Archive for May 21st, 2011

It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority.  Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.  –  Giordano Bruno

The land of Vespuccia was a lot like our own; people there lived very much like people do everywhere, and though they had their unique ways and traditions they were, for the most part, a reasonably typical modern country.  But the Vespuccians did have one peculiarity you might consider exceptional:  though they needed and liked to eat as much as everybody else, the average Vespuccian claimed to believe that it was bad and wrong to operate or patronize a restaurant.  I say “claimed to believe” because most of them couldn’t really have felt that way deep down; oh, some of them undoubtedly did, but 7 out of 10 Vespuccians had been to a restaurant at least once in their lives and many ate at such places regularly.  Restaurants were no less common in Vespuccia than in any other country, and indeed they always did a brisk business; restauranteurs were about as well-off as most business owners, and because the work was often difficult but also rewarding there was no shortage of people who decided to prepare food for a living despite the cruel way in which they were publicly treated by their countrymen because of it.

Despite the fact that most sensible people understood the importance of restaurants, almost nobody wanted to say that out loud; chefs and even waiters could not even publicly admit to working in their trades for fear of being ostracized.  Though many people ate brown-bag lunches right out in the open every day, moralists proclaimed that eating was an intimate act which should only be shared with one’s family.  Leaders accused restaurants of spreading disease in their food even though they cooked it more carefully and washed their pots and utensils more thoroughly than most people did at home.  And some jealous women pronounced that restaurants were bad because they themselves couldn’t cook as well as the chefs did, or complained that the mere existence of such establishments degraded and humiliated women because their husbands would expect to be waited on at home and have properly-prepared meals instead of reheated factory-made food which came out of boxes.  Worst of all, some heartless people would laugh when a restaurant was robbed or vandalized, saying that it was their own fault for displaying their fine silverware or claiming that they had enticed the criminals onto the premises with the delicious smells which emanated from them.  Some even turned their backs when restaurants burned down, and there were arsonists who specifically targeted restaurants because they knew there would be no public outcry against them.

But of all the Vespuccians, the ones who treated food professionals the worst were the bankers.  They wouldn’t lend money to those who worked in restaurants nor even let them open bank accounts, and they defended this illegal practice by claiming restauranteurs were dishonest.  They knowingly spread lies about chefs and waiters, repeating the same claims made by the moralists and leaders and jealous women and adding others of their own, such as claiming that restaurants enslaved their staff or hurt people by encouraging them to spend money on something which was quickly used up.  The worst of the bankers even directly stole money from restauranteurs, or else ate there and then walked out without paying their bills.  Even by Vespuccian standards their conduct was reprehensible, but if a restauranteur complained the bankers just insulted them and said they had brought misfortune upon themselves by opening restaurants in the first place; nobody criticized this monstrous behavior because they were afraid the bankers would raise their interest rates or foreclose on their homes.  Some upright people tried to defend the restauranteurs, but it was no use; most others would simply repeat their prejudiced views, and even when it could be proven that the bankers had done wrong people would claim that these were isolated incidents, that only a few bad bankers gave a bad name to the rest, or even that bankers were justified in their conduct because banking was such an important and stressful job.

One day Vespuccia fell on hard times, and so many restaurants went out of business that other people began to fear they might be affected as well.  Some of the public even said that the bankers should relent for a while and offer loans to the restaurants; some of this sentiment was sincere, while the rest was selfishly motivated by people concerned about all the chefs and waiters on the unemployment dole.  So eventually, some of the bankers grudgingly agreed to lend money to the restauranteurs, but even then it wasn’t exactly a fair deal; the bankers said that they needed the deeds to the restaurants as collateral, that they couldn’t promise a specific and constant interest rate and that the loans might be called in without warning as soon as the economic crisis was over.  They refused to put anything in writing, and still happily did business with other bankers who were busily engaged in mistreating restauranteurs as they always had.  Because the restauranteurs were so frightened of losing their businesses, however, many of them started to say among themselves that perhaps these bank loans might be a good idea, and prepared to hand over their papers in exchange for these vague and shaky promises.  But other restauranteurs (who were still doing all right and didn’t need the loans) told the desperate ones that bankers could not be trusted, and that they shouldn’t take this bargain unless the bankers put everything in writing and guaranteed that their property couldn’t be seized later on flimsy excuses.  Then some of the desperate ones answered that it was all well and fine for the ones who weren’t in danger to say such things because they weren’t the ones at risk, and that the promise of a loan under any conditions was better than no loan at all.  And so things went on as they always had, with the banks behaving as usual, the leaders making it easier for the banks to do so and the people refusing to demand change…except for the ones who insisted that Vespuccia should become more like Vinland, a nearby country in which the bankers preferred to harass people who ate at restaurants instead of those who ran them.

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