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Chelsea Green Blog

Believeable Satire? Now, That Is Scary

Recently, I posted on this blog an essay, thinly disguised as a news report, entitled “Bush Declares War on Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.” The premise was that our president had placed a $10,000 bounty on the head of each specimen of this magnificent, newly rediscovered creature, thought for 60 years to have been extinct, because he didn’t want to add another animal to the Endangered Species List. The post was, of course, a satire — one of the oldest forms of literature, with a pedigree dating back at least to Aristophanes. Satire has long been a weapon of choice for scribes targeting entrenched, corrupt, criminally belligerent power elites, and it was in this spirit that I invoked the form. One reader, not amused, described my post as “shameful” and “so ridiculous it doesn’t deserve to be in print.” I won’t summon a defense against the common premise that an attitude disagreed with is inherently offensive and better left unexpressed; being human, I know I have felt and spoken similar sentiments many times, and presumably will do so again. The writer added, “I feel sorry for the less educated reader who might very well believe what has been posted.” For starters, the notion that anyone could find credible, on the basis of what he or she knew of the man, that George Bush would try to exterminate a species is a more damning indictment of his character and monstrous environmental record than my post was. How pathetic and frightening that anyone could find such bogus news believable. And this may sound downright baroque, but I cling to the old-fashioned belief that each citizen of a republic has a duty to know what the administration in power — that is, the public servants who hold in temporary stewardship that republic’s governing machinery — are up to. The truth is out there, and I won’t feel sorry for someone whose mind is empty and yet so agile that it can dodge the evidence, on every hand, of the ruthlessness with which the Bush administration is openly — defiantly, even proudly — desecrating the environment, human rights, international law, fiscal responsibility, and on and on and on. (It’s not on too many front burners right now, but I believe the main thing for which posterity will remember George W. Bush is that he was the only president in history to propose a constitutional amendment intended to deny one segment of society rights that are enjoyed by the rest of us.) So — sorry, no; inexpressibly disheartened, yes. To me, a hypothetical citizen so gullible and clueless as to believe my story was true is an accessory after the fact of George Bush’s crimes. In 1729, Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) published an essay titled “A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.” Largely due to negligence on the part of the island’s English occupiers, most of the Irish population was desperately poor, and starvation was systemic and widespread. Swift suggested that the problem could be solved if the Irish would simply eat their children. Fewer mouths to feed, you see, and all the grownups would be fat and happy. ”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London,” Swift wrote, “that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled … ” Much of British society was appalled by Swift’s literary mischief, completely missing his intent: to skewer their own indifference to human suffering. The possibility of someone believing, on the basis of something I wrote, that Bush would try to wipe out an endangered species is a poor reason to get mad at me. It’s a good reason for you to be scared to death — and to weep for the Republic.


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