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Painter in his studio, Picture by Gerard Dou

We are all fans of reasoned discourse here. This is a political site devoted to serious topics, like the deficit, and wealth inequality, and access to affordable health care, and the need to move past the racism and sexism that has been with this country for so long, and a number of other issues. Clarity and data driven analysis are great; in marked contrast to, we think over here. But there is room for satire as well, and sometimes it is just that which gets to the core of things.  . .as people like Stewart and Colbert and Maher demonstrate on a consistent basis. Satire, as someone has said, is truth grinning at the rest of the world.

So today, I thought I would look at the 17th century English version of Mr Stewart, an irish Anglican Priest, of all people named Jonathan Swift. Particularly as some of his writings have some real relevance to the issues of the day; people and politics and prejudices being what they are.

Why don't we entertain a modest proposal?

Jonathan Swift was an Irishman who came from a poor background, as his father had died before he was born. He was later adopted by an uncle and sent to what was the best grammar school in Dublin (thus showing the difference a caring adult can make in the life of a poor child, and the value of an education). He was helped by obtaining a position as a secretary to a prominent British statesman, who encouraged him to both write and become an ordained Anglican priest; a move I cannot help but think was a career move much more than a religious conversion. Eventually Swift became dean of the St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, wrote his famous work 'Gulliver's Travels' and carried on with several amorous relationships. in 1729, he wrote 'A Modest Proposal', dealing with a pressing social problem of the time.

Now, as I believe this is a work that speaks for itself, throughout the long centuries of parliaments and wars over the burning question of which corrupt ruler was going to be king, I think I shall quote passages from it, and if you read carefully, you can see the parallels in the work between early 18th century British politics, and modern American ones.

To start

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Great Doofus in Iraq, or sell themselves to the Purveyors of Vivid Entertainment
It would be agreed that whoever could find a way for these children to be useful members of society - assuming they vastly outnumber the positions for janitor in the nations schools - would be a societally useful fellow, and deserve either a statue or a position in the Senate.
As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other Gingrich-style folk, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. The current cost of providing preschool education for these unfortunate tykes, to say nothing of nourishment while they are present in the grades of Kindergarten and first grade, could be a ruinous drain on the country's naval fleets and other implements for the national defense. It is exactly at this age that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands
See how reasonable Swift starts out. He then continues
The number of children in the nation being usually reckoned 46millions under the age of eleven, with no less than six million of the age of five or six, whom society currently places unprofitably in kindergarten or first grade.  How this number shall be reared and provided for, which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build houses (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing, till they arrive at six years old, except where they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier, during which time, they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers, as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.
It might surprise some that security in these schools seemed to be a problem then as it is now. It is true that AR-15 semiautomatic weapons had not been invented; the concept of high capacity magazines was unheard of; and the collecting of multiple firearms and a strange fascination with them would have been considered a form of insanity, caused, no doubt by excessive onanism; thought at the time to be a grievous practice:
I have heard, indeed, lurid tales of mass murder in the schoolyard of these innocents; some madman, possessing a firearm through some unknown and wholly improbable mechanisms having willfully turned the weapon on these children and their teachers; such a rumor may be dismissed as too horrible and irrational to be true. Indeed, how could anyone think that such a wholly rational society such as ours would permit such lunatics to possess weapons? Nevertheless, this wholly fantastical account has produced a certain fear in the better parts of society; having tired of burning witches, we must, it would seem, turn our attention to something equally scary. How then, indeed shall we secure the safety of the most vulnerable among us, and better yet, figure our a way to turn them to massive profit?
Swift is smart; he has thought this through:
I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at five years old fully capable of firing an AK-47 or M16, or at least shall be when these weapons will have been invented. One cannot view the usual playing of schoolchildren at 'Cowboys and Indians', or professing their native talent for our noble national pastime of hunting with games of 'Duck, Duck, Goose' and not think these young ones would be fully capable of handling a weapon

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the aforementioned 4 million children, a goodly percentage of them can be fitted out with suitable body armor, modified weaponry to take account of their smaller hands and reduced ability to counter a trigger pull, and a generous supply of ammunition, and thus provide the exact learning and intellectual and contemplative environment so necessary to the education of our youth. The public expense to outfit them could doubtless be recouped through privatization fees on our schools; similar schemes have worked before. To which of course can be added a good dash of motivation as the thought doubtless goes through a child's mind under fire the wish that he or she had suitable weaponry to oppose and take out the assassin
Note the style here; he is persuasive as if speaking to lobbyists and the enlightened ones who we choose to be our senators and congressional representatives
A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, having recently taken leadership in an august body dedicated to the supreme religious virtue and godliness of automatic weaponry, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said that many gentlemen of this country would be persuaded to extend this to other school workers, such as teachers, secretaries, charwomen, lunch ladies and so forth, there being so great a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to starve for want of adequate wages these jobs provide. But with due deference to so excellent a friend and so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the teachers, my American acquaintance assured me, from frequent experience, that their aim was hesitant and they seem to lack the instinct to kill quickly and calmly, like that of our schoolboys by continual exercise; and then as to the secretaries and lunch ladies, it is doubtful that they possess the motivation to expose themselves to hostile fire for the pittance they are paid and would likely refuse so onerous a charge. Also, it would, I think, with humble submission be a loss to the public, because I am assured that finding cafeteria workers is a difficult enterprise in the best of time; and besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice (although indeed very unjustly), as a little bordering upon cruelty; which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, however so well intended.
Swift can think globally as well. Think Locally, act globally, right?
Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of other people who, upon pain of getting up and going to work or university studies may also come under murderous gunfire, but, lacking the presence of the elementary school child, will have no one to defend them. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known that they are every bit as capable of obtaining automatic weapons and laser sights as the average crazy; more so in fact as they may have more income and can thus afford higher caliber firearms. Besides, we have many young laborers; as to them, they are now in as hopeful a condition; they cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment, to a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to patrol various university campuses, Sikh temples and Post Offices, they will have gained meaningful work; if they have not strength to perform this;  the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come of supporting them on some form of social security or medicare

There might be further objections; these are summarily dealt with

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and 'twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland (although some might say it could profitably be extended to our American cousins), and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of limiting the supply and manufacture of such weapons or confining their use to members of the professional armed forces: Of licensing and registering such weapons to ensure that they do not become the possessions of those who lack the rational fortitude to positively contribute to our society: Of the destruction and forbidding of high capacity magazines so that innocents can be killed with much diminished efficiency: Of redoubling our efforts to treat mental illness: Of introducing a surety of checking into the character of the individual in every circumstance to whom a firearm is being sold: Of learning to fund studies that might give us an idea of the depth of the problem or indeed even taking a lesson for foreign lands who have a mysterious aversion to this sort of policy: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to be too much in the pay of those who profit exceedingly from the manufacture and sale of such weapons, or their professional lickspittles: Of teaching our elected representatives to summon a little courage and think of the country as a whole . Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our sportsmen and target-shooters, if a resolution could now be taken to actively contribute to the resolution of these fantastical events like the mass murder of elementary school children, would immediately unite to hide their last bullet and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness of their cold dead hands, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

Not likely, eh? Swift speaks my me in his conclusion, indeed I feel I almost could have written it myself
I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our arms industry, providing for infants, relieving the teachers, whom we shall otherwise be forced to pay living wages to, and giving some pleasure to the gun enthusiasts. My own child, indeed, being a young girl is singularly unsuitable for the project, (although of age), being more concerned with nail polish, pretty ponies, and the Jessie Show. I cannot propose to get a single penny from her; nor will my wife contribute, having died recently, just in time to save herself the experience of watching schoolchildren get massacred from want of sufficient weapons, training and tactics.
Oh, I suppose you thought Swift wrote about something really strange, like the Irish selling their infant children for food, to enliven the table of a rich English Landlord or merchant. Nah, that would just be over the top, and an unpardonable exaggeration that any society would be OK with having their children murdered and not doing anything about it.

 photo childwithgun_zps4b6614db.jpg

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