It’s like the parachute joke come to life. If it doesn’t work come back and we’ll hand over your money. In the strips of gift shops, bars and clothes boutiques round Izmir and other Turkish ports, vendors are supplying fake life-jackets to people fleeing the war zones of the Permanent Battleground.
I like it, it gives me a chance to feel self-righteous. But that feeling neither satisfies or lasts so I get lost in speculation: why is it that I can’t place myself in one of those back streets, re-tailoring back-packs to look like life vests? Why can’t I see myself chortling as customers hesitate between the ones for thirty euros and the ones I’m selling at ten? Someone asks me in English – is good? Very good – I say and point at the fake label. Won’t see them again, not in my street, not in my family – people of no account.
I search for the phrase: the blind hand of the market? No that can’t be right, the dumb hand of the market? Perhaps the unfeeling hand of the market, pretending to be invisible. There is a demand for life jackets. Never mind that there are mountains of them piling up on Greek beaches, the demand is on the Turkish coastline. At first the demand is satisfied along regular lines, just the price shoots up a bit. Then maybe there is a hiccup in the regular supply, the boss is standing there looking into the container load of backpacks just offloaded on the docks. He has his capitalist moment: backpacks are down, life jackets are up – get sewing. It might even have been an idealist who first saw a way of bridging the gap and actually used sturdy buckles and proper floatable wadding.
Then someone made the analysis – what is a life-jacket in terms of the market place? A brightly colored arrangement of cloth, padding and straps. They stripped out all the mattress workshops they could find. They made the skimpy polyester look padded. There was a shortage of those clever plastic clips so they rationed them – two instead of four. There was a premium on the Hi-Vis orange or red but they get away with green and even blue. You could see the women hesitating between the colors just like normal shopping. All counterfeiters rely on things being much stronger in the head of the consumer than their forensic ability to fossick out the truth. The consumer buys the concept (if I knew Greek better I’d like to say the ideational form) that the salesman sells them. When you buy a fake life jacket you are one hundred per cent satisfied as a consumer because you now own something which materializes the idea LIFEJACKET. It will go on faithfully doing that until you jump in the water on a dark night and get that uh-uh feeling square in the gut, a fraction before the water goes up your nose.
Somebody says we should rejoice. Look at the business activity, the side-shows this generates. Pass one hundred thousand people thru these sleepy seaside places in six months and see the villas that spring up, the car concessions, see the jobs the poor get polishing the marble. The long view, the one you can only get from the top floor of a skyscraper looking down like Orson Welles did from the Ferris wheel in The Third Man (tk reference) and seeing people as replaceable ants, or worms.
At what point one wonders does the long view morph into God’s care for all his creatures? Doesn’t feel anytime soon for me here seventeen hundred kilometers west of the trouble – I still own plenty of time to strip down to one suitcase of necessities, to learn to fire a gun. And yes, to buy the mother of all life-jackets.