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Ian Martin

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Plug Invents Smarty Eugenics

After their weekend break in the bush Plug and Frikkie had to get back to administering their growing empire. It was about a week or so later, and Frikkie was sitting in traffic. He was returning from a Church meeting at which he and his team had rehearsed a particularly tricky miracle. The N2 was backed up with ten thousand vehicles on account of a woman who had tried changing lanes while brushing her hair with one hand and texting with the other. Plug’s call came in time to prevent Frikkie’s impatience turning into full-blown traffic rage.

“Got a moment?” Plug asked.

“A moment? Fuck, I’ve got the whole of eternity, by the looks of it.”

“I’ve been thinking about euthanasia, ever since you told me about your brother,” said Plug. “It occurred to me that there must be a huge demand for a professional service specialising in the termination of the sick and the elderly.”

“You don’t say?” said Frikkie. “The sick and the elderly will soon outnumber the young and the healthy, because they cling to life like flies cling to fresh shit. But hold it, Plug. I’ve got to deal with this guy hassling me.”

A traffic jam vendor, still wet behind the ears, had misread Frikkie’s contemptuous glance as an expression of keen interest. He was displaying his sign work fashioned from galvanised wire. He tried LOVE, then PEACE, followed by HOPE. His mistake was to hold up FAITH.

Frikkie lowered his window, and emptied half a can of pepper spray in the young man’s face, the way he would have saturated a cockroach so that even if it scuttled under a cupboard it could never recover from that amount of Doom.

The vendor’s next big mistake was to stagger back against the side of a shiny new Hilux double cab valued at nearly half a million. The Afrikaner in the passenger seat looked like he pumped a lot of iron when he wasn’t playing club rugby, and he got out of that fancy bakkie in a hurry and struck the youth four times with a length of thin-walled black plastic pipe, once on the back of the head and thrice across the shoulders.

“You were saying?” said Frikkie, moving his car twenty metres closer to home.

“Yes,” said Plug. “I think we can make a lot of money helping people to give their sick and ageing relatives a compassionate send-off, the way you did for your brother. But I’ve also had another idea that involves euthanasia on a much bigger scale, and would benefit the whole of mankind.”

“The whole of mankind? Are we going to sell this to the United Nations?”

“That’s a possibility,” said Plug. “I was giving some thought to the way medical science has advanced over the past 50 years, and how we have now reached the stage where millions of people are living for up to thirty years beyond their natural sell-by date. The sick and the aged are encouraged to keep going indefinitely in spite of them having to endure a ghastly existence characterised by chronic pain, indignity and humiliation, boredom and disappointment, and a growing sense of futility and hopelessness as their personalities dissolve and they succumb to galloping dementia. But clinging to life is big business, and serves the interests of the medical fraternity, private hospitals, retirement centres, medical aid schemes, and the pharmaceutical industry.”

“I know,” said Frikkie. “I checked out how much it would cost to move my parents into frail care at the Village of Golden Harvest. R13,000 each! That’s the basic monthly rate for a single room with bathroom. Then there’s all the extras.”

“Exactly so,” said Plug. “Enormous resources are squandered on making people hang around at death’s door for years on end. But this is patently unsustainable. The burden on the younger generations has become too great, and the system is on the point of collapse.”

“So what can be done?” asked Frikkie. “Mass euthanasia, I suppose? Is that your solution? I think we might have a problem selling that one to the World Health Organisation.””

“You are right,” said Plug. “No, mass extermination wouldn’t go down well, because it sounds too much like the Final Solution. What I have in mind is far more humane and subtle.”

He then proceeded to explain how Smarty Eugenics would work in theory and in practice. Participation in the programme would be compulsory for prisoners, drug addicts, alcoholics, the unemployed, the physically or mentally disabled, the chronically diseased, and all citizens over the age of 60. Temporary exemption would be granted to anyone able to prove they were economically active, independent, and not a burden on society. The rest would be required to take daily medication in the form of three brightly coloured chocolate beans.

“Smarties?”

“Yes,” said Plug. “These Smarties would contain a moderately addictive narcotic, so there would be no problem getting people to take them. They would all be the same, apart from the funky colours, and they would all taste the same. Except for one in a million, or one in a hundred thousand, depending on the specific programme. And that one would contain a lethal dose of cyanide.”

“Got it!” said Frikkie. “But how do you choose who is to get that one in a million?”

“That’s the beauty of this scheme,” said Plug, and Frikkie could hear that his friend was having trouble trying to sound modest. “Only the fixing of a percentage would require human intervention. Otherwise it’s purely up to chance who gets the lethal Smarty. Call it Fate. Or the Will of God. And, of course, it goes without saying the existence of lethal Smarties would be top secret and only known to a very select few. ”

“This is so beautifully simple!” enthused Frikkie

“Yes,” said Plug. “But first we have to refine the idea and turn it into a saleable commodity. The money lies in the Smarties, the dispensing machines and the computer software.”

“Let’s get this straight,” said Frikkie. “Take an old age home, for example. There are a hundred old toppies dozing and drooling in front of their TVs, and we want to get them down to 75 in the course of a year. How would it work?”

“We use some maths and statistics,” said Plug, and Frikkie pictured him taking out his cigarette box and pen. “A hundred old fogies on three Smarties a day over 365 days would consume 109,500 units of the delicious but dangerously deceptive candy. At the beginning of the year that amount would be placed in the dispenser. Twenty-five of these ordinary Smarties would be removed, and twenty-five lethal Smarties would replace them.  The dispenser would thoroughly mix its contents, and then dispense 100 batches of 1095 Smarties for each old toppie. From here on you could say the system is armed, unpredictable and neutral.”

“I like the sound of this cool logic,” said Frikkie, and he changed into second, shot forward, and slammed on his brakes just in time to pull up three ball hairs from the car in front of him. “But I can already see a flaw in the system. What happens if someone has drawn more than one cyanide pilletjie? He or she can’t die twice.”

“That’s alright,” said Plug. “The computer program would handle this next time round. The same way as it would take into account the old people dying of natural causes and not Smarty eugenics. You win some, you lose some.”

“This strikes me as a very fair and humane way of reducing the population,” said Frikkie. “I can’t foresee any objections on moral grounds, can you?”

“Not at all,” said Plug. “By making the lethal dose unpredictable and random, no one can be held responsible and there is no way the outcome can be manipulated. Smarty eugenics is a foolproof way to solve an otherwise ethically tricky problem.”

“Beautifully simple,” said Frikkie. “In just a couple of decades we could reduce the population and improve quality of life by weeding out the old, the sickly, the stupid, the lazy and the criminal. In a generation we would be left with a much healthier society. Now it’s just a matter of implementation. How do you propose getting the scheme off the ground?”

The traffic had begun to flow at last, and Frikkie was keeping very close to the car up front, just in case some arsehole tried some sneaky manoeuvre like cutting in in front of him.

“It will take about 2 weeks to arrange visas for the US,” said Plug. “In that time we must put together a really slick presentation and set up meetings. Frikkie, I think this could turn out to be our biggest venture to date.”

 

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