Golden Years?

The Brass Neck, The Rusty Bucket
The Return of The Ineffable Pirie

'The hero arrives, we hoist him shoulder high,
He's good and wise and strong, he's brave, he's . . . shy.
And how we have to plead with him, how bashfully he climbs
Up the steps to the microphone, two at a time.
Then down it comes - slick, slithery pat -
If you must put people on pedestals, wear a big hat.
The tongue he's got is pure gold, the breast is pure brass,
The feet are pure clay, and watch out for the arse.
Beware of the bull!'

(From Jake Thackray's 'The Bull')

I imagine our usually sensible editor must have been gulled into writing the glutinously sycophantic lead article in the January 2009 issue of Mensa Magazine.

The following response was submitted too late for inclusion in the magazine, but as long as the threat of Pirie once again becoming influential in the Society remains then its contents continue to have relevance.


What a horrible shock; I almost found myself making the sign of the Cross, getting out the garlic, and checking for shipwrecks off Whitby! I'm referring to January's magazine and the news of the return of the ineffable Pirie.

Sorry, my mistake - I've read the article now, and clearly I should be rejoicing at the return of 'Golden-Years-of-Mensa' Pirie, the Great Profit of the Church of Latter Day Money Grubbers.

I recall the 'Rusty-bucket-with-a-hole-in-it' days, under the politburo triumvirate of Serebriakoff, Pirie, and McNulty - and let's very definitely not forget McNulty when we engage in rewriting history; the major recruitment drive through the medium of right-wing publications; the political questionnaire circulated thereafter, and the subsequent attempts to publicly represent the Society as supporting Thatcher's Government because 'most outstandingly intelligent people are right-wing'.

Victor Serebriakoff was a staunch socialist until (if I remember the story correctly) ballot-rigging in the Electricians' Union prompted him to throw out the baby of principle with the bath water of corrupt practices. Richly ironic that someone so strongly against fiddling the figures on behalf of the Left should so willingly engage in gerrymandering on behalf of the Right. Perhaps in pursuit of Golden Years the end justifies the means?

Newer members may not know of McNulty; black sheep are seldom mentioned in families. I did not follow the case to its denouement, nor am I sufficiently versed in legal issues to discard caution, so I will say no more than this; I wouldn't trust McNulty with an empty piggy-bank, a rusty bucket, or a golden anything.

Another recollection from the Golden Years is of the long standing members of left wing opinions who resigned the Society in disgust at the politburo's attempts to hijack the Society for their own purposes. Pirie, Serebriakoff, and McNulty were never slow to engage in self-promotion, and the promotion of their ideas, and shamelessly and repeatedly used the Society and the Magazine for that purpose.

As the article makes clear Pirie's career is one of self-promotion; he founds the Adam Smith Institute with a couple of pals, makes himself president of this grand sounding admixture of hot air and chutzpah, and launches himself upon an unsuspecting world as the high priest of a dismal and tawdry 'philosophy' which venerates the parasitic and places greed at the centre of the human condition.

I was reading some Adam Smith, and also some David Hume the week before the January magazine arrived. It may seem strange that this should have brought to mind an ex-girlfriend of mine, but let me briefly digress. For me the chief attraction of this enjoyably cuddly young woman was that she was for ever and always ready, willing and able to engage in intimate congress, and enthusiastically so. I have not seen her for many years and imagine, perhaps uncharitably, that her incipient moustache has probably become less incipient and more moustache; I imagine she still has a liking for wearing dungarees, and an interest in herbal medicine, as well as a vague, touchy-feely belief in a vaguely paganish deity - or non-deity, perhaps. Had this blameless creature lived in Hume and Smith's era she would have narrowly escaped burning at the stake as a supposed witch. (The 1735 Witchcraft Act ended 'witch' trials)

For the ambitious, in the days of Hume and Smith, keeping on the right side of the right people was vital, often literally so. Even a brief look at the works of this ambitious pair shows that they were largely engaged in writing convoluted justificatory excuses for the unbridled greed of their greedy, rich, and, most importantly, powerful pals. If there is any worth to be derived from the Laurel and Hardy of philosophy it is when they are not being obsequious toadies; when for example Smith observes that few of the 'self made men' possess physical courage, he effectively defines them as spivs.

Between them Smith and Hume produced three absolutely cracking whoopie cushion ideas, beloved by spiv apologists;

1) dispose of God - the conscience was regarded as the voice of God in the head; if there is no God then one can ignore one's conscience. If one's conscience is poorly developed, or nonexistent then so much the better;

2) where the definition of criminality inconveniences the most rapaciously greedy, then criminality must be redefined as legality;

3) having disposed of the supernatural by killing off God, it is reinvented in the form of the Hidden Hand. This entirely imaginary notion is hyped as a reason why the rest of us should be grateful to the crooks for ripping us off.

It is the risible idea that without the efforts of the spivs scientific, technological, medical, social and cultural advance would not happen.

Another recollection from the rusty bucket days - Madsen's Maunderings (Or should that be Pirie's Pearls of Wisdom?) in Mensa Magazine, wherein he touted a series of right wing would-be panaceas. Within months Keith Joseph, or another of Thatcher's poodles would be announcing the cure-all cant as proposed Government policy.

A final recollection; the long standing member who was repeatedly blackguarded by the politburo and their cronies whenever he stood for election. I've never met the man, but others who have tell me he is not the dangerous loony the politburo made him out to be, just an individual who asked too many pertinent questions!

To return to the January article; no matter how personable and avuncular Pirie may appear to be, here is one member of Mensa who does not welcome the return of the prophet of pestilential nonsense and his vulpine smirk.

I've just been down the pub, and feeling that I might have been a bit too harsh on poor old Madsen, I had a chat with a couple of pals about the issue. After a few pints we decided that I probably had - when all is said and done it is admirably enterprising to invent your own institution (I know, I know, we do feel ashamed about the jokes; it was unkind of me to suggest Madsen should be in one, but, y'know I was getting fair to maudlin by that stage, sorry).

Anyway, the upshot of our deliberations is that - recognising that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - we have decided to take a leaf out of Madsen's book, and are now formally announcing the launch of the Attila the Hun Foundation.

The Attila the Hun Foundation is dedicated to the promotion of the ideals demonstrated so vigourously by Attila - private enterprise rapine and pillage. I have been 'elected' Grand Fundament in Chief for life (well, I'm bigger than the others). We have designed a coat of arms; representing Golden years we have a brazen ring encircling a rusty bucket surmounted by a bunch of raspberries.

We have even invented a tradition. In future years, on National Tax Evasion Day, we will turn our collective Ceremonial Fundaments towards our revered predecessors, the Blessed Pirie and the Adam Smith Institute, and offer up a massive bunch of raspberries, and, in place of the Hidden Hand, the highly visible Two Fingers.

(March 2009)

* I know, I know; the idea of using the word sensible in relation to a Boro fan!
Well, y'know, maybe 'insensible' would have been better.

(Back to the introduction)

(Real) Postscript:
When I read the following (from C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters) it struck me how easily and appropriately the description could be fitted to Pirie.

'..... a 'great man' in the modern sense of the word - one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought - a crank vending a panacea.'

(October 2010)

0Life With The Spivs; Hector Wonai's Wonderful World of Capitalism - or Our Hands on Your Wallet