

“Now we’ll get the standard line from the administration.” D.W. grumped.

“Oh, poo,” Natalie said grinning at D.W. “Brenda’s played fair with us so far. I think she’ll tell us the truth about Sharpe, too.”

“Can we learn only from perfect people? Must the prophet be as perfect as his God?” Oscar asked in his best tent revival voice and a big grin.

“We have to judge whether to believe people on their character as well as what they say, Oscar,” Leyden commented. “Sharpe’s character certainly makes a difference in how I will interpret his words.”

“Brenda, we all noticed Mr. Sharpe, as I’m sure you knew. What can you tell us about him?” Niall said as he rose and pulled out a chair for Brenda at the long table they all shared.

“He’s one of our best instructors. What do you want to know about him?”

“Is he for real?” Clayton asked.

The general round of laughter ended with Brenda saying, “He’s as real as it gets. He’s always been like you saw him yesterday for as long as I’ve known him, and that’s going on six years now.”

“How did he get rich?” asked D.W. getting right to the point.

“Cosmetics.”

“Cosmetics? Surely there’s more to it than that,” D.W. sputtered.

“He was a diver for the petroleum industry in the Gulf of Mexico. He was interested in the plants growing on the oil rigs, so he harvested some and learned to grow them in a fish tank. It turned out that one of them contained a substance that could be used for removing wrinkles. Mr. Sharpe was able to help them produce the substance in large quantities inexpensively.”

“That’s all he did? Grow seaweed?” Leyden asked incredulously.

“On what basis does a Payer pay?” Brenda asked calmly.

“Net benefit,” Leyden said with her head down.

“Does it matter how difficult it was to bring about?”

“No.”

Does it matter whether anyone else could have done it?”

“No.”

“Does it matter what the producer’s character is?”

“No.”

“Then why ask the question?”

“Because it doesn’t seem fair,” Leyden pleaded. “Other people work hard for years and don’t get rich. Why should he get rich for playing around with a hobby?”

“Why should he stay poor when so many people have benefited from what he did?”

“Brenda, to shift the topic a little,” Niall put in, “why does he have all those servants? Why does he eat and drink during the class? None of the other instructors do that, even the ones who aren’t Payers.”

“I think he just doesn’t want to go all that time without enjoying his pleasures. After all, it’s his money. He can spend it however he likes.”

“Then how come he only had the one beer? It looked to me like he wanted more than just one,” Natalie asked.

“He’s an alcoholic,” Brenda said.

“Then why let him have any beer at all?” Niall asked.

“It’s his money. If he wants to buy beer, he can buy beer.” Oscar answered.

“But they only let him have one,” Niall pointed out.

“ If they let him have several at a time, he might get drunk and hurt someone,” Natalie said.

“But,” Niall said, “they let him have all the food he wanted even though he is obviously overweight and under-exercised.”

“That’s because he’s only hurting himself. It’s his body and his life and if he wants to do himself in by overeating it’s his choice.” Natalie warmed to the debate.

“But look at those consequences,” Niall said.” Look at the net benefits. Here we have a person who has made a major contribution and who may make other contributions being allowed to ruin his health by eating too much.”

“Look at the consequences of trying to stop him,” Natalie asserted. “Who would you have make that decision for him? Who would enforce such a ruling? You would have us presume to make his life decisions for him.”

“But no one is obligated to give him or sell to him the tools, food in this case, by which to ruin his life. Doesn’t that reduce the pay for anyone selling him more food than he needs?” Niall continued.

“It’s his life,” Natalie maintained, almost nose to nose with Niall. “If you were giving him necessity food in over-abundance, then you’d be held responsible for his eating too much. But in this case he is buying luxury food. Those are his choices and unless someone sells him high calorie food labeled as low calorie or something like that, he’s the only one responsible for what he does to himself with his purchases.”

Brenda entered the discussion at this point. “You see, Niall, if we try to tell people how to spend their money we are denying them any responsibility for their own lives. If Mr. Sharpe dies of his overweight condition, no one else will be to blame. If we try to control his eating, then we assume responsibility for his eating and can rightly be blamed if he eats too much or the wrong things. I don’t think anyone wants the responsibility for any other adult’s self destructive actions. And even if they do, the rest of us won’t support their taking our freedom in the name of protecting someone else.”

“But what about that foot rub he got?” D.W. put in. “That was downright demeaning to that girl. It was humiliating. I was embarrassed for her. He shouldn’t make people do things like that, especially in public.”

“Hold on there, D.W. I didn’t see anything demeaning about her massaging his feet,” Wendy said.” Do you see medical treatment as demeaning?”

“That wasn’t medical treatment. That was a reflection of slavery. I should think you of all people would be opposed to such a display.”

“I thought she was beautiful in that costume,” Clayton said.” I think that costume made the foot treatment much more pleasant for Mr. Sharpe. I know I certainly enjoyed it more as a result.”

Wendy held up her hand for a moment to command the attention of the others and when they had quieted from their muffled laughter she said to D.W., “Do you consider the costumes of doctors and nurses and policemen and others to be demeaning?”

“Of course not. That would be silly. Those are uniforms of respect.”

“Isn’t a dancer’s costume a costume of respect? Don’t you respect dancers?”

“Now don’t try to put that on me, Wendy. I never said anything like that.”

“You implied that, whether you intended it or not. I say that if she had come out in the uniform of a registered nurse you would have thought about her entirely differently. You would have defined her as medical personnel and would have looked at what she did as treatment for a physical ailment.” Wendy was getting a little heated. “I think that you saw her costume and defined her as a dancer from a strange land who was at the feet of a powerful white man and you thought of her as a prostitute or worse because of that.”

“I never…” D.W. began.

“How else would you call her medical treatment of Mr. Sharpe ‘demeaning’ unless you saw it as sexual exploitation?”

“Hold on. Everybody sit quietly for a moment and regain your composure.”

Brenda was leaning forward in her chair, her food forgotten.

“I am going to take this as a teaching moment. So everybody get into student mode and try to learn from this.” She paused and waited while each person settled back into less agitated positions. First, your duty as Payers has nothing to do with judging anything except consequences. If somebody wants to do their job in a clown suit or wearing a silly hat, it’s no business of yours.

“Second, whether an act is demeaning or not is in the eye of the beholder. For example, in Semitic culture, one does not show someone else the bottom of one’s foot unless one wishes to insult them because the bottom of one’s foot steps on all sorts of unclean things. Therefore, you can imagine how low one would have to be to wash someone else’s feet. Yet Jesus did just that. Does any Christian feel that Jesus demeaned himself by doing so? I think not. Yet to some other observer who didn’t know who the parties were and didn’t know the context within which it happened, the action would be seen as demeaning, the act of a slave.

Third, you must understand before you can judge. If you don’t know what’s going on, you cannot evaluate either the people or their actions. We saw in the classroom a beautiful (yes, Clayton, I thought she was beautiful, too) young woman who was caring for the feet of a man who had indicated that he was suffering from pain in his feet. Could this have been medical treatment? Yes, it could. Could it have been some sexual game? Yes, it could. Could it have been some sort of classroom demonstration of some principle of economics? Yes, it could. We don’t know now what the situation was. We can’t be sure we understand it. If we had to judge the parties involved right this minute we would each have to do the best we could with inadequate information. But we don’t have to judge now. We don’t have to guess what was going on. We can recognize our ignorance of the situation and withhold judgment.

This last point is a very difficult one for almost everyone. But it is especially important for Payers to do this. It can be very embarrassing to a Payer to rush to judgment and then be shown to have been in error. Producers can be justifiably quite angry when they produce benefit which is not recognized. Consumers are likewise irritated when they benefit and no one is rewarded as a result because they know that such benefit is not likely to be repeated.

“Now as to this particular case with Mr. Sharpe and the foot massage. What do we know about the situation?”

“We know that a woman came in during the class and worked on Mr. Sharpe’s feet.” Leyden said.

“We know she was wearing a costume that looked like it was from Southeast Asia.” Oscar added.

“We know she had a case with bottles and jars of things that smelled good.” Natalie said.

“We know that Mr. Sharpe was being served by people who were wearing costumes that matched what they were doing. That is, Reggie wore at least three different outfits and the waiters dressed their parts.” Wendy said.

“Those will do for the physical aspects of the situation. What do we know about the social aspects of the situation?” Brenda asked.

“It was supposed to be a class situation rather than a clinic or a café,” D.W. said with some emphasis.

“Mr. Sharpe said he was rich and not a Payer, so we can assume that was probably true,” Oscar said.

“Were any of the people serving Mr. Sharpe slaves? Were any being threatened by weapons or persons wielding force?” Brenda asked.

There were several heads shaking “no” and some murmurs of negation.

“So can we say that the actions of the servants appeared to be voluntary? What do you say, D.W.?”

“Okay. I agree they weren’t slaves and they were working voluntarily. But what he had them doing was still degrading.”

“Do any of you think they were going to get paid for what they were doing?”

Heads were nodding and there were several verbal agreements.

“So some Payer or Payers must think that what they were doing was bringing net benefit to our society. Do any of you think that what they were doing did not deserve to be paid? Clayton? D.W.? Niall?” After a pause to give everyone a chance to respond she continued.” If what they were doing was producing benefit, how could it be degrading? Do you have an answer for that, D.W.?”

D.W. looked down and shook his head.

“Now for the rest of you, I want you to be feeling smug and superior to D.W. so I can bring you back to Earth. D.W.’s feelings are important and valid and are needed in the Payers. D.W. should not feel in any way ashamed of those feelings. They are quite natural and D.W. should not try to repress them.”

By this point D.W.’s head had come up and his face had an expression of surprise. “Such feelings protect you and me and everyone else because they are a reflection of D.W.’s desire to protect the weak and powerless,” Brenda went on earnestly. “If you were feeling superior to D.W., I ask you where is your conscience? Where is your empathy? Where is your human feeling of compassion for those less fortunate than yourself.”

By this time D.W. almost had a smile on his face. The others at the table were not looking so happy.

“You must remember that all points of view, all ways of viewing the world, all kinds of values are important and needed among the Payers. We would not have all Payers be the same and we would not reject anyone for their attitudes, even if they are intolerant of the attitudes of others. We try to explain what the situation is and how things work to all those who choose to be trained here for paying so that they will be able to be successful in their own eyes. We are not here to filter out the undesirables. We are not here to reject anyone. We are also not here to miss class and I see it’s almost time to visit with Mr. Sharpe.”

With that the group broke up. Those who had gotten there later and had not finished eating began to hurry through their last few bites and the others rose and took their trays to the dishwasher.


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Invisible Hand – Chapter Thirty-Four: Oscar Confesses — No Comments

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