Pratchett from 2004: “Too Big to Fail”

It’s not prophecy. It’s not a fine or proved economic theorem. It’s not even life imitating art. It’s simply the way one Master Grifter recognises the cynical underhandedness of another Master Grifter. And how a very smart novelist understands the constant con:

From Terry Pratchett’s inventive and smart novel Going Postal, at that point where the sympathetic shyster, Moist von Lipwig, charged -on pain of death- with re-tooling the defunct Ankh-Morpork postal service, understands the depth of the corruption of his competitor:

The Times reporter had made an effort, but nothing short of a stampede could have stopped Reacher Gilt in his crazed assault on the meaning of meaning. The Grand Trunk “was about people” and the reporter had completely failed to ask what that meant, exactly? And then there was this piece called “Our Mission” . . . Meaningless, stupid words, from people without wisdom or intelligence or any skill beyond the ability to water the currency of expression. Oh, the Grand Trunk stood for everything, from life, and liberty to Mom’s homemade Distressed Pudding. It stood for everything, except anything.

Through a pink mist, his eye caught the line “Safety is our foremost consideration.” Why hadn’t the lead type melted, why hadn’t the paper blazed rather than be part of this obscenity? The press should have buckled, the roller should have cleaved unto the platen . . .

Moist handed the paper to Miss Dearheart. “He’s going to get away with it,” he said. “He’s just throwing words around. The Trunk’s too big to fail. Too many investors. He’ll get more money, keep the system going just this side of disaster, then let it collapse. Buy it up then via another company, maybe, at a knockdown price.”

“I’d suspect him of anything,” said Miss Dearheart. “But you sound very certain.”

“That’s what I’d do, ” said Moist, “. . .er . . .if I was that kind of person. It’s the oldest trick in the book. You get the punt – you get the others so deeply involved that they don’t dare fold. It’s the dream, you see? They think if they stay in it’ll all work out. They daren’t think it’s all a dream. You use big words to tell them it’s going to be jam tomorrow and they hope. But they’ll never win. Part of them knows that, but the rest of them never listens to it. The house always wins.”

All italics from Pratchett, whose sharply drawn, satirical, imaginative yet ultimately self-reflective Disc World, keeps showing us to ourselves, even if we don’t immediately recognize what we see in his roiling, fun-house mirror.

“The Trunk’s too big to fail.”

But if you can recognize a trick for what it is, you can prevail against it, says I.

Going Postal was first published in hard cover, in 2004.

Not the first time Pratchett’s work has rung a timely bell.

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