Fred the Philosopher – A Short Story

Fred from an early age always had what his parents described as an unhealthy interest in philosophy. His life-long interest in subjects which have engaged mankind since time immemorial began with a weekly serialised story on the wireless. No one in the family could remember exactly what it was about but the penultimate episode ended at the point when one of the characters was about to reveal the secret of eternal life. Fred couldn’t wait. He thought of nothing else, and his attention to lessons at school that week was even more abysmal than usual.

So it was with a rising excitement his parents didn’t seem to share, Fred settled down in the front room at least ten minutes to six to listen to the denouement. At precisely two minutes to six the lights went out and the whole house was plunged into darkness.  

Fred often thought back to this moment and wondered.

He left school with few qualifications and his job filling shelves in the local supermarket left his mind quite free to ponder further for about six hours during the average working day. Why are we here was a favourite subject. Fred didn’t mean why I am stacking shelves in this precise location but he supposed that was part of it. What am I doing with my life and is there life after death? Good versus evil and is heaven real? None of his fellow employees could answer these questions with any degree of certainty but it didn’t stop Fred searching. So he tried religion.

Each Sunday he visited a different church in his locality seeking enlightenment. More food for thought, no real answers, but he enjoyed the singing. Fred did glean that maybe immortality involved not living in his earthly body forever, but it was maybe a reward for living a good life. Fred’s moral compass adjusted by his parents from an early age was firmly pointing in the right direction so perhaps just needed a bit of tweaking. Good works became his reason d’etre. He became a champion of just causes, paying particular attention to the elderly, sick and the lonely.

Now this preoccupation with philosophy, and good works purportedly ceased the moment he met Gloria.

Fred’s moral compass from this moment on began slowly by degrees to rotate on its axis and point in a different but deadly direction. According to those who knew and loved him, his family that is, and because philosophers rarely have to time to form meaningful relationships, Fred fell in lust. She was, as his mother described her, a blousy bottle blonde tart with the morals of an alley cat.

It was blisteringly hot day in August when Fred was re-stocking the freezer cabinet that Gloria appeared. Tottering on ridiculously high heeled, strappy sandals, she lent over, displaying an impressive decolletage as she grabbed a some fish fingers, a box of six chocolate eclairs and four salami pizzas. He watched her as she threw them into her trolley and proceeded to the checkout, only stopping briefly en route to add three packs of lager.

Now at this point, I feel I must confess as a junior Guardian, I was accused of seriously underestimating the Evil that was Gloria. Well, it was the “swinging sixties”, and we were over-stretched. Fred was on my list but we were all overwhelmed. It wasn’t possible to assign a Guardian to every human being, so some sort of triage system was in operation. Fred was not high priority. Of course, hind-sight is a wonderful thing. I make no excuses, but I’d like to explain.

We as Guardians had targets. In this decade, the powers on high declared the world needed more philosophers. We had too many scientists and the balance needed to be tipped the other way. I was ambitious and Fred was my chance of promotion. Looking back, there were all the signs that had I looked more closely at his intellectual powers, or lack of them, it was unlikely he was going to develop into another Thomas Aquinas. But I didn’t and he seemed to be heading in the right direction until Gloria appeared on the scene.

At the subsequent disciplinary hearing, chaired by one of the senior Dominions, I gave the panel my assessment of Gloria, a barmaid in one of the local pubs. Yes, she was promiscuous, a manipulator of the opposite sex, but hardly the devil incarnate. Fred, I argued, could make an honest woman of her, thereby avoiding the cardinal sin of lust. It was the sixties, I pointed out and lust, after all was a fairly outdated concept. This did not go down well, and I was made aware of this by a long tirade on moral relativism and the dangers thereof. I was cleared of the ultimate cardinal sin of Pride, evidenced they claimed by my ambition, mistaken belief in my own judgement and my failure to consult any higher authority. I was, however, judged guilty of Sloth.

I was demoted of course and after interminable re-training courses I was thoroughly bored. It looked unlikely that I would ever be allowed to resume any Guardianship duties and heaven seemed a remote possibility with my record. I resigned, and was sent down.

I have to admit it was much more fun working for the opposition and career prospects were much improved although there was a certain amount of competition for the top jobs, but this was encouraged, and with my no holds barred attitude, I made rapid progress through the ranks.

After few decades of encouraging mankind to descend into the very depths of depravity, I began to long for the light again. I started to question my commitment to the opposition. There was more resistance to temptation than I had imagined when I reported to the Dominions, when despite everything, we always believed that good would always eventually triumph over evil. Was I on the wrong team? This prompted me to recall Fred and Gloria, although I must confess I had never bothered to find out what had become of them.

Fred must have been in his forties by now and I chanced upon him preparing his sermon in the rectory study. In the kitchen, Gloria was almost unrecognisable with glossy brown hair, elegantly but modestly dressed, preparing the vegetables for Sunday lunch. Shifting my gaze to his desk I checked out the family photos. Two little girls, who appeared to take after their mother. One was of a christening with Fred, Gloria and Fred’s parents looking as pleased as punch. You know, I felt proud of this couple, and to make my day, I discovered a book on a shelf entitled “Why Philosophy Matters” with Fred’s name on the spine. He was still young enough that one day he could make a name for himself, and change things for the better. A brief reality check, as I realised that I should be making plans to destroy this possibility and set this family on the road to destruction!

Well, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I checked the records and with a sigh of relief I discovered that Fred and Gloria were not on our list. They had been tempted, but resisted. No further attempts had been scheduled. My original assessment of the situation had been vindicated. My Guardianship of Fred had contributed to his spiritual development, and “evil” Gloria was shaping up nicely as a credible rector’s wife. How I wished I have checked up on them years ago, but pressure of work……

So should I apply to be re-instated to my old job? I was right and they were wrong, although pointing this out may not be the best way of going about it. Perhaps a little humility may be in order. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Good question, I’ll bypass the underlings and send him my undated CV.

Nil desperandum.

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