Thursday 14 February 2013

A paramedic's view of the 'modesty' of bankers

Worlds apart from all the bombastic verbiage of academics and would-be intellectuals, real life experience, when expounded with eloquence, is wont to cut straight to the point:
I am an ambulance medic and part of a two-man crew. We often get up at 4am, check over a 999 frontline ambulance, then drive anything up to two hours to our area of cover, all in our own time. Then follows a 12-hour intensive shift, where we deal with anything from multiple car pile-ups to seriously ill children. We are sometimes abused both verbally and physically. Sometimes we are threatened with sharp implements and have to negotiate or even physically fight for our safety.

Half-hour rest breaks are not always taken due to the demand on services. We then have the drive back, where we have to clean our vehicles before driving home. The stress is monstrous, but we are exempt from any legislation that makes sure we are not worked to death as we are an emergency service. Our average wage is about £15 an hour. We are life savers, counsellors and sometimes just company, as we hold the hand of someone beyond help. We have cultivated a black sense of humour so we do not crumble and, even so, often cry on the way home. I am sure there are many other professions which have their own untold stories of daily physical and mental hardship.

I would like to say to Sir Philip Hampton of RBS that our wages are "modest" for what we do (RBS chief underpaid, says chairman, 12 February). A multimillion-pound pay packet for a banker's success or failure is not "modest". We take home in a gruelling year of real blood, sweat and tears what Stephen Hester earns in six days. I wish that those who earn such sums would realise that their renumeration is not right. Perhaps they should not apply terms to themselves like "I have one of the hardest jobs in the world" (Fred the Shred) until they see what others do on a fraction of their wage. What comes out of their mouths undermines millions of hard working people in this country. If an ambulance turned up to one of their children severely injured on a country road, would we seem only worth £15 an hour? As they watched as we fought for their child's life, far from back up and hospital facilities, would they reconsider the value of jobs that do not make a profit?

Would they consider our wages modest as they apply this term to their own? Modest is a powerful word and has to be earned.
That's an extremely powerful bit of writing.  Angry but not nasty, indignant but not exasperated; 'modest' in all the right ways.  Humility is the word.  And it casts quite a stark and revealing light on the mollycoddled myopia of elites -- how they can, it seems completely earnestly, buy their own hype -- that they're irreplaceable, irrepressable √úbermenschen doing what no one else could, benefiting everyone by benefiting themselves.

At least it seems that way.  Is it real or is it just spin?  Do elites really believe that they are hard done by when they are given only 'modest' severance packages or when people say they should be prosecuted for crimes that 'everyone else was doing' (see MP's expenses, LIBOR fixing, all manner of financial crimes perpetrated by those 'too big to jail').  Are they so cut off from the rest of the world, so naive?  Or is that just the face they present, all the while being cruel, devious, backstabbing bastards?

Well, perhaps the two things are not mutually exclusive.  History shows that elites invariably buy into their own propaganda even while they understand that it is propaganda -- cognitive dissonance be damned, Orwell be praised.  If it's true that we judge our social status relative to our immediate peers rather than society as a whole then business and financial elites are under no less pressure than anyone else to climb further up the slagheap of capital -- few ever reach the summit and those who do so do not so much admire the view as worry about those clawing their way up from behind.

An obtuse metaphor, to be sure, but then I'm no paramedic.