I’ve just read The Siege of Krishnapour by JG Farrell – a sort of Flashman meets Carry on up the Khyber – and it contains the most incredible Brexit parable, not least considering it was written in 1970.
The English camp is under siege by ‘mutinous sepoys’ in deepest and darkest India. There is an outbreak of cholera. There are two doctors still alive in the camp. As people start dying of cholera the rest of the camp takes to carrying around cards saying which doctor they want to be treated by should they be afflicted. Each doctor believes they know what causes cholera and from that have deduced a cure. One of them – let’s call him Doctor Boris – is sure that the cause of cholera is poisonous vapours in the air. He is flamboyant and eloquent and does a very good job of convincing all of those around him that he must be right and that his cure must be the way forward. The majority of people in the camp have his name written on their card. The only problem is that his patients mainly die.
The other doctor is more of an expert – let’s call him the Good Doctor – and has been reading up on the latest studies, especially that of Jon Snow, and believes that cholera is a water-borne disease. He shares with the camp lots of dull and dry statistics, and all but bores them to death with his considered suggestion that probably the best way to treat the disease is through rehydration. Many of his patients recover, though not all. Plus, you know, boring.
They even have an evening where both are allowed to present their ideas to the camp – dashing Boris thundering and showboating, evangelical and proselytising, whilst the dry Doctor mumbles and suggests and doubts. Boris has the numbers against him, but he’s a showman, and a charlatan, and people prefer that despite the evidence. Plus, he knows the importance of a grand finale. One, where to prove his case, he drinks the “squits” of a cholera patient. Brings the house down. And his pants shortly after, as he catches cholera.
He orders his daughter to treat him by his own sure-fire method. Grows delirious. Unconscious. Dying. In despair, the daughter calls for the Good Doctor, who changes the treatment to his own method. Boris recovers. Wakes up and praises his daughter for following out his instructions.
The daughter admits that it was the Good Doctor who saved him. Boris is furious, demands that his daughter goes back to the leeches and the juju and whatever else make up Boris’s own treatment. The daughter complies. Boris falls again into a coma. The daughter again calls on the Good Doctor. His treatment again leads to Boris’s recovery. Boris is furious. Calls his daughter a traitor and forbids her to go against his words again. She doesn’t. Boris dies. (At this point, it should be said, I stood up and cheered.)
And the rest of the camp? They still can’t decide. Perhaps, if the daughter had stuck to Boris’s path for longer, then perhaps he’d have recovered. Perhaps the Good Doctor’s ministrations were the real cause of Boris’s demise. Perhaps, they fancied themselves as amateur experts and found themselves on the wrong side of science. Maybe they had taken sides based on a hunch and couldn’t bear to admit they’d been horribly, horribly wrong.
Or possibly, just possibly, humans are fucking idiots.