The Bad Samaritan: a Public Pensions Parable

Pretty much everyone knows the phrase ‘good Samaritan’. You might or might not know that it come from a parable told by Jesus about a man of money who does a huge kindness to someone he comes across in a remote place, who’s been robbed, beaten and left for dead, after a number of people who should know better have passed the victim by on the other side. It’s a beautiful story, full of grace and truth, and one of my favourites.

I know personally dozens of good samaritans, rich and poor, and they brighten my life. Unfortunately, when I look at the wider picture, I also see another parable that applies to the situation we’re facing. A parable of our times – a much darker one, though not without a potential ray of light at the end. This is my attempt to tell that parable.

The Parable of the Bad Samaritan

There was once a Samaritan of means and privilege – a man of elevated position, who had the power to make a difference. He chose to use this power primarily for his own ends, but one day he received an opportunity to do something better.

As he went on a journey, he came across a man who had been set upon by thieves, beaten as he was robbed, and left for dead at the side of the road. The Samaritan – we’ll call him Divad – tutted as he saw the man. He knew those who’d robbed and beaten the man – they were friends and relatives of Divad – and he knew they were enjoying the spoils they’d taken from the man. Divad fancied a little of that action for himself. But he wasn’t a brave man, and he knew he didn’t have the courage to attack a victim directly for himself. But he knew he had one skill. He was cunning.

So Divad crossed the road. He didn’t help the victim, but he stooped and said a kind-sounding word or two before he went on his way. A few weeks later, he saw the man again – still poor and dressed in rags, but on his feet again and stronger. Divad went and put his arm around the man’s shoulder, then pointed at a woman across the road. ‘Look at her,’ said Divad, ‘dressed quite well, on her way to work at the local alms-house. She hasn’t been attacked and robbed, nor is she dressed in rags. Why should she be so lucky? Help me rob her and drag her down to your level.’

The man – we’ll call him Joe – was still a little shaken from his ordeal. He knew he was hungry, and cold, and aching. Divad’s words filled him with anger toward the unsuspecting woman – why should she be so lucky? He knew she worked hard, and tried to help people, but Joe’s resentment boiled over. ‘Let’s do it,’ he said to Divad. They crossed the road and set upon the woman, knocking her to the ground and stunning her, before robbing her and leaving her nice – not opulent, but decent – clothes in rags. Joe felt better, for a little while. It was good to see someone else sharing his misery. But he didn’t notice that somehow Divad had pocketed all the proceeds of the crime, while he himself stayed just as poor.

Divad was very pleased with how this little venture had gone. So, over the next few months, he played the game again and again. Each time a victim had recovered a little – though never to the level he or she had once enjoyed – he whispered poison words in his or her ear, turning them against the next victim. He – and his friends – even appeared on TV at every opportunity to spread the lie to as many victims in as short a time as possible. Soon, Divad was very wealthy and very powerful – and most of the people around him were poor and weak.

This posed a problem. His pool of victims was getting smaller. But there was one man left who fit the bill. This man was the local medicine man – a man of means, but not a friend of Divad’s friends and family. Plenty to steal from him – and easy to persuade his ‘gang’ of victims to resent a man who looked so well-off. Whispering his poison words, Divad gathered his victims to him. ‘Look at him,’ he said, ‘so well-off, so happy. He may have helped you all, but he’s got rich doing it. Let’s strip him – he’ll still be better of than most of you!’

Now, dear readers, for the ending. This story can end in two ways. In one, it gets very dark, and will be a long time before it lightens again. In the other, the story ends happily – for most – and the light will come much sooner. It’s your choice:

Ending 1:

With Divad’s poison words still buzzing in their ears, the gang crossed the road and fell upon the medicine man. Ears deaf to his pleas that he’d helped all of them and their families, and to his protestations that making him poorer wouldn’t make them richer but would only enrich Divad and his friends, they beat him and when they’d beaten him, they left feeling happier. But only until they realised that suddenly, they lived in a town where everyone was poor – except for Divad and his crooked friends. They wept, long and bitterly, for they realised at last the trick they had fallen for. But it was too late, and it would be long before they’d have a chance to do anything about it.

Ending 2:

As Divad’s poison words poured forth, one of the victims began to realise what he was hearing – and what he’d seen many times before. He spoke up: ‘Divad, every time I listen to you and help you, I end up no richer – and all I see is everyone around me becoming poorer, too. It may feel good for a moment, but the aftermath is as bitter as gall. I don’t think I want to fall for it any more. I’ve had enough of letting you twist me into joining in. I think it’s you we should be turning on!’

These words rang so clear, and were so obviously full of truth, that one by one – and then in a flood – the rest of the victims woke from their trance and looked at Divad with new eyes. They saw a craven, vicious man dressed in finery – one ill-placed to be stirring up envy of others. As they turned, Divad’s face went pale – for the crowd around him, all victims of his lies, was vast. He knew that if the people united against him instead of dividing against each other, his time was over and they were about to fall on him. And then on his friends. As a cry went up from the people around him, ‘NO MORE!’, he fell to his knees and knew that he was going to be the victim now…

I suspect it’s going to be very obvious what this parable is about. The Tories have been whispering this poisonous lie into the ears of all who’ll listen – and if we don’t see beyond the ‘politics of envy’, we might be fooled into standing by while others are robbed like we may have been. Or even into joining in.

But the news is not all bad. This story has two possible courses. If we’ll make a choice rather than standing by and being fooled, we can affect the ending…

If you want to take a first, small step to removing Divad and his friends, please sign the petition below and tell your friends:


The End

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