A short story about love
For grown-ups and children
At the beginning of 2015 the world began to wake up to a global crisis.
We have grown used to the prospect of peak oil, of rising energy prices, even become indifferent to reports of food shortages and famine in trouble spots around the world. We had found ourselves accustomed to alarming predictions about climate change, rising seawater levels, failing crops and species on the brink of extinction.
But then something happened that finally sent shockwaves through every country of the globe. Because a realisation that we were of the verge of losing something of the greatest importance began to dawn on humanity.
Because, all over the world, love was starting to run out.
For millennia love had been traded informally at a local level or given freely on the basis of trust. And this was a satisfactory basis for love to be shared and reciprocated all over the world. It worked very well. Families grew, marriages were arranged, vows were taken, romantic ballads were sung, children were cared for, and older people were tolerated.
So, OK, this informal basis of love trading didn't prevent every conflict or heal every broken marriage but it was generally a pretty happy arrangement all the same.
The world began to change
Then as centuries went on the world began to change. Trade went from being local to being global. Staple foodstuffs like grain, coffee, rice, and cacao began to be traded on open markets in banking centres around the world. They became commodities, subject to speculation, boom and sometimes bust. Fortunes were made and lost and all the while the bankers and speculators the investors and hedge fund managers got richer and richer and the people who grew the grain, the coffee, the rice, the cacao seemed to get less and less for it.
But for some reason, in this frenzy of commodification, love seemed to get left behind and, across the globe, people carried on sharing and trading love in the old informal way without an inkling that it could be done any differently.
It was only around the middle of the 20th century that a handful of entrepreneurs began to wonder if love was something that could be sold. There were a number of abortive attempts to package and retail love as a product and initially the public were sceptical. But in the late 1970s an American supermarket chain bought out a failing love supply mail order business with the aim of bringing love to the mass market.
Slowly, sales of love began to grow. At first packaging, advertising and product design were fairly unsophisticated and the quality of the love been sold was variable. But, sensing the potential in the fledgling love sector, trendy startups started to take notice. The best marketing agencies were hired to market love products in a more sophisticated way to a hipper, more knowing, and more affluent demographic.
Sales began to rocket. Advertisers and corporations realised that they had stumbled across a new product that could be marketed and distributed globally.
As love was parcelled up, rebranded, repackaged, advertised and sold it increasingly began to be seen as a consumer item, something that you didn’t want to be seen without. Love could now be acquired easily. Who needed all of that tricky negotiation, generosity and trust when you could just buy love off the shelf. It was a revolution.
The biggest issue of course was supply.
Now third-world communities were finding that love was something that they could no longer afford and they had to sell what love they had to buy food and necessities. But of course only a tiny proportion of the profits from the lucrative trade of this love ever went to these rural villages. Powerful buying consortiums sold on huge tranches of love to feed the increasingly feverish demand of western love markets.
It was in the late noughties that market analysts in Tokyo were the first to calculate that there might be a problem.
Consumers in the west had become dependent on a supply of cheap Love. China, the largest global exporter of love, was experiencing unprecedented demand from its own emergent middle classes who wanted all the same luxuries that the west enjoyed. Other exporters were struggling to keep up supply not least because, as was becoming apparent, even the poorest people seemed to be willing to go hungry rather than sell off their last scraps of love.
The British government became alarmed. It moved to dispel rumours about love shortages by guaranteeing supply and putting forward measures to stop large-scale love exports.
The UK Independence Party benefited from a storm of controversy about migrants coming to the UK to take advantage of national love supplies and sending packets home to their families abroad. Although reports in the Guardian referred to statistics which showed that the UK enjoyed a net gain in love from incomers overall.
Still there were riots and disorder in poorer parts of the country where love was becoming unaffordable to those on low wages. In many places people tried going back to the old informal way of giving and exchanging love as they had done in centuries past. But this was quickly outlawed by the Coalition government, which was anxious to crack down on the growing black market in love trading.
But still, stocks of love plummeted, while prices skyrocketed.
Scientists, politicians and strategists met at Downing Street to discuss the possibility of love running out. How would it affect the country? Would the economy collapse, would civil war break out, would Downton Abbey be cancelled?
But more subtle changes were taking place: for the first time some of the most vulnerable people in society were becoming homeless. More widely the gap between rich and poor was growing and those at the bottom found themselves being blamed and demonised for their own poverty.
Most people did not notice these changes; they were too busy saving up for the latest love box set before supplies ran out.
There was only one possible solution to the crisis: new sources of love had to be found.
Licences were granted for contractors to begin exploratory drilling in various parts of Britain. To locate any undiscovered subterranean love wells that could be exploited by fracking.
Scientists attempted to grow love in test tubes.
The NHS trialled love transfusions.
But all these attempts failed.
And then. Just as it seemed all was lost. Help came from an unexpected source. Anthropologists discovered that there was one group of people who seemed relatively unaffected by the crisis.
Christians had got used to being on the fringes of society and society had got used to them being there so it was a bit of a shock to everybody to find that Christians might actually be useful for something.
These Christians seemed to have access to an abundant supply of love. They didn't seem to be trying to profit from it or even trying to share it out much. In fact they didn't really seem to know what to do with it at all. And there was something different about this love that Christians had access to. It wasn't the limited-shelf-life love that people were used to. Vivid enough straight out of the box but fading over time and leaving behind a kind of sadness. The sort of love that was easy to express but harder to find evidence for. This love that the Christians had, people said it "never failed", that it "always persevered", even that it "conquered all".
But how would these Christians respond to the crisis? Could they do anything to help? Nobody knew. There was a sense of uncertainty and expectancy. Those who were most in need quietly gathered and waited.
Their mood was best summed up by a graffiti slogan that had appeared on the side of a church and expressed a need that many felt but few could put into words.
The slogan read: "Freely you have received, freely give."