The king, who was a betting man, and knew a halfwit when he saw one, accepted the wager.
“Because,” the prisoner replied, “a lot can happen in a year. The king might die, and by custom I will be freed. Or I might die, serenely, of natural causes, in my bed. Or…” – and he paused here before delivering the sucker punch – “… the horse might talk.”
The moral of the story is: stay optimistic. You never know what’s around the corner.
But there is of course another way of looking at it, which is: let’s hope the king does die, mate. Because you've got more chance of handcuffing a ghost than getting a horse to talk.
Optimism is considered healthy, correct, sensible. Defeatism is low, easy, cowardly. But still, there are times when blind optimism starts to look like insanity, and hitching all your hopes on the prospect of teaching a horse to talk may well be one of them. (This was long before Mr Ed, of course.)
For instance, today, with a loaf of bread coming in at £9.99 and petrol so expensive that garages are giving away free cars with purchases of five gallons or over, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1929 all over again.
Or is it 1936, what with a nation of genocidal totalitarian sadists once again being allowed to hoist aloft the Olympic torch of fellowship and freedom?
So is it 1929 or 1936?
Why 1938, or possibly 1939? Do you really need me to tell you? Okay, then, here we go again.
If the Communist subjugation of internal dissidents, the invasion of Tibet and the horrors of Chinese wildlife parks and zoos are not enough to dampen your interest in watching the world’s sporty types running up and down, jumping and throwing things over great distances, how about reflecting on the current state of things down Iran-way?
On April 15th this month, on the pretence of civic renovation, the authorities of Tehran burned seven ancient synagogues to the ground in what may perhaps be termed ‘the night of the long beards’. The PMOI, dedicated to ridding their country of these monstrosities, are officially deemed a terrorist organisation in Europe, and forbidden from fundraising. Full diplomatic relations continue between Britain and Iran.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on a catastrophe engulfing the world and the course of history being changed beyond imagining in the next five to ten years.
It will go something like this…
Correctly guessing that the West’s ability to take decisive action is now thoroughly strangled by the craven yet absolute authority of its ignorantly pacifist media class, Iran will achieve its aim of developing nuclear weapons. They will then either threaten the world or, such are the depths of their insanity, simply fire them straight at Israel. The West will either capitulate or strike back, and World War 3 will begin. At this moment, Iranian-funded and instructed sleeper cells will rise in America and every European country and inflict massive death and destruction, destabilising and demoralising, and just possibly winning the war.
Or, just possibly, there is option 2: George Bush will see out his presidency with a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s missile development centres, which may or may not be decoys. This may or may not temporarily derail their progress, but only temporarily, and then, just as George Galloway is organising the first Try-Bush-For-War-Crimes marches in London, the sleeper cells will activate and the scenario will continue pretty much as before. Either way it doesn’t look good for us.
I suppose, in the interests of showing all sides, I should note that there is a third, less pessimistic option. The horse might talk. But failing that we’re shafted.
Actually, there are perhaps two chances of escape. One is to aid and encourage a revolt from within Iran – but we think the PMOI is a terrorist organisation, so that’s that one out. The other is to remember that inter-factional rivalry will always conspire against a truly united Middle East, and hope that Iran will piss off one of its neighbours and they’ll get bogged down slaughtering each other again. (There’s an old Iranian proverb: “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, kill a bunch of innocent people.”)
I mean, it’s not as if they aren’t making their intentions plain. In a speech just last week, President Ahmadinejad explained: “Our objective is to annihilate all corrupt powers that dominate our planet today.” He instructed the West to repent, “otherwise Iranians will hoist their flag on the roof of their buildings.”
This man is many things: cagey is not one of them.
Here’s where my commercial comes in. It’s going to be pretty chaotic and hellish when it does all go down, so I hope you will find a moment to stop and remember whose fault it all was.
Because it is we who have allowed this to happen. We who could have acted decisively and saved millions of lives, but chose to be ironic instead of heroic.
It is we who choose to ignore, even defend, the brutality, tyranny and unreason of other nations, while satisfying our own sense of childish intellectual anarchism by pretending that it is our own nations and leaders who are abhorrent.
It is we who refuse to defend, or even acknowledge, the values for which our grandparents fought and died, choosing instead to wallow in a debased popular culture that is bestial, brutalising and socially divisive. We who sit content at the heart of a flabby, flatulent and debauched society, obsessed with consumer frippery and the pursuit of illusory social freedoms.
It is we who treat as impartial the information fed us by the BBC, chief propaganda outlet of the corrupt ruling elite, the British media class, which exists to discredit the values and bonds it once celebrated, and is obsessed with loathing for the old institutions of sobriety, civility and respect. That above all is consumed with so unreasoning a hatred of Israel and the USA that it blatantly lies, apologises, and lies again, safe in the knowledge that for every one who hears the apology, a thousand will hear the lies.
It is we who have invented technologies that simultaneously enslave us with their lazy sensations and empower those who would destroy us.
It is we who have engineered a society, through direct and planned intervention, that no longer works, where over half of all schoolchildren leave secondary education without 5 good GCSE’s and over 30000 a year leave without any at all, where anyone is allowed to do anything they want lest they be deemed oppressed, where unreason rules and is never checked, for similar reasons, where we pay idiots to eat live animals on television, where an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust is all-pervasive, where offence is always on the verge of being taken, where nobody is accountable for anything except the dupes preyed upon by those blood-curdling tv injury-lawyers, where triviality is deemed authentic and an aspirational culture elitist and therefore beyond the pale, where words are twisted to mean whatever the culturally dominant want them to mean, where reasoned argument is ignored if its conclusions are unpalatable and absurdities upheld if they reinforce fashionable prejudice, where injustice is blatant and proud, sometimes for its own sake, sometimes as grotesque corrective to long-dead injustices which at least had the decency to be covert and ashamed of themselves. Where a free conscience and the right to voice it are, unbelievably, but nonetheless unquestionably, dead.
It is we who have elected governments committed to stoking our internal resentments while insisting, with full force of law, upon an absurdly idealistic view of others. Who do nothing to deter aggressors yet intrude into every private corner of our lives, who intrude everywhere, in fact, except where they are needed and called for. Who have failed in the most fundamental condition of the right to govern, enshrined since Arthur: to defend the law-abiding and gentle against the savage and base, to maintain order, to keep kind people safe.
It is we who are obsessed with climate change, with plastic bags, with television, with banning smoking, with the enforcement of ever more petty and resentful minority ‘rights’, with vindictive litigation, with the indulgence of every imaginable grievance, with pop culture and grunting cretin celebrities… with anything, really, other than the clear and imminent threat of a global fascist ideology operating via a handful of nation states and a worldwide web of underground cells.
It’s achievement, of sorts. It has taken us less than fifty years to end up like this. Do blame the media. Do blame the government. But most of all, blame yourself.
Blame yourself for the fact that we can’t deport that chap whose name I can’t be bothered to find out, but you know who I mean: the little tinker who is wanted for mass-terrorism in Pakistan but whose human rights will be infringed if we let him go back there, so we’re letting him stay here.
So there is no excuse for not rebelling, and if everybody did they would fall. But we do not. So for what is about to happen, blame yourself above all.
Men like whatsisname hate the West; they say we are corrupt and evil and exhausted and bankrupt. They are, of course, right. And the fact that the world they want to make for us instead is, by and large, vastly worse does not alter the fact that they are right. The West is scarcely worth saving. Certainly if it continues on its present course it is doomed anyway. It might be easier for the Islamists to just sit and wait for – how long? Fifty years? Twenty? Ten?
Remember that trial a few months back, where the bloke’s defence was that he did not stab some woman to death and rape her; he just happened to come along, by sheer chance encountered her dead body, and opportunistically had sex with it. That’s all, Guv, honest. That was his defence! And on this the court deliberated, so moronically postmodern, so illogically and unfairly fair, are we. And even the most savvy of us said little more than, pull the other one, does he expect us to believe that? But really! Even if it were true, what the hell kind of a defence is that? Surely a man who will have sex with a savagely murdered corpse he happens to chance upon is, if anything, a far greater risk, a far worse criminal, than the one who commits the murder? Even if it were not so insultingly absurd, how can this possibly be a defence?
So do blame the murderers and the madmen. But most of all, blame yourself.
Meanwhile, America looks poised to elect to its highest office a bona fide Forrest Gump, a simpleton who speaks to an electorate for whom mere slogans suffice as policy, and attitudes suffice as arguments, a man whose aims and insights are so trivial, naïve and yet far-reachingly dangerous that his investiture will surely be the last sign Iran needs to light the touch paper.
So on we go, marching into oblivion, some of us blindly sleepwalking, others eyes open and proud, many of us wearing t-shirts with a picture of George Bush and the caption “World’s Number One Terrorist” written beneath. (Those are the ones you see a lot of on the telly.)
It is 11:59 and the clock is ticking. We are all of us directly responsible for what lies around the next corner. We have brought it on ourselves, and all things considered, we will deserve it.