Want to hear a joke? A really, really good one? Well I’ve got one for you, and it’s a cracker. It’s one of those jokes that’s a bit dark. A bit sick, if I’m honest. And it’ll both tickle your funny bone, and leave you outraged. Hopping mad, even.
Believe me. When I heard it, the first thing I did was laugh out loud. And then I got angry. Really, REALLY bloody angry. And the best of it is, that I am the butt of this particular joke. Me, personally. I’m the punchline. Still want to hear it? Well, here goes. I just saw this headline in the Guardian:
Yup. You read that right. Like most other workplaces, researchers who work in UK universities – researchers like me – have a pension scheme. Ours is called USS (University Superannuation Scheme) and it is used by the majority of universities in the UK. So, every cancer researcher based in a UK university uses this scheme.
And, unknown to us, it seems that our scheme has been investing in the tobacco industry for years. So, every university-based cancer researcher in the UK has, unwittingly, been indirectly profiting from cigarette sales.
Good joke, eh? Isn’t that a doozy?
Now to say that I am unhappy about this particular state of affairs would be an understatement. I’m not so much unhappy, as hopping bloody mad. I’ve spent 20-odd years trying to develop new treatment options for cancer. So, it’s more than a little galling to discover that I’ve actually, in all that time, been a total hypocrite.
When I retire and start to claim my pension, some of that money will be derived from the World’s most infamous cause of the very diseases I spent a career trying to treat.
I. Am. Not. Happy.
How could this have happened? What were the directors of the pension scheme THINKING? Well. It’s pretty obvious, really. They were thinking about one thing, and one thing only. Profit.
We live in an age of Free Market Capitalism, where the only important consideration in any business, in any industry, is The Bottom Line. Are you in the Red, or in the Black? And how much are you in the Red or Black? Profit is King. It trumps all other considerations. Morals? Ethics? Workers’ rights? Pah! As long as you’ve got a nice, fat number in the Plus column, then you’re laughing, right? Job done.
And if you’ve gotten that number using methods that go against the fundamental principles of your stakeholders? Who cares? Screw ’em! What are they going to do? Give the money BACK?
So. Was I surprised by the discovery that USS profits from tobacco? Yes I was, naive fool that I am. But was I shocked to the core of my being?? No. It’s repugnant, but not shocking. I know how the world works.
But that doesn’t make it RIGHT. And it doesn’t mean that I just have to shrug and accept it. This is wrong. Plain wrong. And I need to try and change it. I don’t know how. I don’t know if I can. But I have to try, at least.
This is not over.
AG McCluskey (2016). Best Laid Plans Zongo’s Cancer Diaries