Tuesday, 30 January 2018 11:16

The Profit Motive

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in Fiction
The Profit Motive

The Profit Motive - Part One

by Owain Holland

I speak to you from a secret Government facility named 'Arthur's Grave' on Lundy Island. My name is Doctor Cynthia Doyle. The Government rounded us up. All the healthy, uninfected medical professionals they had left, and sent us here. I'm the only one left. It's taken three days to kill everyone else.

Someone must have picked something up, undetected. I'm now coughing blood. The rest didn't last long once they became ill. My guess is that someone already had an itch at the back of their throat when they came in. They should have known the risks coming in here with even the slightest hint of an illness. The facility is on automatic lock-down. No-one had the clearance required to open the outer doors. Even if I could find a way out there is nothing available I can use to navigate the Bristol Channel. This is my tomb.

As far as I can tell, everyone on the mainland is dead. We were sent to the Island because they believed the isolation from everyone else would save us. Humanity's only chance lies in the hope that there are some communities that are isolated enough, and perhaps have a robust enough public health strategy to escape the crisis. But there aren't many of those.


Of course it didn't begin with the Government announcing they would privatise the National Health Service. It happened slowly at first. The started by outsourcing the odd service. By introducing a few slight charges. 'Free at the point of use' was the constantly offered phrase. Of course some people did cotton on. There were protests organised by trade unions, disabled action groups, those generally considered 'on the left'. There was even a doctors' strike. But so long as the changes remained small the public at large took little notice.

Gradually the services began to deteriorate. Several winters' worth of hospital alerts and national emergencies followed. Slowly the public support for the Service was ground down. The message from Government and the media was that the Health Service no longer fit for the modern age. The idea of a free public health service no longer was no longer suitable. It didn't fit in with the idea that an unregulated market was the best way in which to distribute goods and services. So they privatised the National Health Service. They took what we owned. Then they sold it back to us. Those of us who could afford it at least.

If you were ill you needed to be rich, or own a credit card. If you weren't rich, you were more likely to be ill. At least everything was for sale. You had the opportunity, in theory at least, to buy whatever you wanted. Which means equality to a very warped mind. In reality it only served to deepen inequality.

Hospital conditions got worse. They squeezed as many of us as they could fit into hospital wards, so that profit margins could increase. Those born with medical conditions found that they couldn't pass fitness tests for health insurance providers. People were forced to take huge loans from the banks. They lost their homes when they needed operations. Overall mortality rates increased. Life expectancy plummeted. Still they continued chanting the mantra 'the freer the market, the freer the people. The freer the market, the freer the people'. I didn't see any freedom.

With the majority of the world now living the ideology of the market even death was the natural state of being. Life had been reduced to a commodity many couldn't afford. Many were aghast, and yes, there were large-scale protests, demonstrations and political rallies. But never for one second did we consider that our subjugation to the market could be so damaging. Yes we saw the worst affects we thought neo-liberalism had to offer us. The sad thing is, there was worse to come.

I was a part of it myself. I followed the company's orders. I prescribed medicines left, right and centre. I could hear my patients rattle like barrels of pills. People are suckers for an easy cure. That's exactly what medicines were. Tablets for psychological disorders. Those who were unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel could pay my big-pharma company and I'd prescribe them some substance that would make them see lights. If they died in a car crash because they'd been hallucinating on the meds their doctor had given them well, that was just nature's way of saying, only the fittest survive. For those who neglected their health, I could give weight-loss pills. Don't change your diet, just supplement it. Considering the global obesity epidemic these made a mighty profit for the company. If you were addicted to nicotine you could switch cigarettes for a nicotine substitute. Highly addictive. Highly recommended by your doctor. More importantly, highly profitable. If you were anorexic you were prescribed appetite-inducers. These cases were considered gold mines by the Company. They would be paid again when the obese former anorexic returned again in a few months time for a packet of weight-loss tablets. These yoyo-dieters were good for a lifetime's worth of transactions. My pension pot has the addictive substances added to every pill to thank for that.

In short, I would prescribe pills for anything and everything. The market demanded it. I had ceased to be a medical professional and had become a glorified shopkeeper.

I too, became depressed. Company training officially warned us not to 'get high on our own supply' but I took to swallowing handfuls of pills at a time. I became a zombie. A listless medico in a white overcoat using the great blank palette of my mind to tick-off medical prescriptions for every ailment.

They came into my surgery as blank and meek as I was. Before they even sat down I had placed a tick in several different boxes on my form for medication they would have to buy. The whole world was a morass of listless, mindless creatures. I was one of them. Meekly obeying the demands of the Market. We had no idea what we were shuffling into.

It made sense really. When we came around from our collective medically-induced coma.

People were dying everywhere Sneezing and then just dropping down dead in the street. There were no roses. No pockets full of posies to turn to for a quick cure. Years of medicine abuse was taking its toll. Millions were falling sick with what had once been relatively minor ailments. Never to rise again. We saw the return of old epidemics not witnessed since the Middle Ages. Colera, plague and typhiods.

Nine billion. Nine billion have perished. The bacteria of many common infectious diseases evolved and developed resistance to our anti-biotics. The Market has failed to find a solution to the greatest threat we've ever faced. More than that. Our ideological faith that the unregulated, unshackled 'free' Market would provide solutions to our problems was so wrong. The Market had been the problem all along.

The Profit Motive - Part Two

by Owain Holland

In the last few decades I feel as though we, as a society, have become obsessed with apocalyptic and post apocalyptic genres. Gone are the days of hopefully optimistic sci-fi worlds. Worlds in which future humans have created a utopia for themselves. Gone even are the visions of humans simply existing in a long-distant future, however dystopian it may be.

Best-selling novelists now write about the world ending tomorrow. Blockbusting films play out apocalyptic events occurring around the next corner. Screens are filled with glossy Hollywood actors scrabbling for survival amidst the garbage and nuclear fall-out of a grim dystopia.

Never did it occur to me that the likes of Matt Damon and Tom Cruise might actually end their days feeding off bin-juice down a back-alley somewhere below the Hollywood's big white letters.
I don't know why we took to speculating our own end in such a prophetic way like we did. But it probably had something to do with our own paranoid guilt about how we were relentlessly speeding towards a nasty end. An end completely of our own making. Typical. We were aware of the approaching doom. We even mirrored it back to ourselves in the subconscious reflection of our culture. But we actually did little to prevent it. It was this determinism that would end us.

How I've longed to see something optimistic on our screens. Future humans venturing forth to colonise the galaxy, terraforming planets, making contact with extra-terrestrial civilisations. That change would have indicated that we had begun to believe in ourselves again. In popular-culture we weren't even having galaxy-wide race wars with fictional alien empires any more. We'd lost faith in ourselves being in-charge of our own fate. Even our leaders and governments had placed their faith in 'external forces'. Things like markets, profits and dividends rather than the will of the people to decide what's best for themselves.

I wasn't surprised when the beginning of the end came. We'd been setting it in motion for years, after all. No-one who worked at my level in the civil-service could have guessed something would happen. Some of us had even been stockpiling and 'prepping' for it.

For my part, I reasoned that if you were asked to keep something held together with a piece of string, it wouldn't be long before it fell apart. I don't know how people couldn't see it. But then, people who spoke out against it were swiftly discredited by the establishment. If you voiced concerns you would be dismissed as unintelligent and not understanding 'economics' or not recognising the 'needs of the market'. Your career would be swiftly over. So eventually this unheard undercurrent of thought that said markets should work for us and not vice versa finally petered out.

By then, the majority of our state-owned assets had been sold. All the services we depended on. The Health Service, of course. The energy generation and distribution networks. Public transportation. The roads. Schools. Buildings of all sorts. Prisons. Everything had been sold to the highest bidder. Lots of the profit was of course funnelled directly into the pockets of the government ministers. It was a free-for-all. Like watching a shoal of sharks shred a whale to the bone. The sharks may have swam off full and happy, but we were the ones left trying to make do with the bloodied remains.

The private companies that took over the assets and services immediately began by stripping their newly acquired portfolios, allowing the owners to pay themselves huge bonuses with the proceeds. No longer were our best interests at the heart of our public services. The main priority now being to haemorrhage cash into private accounts. Draining the lifeblood from our society.

That's exactly how I saw the collapse coming. Over the course of a few short decades we had meekly handed over everything, down to the bare bones of what we required to live. Any shred of collective intelligence we had managed to cobble together through history, had vanished. Hope had left us. Like air leaving a deflating balloon it had departed with a sad little wheeze of protest. We had resigned ourselves to our fate. Entertaining ourselves with different visions of our own extermination. Looking back it makes sense to realise that a species, like ours, which has spent the majority of its history driving every other species within reach out of existence should be scared of its own death. We are the masters of extinction. We know how it's done, better than any other.

With everything having been managed so greedily and so short-sightedly, with absolutely minimal budgets and skeleton staff-in more ways than one, it didn't take much to topple the whole edifice.

I firmly believe that, whilst the medical emergency that happened was dire, with serious implications for the human population. We could have coped. If we'd had sufficient infrastructure in place. If we'd had buildings in every community large enough to turn into makeshift hospitals. If we'd had enough staff on the public payroll to enforce quarantine zones. If we'd not allowed a precious minority to squeeze more than just the wealth from us, but even the collective spirit we used to have - If we'd had that I know we'd have made it. This is where the consequences of our passivity got us.

The medical crisis was heralded by the realisation that our antibiotics no longer worked. After that everything went beserk.

The roads soon clogged like saturated arteries. Choked with vehicles full of desperate people trying to get to the hospitals. What had previously been treatable minor infections became serious health concerns. This was exacerbated by the fact that there were now less hospitals than there had been. Funnelling more people into less facilities. This extreme pressure on the system erupted in riots at the remaining hospitals. Most of them were effectively shut down. Emergency services couldn't travel on the bloated arterial routes. The police were too thinly stretched to bring the situation under any sort of control.

It was at this point I expected the government to step in and take direct control of everything. I thought they'd do something you expect to see in the movies. Draft in the army. Order everyone to stay indoors and await instructions. Select healthy, able volunteers. Commandeer the necessary equipment and buildings. But when we turned around we found those leaders who had made their living from telling us how they'd got our backs had vanished. They had taken to their yachts, their mansions and helicopters.

I remained in my department near Westminster. Trying, with the few volunteers we managed to corral and coax into attempting to bring a sense of order to the situation. However small it might be. It was useless. We might have had one building under control but outside the rest of the country was chaos. We resorted to barricading ourselves inside with what little supplies we had gathered. We had very little with which we could fend off marauding looters and any evangelical mobs that might want to break in.

Currently the worst is that there seems to be some type of plague spreading uncontrollably throughout the population. We've been safe in here so far keeping under the radar. But now the roaming gangs are looking for safe, out-the-way places to hide from the infected. I fear it's only a matter of time before we have a serious break-in to defend. We won't last long.

The only saving grace we've had has been our attempts to contact the military. After broadcasting for days we eventually managed to establish a link with a military base stationed near Dover. I made contact with their Major Woolcroft-Jones. He informed us of the information he gleamed from brief communications with the French that indicated the Continent was in just as much of a mess as we were. Indeed it seemed the whole world was going through the same crisis.

In desperation we came up with a plan. It was a long-shot, but it was all we could think to do. I had the major gather as many healthy medical professionals as he could. Our ministry pronouncements gave an added air of officialdom to his already considerable military authority. With that attempt we managed to coerce as many doctors, nurses and surgeons as we could out of hiding and onto a seized boat.

The Major is now taking the group in quarantine via boat, to one of our disused facilities on Lundy Island. I've told him to lock the facility down from the outside and have given him a code that will set the release date for five years from now. The idea being that any disease will have had a chance to die out along with all its hosts. Even if that means every last one of us. The emerging survivors can then set about recolonising the earth. It sounds hare-brained but it's all we've got. They have enough supplies and will be isolated enough from the infected.

We've had no news from the outside world so we must assume this is an catastrophe of pandemic proportions. I fear a wound I got a few days ago when we put up the barricades downstairs has become so infected I can no longer walk. The bacteria has eaten a gaping hole in my leg and there's no way to cure it, and no-one left who can offer any other treatment-or amputation. I've had Johnson wheel in the TV - we're going to watch Star Trek.....


Read 6422 times Last modified on Monday, 05 March 2018 22:14
Owain Holland

Owain Holland is an environmental worker in Cornwall, a shop steward and trade union activist and a member of the Cornish language community.